Faith and works

The second reading ends with the line: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. But I think this is one sentence too early. The next line reads, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” We must have faith to be saved, but what does it mean to have faith?

Having faith is so much more than the simple ability to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s so much more than saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” The words are important, don’t get me wrong, but to truly mean those words we say: that is faith. To truly mean those words we say, not only must believe those words in our minds, but we must show that believe those words in our actions.

If I have faith and believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, that should show in how I live my life. Jesus Christ cared about the poor and the lonely, and he helped them when they allowed him to do so. Jesus Christ taught those around him the truth, even when his life was threatened because of it. Jesus Christ showed compassion to the sick and the lame. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and He admonished those who were persistent in sinning. Jesus Christ looked at people, and He loved them. Jesus Christ lived the Gospel. If I believe that he is my God, then shouldn’t my life resemble his? If I believe that he is my God, do I have any right to decide that one of these aspects is more important than the others? Perhaps my natural abilities lead me to teaching others and showing God’s love to people, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the sick or allow sin to go unchallenged. Jesus did all these things. We aren’t God, so we can’t do everything, but we should at least try!

But this is all if I have faith. This is all if I believe in Jesus Christ. It all depends on how I answer one question. It depends on how I answer the question Jesus asks the disciples today: Who do you say that I am? If Jesus was standing in front of you, and he asked you this question, how would you answer? Think about it. How would you answer the question? Say it to Jesus in your mind and be honest. Jesus doesn’t want to hear what your spouse or religion teacher says about him. He doesn’t want to hear the preconceived notions you have of him. Jesus wants to hear who you say that he is. Is he your friend? Is he the one who will always love you? Jesus can handle whatever you say to him. Let’s take a few seconds, right now, and answer Jesus.

Did you tell him? Were you honest to him?

No matter what you just told him, I think Jesus would say to each one of us, “my child, I love you. I love you so much more than you can imagine. I did not come into this world to condemn you, but so that you may have eternal life, and I have so much more I wish to teach you about myself. You have to take the initiative though.” Then Jesus says to as, as he did to his disciples in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. […] Even today these words are regarded as a stumbling block and folly (cf. 1 Cor 1: 22-25). Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for his Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way.” 1

We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because only this path leads us on the road to eternal life. Only Jesus can offer us Heaven and eternal happiness. Following money, prestige, power, worldly pleasures, or anything that is not Jesus else will result in precisely the opposite: eternal misery and separation from God. Self-denial is hard. Any cross given us is hard. Following Jesus is hard. All those things that Jesus does in the Gospel, and then asks us to do: they’re hard. They are exhausting. They tax us. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it if the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

Following Jesus is hard. It is taxing. It depends that we do God’s will instead of our own. But we are not alone when we follow Jesus. God is on our side. He will never let us lose our way, as long as we follow his Son as well as we can. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that we have been “created for greatness—for God himself; [we were] created to be filled by God. But [our] heart[s] [are] too small for the greatness to which [they are] destined. [Our hearts] must be stretched.” 2 Because our hearts must be stretched, “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 3

Friends, let us do the hard things, let us do the great things. We have God on our side, the same God who calls us to be lights to the world. Let us follow Christ, so that he can lead us into eternal life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Today’s Readings:
September 16, 2018
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Amazing God

“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Amazed. This line has stuck in my head all week long. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Jesus doesn’t get amazed too often. I looked it up, and Jesus is only amazed twice in the Gospels. The single other time the Greek verb we translate as “amazed” is used to describe Jesus is when he saw the incredible faith of the centurion in Capernaum who had asked Jesus to heal the servant in his household. Jesus is amazed at faith: either a lack or a depth of it.

The Nazarenes thought they knew who Jesus was. He was the son of Mary and Joseph. He was a carpenter. They knew his cousins. So what if he had exorcised demons, healed paralytics, calmed the seas, and even raised people from the dead? He was still just that Jesus kid from down the street. Because they “knew” him, they were not willing to take the tiniest step of faith towards Jesus.

