Reflection for September 11, 2017: The Question

Sixteen years ago, men flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. More men failed to reach their target when heroic men and women rebelled against their hijackers. What would bring people to commit such an evil action? How could anyone think that crashing planes full of people into buildings full of people was an OK thing to do? They, like the Pharisees, were following a law that they believed to be from God. They believed that because their imam declared a holy war, they could commit atrocities. The laws of Islam, as the terrorists understood it, permitted this.1

Today Jesus asks all of us, “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

A new person shows up at the parish. They aren’t dressed well, and are acting strangely, but seem to want to talk to someone. Mass starts in 2 minutes, and I don’t really have time to talk, so I find something to do so that I look busy.

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?

I meet some friends for lunch. After the usual pleasantries, we begin discussing what is happening in the neighborhood. It turns into gossip about all the people I don’t like.

How do my actions save life, rather than destroy it?

We do not know the day nor the hour that God will call us to himself. As we mourn the loss of life on and after September 11, let it be a reminder for us to remain ever vigilant about the state of our own souls.

Today’s Readings:
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Col 1:24–2:3; Ps 62:6-7, 9; Lk 6:6-11

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 Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48

Reflection for Easter Wednesday

The disciples walking to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, even when he was telling them about all of salvation history and how he had fulfilled it. It was only in the Eucharist when they recognized Jesus, through the actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread. What is most interesting to me is that these are the same four actions we see in every account where Jesus feeds a multitude. These are also the same words that the priest uses in the Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer, where we recognize Christ in his Eucharistic Presence.

These four actions can be understood as an analogue to our spiritual life. We offer ourselves to God, sins and all. He takes us, and he blesses us. He gives us special grace so that we may transform ourselves, and purify ourselves. He helps us to make ourselves a better offering for him. He does this by cleaning off the crust that forms over our hearts. God breaks our hearts, little by little, to open them to his love. But we are not the only one being broken. God’s heart was broken by a lance, and from that broken heart flowed forth blood and water. This blood and water is the fountain of everlasting salvation; it is the water flowing from the side of the temple. The love and mercy of God flows from his own heart into ours, filling it up completely until it overflows. God then gives us back our hearts, formed anew. He has broken our hearts of stone and given us hearts overflowing with love.

Peter, John, and the other apostles had their hearts shattered by the Crucifixion, but the Resurrection and Pentecost filled them so much that they could not stop themselves from praising God constantly at the Temple. On one occasion, they healed the crippled man we heard about today. Then, the man went with the to praise God! How appropriate that this happened at the Beautiful Gate, for it is indeed a beautiful sight when a healed and renewed man recognized God’s love, and in return gives his soul completely over to God.

When we hand ourselves over to God, he will break us and form us anew. But what a wonder this can be, if we allow God time to do his work. Many of us wonder what the meaning of suffering is, and I won’t pretend to answer that; however, I will say that in our suffering we learn to truly love God and to allow others to love us. God has been through everything we will ever experience. No matter what we’ve done, God will always take us back. No matter how enormous the hole in our soul has become, God can fill it.

All we must do is offer ourselves to God. He will take what we offer him, and give us back more than we can ever imagine.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:13-35

Reflection for the Third Thursday of Lent

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

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

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

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

Reflection for the Second Saturday of Lent

Today we hear two readings about repentance and mercy. The prophet Micah wonders at God’s mercy, marveling that he casts into the sea all our sins. In the ancient world, the sea often stood in place for a place of terror and death. In effect, what Micah is stunned by is that God, in some way, kills our sins. Our sins are washed away, and God showers compassion upon us.

This is exactly what happens in the story of the Prodigal Son, which we hear in today’s Gospel passage. We all know this story. What I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that the son who abandoned his family and his father recognized that he had sinned, then was willing to make repentance for it. He returned to his father, begging to be forgiven. His father could not contain his joy at seeing the son return. This is what happens in Confession. God is delighted to see us come back to him; however, we must make the turn back to God. We cannot expect God to forgive us if we aren’t willing to ask for his forgiveness. He wants to forgive us. He desires that we come back to him, and He is ready to welcome us with open arms.

We do not know the day or the hour in which our lives will come to an end, so let us make the turn toward God now, before it is too late! Let us run to God with all our strength, so that when we come home he may great us with open arms to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!

Today’s Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Reflection for the Second Thursday of Lent

One thing that has always struck me as odd about today’s Gospel is that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus with cooling water, or to send Lazarus to his family. It could be that the rich man—who is never named—understands that he is helpless to do these things himself, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that his desire for Lazarus to do these things shows that the rich man still doesn’t “get it.” He still wants other people to do all the work.

