we’re the birds

God tells us today, through his prophet Ezekiel, that he will take a tender shoot from the highest branches of a cedar tree and plant it in the mountains of Israel, making a home for birds of every kind and every sort of winged thing. Christ also mentions a tree to us today, a tree which grows large enough so that all the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. When we read such things, it is tempting to think we are somehow related to the seeds or the trees. For example, we can understand the mustard seed as a seed of faith planted in our hearts so that virtue, represented by the birds, may find shelter in our souls. This is, certainly, a good way to understand the parable. When we put the parable into a greater Biblical context, I think a somewhat different reality emerges: We are the birds.

Credit: El Golli Mohamed, via Wikimedia Commons

We human beings love to do things. We like to build stuff. (Unless we are 3 year old boys, in which case we like to destroy stuff.) We like to be able to say, “I did that!” and maybe slap our name on the thing. It is no different in our spiritual lives. We like to claim that we are in control. That our hard efforts at prayer and asceticism led to us being good Christians. While this is, to an extent, true, we must recognize one very important thing: We are the birds. We aren’t in control. And that’s OK. God has provided a place for us to find refreshment and rest from our labors. He invites us to stay and make our home with him in the shady branches he has provided for us. The tree is the Kingdom of God, and we are invited to live there.

When we look at what God spoke through Ezekiel, we learn that the topmost branch of the cedar refers to the King of Israel. When God says he will take from the crest of the cedar and plant it on the highest mountain in Israel, (New Jerusalem Bible) he is undoubtedly giving us a glimpse of Calvary, where Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, was planted on Calvary. God tells us that this cedar he has planted shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. From Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the Church gushed forth from his wounded side, and she spread through all the world, giving refuge to all the poor ones suffering from the tyranny of evil and sin. God finishes his speech through Ezekiel by saying I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. God wants us to remember that he is in control, no matter what the political powers of this world might want us to think. Our trust belongs in God.

While we are still on this earth, though, we do not see God clearly, and it can be hard to trust him. Many things block our sight of God; so, we must walk by faith. St. Paul exhorts us to be courageous, and we certainly must be courageous. The Christian life is not easy. We stumble and fall constantly. Sometimes we fall flat on our face and lose the way entirely. We must pray always, asking God to show us the way and to have the strength to continue following him. No matter what sin we fight every day, we must bring it to prayer, surrender it to God, and ask for his help in finding our way back to him. For mortal sins, we bring them to confession so that the gaping wound in our soul can be sewn up and healed.

As we work to find our shelter in the Kingdom of God, let us also remember one more thing about birds. Birds help to scatter the seeds as well. As Christians, we are called to take the Good News and bring it to those around us, so that the Kingdom of God might grow. Most of us do this within our marriages. The love of spouses should be an image of the love of God: fruitful and beautiful. There are many, though, called to spread the Good News in a different way. Those of us called to religious life or to the priesthood are called to love just as fruitfully and beautifully. No matter what your vocation, do no be afraid to follow God. Do not let society deter you. If we follow society, we’ll find ourselves in a dead tree with no shade and recognize that we’re just a whole bunch of angry crows.

Instead, let God be in control. Fly into the branches of his kingdom. Let God lead you to his lush garden, full of beauty and peace.

Cedars of Lebanon from Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Readings:
June 13, 2021
Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:25-34

the destiny of sheep

Today we hear the beautiful Gospel of the Good Shepherd who does not flee from the wolves but is prepared to lay down his life for the sheep. Many, if not most, of us who read this see it as a call to be like the Good Shepherd, to stand fast in the face of evil and protect those around us. That is, perhaps, one of the many things Jesus wants to take from this parable, but I believe that we are missing the rather obvious point if that’s what we take away from today’s Gospel. That so-obvious-we-often-miss-it point? We are the sheep. Christ says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Israel was the original flock, and we are the sheep that belonged to another fold. Christ came to add us to his flock. We are the sheep who will hear his voice and unite as one flock with one shepherd. Well… We are the sheep, unless we have chosen to follow Satan and become one of the wolves.