Compare that to the centurion in Capernaum. The centurion may not have known exactly who Jesus was, but he knew that Jesus could help; so, he came to Jesus for help. Turning to Jesus, the centurion recognized something greater than him standing in front of him, someone worthy of his faith. The centurion, a commander of many men and well-respected in the army, humiliated himself to ask Jesus, a poor man who had no social standing at all, to help him. Jesus offered to come over and heal the centurion’s servant; however, the centurion debased himself further and told Jesus that he is not worthy for him to enter under his roof, and said that Jesus can heal the servant with his words. “[Jesus] was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

When it comes to the question of faith, there are only two options. You either have faith or you don’t. Some might claim that they don’t have an opinion on the subject, but that is simply lack of faith in different clothing. So… do I have faith or not? How do I amaze God? Do I amaze God with my lack of faith, or do I amaze God with my faith? Maybe, for most of us here, the question is a bit different: I have faith, but it is weak; how can I turn my faith into something that amazes God?

The first step toward answering that question is to recognize that any faith is better than none, and that the seeds of faith are a gift from God. The work is not all on God though. Yes, God and the people around us work to nurture those seeds of faith within us, but it ultimately comes down to our own decisions. God has given us each free will, and because of that free will we are able to make decisions that impact our future, not just here on earth, but also in the afterlife. If we did not have a free will, then we would be predestined to heaven or hell at the outset of our lives, as John Calvin—the founder of the Calvinist sect of Protestantism—taught. But that can’t be true. God loves us, and God’s love for us would not be true love if he forced us to have faith or if he forced us to love him. God will not force us to love him, but he will give us all we need to make that decision on our own.

Having faith is, ultimately, a decision we must make. I know that I often make the error of thinking that virtues or graces from God have something to do with my feelings. I don’t always feel 100% close to God: there are days when I feel that he is quite distant from me, but there are also days that he feels very close, where it feels that he is directly working through me. Faith, though, is not the same thing as feelings. Faith is deeper than that: faith is above our feelings. Even on the worst of days, even when I feel like God is 1000 miles away, even when I feel like I’m wasting my time saying my prayers, even when I am halfway through a homily and forget the second half, I always know that God is with me. Every day I make the choice to believe in God, to believe that he loves me, and to live my life in accordance with his will. I try to, at least. I do what I can, and I leave the rest up to God. If I do my best, he’ll fill in the cracks.

Those cracks God fills in are, really, his way of helping us increase our faith. Paul recognizes this, writing that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul says that through his weaknesses, the power of Christ dwells in him. Paul’s weaknesses are where Christ shows forth the most. It is the same for us. Our weaknesses are where we are most exposed to others. They are the areas where we are most vulnerable. They are the areas where we recognize that we need help from God the most, the areas where we cry out to God in our prayer, saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

We can all pray that God helps us in our unbelief. We can all work to increase our faith by consciously making the decision to believe in God, in his love, and in his plan for us. These decisions can be made rationally, as shown by the 2000 years of academic scholarship the Catholic Church has produced, (we did invent universities, after all…) nearly all of it relying on the fact that not only is our faith based in God himself, but it is also fundamentally reasonable. Let us all choose to believe, and to devote ourselves to God in heart and in mind. Let’s choose to put our faith in God, so that when we die and stand before Him on the day of our judgment, he will look at us with love, be amazed at our faith, and say to us, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Note: This homily was posted on July 10, 2018. It was delivered on July 8, 2018, so I have modified the posting date to match the delivery date.

