How do we love?

God loves me into existence. He has loved me since before he formed me in my mother’s womb,1 and he will love me long after my bones turn to dust.2 Every moment of my existence is due to God’s love for me.

How do I respond to this love? The only response that could possibly be close to sufficient is to love God with every bit of my existence: with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind.3 God has given me everything, so it makes sense that I should love him back with everything. But what does this look like? There are some obvious answers to what loving God looks like: attending Mass, praying, trying not to sin. But that is not all that is required of me.

God doesn’t just love me into existence. God loves you into existence, too. God loves everyone that you or I will meet today into existence. Every person who has ever existed: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, St. Pope John Paul, St. Mother Teresa, the guy down the street who is always mad about your lawn, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter: God loves them all into existence. Immediately after telling us to love God, Jesus tells us that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.4 To truly love God, we must also love those whom he loves. To say we love God and to mistreat our neighbor at the same time is hypocrisy! Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.5 If we want to love God, we must also love all our brothers and sisters in this world.6

Love is not a thing that we can practice sometimes. We can’t act in hate toward one person and expect it not to have an effect our ability to love another person. This works in our favor, though! When we act out of true love for someone, it grows our ability to love in general. By loving our neighbor, we learn to love. We learn to love God by loving our neighbor, and by loving our neighbor we love God.7

But what does this look like? How do we love our neighbors?

The readings today give us a great starting point. God called the Israelites—and us—in the Exodus to treat the foreigners among us as any other citizen, because ultimately, we are all citizens not of this earth, but of heaven. We should not do wrong to those who are vulnerable, such as widows or orphans. Paul tells and shows us that by living a moral life, we can become models of good behavior, and love our brothers and sisters by showing them the way to happiness. We turn away from our idols of self and let go of the idea that we must protect our time from the encroachment of our neighbors. A wise priest once told me never to make my schedule too tight: we must allow for those “God moments,” where you run into someone who just needs to talk.

But we can do better than this. Love is the only virtue that remains in Heaven, so it is critical to work on it as much as we can! I believe that the best examination of our love was written by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8

we can use this as an examination of conscience to see how we are doing with love. Have I been patient with myself? Have I been kind to my neighbor? Have I born the burdens that God has allowed me to experience this day?

Love your neighbor as yourself, so that you are able to love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Today’s Readings:
Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Image of God

What if Jesus had said, “Why are you testing me? Hand me one of the children.” He held a child in his arms and said, “Whose image do you see inscribed upon this little one?”

When my friends have a baby, it’s common to hear “she looks just like her mom!” or “he has his father’s eyes!” The baby is, in a very true way, an image of his or her parents. They look like one another! What’s more, parents bestow a name upon their child. This name is emblazoned on the child throughout his or her life. This name is how we tell one person from another, and it was given to them by their parents.

But there is another who has given us a name, even if we do not know him. [God] called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew [him] not.1 He has not only called each one of us by name, but he has given each of us a title—a title unique to us. Each of us is unique, each of us is special. None of us are the same. We are each called to reflect God’s glory in a different way, in a way that no one else can. Not only did God call us by name, and not only did he give us each a title, but the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible tells us that God created humankind in his image.2 Each one of us is a unique reflection of the image of God.

I reply to Jesus, “Yours! I see your image in this little one!” Jesus says, “Then repay to Washington and Hamilton and Lincoln what belongs to them, and repay to God what belongs to God.”

God’s image is inscribed on me, how am I to repay God what belongs to him? When we pay our taxes to the government, we give a part of our money back to the government that issued it. How do we give a part of ourselves to God? We can’t, but that doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?

There are days when I want to try to put God in his silo. In college, I would go to Mass and then think, “God, you’ve got your hour for the week. Now it’s time to go have some fun.” Even now, I catch myself saying, “God, I said my prayers for the day. I’ve been to Mass. Now it’s time for me to get some real work done. Come back tomorrow.” As if we could limit our response to God to a certain day or time! One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel: God is with us. God is always with us! When we recognize his image in ourselves and in others, we are reminded that God is always with us.

When we recognize God, and all the gifts that he has given us, can we honestly sit back and do nothing? God has given us our lives, our families, our friends, our talents, everything. How do we send God a thank you note for all he has given us? We dedicate ourselves to him. We give of our resources to support his work on this earth. We spend time with him in prayer. We live virtuous lives. We always strive to remember that God is with us!