Jesus Christ is the one and only Good Shepherd. If we follow anyone else, we are not in safe hands. We must follow the voice of the one who conquered death. We hear in the Easter Sequence “Death with life contended: // combat strangely ended! // Life’s own Champion, slain, // yet lives to reign. […] Christ is truly risen // from the dead we know. // Victorious King, Thy mercy show!” (Victimae paschali laudes, ICEL trans.)

The battle of the Good Shepherd against the wolves is already won. The real question is not, “Am I like the Good Shepherd?” but, “Do I follow his voice when I hear it? Do I allow him to protect me?” St. Peter tells us that “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12) If we follow Christ’s voice, we will be saved, but if we instead follow the voices of this world, the voices of power, money, carnal pleasure, gender ideology, politics, or whatever else is floating around, then we will not be saved. We will become one of the wolves who scatter and capture, dragging others down to hell with us.

God has bestowed his love upon humanity and invited us to become his children. When we were baptized, we were given that title: Child of God. We don’t entirely grasp how glorious this is because we don’t grasp the glory of God. We were created in the image and likeness of God. We were adopted as his sons and daughters at our Baptism. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, came to this earth to call us to himself so that he might save us from the wolves of sin and death. We have been invited to join God in an eternal life of joy after we pass from this earth. This is the destiny to which every one of us are called.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete once said, “Our first interest is in our own destiny, and it that is not there, there is no way we can be interested in anything beyond that. To say that, the accusation, the fear will immediately grow in us that I am being selfish. I should first take care of the needs of other people; I should care first more about other people, and then about me. But you cannot care about anyone else unless you care about yourself. […] Christ presents himself as our Redeemer because he rescues, strengthens, safeguards this interest in our destiny.” (Albacete, Culture at the Crossroads (online PDF), pg. 63)

Let us look to the glorious destiny to which we have been called. We are the beloved children of God. We are the sheep protected by the Good Shepherd. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

Today’s Readings:
April 25, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

Do I know Him?

As I prepared for this weekend, a few lines from the second reading, from St. John, kept haunting me:

Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.

This is strong language. St. John does not use the term “liar” lightly. None of the Biblical authors do! These lines forced me to consider a question: “How do we know?” Perhaps, even more pointedly, my heart proposed a question to me: “Do I know Him?”

Let’s start with what “knowing” isn’t: to know is not to understand completely. We will never fully understand God. He is utterly beyond our comprehension. It isn’t just God, though, who we cannot fully comprehend. We will never fully comprehend another human being. We may get to know them, but we won’t fully understand them. If you look at a couple who has been married many years, the spouses can still be surprised by one another. These surprises delight us, because they are not something we expect from that person.

So what does it mean “to know”? When we come to know something or someone, we allow that thing or person to influence our minds and shape how we see the world. Some examples might help understand.

  • When we were young and learned our numbers for the first time, it changed the world for us. We could now count things and understand quantity. Everything became different because we came to know our numbers.
  • Let us go back to that married couple I mentioned. When a person first met his or her spouse, the spouse-to-be was a total mystery. The man and woman did not know each other well. Over the years, though, the spouses come to know one another more and more. As they come to know each other, the way they see the world changes. Their understanding of reality is different, because they know this other person.

When we come to know God, it means that we have allowed him to enter our minds and teach us. We allow him to change how we see the world. As we come to know God, we begin to see the world through his eyes: we see the beauty of creation, and we see the horror of sin.

The process of coming to know things—one could call this the process of education—is a risky process, because it changes us. What is other than us, that which is not us, becomes familiar to us by entering our mind and residing with us in a mental, but real, way. If the process of education doesn’t change us, if we do not change as we come to know things and people, we have learn nothing.

As we come to know God, we can more fully imitate Him and love Him. We experience his love more fully, because we know it better. We have seen it. Because we have seen God’s love, we can then love those around us more freely, because we have learned how to do it from God. We seek to know God so that we may fulfill the deep desire in our hearts: to love and to be loved.