Today’s Readings
July 8, 2018
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

The Faith Which Conquers Death

Death was not a part of God’s plan. God did not create us to die. He made us in his own image. He made us imperishable. He created us to live in His presence forever. Adam and Eve had this sort of life. They lived in the Garden of Eden in happiness, in the presence of God. Then, Satan got involved. The devil got involved and started whispering lies in the ears of Adam and Eve. He whispered to them that they would become powerful, like God himself. He whispered to them that they would learn all sorts of things, things that God was hiding from them. He whispered to them that they would only be happy if they disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For some reason, they listened. Adam and Eve failed to trust in God. Through Adam and Eve’s failure to trust in God, through their jealousy of God’s power and knowledge, through their pride and thinking that they knew better than God, through their first, original sin, death entered the world. God originally had “made man immortal,” free from pain and suffering, free from a tendency toward sin “and ignorance, sinless, and lord of the earth.” 1 Adam and Eve lost more than they could have ever imagined, and the shockwaves of this original sin shook the universe. God revealed to Adam and Eve the ramifications of what they had done: while they still bore the image of God, they had lost their original grace (the technical, fancy term is preternatural grace) and the ability to pass this on to their children. Humanity now had to suffer pain, sin, ignorance, and death. God, however, was not going to let this be humanity’s fate. Even though God was hurt enormously by this sin—His beloved children had turned away from Him!—He would not let this result stand. God had a plan to redeem us and to save us. In Genesis 3:15, God said:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.” (NABRE)

This plan culminated in the life of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God who became one of us, a human being, for our sake. Jesus, the offspring of Mary, the New Eve, is the one who struck that mortal blow to Satan’s head. Sin and death entered the world because of Satan, but Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. Jesus Christ destroyed them through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, rendering Satan’s power over us ineffective. This was Jesus’s mission all along: to destroy death. By destroying death, He opened the pathway to Heaven.

In the Gospel today, we hear of Jairus, a synagogue official. His daughter is on her deathbed. I’m sure he tried every remedy of which he could think to save her. We also hear of a woman suffering from hemorrhages. She has spent all her wealth and tried everything, but nothing works. She is also, somewhat more slowly, dying. For her, the situation gets even worse, because her sickness makes her “unclean;” therefore, she is cut off from the worship community. She is alone and without support. Nothing has worked for her or for Jairus. They are in desperate situations. They have one last hope: a man called Jesus. They have heard that Jesus can heal them, and they seek him out. They believe that he can solve their problems. They have faith that he can do what they have heard.

Imagine: the woman reaches out to touch Jesus. There is a huge crowd of people mobbing Jesus. She somehow makes her way through the crowd to Jesus, and then is finally close enough to reach out and just brush the tassels on his clothes. Immediately, Mark says, she was healed. Her faith saved her. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He knows that she has been cast out of the community. He calls her “daughter” and tells her to “go in peace.” How much joy and peace must have been in her heart at that moment? She had encountered God’s love face to face, and was healed in body and soul.

Imagine: Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died. Jesus tells him not to fear. The mourners are already gathered at the home, and they ridicule Jesus. He casts the naysayers out, and tells Jairus’s daughter to stand up. Immediately, Mark says, she rose from bed and walked around. Jairus’s faith saved his daughter. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He told them to give her something to eat—she was most certainly hungry! God knows even our most basic physical needs. How much joy and peace must have been in Jairus’s heart? He had encountered God’s love face to face. His daughter—and he too—was healed in body and soul.

We must never be afraid to ask God for what we need: He loves us more than we can imagine. He wants us to bother him. He wants us to tell him everything. He wants us to have faith that he will answer us in the best way possible. God wants us to have a deep, personal relationship with him: a deep, personal relationship like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have; a deep, personal relationship like a husband and wife have; a deep, personal relationship like the best of friends have. We develop this relationship through prayer and through striving to live God’s will. Over time, this relationship will grow. It will result in a living faith in our hearts, a living faith which help us to reject our fear and entrust everything to God. This living faith, when it grows, can conquer death itself, and lead us into Heaven, where we will once again live in perfect happiness, peace, and joy, and where we will gaze on the glorious presence of God.

Note: This homily was posted on July 4, 2018. It was delivered on July 1, 2018, so I have modified the posting date to match the delivery date.

