Holiness and Devotion

St. Peter tells us that we are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.”

He has just one question for us: “[W]hat sort of persons ought you to be?”

The stakes seem pretty high, so hopefully we get the answer right!

The answer is simple: if we conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, St. Peter tells us, we will “await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Holiness… and devotion…

Well the answer may be simple, but it’s sure not easy!

Growing in holiness requires us to do uncomfortable things. We have to repent of our sins, but we first must acknowledge that we’ve sinned. How often have I turned away from God with my actions? How often have I done something I know to be wrong, simply because I wanted to? Have I educated myself so that I know right from wrong?

The Psalm today teaches us that in Heaven, “[k]indness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” If kindness and truth meet in Heaven, then they cannot oppose each other: to know and understand the truth is a kindness. Part of the truth is knowledge of right and wrong. It is knowing that not only is murder wrong, but so is abortion. It is knowing that prejudice against other races and nationalities wrong. It is knowing that all sex outside of marriage, and that even in marriage, unchaste activity is wrong. It is knowing that contraception violates the dignity of a spouse by holding back a part of the gift of self, given in the marital act. It is knowing that what we look at, what we watch—it matters! When we watch, look at, or even read about sinful behavior, it changes us! It is knowing that all people have value: the young and the old.

It is knowing that when we don’t understand or agree with one of these teachings, we must try to understand why the Church teaches us these things.

This knowledge is a kindness, because it helps us to live better lives. When we live better lives, it becomes easier to communicate to God in our prayer. It becomes easier to form the relationship with God that we so desperately need.

Knowing right from wrong is half the battle. Doing right and avoiding wrong, that’s even harder; however, it is possible. This is where prayer is so helpful, because God will help you if you ask him to help you. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” When we pray, we ask the Lord to enter into our hearts and make the path straight. In prayer, we beg the Lord to help us prepare for Heaven by straightening out our lives, by taking us out of the desert wasteland and allowing us to enter paradise with him. By this prayer to help us rectify our lives, we grow in devotion to God.

Kindness by knowing the truth.

Experiencing justice through the peace of heart that we receive from God in prayer.

Holiness and devotion.

So simple, but so hard.

Today’s Readings:
December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Come, Lord Jesus!

Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?

Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!

We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?

We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?

The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3

How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.

Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”

Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!

Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.

Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!

Today’s Readings:
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

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

The Wedding Garment

Parable of the Great Banquet - Brunswick Monogrammist

The king says, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” The man doesn’t make an excuse. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t even claim he shouldn’t have to wear such ridiculous garb after being brought in from the street. He doesn’t do anything. He is reduced to silence. Like the king in the parable, our Heavenly King—God—demands a response from us every day of our lives. We can respond in one of three ways: we can follow God; we can turn away from God; or, we can simply not respond to God.

The wedding garment in the parable doesn’t necessarily refer to something special the man had to put on to attend the party. It is entirely possible that it means, simply, that the guests were expected to wear clean clothes to the party. The man came into the wedding party in dirty clothes. He didn’t bother to put on clean clothes. This discourtesy was an insult to the king. The king may have invited people in from the street, but he still had standards! Thus, the king asked the man, “why he did you come in dirty clothes?”

Imagine if someone had shown up in torn up jeans and a t-shirt to a wedding you are attending. If someone had shown up to my sister’s wedding like that, I would have had some questions for that person too! “Did you intend to come dressed like that? Are you in the right place? Do you need some help?”

The man didn’t respond to the king, and so he was cast out.

The results of following God and turning away from God are clear, but not responding to God is just as bad as turning away from him. We are all wounded by sin, and we all approach God unworthily. Using the language of the parable, none of us have a clean wedding garment. God knows this, yet he still invites us to his wedding feast. God knows we need help. We must not be speechless! Instead, we must ask our merciful Lord for help! “I’m trying, please help me!” “Lord, I don’t even know where to begin!” “Lord, I thought I was doing the right thing, but everything just went so wrong!” “I’m sorry, God. Help. Please.”

Through our daily work to accept God’s invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb—to Heaven—, we slowly wash clean our soul. Eventually, we will come closer and closer to having a clean wedding garment—a clean soul. By responding to God, even in our weakness, we allow God to scrub, slowly, the stains of sin out of our soul. Our king is so generous that he will give us all the mercy and all the grace that we will need to cleanse our lives. What fantastic news!

What is this daily work we must do in order to enter into the wedding feast of Heaven? We must cut out those things in our lives that take us away from God. We must cut out those things in our lives that prevent us from responding to God.

We cannot say yes to God when we regularly engage in mortal sin. We cannot hear God when our lives are filled with constant noise and distraction. We cannot hear God when we assault our bodies with substances that intoxicate us and divorce us from our ability to think.

We must live lives of purity, chastity, and goodness.

We must live lives of stillness, making time to listen for God in the silence.

We must live lives of sobriety and good choices.