But is this all even possible. Is knowing, as we are called to do, even possible?

Some deny it is possible to know anything. This lens of doubt and suspicion started at least as far back as Descartes, and is the core of many modern philosophies. If it isn’t possible to know anything, if there is nothing outside of me that can change me, that can alter how I see the world, then the logical approach in life would be to do whatever is best for me.

Some deny that it is possible to know anything beyond the material. This reductionist view of the universe takes away the beauty of our humanity! If it were true, things such as beauty and love become chemical byproducts of our bodies. How sad would that be if it were true? To deny our ability to know beyond the material results not only in a denial of truth, but in a reduction of our desire. If we believe there is nothing beyond this life, then slowly, over time, we will lose our very human desire to survive death and seek the infinite.

The ability to know is at the core of our humanity: it is by knowing the other that we fulfill the most basic human desire: to see and to be seen by another. Look at Adam in the Garden of Eden. Until he knew and was known by Eve, he was not fulfilled. Until he could love and be loved, know and be known, see and be seen,—all of these are different faces of the same action—he was not fulfilled.

In our world, knowing the other is a very challenging thing to do, because something quite sinister gets in the way: sin. To repent from sin helps us to see the other more clearly. It removes the gunk in our eyes and in our minds that clouds our perceptions of the world. Sin clogs our vision. Lust, for example, prevents us from seeing the value of the other. When we lust for power, for money, for people, it means that we want to take something which not us and possess it. It is a desire to make things a part of myself so I no longer have to admit my weakness, so I no longer have to admit that I need someone other than myself for my fulfillment. We could do a similar analysis with each of the seven deadly sins.

Christ suffered the effects of sin and conquered them so that we could convert our lives, repent, and follow him. When we repent and turn back to him, our vision is slowly cleared, the clouds lift. The Sacrament of Confession is a very important part of this process. We are all witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ who conquered sin and made it possible to repent, to convert, to not only to know each other but to know God. Christ showed us how our deepest desire will be fulfilled. We can love and be loved infinitely and forever. This love can conquer death itself.

At the beginning of Lent, we were told to repent and believe in the Gospel. Let us continue to convert our lives and follow Christ, so we might experience the glorious knowledge of the Resurrection.

Today’s Readings:
April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

Remember…

If we dig into the history of worship, way back beyond the coming of Jesus Christ and even farther back than the Old Testament takes us, we see a few trends. We see that human being are innately religious. We see that the first human communities were formed around worship sites to help care for them so that people might come to perform and observe rituals to the gods. If the rituals were not done correctly, the people feared that the now-displeased deity would inflict punishment of some sort upon the people. As a result, a specialized group of people with the knowledge necessary to ensure that rituals were performed correctly developed. This priestly class became the people tasked with mediating between humanity and their gods. The priests were responsible for ensuring that their idols were fed and clothed properly and expected the worshippers to provide the necessary goods and materials to care for their gods.

When we look at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his followers, we find something different. Yes, we see holy sites and a specialized class of priests, and on first glance it looks very similar. But the priests act very differently. Our God specifically prohibited the making of images. Our God specifically tells his people that he does not eat the flesh of animals offered to him. The priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not there to provide for God. Our worship of God adds nothing to his greatness, but our worship of God is valuable for a very important group of people: us. By worshiping God, we express our desire for his closeness to us and his presence in our life.

In the liturgical celebrations commanded by God in the first reading tonight, the most important command is to remember. God says that This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution. What must we remember? God comes to our aid. When his people cry out to them, he is not a passive observer. This is why he sent his Son: to save us from the mess we got ourselves into. But these things are easy to forget. So we must memorialize these events. We must remember.

The Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which Fr. Drew and I participate, assists us in remembering God’s love for us. The pinnacle of the worship of our God is the celebration of our Eucharistic Liturgy, and the pinnacle of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church we call Mass. In the Mass, we do this in remembrance of Him by making those events ritually present through the actions of the priest. When we celebrate the Mass, literally make the events of our salvation present, and even more so tonight. Tonight is not simply a night in which we remember the Last Supper. Tonight is the Last Supper. Tonight we do not simply remember Christ feeding his apostles with his Body and Blood. Tonight Christ feeds us with his Body and Blood.

When we receive the Eucharist, we receive God, and we receive his love in our hearts. Love is not a gift that can be hoarded. It must be given. In this great Sacrament of Love, God gives us the ability to love our neighbor. Tonight we are fed with the Body and Blood of God. We share in a Communion of all believers who have been similarly united with God. This is the glory of the Eucharist, a glory which our human senses fail to see. By faith alone can we behold this mystery, which enables us to follow the commands of Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.

Today’s Readings
April 1, 2021
Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16bc, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15

John 3:16 and Fear of the Lord

Everybody loves to quote John 3:16. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. It is a very comforting passage when taken out of context. When we read it in context, though, this passage ought to inspire the fear of God in us. Fear of God is a virtue. We spend a lot of time trying to talk around it and say it means something else, but it is vitally important we recognize that God is the absolute ruler of this universe, and what he says is what happens. Our opinions do not matter, only the truth as given to us by God. The truth in today’s Gospel is a warning to all of us.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: // “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, // so must the Son of Man be lifted up, // so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” We have to start by remembering why Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert. The people of Israel had committed the sin of idolatry. They worshiped a golden calf. They began partaking of the same horrendous rituals of the clans and tribes around them. We see these same actions condemned in the first reading today: In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people // added infidelity to infidelity, // practicing all the abominations of the nations // and polluting the LORD’s temple // which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The word abomination means that these actions are not the simple worship of false gods. When worship becomes an abomination it usually includes rituals acts of wanton lust done in a perverse mockery of temple liturgy. They would have included human sacrifice, and worse. I will spare you the details. (In the podcast “A Land of Giants”, they get into a lot of the strange & nerdy details.)

The children of Israel, both those in Moses’ day and those in the first reading today, were punished by God. When you partake in abominable actions, there are consequences. God had sent his messengers, his prophets, and the people did not listen. When the people of Israel hardened their hearts and refused to repent, the LORD’s anger against his people blazed up beyond remedy. The instigators of these atrocities lost their lives, and those who were saved were the ones who repented of their wickedness. This action by God may seem drastic, but we must consider this: these abominable actions were making a mockery of God at a minimum and were potentially outright demon worship. Allowing such acts to continue would destroy Israel. God had swore to protect his people. Occasionally the only way to do this is purification from false prophets and false religion: to remove the bad influences through somewhat drastic means.

Christ said that the Son of Man [must] be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. God the Father desires us to look upon his only begotten Son, nailed to the Cross. He wants us to believe in him. He wants us to repent of our sin so that we might have eternal life. He wants us to flee from the condemnation which our sin has rightly earned us, for the Gospel continues: And this is the verdict, // that the light came into the world, // but people preferred darkness to light, // because their works were evil. // For everyone who does wicked things hates the light // and does not come toward the light, // so that his works might not be exposed.

John 3:16, when we read it in context, paints a vastly different story for us: God the Father sent his Son to us out of love to save us from ourselves and present the gift of eternal life, and we—humanity—rejected him. We deserved death for this rejection, but God’s love overpowers even this rejection. St. Paul teaches us that God, who is rich in mercy, // because of the great love he had for us, // even when we were dead in our transgressions, // brought us to life with Christ. Christ invited us to join him in his Resurrection, and he gave us the means to do it. When we are baptized, we die to this sinful world and are reborn in the Resurrection of Christ. This is why Baptism is so critically important: in Baptism we die to the darkness and become children of the light, we begin to live in the truth.

[W]hoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

As children of the light, we are called to allow God to burn brightly within us. We are called to show the light given to us to those who still live in the darkness who have never encountered the Good News of redemption given to us by Christ. We are called to show the light given to us to those who have extinguished the light that once burned in them.