Today’s Readings
July 1, 2018
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Fathers and the Seed of Faith

Father recently planted a garden at the rectory. It looked like a lot of work! First, he picked a good spot. It had to get lots of sunlight, and be far enough from the tree to discourage birds and squirrels from stopping by for lunch. Next, he prepared the ground. He cleared the grass and weeds. He tilled the soil, making it loose and fresh for new plants. Then came the planting. That part is pretty straightforward — you put the plants in the ground. Now, though, it’s up to the plants to grow. No human can tell a plant to grow, or even explain how a plant “knows” to grow. They just do. Father can help those plants. He can fertilize them, make sure they’re watered, put in trellises for the tomatoes, but he can’t make them to grow. He just watches them grow, like the man in Jesus’s parable today. Slowly but surely, the plants grow. Now, Father could also hurt the plants’ chances of growing by not watering them, by letting weeds overtake them, or by planting too many plants in the space, but he also can’t make them stop growing. Such a plant could overcome the odds against it and survive.

Paul says to the Corinthians today that “we walk by faith.” This faith is a gift from God. Faith is one of those seeds God plants inside us. It will do its best to grow in us whether we want it to or not, but like a plant in a garden we can nurture it or hinder it throughout our lives. Paul tells us that when we die each of us will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Christ will ask us for the harvest, for the fruits of the faith that he planted inside of us. Our answer decides whether we go to an eternal reward or punishment. Our actions in this earthly life have such an important effect on our eternal life, the stakes are so very high; so, we must do our best to nurture the gifts God gave us. We must let our seed of faith grow into the big mustard plant Jesus talks about, that Ezekiel’s majestic cedars, or into the big ‘ole tomatoes that I hope show up in Father’s garden! To do this, to nurture the seeds of faith in ourselves and let them grow, we must live virtuously and morally; we must pray; and, we must make use the sacraments God gave us. All these things, especially the sacraments, give us grace. Grace is kind of like Miracle-Gro® for the seed of faith that God has planted inside of us.

Nurturing these seeds of faith is a good thing, but nurture is not the only part of gardening. The ground must be made ready. Jesus left these steps out, but he assumes that we will know these things. This leads to some questions. Who prepares us for receiving the first seed of faith? Who clears out the weeds and junk that’s in the way of God planting these seeds in our soul? Who tills the ground in our souls to prepare us for the gifts God wants to give us? Who nurtures our faith when we are too young to do it ourselves, and then teaches us how to nurture it? God certainly plays a part, but these critical activities are entrusted to a couple of very important people in everyone’s life: our parents.

We humans depend on our parents for a long time. Not only do we depend on them for our physical development, but also for our emotional development, for our mental development, and for the development and training of our souls. 1 Our parents teach us not only what is true, but even how to learn. Our parents teach us how to behave properly, to do good things, and how to live in a community. Both our mother and the father have important, but unique, roles in raising us. Each of them contributes in their own special way so that each of us grows to our full potential. Today, though, we celebrate Father’s Day. Since society’s understanding of fatherhood often ignores our fathers’ impact on our faith, I thought that we should take a look at the special ways that our dads contribute to us growing in faith.

Our fathers are providers and protectors, but those are not their only jobs. In nearly every culture that has existed—especially the Roman culture on which western society is based—the father was paterfamilias, the absolute and unquestionable household leader. After two thousand years of Christianity, we’ve figured out that even though our dad is supposed to be a leader, he is not supposed to be an emperor or a dictator. He is supposed to lead as Jesus taught his apostles to lead: with love and kindness, but also firmness and strength. A father’s goal, ultimately, should always be to give life to others, both physically and spiritually. 2 In the oldest stories of the Old Testament, the father was the one who offered sacrifice to God: he was the religious leader. Modern studies have shown that when dad is faithful about coming to Mass and practicing his faith, the rest of the family is much more likely to do so as well. The example of our fathers is powerful, and our dad’s example is one of the most powerful ways that he leads us. In leading us by example, with love, gentleness, and firmness, our fathers teach us. They teach us how to act when the time comes to act. They teach us that force is not the first way to resolve a problem, but they also teach us to be courageous and stand up for ourselves and others. They teach us how to love others. A father teaches his sons how men should treat women, and a father teaches his daughters how they should demand to be treated by men.