Today’s Readings:
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21

Reflection for the Second Friday of Lent

God has a plan for everything. We don’t always see it. When Joseph’s brothers threw him into a well, then sold him to slave traders (for twenty pieces of silver) neither Joseph nor his brothers were probably thinking about God’s plan, or how these actions might fulfill it. Nobody expected Joseph to become Pharaoh’s right-hand-man in Egypt, who would save the people from famine. Joseph’s 11 brothers certainly didn’t expect that. The psalm today proclaims how unexpected this all was: Joseph had predicted the famine, and the Egyptians jailed him. When it came true, though, they released him and put the Pharaoh made him “ruler of all his possessions,” which includes the lands and peoples of the Egyptian Empire.

The parable in the Gospel today has a less happy ending. All those sent to retrieve the fruits of the land were murdered, even the landowner’s son. One way to understand the parable is that the agents and servants who were sent symbolize all the various prophets and holy men sent by God to help Israel reform. Each was rejected, and many were killed. Eventually, God’s son, Jesus, goes to the people of Israel and is crucified.

The descendants of Joseph and his brothers, the 12 tribes of Israel, did not learn the lesson taught in Genesis. They persecuted the one most beloved by the Father. They killed and tortured his prophets and servants. They were jealous and sought to destroy the one that they perceived as “more beloved,” but in the end only destroyed themselves. But God had a plan. Through the death of his Son, he saved all of humanity from death. He made it possible for us to follow him into eternal life with Him in Heaven.

It may be hard or impossible to see God’s plan, but that doesn’t mean it does not exist. It is sometimes good to take some time and reflect on how we ended up where we are today. When I look back at my life, I realize that God has been actively guiding me the whole time. Those times when I make sure to listen for his will and do my best to follow it—those are the times when I find that I am most at peace.

Today’s Readings: Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.

But it wouldn’t.

After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.

In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.

The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!

Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9

Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent / Year A

It is interesting how Genesis describes the fall of mankind. It seems that the woman is the first person to sin. A feminist might think that this is evidence that the Bible (and, by extension, the Church) is anti-woman, misogynist, or only finds value in men. That is, however, not the case. One of the most fascinating parts of this reading from Genesis, for me at least, is towards the end, where it says “and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her.”

If her husband is with her, why is Eve facing the evil one alone? Original sin is just as much of failure on the part of the husband—of Adam. It is a husband’s duty to protect his wife—his beloved—not just from physical threats, but also from any other kind of danger: mental and spiritual included. Both Adam and Eve sinned, and had either of them responded to temptation correctly this would never have happened.

The story of how sin entered the world is much more complex than a simple surface reading. There are many things that went wrong in the Genesis account. As I mentioned, the man did nothing to protect his wife from the evil one. A far more grievous mistake was when the woman engaged the serpent in conversation. Angels, even fallen angels, are far more intelligent than any human being. We cannot hope to win a battle of wits with an angel or a demon. Another problem is that the serpent was able to make an evil thing appear to be good; however, we know that certain things are evil. Directly contradicting a command of God is never going to turn out well. Adam and Eve both knew that, but they thought that by doing something evil—disobeying God—they would end up doing good—gaining knowledge. (One could observe that the Nazis employed a similar tactic by inflicting great evil on concentration camp victims in order to gain medical knowledge of the human body.) A final problem in Adam and Eve’s response was that they started to make room in their mind for the evil act. This is due to the previous to problems mentioned, because once you accept doing something as possible, it begins to occupy space in your mind. If they had simply cut off conversation with the serpent, or not considered disobeying God, they never would have considered that the tree was “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.”

The Gospel today parallels the Genesis account, but shows what happens when one responds correctly to temptation. First, Jesus is in the desert—not a garden. He can see the evil coming toward him and is not distracted by many things. The first temptation of the devil is for Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus is likely hungry after fasting for 40 days. Jesus responds by quoting Scripture: “one does not live on bread alone, but on every work that comes forth from the mouth of God.” He squarely places his confidence in his Father to protect him. The devil brings Jesus to the parapet, and tempts his pride, telling him that is he jumps the angels will catch him. He even quotes Scripture (Psalm 91) himself! This shows us that Scripture can be taken out of context and misused by enemies of God. Jesus replies quoting Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” He again does not engage the devil, saying only that he will not be tested. Finally, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, and tempts him to with control of all the kingdoms of the world. This is an evil thing to do, but of which good may come. If Jesus were in control, he could do much good! But Jesus again tells the devil to leave him, reminding him that only God is to be worshiped.

