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

Amos Moments

Note: this homily was given July 15, 2018. I apologize for the late posting.

While I was reading through the first reading, it occurred to me that maybe Amos didn’t really want to be a prophet. He certainly didn’t ask to be a prophet. It sounds like he was perfectly happy being a shepherd and sycamore dresser… whatever that is. Anyway, that is all somewhat beside the point, because Amos gave it all up when he received a call from God. God called Amos to travel to north and prophesy to the people of Israel. I would hazard a guess that Amos was not a huge fan of this career change, but he trusted God and went along with it. The people of the north were not, it turns out, big fans of what Amos had to say, judging by their reaction. I’m pretty sure they wanted to kill him. Amos did not let this deter him, and he continued, undeterred, on his God-given mission.

The apostles had several of their very own “Amos moments.” They had all been called by Jesus to follow him. That was probably “Amos moment” number one. So, they start following Jesus around, learn from him, and watch him perform miracles. They probably are thinking that they’ve got a pretty sweet gig going on with this Jesus dude. Then Jesus told them that now it’s their turn. Talk about an “Amos moment.” He gives them authority to cast out unclean spirits, and he tells them that they are going to go preach repentance to the towns of Israel. Not only were they to go on this crazy mission journey, but they couldn’t bring any money or supplies with them. They were sent with the clothes on their back, a walking stick, and shoes. (Fun fact: When Jesus sent them out in Matthew and Luke, they didn’t have shoes!) Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the mission either. He told them that some towns would be unreceptive. Jesus challenged the apostles to get out of their comfort zones, and he demanded that they rely fully upon God. The apostles went out, and they did their mission. If we read ahead in Mark a little bit, (spoiler alert!) we see that when the apostles came back, they were excited! They could not wait to tell Jesus about their journeys.

I would venture to say that every one of us here has had our own “Amos moment.” We are living our lives, going about our business dressing sycamores or whatever, and then God calls us to something radically different. My biggest “Amos moment” was when I realized I was being called to go to seminary and “do the whole priest thing.” I was happy working at Learjet; I was on track to move up in the company; I was physically in better shape than I am now; and, I thought my life was going pretty well. But, one day, while I was at daily Mass before work, God sent me a little message: “you should be on the other side of that altar.” I initially resisted, but I can now confidently say that I am happier than I have ever been, even though this was not my plan. When I run into roadblocks or struggles with this vocation, I plan to follow Amos’s lead: to continue, undeterred, with following God’s plan.

God has a special and unique plan for each one of us, but that doesn’t mean that God has a different goal for each of us. He wants every single person here to be holy. He wants us to be holy because when we’re holy, not only are we allowed to enter into Heaven when we die, but also because when we are holy we change the world. How we live out holiness will vary from person to person, but that call to holiness never changes. I am called to be holy by being ordained a priest (in a little less than a year) and serving God’s people. Most of us are called to be holy by marrying and raising a holy family. Some are called to be holy by withdrawing from the world and entering into religious life. The variations of God’s plan don’t end there. Our individual jobs and volunteer activities, too, are ways in which we can be holy. Every one of us can affect the world in a different way, and if we do our best to make the world a more holy place, then we are fulfilling God’s plan.

What’s even better about this mission of holiness is that God never sends us alone. He didn’t send the apostles alone, he sent them two-by-two, and he similarly does not send us alone. We have our parishes, our families, and our friends to accompany us on our mission. Admittedly, some families and friends are not always particularly helpful—even the apostles had to deal with a Judas amongst them. That’s not the point, though. The point is that we aren’t ever alone in our mission. Even when every worldly institution fails us, God will always be with us.

On top of that, God will always give us the tools that we need to do his work. The apostles had already been learning from Jesus’s preaching, had watched him perform many healings, and had observed as he cast out many demons. Jesus gave the apostles authority over unclean spirits, and then he sent them out to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. We, too, have been given gifts for our mission to make the world holy. Jesus teaches us through the readings, the Gospel, and the Mass itself every time we attend. (Hopefully, us preachers have helped a little with our homilies too!) I doubt any of us here has been given the specific authority to cast out demons, but we have received even greater gifts than that. God has given us the Sacraments, which are more powerful than any exorcism. Baptism and Confirmation mark us as children of God, under his protection. Marriage and Holy Orders give special graces which are necessary to follow those two vocations. The Anointing of the Sick uses oil, just as the apostles did in today’s Gospel, and heals our soul—and sometimes even heals our bodies!

I will single out the two remaining sacraments as extremely special and valuable in our mission to bring holiness to the world. The sacrament of Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Getting in the Box with Father, whatever you want to call it, is vital for our personal holiness. In that sacrament, God takes away our sins. He forgives them. It is, possibly, the most intimate and personal encounter with God’s mercy that is possible on this side of Heaven. In Confession, God tells us that what we’ve done in the past is in the past. No matter how big or small our sin, He will forgive us. Sure, maybe we will have to say a couple extra “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers,” but God will forgive us. What really matters is how we go forward: we must go forward and do our best to love God. Every time we go to Confession, we get the grace we need to pick ourselves up and try again to follow God. When God says, through the priest, “I absolve you of your sins,” we can be confident not only of God’s mercy, but also that our sins truly are forgiven.