A Christian father’s duty to teach is so foundational that it is mentioned in the rite of baptism. At the end of a baptism, the celebrant gives three blessings: one to the mother, one to the father, and another to everyone gathered. The prayer over the father says: “God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The father teaches his children, together with his wife not only with words, but also their example.

All men are called to some sort of fatherhood, either as a biological father or as a spiritual father. Men, do not be afraid of this work. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched” 3 How are our hearts stretched? Fathers are called to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care. Fathers are called to purify their lives from all sin. Today, fathers are called into a fierce battle with the sins against chastity. Fathers are called to be courageous and die to themselves in order to teach, to love, and to bring life to their wives, their children, and to the whole world. Men, we are called to follow the ways of our Lord, our Commander in the battle against evil, and our one true King, Jesus Christ. “[T]he ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 4

Sadly, many of us no longer have our father with us—for any number of tragic reasons. If our human fathers are no longer with us, we need not fear. God, our perfect, heavenly Father is always with us. He loves us so much that He became one of us. He showed us what life looks like without sin. He sent his only Son to us to protect us from our enemies and to teach us how we can purify our hearts and our minds. He sent his Holy Spirit to continuously and gently lead us back to him. He sacrificed himself, and willingly died so that we might learn what true, life-giving love is.

Today, let us thank God for planting the seeds of faith within us. Let us thank our earthly fathers for tilling the soil of our souls and nurturing the seed of faith as it grows in us. Finally, let us make a conscious decision to do everything we can to nurture the seed of faith in our hearts and in the hearts of others by living virtuous lives, virtuous lives in which we seek the will of God and do it.

Note: Into the Breach is an excellent apostolic exhortation written by Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix. I read it in preparation for this homily. While I did not directly quote it, it was influential in the development of this homily.

Today’s Readings:
June 17, 2018
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (USA: Father’s Day)
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

Reflection for the Fourth Friday of Easter

Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, to place our faith in him. St. Paul is a prime example of someone living in this way. Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but his dramatic conversion changed everything. He immediately started preaching Jesus Christ to all around him. While he dedicated several years to living the Christian life before going on his missionary journeys, it was obvious from the beginning that Paul put his faith in God in all of his teaching, preaching, and living.

One instance of this can be found in Acts 13, from which we have been reading in the first reading for a few days. Paul is at a synagogue. After the law and prophets are proclaimed, the synagogue officials ask if anyone would like to say a word. Paul, who was likely the finest student of the best teacher of Jewish scripture, got up and, most likely, surprised everybody. He preached of how Jesus fulfilled everything in scripture, noting especially his fulfillment of God’s covenant with David through one of David’s descendants. Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to preach about exactly what the Jews in Jerusalem did to this man who was the Anointed One, the Chosen One: they crucified him on false charges. Then Paul told them the most incredible thing: he rose from the dead and saved all of us from death. By raising up Jesus, God fulfilled all the promises to the fathers. Through Jesus, God forgives the sins of all humanity. This Jesus is a man worthy of our faith.

Jesus teaches us that there is room for everyone in the house of His Father. When we put our faith in Jesus and live according to the way of life he taught us, he welcomes us into the house of the Father. Jesus Himself will prepare a place for us within the house, and all we must do is follow him, because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” who leads us to the Father.

Let us strive to follow the way of life that Jesus taught us, so that we too might be welcomed into Heaven: the House of the Father

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:26-33; Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab; Jn 14:1-6

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent / Year A

Last summer, a friend of mine died. It was unexpected. I was chatting with him on Friday night, and on Saturday morning his kayak overturned and through a tragic—and heroic—series of events, he died. (Story in: Local Paper, National Catholic Register; Obituary) I will admit, I wasn’t as close to Brian as his family or the seminarians who attended school with him, but he was a friend, and it stung me when he died. I was surprised, shocked and confused. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why? Why has God taken this great young man away from us, from his family, from the world? Why didn’t God reach out and grant him a little help getting to shore? Why?

