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

Reflection for the Eighth Tuesday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 35:1-12; Ps 50:5-6, 7-8, 14 & 23; Mk 10:28-31

The readings today speak of sacrifices made to God and how he responds to them. I have two brief notes over these readings.

First: God accepts the sacrifice of the just one. It “enriches the altar” and “is most pleasing.” What is it that makes us just in God’s eyes? This is what the readings have been discussing recently, in fact. We should ponder how we behave and show our love for God, in whom love and justice are one. By our authentic and loving sacrifices of time, talent and treasure, we act justly toward God. We must also be just when we offer our sacrifice to God (which is done most perfectly by active participation in the Holy Mass) in order for him to look upon our sacrifices with gladness. One way to do this is to put our sufferings and desires, troubles and successes on the altar (in spirit, we can’t actually put these things on the altar!) every time we go to Mass, and offer them back to God every time we celebrate his Holy Eucharist.

Second: God repays those who offer pleasing sacrifice to him. “Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age’.” And before that, the author of Sirach wrote that “the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” But God knows the difference between an unjust sacrifice and a just sacrifice—one done to earn benefits from God (“offer no bribes, these he does not accept!”) or one done out of love for God.

Reflection for the Eighth Monday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 17:20-24; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7; Mk 10:17-27

The readings today encourage us to live good lives while on this earth. The author of Sirach tells us to “turn again to the Most High and away from your sin.” While we are in this world, we have the most incredible ability: the ability to use our minds and our consciences to change our lives. Angels have minds but the cannot change. Animals do not have minds and consciences, so any change for them is a result of instinct. They cannot change in the same way that we do, and they don’t have the everlasting consequences that ours do. When we change, we can affect our immortal souls. We move ourselves closer to or further from God, and thus move closer to eternal happiness or eternal punishment.

The importance of changing in this life is reinforced a few lines later. “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High in place of the living who offer their praise? … No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.” Once we die we can no longer change as when we were living. At that point, we have made all of the choices that we will be able to make.

Jesus tells us that living this virtuous life will be a difficult task in today’s Gospel. “For men it is impossible” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, “but not for God.” God will give us the grace that we need, provided that we do our best to love him and to serve him. Jesus tells us that to serve God, we must follow his laws. Not only that, but we must detach ourselves from all worldly things and trust only in God. God will be our treasure.

Let us do our best to love God and to follow his laws, the laws he gave us in order to help us be happy. In doing so, we have our best chance at entering eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Reflection for the Seventh Saturday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 17:1-15; Ps 103:13-14, 15-16, 17-18; Mk 10:13-16

We get something very special in Sirach today: a creation story! Creation stories are not limited to Genesis; they appear throughout the Bible. This story focuses on the creation of humanity. God “from earth” created us “in his own image.” While we are linked to the material world through our bodies, we are also linked to God because we were created in his image: we have an immaterial and rational soul. The reading states that God “filled them with the discipline of understanding.” He gave us knowledge of the spirit. He filled our hearts with wisdom, and showed us good and evil. He created us with a desire for Him, and says to us, “Avoid all evil.”

This story emphasizes that God created us in a special way. We are not mere animals, but we also aren’t angels. He gave us many gifts: understanding, wisdom, knowledge of good and evil, and a desire for Him. We have these things because God created us in his image and gave us a spirit. All of us have this spirit; all of us were created in God’s image, even the smallest of us. When Jesus saw the disciples hindering the children he rebuked them! The children desired to come to Jesus, to love Him. They were more in touch with the image of God within themselves than many of the disciples, because they could recognize the goodness in Jesus and flocked to him.

Jesus then tells us that we all should embrace the Kingdom of God as these children. What does this mean? It means that we must learn again what many of us have forgotten: to avoid all evil so that we might recognize and pursue God with all of our hearts. Then we are able to follow the greatest commandment: “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Dt 6:5)

So today, let us try to love God with every part of ourselves.

Reflection for the Seventh Friday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Sir 6:5-17; Ps 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35; Mark 10:1-12

The reading from Sirach today tells us to test our friends, and to not be too ready to trust them. It then tells us why: not all people who initially seem to be our friends actually are our friends. But when you find a true friend, we must cherish that friend. “No sum can balance his worth.” St. Aelred of Rievaulx wrote a short book called Spiritual Friendship. In the third part of the book, he outlines just how to do this: we test the trustworthiness of the potential friend slowly and by a progressive revelation of ourselves to him or her.

While this understanding of friendship is much more general than marriage, one of these cherished friendships should be at the heart of every marriage. “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure… A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy…” Spouses become a sturdy shelter under which a family can be built, and in which they can help one another grow. Spouses treasure each other with all that they have, with their treasury of love always growing. Spouses help each other get into heaven—saving the eternal lives of one another.

This bond of friendship is the bedrock upon which a marriage must be built. Mutual love for God and one another allows them to grow in these wonderful ways. The book of Sirach says that one “who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.” By loving God and one another, they become more like God every moment that they are together.

In marriage, this friendship is sealed by God himself in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The man and woman publicly pledge to God and the world that they will stand by one another, and work for the salvation of themselves and their brand new family. They promise to be the best of friends. God joins them together, and nothing may separate them.

Reflection for the Memorial of St. Polycarp

Today’s Readings: Sir 5:1-8; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Mk 9:41-50

Today’s meditation includes quotes from the Office of Readings for St. Polycarp of Smyrna.

The line about salt always confuses me. How does salt lose its flavor? It seems to me that salt would have to change into something completely different to lose its saltiness.

Well… Perhaps that’s the point.

When I’m cooking spaghetti sauce and add too much salt, I have to add more of the other ingredients. There is nothing I can do to get rid of the saltiness except to dilute it with more tomatoes, more herbs, maybe even a little wine.

Jesus says that we are to be “salted with fire.” Fire often refers to testing and temptation in the Gospels. So, we gain our “flavor” by how we react and respond to the challenges God presents to us in our lives. We can lose this flavor by diluting our lives with everything else. By focusing on the wrong things, we become watered down and lose what makes us who we are. Spaghetti sauce needs salt to taste right. We aren’t fully ourselves when we water down ourselves with the wrong things either.

St. Polycarp of Smyrna is a perfect example of this. He never allowed himself to become lax in his faith or to turn from God. He was a man in love with God, and he was willing to die for that love. He was burned at the stake, and when the pyre was lit it did not have to stench from burning human flesh. Instead, it had a fragrance “like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.” Not only that, but “his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace.”

Whenever we sacrifice for God, our sacrifices smell like sweet incense to God. We become like gold and silver that has been refined through fire. I am reminded of Psalm 51:

“For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”

Reflection for the Seventh Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection for the Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

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

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

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

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

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

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.