We finally come to the Eucharist. The Eucharist feeds our souls: God enters us, and in doing so, he transforms us. The Eucharist is an incredibly powerful sacrament, and we cannot underestimate how much it can change us. St. John Vianney once said that, “if we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said that, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” If Confession is the closest encounter with God’s mercy on this side of Heaven, then the Eucharist is the closest encounter with God’s love. God loves us so much that he is willing to enter into us as food, to nourish us in both body and soul. How wonderful is that!

When we run into one of those “Amos moments” in our lives, let us not be afraid to follow God’s will. Even though it may be challenging, God will never let us struggle alone. He will be with us every step of the way. Often, we will have even more help from the Church and those around us. On top of all that, we have the Sacraments, those beautiful moments of God’s grace which not even the Apostles had when they went on their first missionary journeys. May we all strive to become more holy every day of our lives, and by doing that, may we transform the world. The reward—Heaven—is worth it.

Today’s Readings:
July 15, 2018
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ

The Last Judgment - Michelangelo

“[He] will say to them in reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me… what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The Golden Rule gets some teeth in today’s Gospel. A number of weeks ago, we heard that we must love God above all things, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that to love our fellow man or woman is to love God. This standard—the standard of charity—is the measure by which we will be judged at the end of our days.

God sent his Son into this world to save us. God became human, and experienced humanity, just like you and I. He knows how hard it is to love our neighbor. Yet, Jesus tells us that this is how humanity will be judged.

This teaching is important simply by what it says, but its place in the Gospel also speaks to its important. Right after this parable, he is anointed on his head with expensive nard by a woman. This is similar to how kings were anointed in the Old Testament. He is betrayed, and condemned to death on false testimony. He experienced the absolute opposite of “love of neighbor” in every way: he was hated by the Jewish leaders and abandoned by his followers. His final teaching, “love your neighbor,” could have been lost forever, but in the midst of all his suffering, Jesus showed us that it is the only way we can live.

He refused to fight with the temple guard, and even healed the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him. He did not curse or argue with his false accusers, but proclaimed the truth when commanded to by the earthly authorities. He comforted the women while he was carrying a cross, after having been savagely beaten. He forgave his executioners. He even comforted and forgave one of the men being crucified with him: at the moment when he was most abandoned, most alone, most hater, he comforted the good thief. This is loving our neighbor.

Life can be hard. We won’t understand it. We won’t understand what others, including God, ask of us. Yet, we still must love our neighbors. Last week, when we read of the story of the talents, we learned this. God has loved each one of us, and he wants us to share this love with others. If we do not share our love with others, then we are burying it in the ground, and we will be judged for it. If we do share God’s love, God will welcome us into heaven and eternal happiness.

Christ destroyed death so that we might live with him forever, and all we must do is to have true charity in our hearts. True charity is not comfortable. It is hard, but the reward is so much sweeter. We will grow in our ability to love, and we will grow in our love for God. What a wonderful thing to gain!

How do we love? We love others when we care for them in their bodily needs: by helping at a soup kitchen; by donating to a clothing drive; by comforting those mourning the dead; by simply stopping to say hello to the beggar. We love others when we care for their spiritual needs: when we tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it; when we love our enemies; when we pray for our enemies; when we stand up to evil in the world and say “ENOUGH.”

Love is not passive. It is very active. Love goes out, like the good shepherd, searching for others. It strives to bring them to God, so that they might be healed. It is hard work, but it is how we will be known as Christians. This is the defining character of the Kingdom of God: love. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, has built a kingdom, and he built it on the firm rock of love.

Today’s Readings:
November 26, 2017
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

Children of God

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We take this day to remember all those saints in heaven who may not be known to us or those who may not have their own day. While we don’t the particular people in Heaven (unless they’ve been canonized), we do know there are many. St. John tells us that in Heaven there will be a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.

Heaven is where we all desire to go. It is where we set our “aim” in this life. We all must aspire to live a good life, a holy life, a life close to God, so that we might attain the gift of Heaven. While we always remember that Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb, we also remember that we must live our faith. We must live the faith we believe, otherwise we can’t honestly claim to believe it!

How do we do this? Jesus tells us. The Beatitudes, which Jesus gives today, are a new law. They are the code of conduct for his new kingdom. If we wish to live our faith, to enter Heaven, we must strive to live the Beatitudes. The entire Sermon on the Mount, in fact, gives us a code by which to live. This is no easy code. It is a challenge. Augustine comments that the mountain signifies that this is a higher teaching than the old law. He continues, “the same God gave the lower precepts to a people to whom it was fitting to be bound by fear. Through his Son he gave the higher precepts to a people to whom it is fitting to be set free by love.” 1 God has freed us from the shackles of fear. He has sent his Son so that he might show us his love.