I think that this is maybe a little like how Mary and Martha felt when Lazarus died. They knew that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying. It says so right in the Gospel: “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” But then Martha says something that shows her extreme depth of faith in Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha has not asked Jesus to raise Lazarus, but has simply expressed her trust that Jesus will do what is best. This reminds me of the episode at the Wedding of Cana, where the Mother of God’s last words in Sacred Scripture have the same sentiment: “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not tell Jesus what to do, but simply places her trust in him to do what is best. Like the Mother of God, Martha, and later Mary, both express this deep trust in Jesus.

The crowd does not share this faith. They ask, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” The Gospel said that Jesus became “perturbed” by this—Jesus was upset, unsettled. Some translations go so far as to say he was angered. Jesus then goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. Lazarus, who after four days in the tomb was expected to be rotting, was alive! Jesus had planned this from the beginning to increase the faith of his followers. It was a trial for Martha and Mary, but because of their faith, they also grew in true hope.

Deacon Andrew, Brian’s brother, talked about hope at his brother’s memorial Mass. As I sat there listening, in awe of the fact that he was able to compose himself better than I could compose myself, he said that “[h]ope is not sentiment or wishful thinking, it is the habit by which we long for a good, stretching forth for a future good not yet attained. We would not reach out for a good unless it existed and was truly possible. We have hope in eternal salvation and for the reunion of our loved ones because it is indeed possible. Although not a given, and not easy, the Lord makes it possible, and that is why we have hope.” Doesn’t this sound like the Gospel story today? This trial was not easy for Martha and Mary. They desired for Lazarus to be with them. They knew that with God anything was possible. While those who are close to us who die do not typically rise from the dead, we can hope to be reunited with them in eternity.

But for this to be a legitimate hope, we must remember that to meet our loved ones in Heaven, we must actually get to Heaven. In hell, we are cut off from God and we become closed in on ourselves. (See CCC 1033-1037.) Some say that “hell is other people,” but that is not true. Hell consists of eternal separation not only from God, but from other people. The difficulty in getting to Heaven is why we must have hope in order to get there. Hope is necessary when there is something in between us and a good. Martha and Mary had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though Lazarus was dead. The Mother of God had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though the wine had run out. Deacon Andrew and his family had hope that his brother had fought the good fight, and been filled by the spirit sufficiently that he could reach Heaven. Furthermore, they have hope that they will live sufficiently good lives that they’ll get to see him again in Heaven after their time in this world in complete.

Hope is a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit. (See CCC 1817-1821.) If we do not allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit, we will not be able to have true hope. The prophet Ezekiel and Paul both talk about the Spirit filling us today. Paul writes that we must follow the Spirit, not the flesh. We must allow the Spirit of Christ to fill us, he writes. This Spirit gives life to us in many ways. It gives us the life of virtues, and it gives us many spiritual gifts every day. God, through His Holy Spirit who lives within each one of us, gives us innumerable gifts each and every day. In this way, He supports us in our spiritual life. Through Confession, the Spirit acts in a special way and raises us from spiritual death—something far greater than a simple bodily raising from the dead. But even this is promised to us in Ezekiel. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God promises to open the graves of his people and send out his Spirit, so that we may live and know that He is Lord.

So how do we open ourselves to this Spirit?

It is simple, but also extremely difficult. We must develop a personal relationship with God. To do this takes time. We must pray daily: perhaps we could say a daily Rosary, meditate daily on the Scriptures, or spend some time in private mental prayer every day. We must attend Mass frequently. While attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is good, this is one thing where more is better. Consider attending Mass during the week some time. We must us the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly. Reconciliation forgives us our sins and raises us from spiritual death. It restores our relationship with God that becomes lost and clouded by the dirt and grime of sin. We should study our faith, especially in regards to Jesus Christ and the Gospels, Mary the Mother of God and the other saints, as well as the many devotions and practices that have been developed over the years to help us all grow in our faith.

