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

Brief Reflection on the Fifteenth Wednesday

In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?

In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.

Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.

Today’s Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12; Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27

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 the Sixth Wednesday of Easter

I’ve always liked this section of the Acts of the Apostles, because it gives us such a good template for how to engage those in the culture around us. Paul sees that the Athenians have many altars to various deities, including one for an unknown god. He takes this as a starting point for his preaching, and I think it is a truly brilliant. The Athenians recognize that there is something missing, that they do not know. Paul tells them that he knows what this missing thing is: it is God.

This God, Paul preaches, created all things and rules all things, but that is not all. This God lives in us, and he created humanity in his own image. This God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ and has ushered in a time for repentance, so that we may turn to him and know him and love him. This Jesus will “judge the world with justice,” so we must get busy with our work of conforming our lives to God.

The Athenians are listening intently to Paul until the very last line in his preaching, where he tells them that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That is too much for them. Some were straightforward in their disbelief, scoffing. Others said, “let’s talk about this later.” Paul recognized that he would make no progress and left.

It is fascinating to me how well this depicts modern engagement with the culture. The culture is in dire need of something meaningful. People will even listen to religion to try and fill the hole, but there is always some point where they decide, “nope, too much.” It is often the moral standards inherent in religion, but even now—2000 years later—the Resurrection is a point of difficulty for many. Even Christians don’t really know what the Resurrection means, and some—if pressed—don’t truly believe that it happened.

Paul wasn’t discouraged by this. He took those who followed him, and moved on to the next town. In our efforts to be lights to the world, we must do the same. When someone truly wants to know and love God, we should help them. When they brush us off, we must not be discouraged. No, we must take heart and move to the next person, continuing to live the true Christian life.

Today’s Readings: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1; Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Jn 16:12-15

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 Fourth Tuesday of Easter

(I wrote this reflection with the primary audience intended to be younger schoolchildren.)

Sometimes people around us ask us to do things we don’t really want to do. When that happens, what do we do? I know that sometimes I will pretend that I didn’t hear the person, but that doesn’t usually work. Another thing I might do is to tell them that I don’t understand what they’re asking me to do. Maybe it is true I don’t actually understand, but if I had been listening when they were talking I would understand. It’s like if my mom told me that if I took out the trash I could go play with my friends, and all I heard was the part about playing with my friends. My mom would be angry if I didn’t take the trash out, and I wouldn’t get to play with my friends. Just because I heard it the way that I wanted to hear it, that doesn’t change that my mom told me to take out the trash. Saying “I didn’t understand” wouldn’t change What my mom had told me.

This is like what is happening in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has been telling everybody about his mission and who he is, but they ask him to tell them plainly, which means they are probably pretending not to understand Jesus. In reality, they just don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to understand what he is saying. They might have to change if they could understand him. They don’t want to change, so instead of hearing what Jesus is actually saying, they only hear what they want to hear. 

We need to make sure that we are always listening for Jesus’s voice, so that we can hear it when he speaks to us. Jesus is our Shepherd, and we know when he is speaking to us. He doesn’t talk to us like other people do, but in other ways. When we want to do something bad and there is something inside of us telling us that it is wrong, that is Jesus talking to us. When we want to do something good and there is a voice inside of us telling us that it is good, that is also Jesus talking to us. We always need to remember to listen for what Jesus asks us to do.

One of the best ways to listen to what Jesus wants us to do is to be obedient to our parents, because God gave our parents a special role to teach and guide us. We also should listen to our teachers, because our parents trust our teachers to teach us and help us learn all the things we need to know. Jesus can speak to us through our parents and our teachers, so we should do our best to do what they ask us.

So today, let’s all try our best to listen for Jesus. Sometimes he talks to us by helping us know right from wrong, and sometimes he talks to us through other people. He is always trying to speak to us, and all we have to do to hear him is to quiet down a little bit and to listen.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7; Jn 10:22-30