There are many things we must do to show our light to those around us, but we must begin by purifying ourselves. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the way that we do this. Each is essential, all of them must actually be done in both our bodies and our souls. We must actually pray. We must actually give some sort of alms. We must actually fast from food. Many of us struggle with physical fasting, and I know there are some medical situations which make it impossible, but for the vast majority of us, fasting from food—actual physical fasting—is essential. St. Basil the Great wrote that, “if all were to take fasting as the counselor for their actions, nothing would prevent a profound peace from spreading throughout the entire world.”1He later continues that “abstinence from food is insufficient for praiseworthy fasting. […] True fasting is being a stranger to vice, controlling the tongue, abstaining from anger, distancing oneself from lust, evil speech, lying, perjury.”2Even those who cannot physically fast must strive to fast from these other things.

Today is Laetare Sunday, a day of rejoicing in the midst of Lent. We rejoice today because our Lenten works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have allowed us to grow closer to God. As we enter this final time of preparation to celebrate the victory of Christ over death, let us be ever more intentional about turning toward the light.

Today’s Readings:
March 14, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In the collect, sometimes called the opening prayer, we asked God that today “we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self restraint.” Shortly, as we prepare the gifts before the Eucharistic Prayer, during which they will become the Body and Blood of Christ, and then will be sacrificed and offered to God the Father, we pray that we might undertake this campaign of purification, penance, and charity so that, “cleansed from our sins, [we] may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of [Jesus Christ].

These prayers tell us everything we need to know about the holy season of Lent which we begin today. they tells us why we engage in Lenten practices: so that we become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord. We celebrate our Lord’s Passion every time we participate in the Mass, but this is all a shadow of the true celebration to which we are invited at the end of our lives: the Heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb. To celebrate this eternal banquet well and devoutly, we must engage in a campaign of Christian service on this earth. The point of this service is to eradicate evil from our lives: evil cannot coexist with our God, whom we will join in Heaven.

To engage in this campaign of Christianity, we utilize the weapons of self-restraint. As the prophet Joel teaches us, we must rend our hearts and not our garments. In plain English, he is telling us that what is inside our hearts is much more consequential than what is outside. Christ tells us how to rend our hearts in the Gospel today: pray, fast, and give alms. Our Lenten practices should incorporate all of these. For example: perhaps instead of buying a coffee and bagel in the morning, we could save that money up and donate it to the Lord’s Diner at the end of the month. We could make a daily effort to pray for those poor people on this earth who are alone, lost, and who have nobody to pray for them. Instead of giving up meat on Fridays alone, we could give it up on Wednesdays as well. These practices of self-denial and mortification “break us in order to raise us up and open our hearts” by destroying our “obsessive concentration on self caused by sin.” (Louis Bouyer as quoted in Magnificat, February 2021, p. 270)

Perhaps the most important aspect of these ascetic practice urged by Christ is one we often overlook: we should do them without drawing attention to ourselves. By engaging in these practices and not seeking worldly recognition, we allow our Father, who Christ repeatedly tells us sees the secrets of our hearts, to give us that recognition when we meet him at the Heavenly Banquet where we hope to join him. Humble prayer, fasting and almsgiving done in secret is a defining trait of Christian asceticism.

This year, we are given an extra chance at humility. Because of the pandemic, the Vatican has changed the distribution of ashes in many countries. Instead of receiving a cross on your forehead, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of your head. This is an ancient practice, which we find in the Bible centuries before Christ. While new to us, in many countries, such as Italy, this is what they always do.

Unless you are lucky enough to have a beautiful bald head like mine, nobody will be able to tell you are fasting today. Nobody will be able to tell that you went to Mass today. Nobody will be able to tell that you began your Lenten campaign today. Nobody will be able to tell that you are rending your hearts to become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ today. But that’s OK. Because your Heavenly Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you with everlasting life.