After experiences of death, of personal suffering, and of confusion, I have always found my faith a comfort. My relationship with God grows stronger through each trial, because each trial forces me to recognize that I cannot do this without him. We are all called to be friends with God, to be filled with his Spirit. We are all called to have faith and hope in God. When we have even a little bit of true faith, we can move mountains.

So let us continue to build our relationship with God every day, and allow him to help us, especially by the use of the Sacraments.

Today’s Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Reflection for the Third Thursday of Lent

Jeremiah, who wrote thousands of years ago, is just a relevant today as he was then! God tells Jeremiah that the people of Jerusalem will not listen to him, they do not take correction, they are not faithful. The Psalm further reminds us not to harden our hearts as the Israelites did in the desert when they left Egypt. It seems that part of the human condition is that we do not want to be told what to do! The Word of God, however, has power. Through it, Jesus casts out demons. We should listen to words with such power.

Divine Mercy Image.Jesus leaves us with a warning at the end of today’s Gospel. When we have cleaned out our soul, that is a wonderful thing; however, if someone stronger than us comes, it won’t last. There is always someone stronger than us. We cannot follow God and listen to his Word from our own strength, the only one strong enough to do that is God! If we trust in God and put our faith in his Word, God will protect us. Our bodies may be assaulted, but our souls will always be protected.

Let us trust in God. He will save us, and He will protect us.

Today’s Readings: Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 11:14-23

Reflection for the Seventh Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Sir 1:1-10; Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5; Mk 9:14-29

“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?”

The disciples could not drive the demon out of the boy, because they did not have the faith. Jesus, Peter, James and John are just coming down the mountain from the Transfiguration—an intense experience of prayer for Jesus, and an intense confirmation of faith for Peter, James and John. The other disciples, though, weren’t there. They had faith, but not enough.

Jesus, after casting out the demon, explains to his disciples that prayer is required for this sort of demon to be driven out. But Jesus just said they did not have the faith necessary. Which one is it? Both. Prayer and faith work together. Prayer increases our faith, and faith improves our prayer.

This faith can allow us to do wondrous things, Jesus says it could move mountains, but it also can give us something even great: true understanding—the ability to see things as they are. Seeing things as they are—this is what wisdom is.

When has the story of the wise sage on the mountain ever ended with him telling us to do something in order to fix some problem? The wise sage helps his visitors to see clearly what they already know, what they already have seen in an obscured way.

Faith and prayer helps us to see God, who created all things and gave humanity wisdom. If we have a relationship with Him, properly established through prayer and faith, then we will be able to see other people and the material things of this world as they truly are.

Reflection for the Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Heb 11:1-7; Ps 145:2-3, 4-5, 10-11; Mk 9:2-13

Faith is at the core of everything. The Letter to the Hebrews goes through of creation, showing what we know by faith: that God created and ordered the universe, that we can offer fitting sacrifice to God, that there is an afterlife and that we are invited to share that with God. What do we have if we do not have faith?

Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration in the Gospel. They are frightened. The voice coming from above tells them “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Why do they have any reason to heed this voice? It is precisely because they have faith—perhaps in the voice, but even more likely in Jesus himself. Then Jesus told them not to reveal what had occurred until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Why would Jesus not want them to reveal the incredible miracle of seeing Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus? I think it is because that sort of miracle can build faith in those who are ready, but it can also stifle faith in some ways. Instead of slowly growing in faith, understanding the deeper realities behind Jesus and his ministries, the Transfiguration would have given an almost supernatural faith. This is a faith to which few people can relate. The disciples had to grow in their faith—slowly and painfully—just like we do today.

Let us never lose our faith, and try to grow it little by little every day. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain: imagine what we could do if we let it grow!