We must take up God’s challenge to love. Through prayer we can come to understand how to live the Beatitudes, both in relation to God and in relation to our neighbor. In this challenge, when the going gets tough, we remember that the Lord will never abandon us, for he calls us all back to himself, saying “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, And I will give you rest.” 2 Through Baptism, we become children of God, and God will never abandon his children.

Today’s Readings:
The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 1-12a

Reflection for the Tenth Thursday of Ordinary Time

In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us that we must make peace with our opponents before we bring our gifts to the altar. He tells us that while we are on the journey, we must settle with our opponent. If we do not, we will be thrown into jail until the full debt is repaid.

Our lives are a journey, during which we grow in our ability to love. St. Paul tells us that there is neither faith nor hope in Heaven: we can see God, therefore we do not need either; however, love remains. If we do not always work to grow in our capacity to love during our time on Earth, then in Heaven we will not reach the heights God planned for us.

On this journey, we have a traveling companion: God. God is always with us. Sadly, through original sin and our own sins, we have turned God into our opponent. He always loves us, and he always desires to be with us; however, we have turned him into an enemy in our minds. God is the one with whom we must settle. If we do not, and we reach the end of our earthly existence seeing God as our opponent, we will be handed to the judge. This judge—Jesus told us that the Father has given him this authority—will separate those going to Heaven, and those going to “fiery Gahenna.”

The full debt, however, must be repaid if we have made God into our opponent. The Gospel says that we will be handed over to the guard until this occurs. For those going to hell, this can never be repaid, as those going to hell have made God into their enemy forever. Those going to Heaven, however, have only partially made God their enemy. They have struggled to reconcile with God, but have done so imperfectly. This passage may also refer to the time spent in purgatory, where the soul is cleansed before it enters into eternal bliss with God.

This passage, ultimately, reminds us of our need to receive the sacrament of confession regularly. God has given us an easy way to reconcile ourselves with him. Confession may not be fun, because we have to admit we were wrong and that is often painful, but it reconciles us with God. It is how we can be sure we’ve reconciled with God. Sadly, our human condition will cause us to need this sacrament over and over again, but God will give it to us with great joy. God desires to give us mercy. As the scriptures tell us, God and his Angels rejoice greatly in Heaven over one repentant sinner.

Today’s Readings: 2 Cor 3:15-4:1, 3-6; Ps 85:9ab & 10, 11-12, 13-14; Mt 5:20-26

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

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 Fourth Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Fourth Wednesday of Easter

Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.

I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.

The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?

I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.

Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.

The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)

When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)

Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.

Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

About halfway through today’s Gospel, the woman at the well says to Jesus, “you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds to this in an interesting way,

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

A lot is going on in these few sentences. Jesus affirms worship in Jerusalem, but then says that neither Jerusalem nor anywhere is where the worship will take place. But we know that true worship, even now, continues in a multitude of places on the earth. While this could be a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, it can also be seen to contain more truths about true worship. The center of Jewish worship was the Temple. Non-Jewish worship was often centered around a particular place. Ancient peoples often believe mountains to be the places of the gods. The Psalms, which are both Jewish and Catholic prayers, often reference this idea of going up a mountain to worship. What Jesus is telling us is not that there will be no places of worship in this world, but that the true center of worship will no longer be here on earth. The true center of Christian worship is in the Heavenly Kingdom of God. The Mass in the West, the Divine Liturgy in the East, these are both participations in the Heavenly Liturgy. They are but images of the true glory of Heavenly Worship.

This worship requires us to know who we are worshipping. If God is not physically present on this earth, we must have some understanding of who he is in order to give him worship. This does not mean that we understand God: God is beyond our understanding. It means that our God is understandable. There is order, some sort of reason, to God at which we can grasp. The false gods of the pagans did not have this. They were given earthly forms so that people could form images in their minds, but their actions and behaviors were unreasonable. The stories of the gods were as often about their cruelty and strangeness as they were about their positive qualities. Furthermore, there was not a rationality to the religious system which allowed for rich, deep and complex thought. It allowed for many wonderful stories, and for much thought about human nature, but it was ultimately shallow. Often, the pagan gods take on aspects of human nature and the stories are formed more by human condition than by the nature of God.

The Jews, after hundreds of years of various journeys through the desert and exiles, had banished such thought from their minds. They had finally realized that God is one, that he is immaterial, and that there is an order to Him. Perhaps we do not understand, but there is a perceivable order. The Jews were chosen by God to spread this wonderful discovery to all the people of the world, but they failed their mission. Salvation still comes from the Jews through Jesus Christ and the Apostles, all of whom were Jewish. Jesus and his Apostles brought salvation to all mankind, by teaching us how to worship God in Spirit and Truth through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in Spirit because it joins in the Liturgy of Heaven, and it is a true sacrifice because it is an anamnesis—a true memorial in which we make present what occurs in the past—of the Passion of our Lord.

This worship in which we participate then forms the basis of our entire lives. It is the water which Jesus promised the woman at the well. When we pray and offer ourselves to God totally, most perfectly through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we receive this water that lasts through all eternity.

(Sorry this is late! – MS)

Today’s Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42