Today’s Readings:
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Come and listen

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Never in a thousand years could Samuel have guessed what he would do in his life. He was to be the last of the great judges of Israel. He provided steady leadership and guidance to the people of Israel, but His sons were unworthy to follow him as leaders of Israel, and the people demanded a king. Samuel would anoint two kings, Saul and later David, and he never feared to challenge abuses of Saul’s power directly. All of this was the will of God, enacted through Samuel, who, for the entirety of his life, never stopped listening to God and serving him.

We all must strive to listen to God as Samuel did.

There are two primary ways in which we can listen for God: prayer and study, specifically, study of Scripture. They are not mutually exclusive. Some would argue that the best way to study scripture is, in fact, while on our knees.1 Prayer is absolutely essential to our lives as Christians, and yet, many of us neglect it or think that going to Mass on Sunday and praying a rosary or two is sufficient prayer. These are good things, but they are not enough. We are called to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess 5:17) That is a lofty goal, but it is attainable if we recognize what prayer actually is and devote ourselves to prayer.

Prayer, simply put, is communicating with God.2 To share the deepest moments of our life with him. To ask for his help, but even moreso, to ask for his love. This isn’t automatic, and we must practice communicating with God. In other words: the way we learn to pray is through prayer.3 Think about your relationship with your closest friend: Were you instantly able to talk about the deepest movements of your heart? Or was it a bit challenging and uncomfortable at first? It can be frightening to plumb the depths of your life and bring forward the deepest secrets in our hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable with someone. Make no mistake: more than any moment of physical vulnerability, the moment we open our heart to another person is one of the most vulnerable moment of our lives. We fear rejection at the core of our being. We are human, after all. We have been created to live in community.

With God, though, we need not worry about rejection. He loves us deeply. He will not reject us. “[W]hen we can be vulnerable enough to show it all to God, to let Him into it and let ourselves be loved in the midst of it, we experience the transforming power of His love.”4 No matter how odd our personality, no matter what kind of sin we’ve gotten into, God loves us infinitely and uniquely. Fr. Jacques Phillippe writes that “God’s love is personal and individual. God does not love two people in the same way because it is actually his love that creates our personality, a different personality for each. There is a much great difference between people’s souls than between their faces…”5 Prayer opens our soul to the word God wishes to speak to it, the word of his unique love for us. This love, which he intends for us to share, is living and active. This love calls each of us to a unique mission amongst his holy people.

How, then, do we pray?

First, make a commitment to pray a certain amount per day. I don’t care who you are, you can always find five minutes a day to pray. Honestly, I suspect we all have 15 minutes at least we can give to God. If you don’t think you do, pull out your phone and look at your screen time app. How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever? I promise you that time in prayer will be better for you body and soul than any thread or post or story.

Second, find some silence. Some people will deny this is necessary: they are wrong. Perhaps someone experienced in prayer can find the peace necessary to pray, but beginners in prayer—most of us—need silence, because we need to quiet our minds from all the distractions of the world. In this area, it is helpful to prepare. For example, you could listen to some music, like Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, or one of Bach’s Oratorios. Note that the kind of music matters. If it doesn’t lift your soul to God, then it won’t help you to cast aside this world and meet God.  If that’s not your thing, do some deep breathing for a minute or so.

Third, just pray. Tell God what’s happening in your life. Tell him what’s good and what’s bad. Tell him what bring you joy and what terrifies you. Tell him how you feel about him, whether you’re happy with him or furious at him. Tell him what you need help with. Ask him to help you. Maybe most importantly, ask him to help you see how much he loves you.

Finally, don’t forget to be silent with him for a while. We need the silence: it is in the silence that God speaks to our hearts. Remember, Samuel said, “speak, your servant is listening.” He did not say, “listen, your servant is speaking.” If you feel inspired to read some passage in Scripture, go for it, but don’t go overboard. Prayer time is not reading time, and even I make that mistake too regularly.

Single people, you can make time to pray, you just have to decide to do it.