We must live lives so that when we die we can say:

“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

Today’s Readings:
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

Reflection for the Visitation of Mary

This year, the Visitation sits right in the middle of two great feasts: the Ascension and the Pentecost. At first, this seemed like an interesting coincidence, but not much more. After all, what does Mary visiting Elizabeth have to do with the Ascension, when Jesus raises himself into Heaven? What could it possibly have to do with the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes? After some reflection, however, I realized that there is no more fitting place for the Visitation to end up in the calendar.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The first thing to look at is the symbolism in this sentence. Jesus was lifted up. He is no longer confined to the Earth. He is above the Earth. Furthermore, he was lifted up of his own power. The last time he had had been lifted up was on the Cross. He had been nailed to the Cross, and hung there, still attached to the Earth. At the Ascension, he triumphs over the Cross definitively, being lifted up. The cloud which took him from the sight of the apostles was, undoubtedly, no ordinary cloud. Think of all the other times we see clouds in the Bible. The cloud on Mt. Sinai, the Cloud of Presence that led the Jewish people through the desert, the Cloud of Presence in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Cloud of the Father who proclaims that he is pleased with Jesus. Clouds stand for the Heavenly Kingdom in the Bible. Jesus didn’t fade out of sight and become a wispy cloud, he disappeared because he fully entered into the Heavenly Kingdom.

At the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rushes upon all those present. The Holy Spirit was breathed into us by the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit acts throughout the world, and especially through the church of Jesus Christ—the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded at the Pentecost. Baptism and Confirmation conform us to God in a new way, and allow the Holy Spirit to act more fully within us. These two sacraments open the doors of our souls to all of the graces and gifts that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us. These Sacraments are truly necessary for our spiritual well-being. St. Paul tells us that, “[t]o each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor 12:7) These gifts, these graces, are for our benefit, namely so that we may reach Heaven.

So what does Mary’s visit to Elizabeth have to do with either of these?

Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, we are often tempted to think that the apostles were dormant, that they did nothing. But that is not true. When a woman is the early stages of pregnancy, nothing appears to be happening within her; however, there is a new life growing! Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, this is what was occurring with the apostles. They were processing and coming to understand all the good that Jesus had worked, and everything that was going on inside of their hearts. Even more importantly, Peter and the apostles recognized that Judas must be replaced and elected Matthias. This recognition was crucial in many ways to the growth of the embryonic church. They recognized that they were chosen not simply as individuals, but as officials. The apostles had recognized that this work must continue to go on after them. Once they had realized their status as officials (think of something like an elected administrator in the Kingdom of God) and their need for a plan of succession, they were ready for the Holy Spirit to come.

The Visitation reminds us that Jesus grew inside of Mary, in the same way that each of us do. He developed in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for him to be born. Celebrating it in between the Ascension and the Pentecost reminds us that Jesus’s Church, similarly, had to grow in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for the Church to come alive. Finally, we must take notice that just as Mary was present through Jesus’s birth, she was also present when his Church came truly alive at Pentecost.

Today, let us remember that Mary will always accompany us to her Son, just as she accompanied her Son into the world. Let us ask her to prepare our hearts to fully receive Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18A; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; Luke 1:39-56

Reflection for Wednesday of Holy Week

In the readings over the last two weeks, the Church, has presented us with two paths: the path on which we follow the light and the path on which we are in the dark. Israel, the nation of God’s chosen people, was supposed to light the path for all the world to see. Every covenant God made with Israel was an attempt to get his people to fulfill their duty, but Israel repeatedly failed to upload the covenant and to shine brightly. Almighty God Himself had to come and shine His light for the world, so that we could follow him.

Today, the Gospel speaks of Judas’ betrayal. At the Last Supper, no one—except for Jesus—realized that Judas was “the bad guy.” In fact, most people probably assumed he was a pretty good guy. He followed Jesus around, and was even trusted with the money of the group. When Jesus reveals that one of the apostles will betray him, they don’t know who the betrayer will be. Who knows what might happen if the Temple Guard picks one of them up? They are all forced to ask themselves: will I betray Jesus?

We, too, can ask ourselves this question: will I walk into the light, with Jesus? Or, instead, will I head into the darkness, away from Jesus?

Judas chose to walk away from the light, following the way of the world, into the darkness.

The light is bright, and it is blinding. It may even give us some spiritual sunburn, but it is so much better than the dark. It can be difficult to stay on the path of the light.

Peter and the other apostles chose to walk into the light, but they had trouble staying on the path. Peter denied Jesus! This is a betrayal of Jesus too, but the difference is the reaction. Judas, walking in the darkness, despaired after betraying Jesus, and he hung himself. Peter, walking in the light, wept bitterly. The light exposed his fault, his weakness. The light burned the impurities out of Peter’s soul and purified him. The light exposed Peter’s faults, and allowed him to recognize his need to seek forgiveness.

Isaiah is another person who walked in the light. He set his face like flint toward God. He had no will but to follow God. He would not be put to shame, because Isaiah knew that following God was always the right decision—even when it is difficult. God will give us what we need if only we trust him. “The Lord God is my help,” Isaiah says. He knows that God will be with him in troubled times.