This would go right in line with the rich man’s way of life prior to his death and eternal punishment. In Jesus’s time, someone who wore purple had to get special permission from the emperor himself to do so and would undoubtedly be very rich. He also dined “sumptuously.” This tells us that the rich man had more material wealth than most people could imagine—someone like this would be one of the richest men in the world today—and did not share it with others who were, literally, lying at his doorstep. The rich man could have given Lazarus enough money for a lifetime and would not have even noticed; however, he did not.

The rich man suffered from the sin of greed. He always wanted more. More money. More clothes. More luxurious food. More servants to do things for him. He never looked outside of himself to the other to consider what someone else might need. The rich man turned his heart away from the Lord and in upon itself. All sin does this: all sin turns the person’s heart back in on itself. True love, in which a person desires to give of themselves to others, is perverted and becomes self-love, in which a person desires everything for his or herself and uses others in order to do so.

Jeremiah warns against this in the first reading. He tells us that the human who trusts in human beings and in created things is doomed and cursed. Only in God, Jeremiah tells us, can man have true hope. The Lord will reward each one per his or her deeds. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is. The standard by which we are judged is a perfection. The only way we stand a chance is by opening our hearts to God and to others, so that we may love each other fully and truly, in a way that is proper to our relationship with the other.

The rich have a duty to help the poor, as the poor have a duty to help the rich. Spouses have a duty of mutual help. Other relationships have unique and special ways in which the persons involved are called to love one another. May we never forget to see every other person as a human person who is loved by God, and to treat them in accord with their value as God’s beloved child.

Today’s Readings: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Lk 16:19-31

Reflection for the Second Monday of Lent

In the first reading today, Daniel is begging the Lord to have mercy on the Israelite people despite their many sins and failures. This plea is also in the today’s psalm, which asks the Lord not to “remember not against us the iniquities of the past; may your compassion quickly come to us, for we are brought very low.” This has been a common theme throughout the first week of Lent: recognizing our failures and asking God to forgive us.

Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that the Father is merciful, and that we are called to be merciful like him. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” If we do not love, if we do not have mercy, then how can we expect God to have mercy on us? Many parables have a similar message, and we even find it in the Our Father, where we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

These words can strike fear into our hearts, because they force us to recognize that our salvation depends on how we treat others—and we are terrible to other people sometimes! While we must do our best, our best isn’t enough. We know that for man it is impossible to enter Heaven. Only God can bring us to Heaven. So let us ask God to help us forgive and have mercy on others, so that we might grow in these virtues, so that at the end of our days when we meet God we will be greeted with a God’s superabundant mercy and love that we tried to give to others.

(Sorry about this being late!)

Today’s Readings: Dan 9:4b-10; Ps 79:8, 9, 11 & 13; Lk 6:36-38

Reflection for the First Wednesday of Lent

I must admit, every time that I read from the book of Jonah, I chuckle a little bit. When the king of Ninevah hears the message of Jonah, he proclaims a fast and days of penance for not just the people, but also the animals of Ninevah. The cattle and the sheep, along with every man and woman, had to fast, be covered in ashes, and put on sack cloth. Can you imagine that scene? It’s kind of ridiculous!

But once I stop chuckling and step back, I realize that there is serious business going on in the book of Jonah. Even more so when you consider the words of today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the people that they will not receive a sign except the sign of Jonah. What is the sign of Jonah?

Let’s go back a little bit further in the book of Jonah. Jonah initially said no to God. He did not want to preach to Ninevah. Jonah was a Jew, and he did not want the Ninevites to be saved. He thought, as some people still think, that there is only so much salvation to go around. He did everything he could to avoid Ninevah, and he ended up getting swallowed by a whale. Now, I’ve never been swallowed by a whale, but I don’t think that’s an experience that a person survives. In fact, the prayer that Jonah prays in the belly of whale refers to him being in Sheol—the land of the dead. After three days, however, Jonah was spewed onto dry land, and he was brought back to life to complete the mission on which God had sent him.

Many people see this as the sign of Jonah. Jonah died and rose three days later, as Christ did. But this was not the sign of Jonah. But Jesus tells us that the sign of Jonah will be given to the people, so what was it and how was it fulfilled?

The sign of Jonah was the immediate repentance and conversion of heart of the Ninevites. We see this prophesy fulfilled in the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ—the Catholic Church. Especially at Pentecost, the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. They repented of their sinful ways and committed themselves and their lives to following God. This sign continues even today, as the Church grows. Every time a new person is baptized, or repents and comes back to God, the sign of Jonah is realized. The sign of Jonah can be seen in the lasting presence of the Church in the world.

Through the Sacraments of the Church, we are given new life—as Jonah was given on the beach—in Baptism; God is made present to us through the Eucharist, our sins are forgiven in Confession, and in Confirmation we are strengthened for our mission. What is our mission? The same as Jonah’s mission: to go out to the world and preach the Good News of Salvation.

Today’s Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Lk 11:29-32