All of the mistakes in Genesis are overcome by Jesus: he trusts in the Father to protect him, he never engages the devil in a game of reason—only telling him to be gone and cease tempting him, he never mistook an evil act for good, and he never fell prey to making room in his mind for the temptations. In doing this, Jesus defeated the devil.

So let us learn from Jesus. When tempted, we should resort to trust in God for protection. We should remember good passages from scripture or simple, short prayers to strengthen us when we are in trouble, such as “Jesus I trust in you.” We should not consider the temptation, but focus on something else, such as God’s mercy, the image of Jesus on the Crucifix, or some work of art like the Pieta. Worship of God at Mass, Confession, and prayer will save us from temptation, so let us use all these means in the spiritual combat of Lent.

As Paul says, “through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.” Let us all strive to unify ourselves with Christ, and be one of the righteous.

Today’s Readings: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

Reflection for the Sixth Friday of Ordinary Time / Year I

The optional memorial celebrating the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order may be celebrated today.

Today’s Readings: Gn 11:1-9; Ps 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Mk 8:34-9:1

We must not presume on our salvation. By building the Tower of Babel, the people of the Shinar valley were presuming to be greater than God. In the English translation, we do not see some of the subtleties in this story. The people say that they will build this tower to “make a name for themselves.” The Hebrew word for “name” is the same as the name Shem. Shem was one of Noah’s sons, and was a righteous man. He was the father of the Semitic peoples, and his descendants were their rightful leaders. Jew and Christians—as late as the 16th century—have understood the old testament priest Melchizedek to actually be Shem.

By “making a name for themselves” the people of the Shinar valley were intending to throw off the leadership of Shem and to take control of their own destiny. They presumed that they knew better than Shem’s line, and ultimately that they knew better than God. By confusing their language, God was doing the people a favor, because he shattered this presumption. They could no longer even communicate from one another. They would, thus, be able to accept the guidance of others.

We see a similar theme in today’s Gospel. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” We cannot presume to be in God’s favor simply because of our worldly successes. In fact, these often lead us to act against God and his plan for our happiness. Instead, we must lay down our very lives in service of God: we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.

When we do this, we take up our true mantle as citizens of the Kingdom of God, which is present on this earth. Jesus promised that the Kingdom would come into power before all of his disciples perished, and it did. The Catholic Church, established by Jesus Christ, led by the apostles, and handed down through the ages by their successors, is the Kingdom of God. Christ gave his apostles extraordinary powers to forgive sin and distribute grace in his name. When we participate in God’s Church, when we fully become citizens of the kingdom, then we can call ourselves friends of God.

So let us take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus, so that we may all be friends of God, and participate in the eternal joy of his Kingdom.

Reflection for the Sixth Thursday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 9:1-13; Ps 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 & 22-23; Mk 8:27-33

God makes a covenant with Noah and his sons. But the parties to the covenant are not just Noah and his family—all of creation is party to the covenant. This is a theme that appears later on through the Bible: humanity acts as a priest of creation. By our works, we can sanctify and make holy all of God’s creation. No other creature can do this. This is something uniquely human. Even angels are only referred to as “ministers” in the Bible.

Humanity is in a unique place in creation. We are material: we have bodies; however, we are also spiritual: we have souls. It is because of this very fact that we can act as the priests of creation. We can make ourselves holy, and we can shape the material world around so that it too gives glory to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples to make a new covenant. It starts with the disciples seeming that they maybe finally get it. Peter replies “You are the Christ!” But this hope is quickly dashed. Jesus tells his disciples that he will have to suffer and die, but Peter rebukes him. He is not ready to accept that Christ’s death and resurrection might fundamentally transform humanity in a new way.

As humanity acts as the priest of creation, so Christ acts as the ultimate priest of humanity—most especially in the Passion, Death and Resurrection. By dying and rising, he destroyed death and allowed us to rise again. This is why what we do in this life is so critical. Our decisions don’t simply have an effect on us now, but when we die they will continue to affect us: every day we make choices that have consequences on our eternal souls. Because we are the priests of creation, the ones who are supposed to take all of the gifts that God has given us and use them to make all things holy, our decisions also affect the entire universe. Every sin that we commit, every good deed that we do, changes everything.

Our choices matter. They matter a lot. This cannot paralyze us, but we must always remember that each and every person has a unique role to play for all of reality. We should do our best to ensure this is a positive role! We also must make sure that every person who is conceived is allowed to be born, to grow, and to take on their unique role in the universe.

Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 8:6-13, 20-22; Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 18-19; Mk 8:22-26

Today we heard about Noah waiting for the land to dry out so that he could exit the ark. Just before our reading starts, the Genesis account tells us that the ark had come to rest on the top of Mount Ararat and that the tops of the mountains were visible. Yet, Noah could not yet leave the ark. He sent out a raven. It flew around until the was some dry land where it could perch—there was enough land for the raven to rest! Then he sent out a dove, but it came back—there wasn’t enough land for the dove to find food. He tried again after a week, and the dove returned with an olive branch—plants were growing again! The third time he sent out the dove, it did not return. The dove was able to find a home for itself! Only after all of this waiting was Noah allowed to exit the ark.

In the healing of the blind man today, something similar is happening. Jesus places his hands on the man twice before his blindness is fully healed. Why is this? Why could Jesus not simply touch the man once and heal him?

There are many reasons we can come up with, but the first I think part of the lesson in these readings is to teach us about patience. Noah had been in the ark for months, the ark was resting on the top of a mountain, and he still had to wait before leaving. The blind man encountered Jesus with faith, and knew he would be healed, but it still took some time before he was fully healed.

Everything in our lives takes time. Even waking up takes time! Like the blind man regaining his sight, we only see shapes and blobs at first, until later when we see things clearly. Trying to grow in good habits takes time, weeks and months even. One of the hardest things for me to do is to stick with a healthy diet. Until I have the patience and the strength to stick with it, it simply won’t change. When I see some delicious thing to eat, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to eat it right now. I imagine that Noah, his sons and their wives all wanted out of the ark as soon as possible—it had to have smelled like a zoo in there! —but they had to wait and persevere just a little bit longer, so that they could fully flourish when they left the ark.

Let us be like Noah and the blind man that Jesus healed, having enough faith in God that we can be patient and persevere through difficult things, knowing that God has a plan for us.

Reflection for the Sixth Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 4:1-15, 25; Ps 50:1 & 8, 16bc-17, 20-21; Mk 8:11-13

In the first reading, God prefers Abel’s sacrifice. A close reading shows that Cain eventually brought some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel immediately brought the best of his labor to sacrifice to the Lord. Cain is jealous. God asks Cain “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?” God tells Cain that he must try harder and his sacrifice will be accepted, otherwise evil will overtake him. Cain decides to take option two, and kills Abel. God condemns Cain’s action, and further condemns anyone who might attempt to kill Cain. Already in the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are learning that God is a God of Life—not of death!

Today’s psalm ties in to the Genesis reading very wonderfully. The Israelites do not understand that God does not desire disingenuous sacrifice. We must offer our sacrifices to God because we love Him. The final verse of the psalm is, perhaps, the most poignant. “You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? …” This strongly echoes the first reading, where Abel’s blood “cries out” to God, except in this case it is not even physical death. Attacks on a person’s reputation are condemned. Our words matter, and a verbal attack can be just as strong or as painful as a physical attack.

So let us be like Abel, offering our best to God out of love, and trusting in God to provide for us.

Reflection for the Fifth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Mass Readings: Gn 3:9-24; Ps 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13; Mk 8:1-10

I noticed two things while reflecting on today’s readings. The first is about the family of humanity, and the second about clothes.

God tells Adam and Eve that there will be enmity between Eve’s offspring and the snake from now on. Later, we find that Eve is to become the mother of all the living. The battle between evil and Eve’s offspring, therefore, includes all of us. In the Gospel, Jesus performs a mass feeding miracle. But this miracle happens outside of Israel. This is significant. Jesus is going out to the nations, and allowing them to share in the same meal as the Jews. By doing this, Jesus—the offspring of Eve—is beginning the process of reuniting all of Eve’s offspring into one Eucharistic family in the Church.

Later in the Genesis reading, we read that “for the man and his wife the Lord God made leather garments, with which he clothed them.” God himself made clothes for Adam and Eve. I’m reminded of a line in the Gospels where we are told not to overly concern ourselves with the future, for not even kings are clothed as beautifully as the flowers of the field. The passage is reminding us that God will provide for our needs. In Genesis, however, God is directly providing for the physical needs of Adam and Eve. God Himself is performing one of the corporal works of mercy—to clothe the naked! This is fascinating, and it also reminds me how important it is to do these things. It is almost built in to us to do the corporal works of mercy. We simply know that we should try and help the poor, the hungry, the naked, the dying. It is built in to us. Perhaps the reason that these things are built into us is because they are built in to God. We are built in the image of God. If God does these things, it should not surprise us that we desire to do them also.