Let us strive to walk in the light. In the light, we may walk with confidence, because we know that God is always with us.

Today’s Readings: Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 & 33-34; Mt 26:14-25

Reflection for the Second Tuesday of Lent

The readings in Lent are a constant drumbeat. They call us repeatedly to look at our lives and to repent of wrong doing. They constantly remind us of the mercy of God when we turn to him. Today is no different. The first reading calls us to cleanse ourselves of sins, and that we will be washed as white as snow. It also contains a warning: if we do not repent, if we “refuse and resist, the sword shall consume [us].” The psalmist reminds us that God does not care about empty sacrifices and recitation of his laws: he wants us to love him, he wants our words of praise to be true. To God, a pleasing sacrifice is one where we offer him true praise, heartfelt thanksgiving, and real repentance. “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that god the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

This is what Jesus addresses in the Gospel today. The scribes and the Pharisees offer empty sacrifice, empty praise. They do not mean what they do and say. They are in it for their own glory. Jesus reminds us that we must be what we say and do. In another place, we are told to “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” This Gospel is calling us to similar behavior. We must love one another. If we truly love one another, we will be willing—glad even—to serve one another.

Today’s Readings: Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 & 23; Mt 23:1-12

Reflection for the First Tuesday of Lent

Isaiah today compares the Word of God to rain. It will not return to until it has made the ground fertile and fruitful. The Word of God—Jesus Christ—did come down to Earth. He watered the ground with the water and blood from his side, and he remained here until the Church could stand on its own. This prophesy from Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But that is not all, one of the seeds that Jesus planted was a prayer. Specifically, the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples. Afterwards, he reinforces a particularly challenging section of the prayer, saying: “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Forgiveness is not an option. We must forgive. To do that, we must pray to God for assistance. Forgiveness, like salvation, is too difficult for men and women to do on their own—we must ask God for help.

God will always bring us this help. Today’s Psalm ends with amazing words of comfort: “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” We are all trying to be just in God’s sight. Whenever we ask for help to love God or neighbor, to forgive, God will not hold back. Even if we are broken and crushed, God can give us the strength that we need to carry on and—more importantly—to forgive.

Today’s Readings: Is 55:10-11; Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Mt 6:7-15

Reflection for Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings: Is 58:9b-14; Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Lk 5:27-32

Jesus calls Levi—Matthew—to follow him in today’s Gospel reading. Levi leaves everything behind and immediately follows Jesus. He follows Jesus to learn the way of truth, justice, and happiness. Isaiah tells us the way to follow Jesus in the first reading. Those who treat others well, following God’s laws, will be called “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of ruined homesteads.”

But the second portion of Isaiah’s message looks at something many people do not always think about. He reminds us that the Sabbath is supposed to be holy. “If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath… by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—Then you shall delight in the Lord.” How many of us treat Sunday as just another day? We go to Mass, but after that it’s Saturday, part 2. There is nothing inherently evil in going out, seeing a movie, going shopping, etc., but what are we doing throughout the day to glorify God? Do we spend extra time with family or friends, building up the community of God by building up our relationships with other people? Do we pray a rosary together with others, or maybe by ourselves? Do we spend a little extra time throughout the day reflecting on the beauty and glory of God’s creation?

Let us remember to truly keep holy the Sabbath. Not by cutting out everything we do and having no fun at all, but by intentionally involving God in all of our Sunday activities. (And if we wouldn’t invite God to come along with us, maybe we need to reconsider what we’re doing!)

Reflection for Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings: Is 58:1-9a; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Mt 9:14-15

Today we learn about fasting in the readings. The psalmist writes that God is not pleased with the burnt offerings that the Israelites presented to him. This reminds us of the sacrifice of Cain in Genesis, which God also did not accept. The psalmist then tells us that God accepts the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, a sacrifice like Abel’s. The reading from Isaiah also mentions this theme. We cannot fast and become angry, quarrelsome, and wicked and expect for God to accept this sacrifice of fasting. We must do good works, and continue to be good Christians and good people while we fast. In the Gospels, we are told that we must not be gloomy when we fast, but we should be joyful!

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of fasting in a different way. He reminds us that there is a time for fasting which is appropriate, and a time which is not appropriate. If we are celebrating the presence of the bridegroom, for example. We live in an in between time. Jesus is with us, and the Kingdom of God is present on this earth through the Church; however, Jesus is not present as he was when he lived on the earth, and the Kingdom of God extends into Heaven, so it is not fully actualized on this earth either. We must use our good judgment to determine the times for fasting and feasting, and the Church helps us with this, setting aside seasons such as Lent for penance and fasting. But she has also set aside days for feasting: Every Sunday (most especially Easter), Christmas, and Holy Days of Obligation. We cannot celebrate only one and not the other—both are necessary!

So let us enter into the season of Lent with a proper disposition towards fasting: one of love for God and neighbor, so that when the Easter Season comes we may enjoy the feasting and joyous activity even more!