Married couples, you have it a little harder, especially if you have children. Nevertheless, husbands and wives: your primary goal is to get your spouse to Heaven. To get to Heaven, a person must pray.

Husbands, I don’t care how challenging it is or how tired you are or how grumpy the children are, there is no excuse for not giving your wife a few minutes of silence a day so that she can pray. You have one job that matters: get your wife to heaven. Do it.

Wives, I recognize that you are burdened with many tasks and are often exhausted and many times have already spent much of the day with the kids, but your husband needs a few minutes of silence a day so that he can pray. Remember, your most important job is to get your husband to heaven.

Children, when your parents are praying, don’t bother them! (Well, if someone is hurt or the house is on fire, you can bother them…) Instead of bothering them, join them in prayer.

Christ has invited us, saying Come, and you will see.

Let us go to him in prayer, so that we might see eternal life.

Today’s Readings:
January 17, 2021
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42

God Reveals Himself to All

I don’t know how we’ve already arrived at Epiphany. The wise men must have been sprinting to Bethlehem this year!

The name for today’s feast, Epiphany, tells us that today we celebrate the manifestation or revelation of something terribly important. Traditionally, the three different revelations of Christ we celebrate on this day are the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the Wedding at Cana. In each of these three events, Jesus is revealed as the Christ.

Today, though, let’s look at the visit of the Magi. These men, certainly well-off if they were undertaking a journey, saw a star in the sky and were led to Jerusalem, which from ages past had been called to be a light to the nations. The magi, upon arriving in Jerusalem, perhaps were shocked to find so little recognition of the amazing event that had just happened. Nevertheless, these men, the Gentiles, had enough faith to persevere and eventually come to the home of the Holy Family, to pay homage to a child, and to offer him gold for his royalty, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for his mortality.

Recall, now, the visit of the Shepherds on Christmas night. A choir of angels appeared to them. They took a risk and went to visit the Christ-child. They paid him homage. While they had no gifts to offer him, it was fitting that the True Shepherd was greeted on his arrival in this world by shepherds.

These two very different visits to the Christ-child teach us many things, but if we look at them together, we learn even more.

What was it that brought the shepherds? A choir of angels. A supernatural gift from God.
What was it that brought the magi? A star. A natural phenomenon, yes, but no less a gift from God.

The shepherds were able to get there in a single night.
The magi, most likely, took much longer to travel to Christ. Perhaps a year or two.

The Jewish shepherds were unlearned men, not particularly watching for signs of a savior.
The Eastern magi were highly educated, watching the sky every night for signs.

We see all of these differences, and yet God still was able to lead both groups to himself. God can work through special gifts, or through the simple graces of nature. Nature, if we study it with pure hearts and a desire for truth, will certainly reveal its creator. God can work quickly on our hearts, or he can lead us on an extended journey. Either way, our faith grows strong. God wants all of us for himself: whether we are uneducated or educated, whether we are Christian or not, whether we are Catholic or not, whether we are looking for him or would only notice if a literal choir of angels showed up to tell us.

On this feast of Epiphany, we rejoice in the revelation of Christ’s glory to us. Let us also remember that God reveals his glory to us every day of our lives. May we stay close to him in prayer so that when he speaks to us—in whatever he desires—we might be listening.

Today’s Readings:
January 3, 2021
Epiphany, Year B
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Bearing God

On Christmas Day, the Lord blessed us and shone his face on us with the gift of his Son. Through his Son, the Incarnate Word, He made us his sons and daughters: heirs to the kingdom of Heaven. This is a great gift. This gift is a light for us in the darkness, a darkness which many of us have felt much more than usual this year.

This glorious gift is just one of the many gifts which Mary, the Mother of God, pondered in her heart. As we celebrate this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, we join her in this holy work of pondering all these things in our hearts.

Very early in the Church, people began to call Mary the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Mary brought God into world in a physical way, bearing him in her womb, but she also bore him in her heart when she pondered all these things.

Mary is the greatest disciple of Christ in history. We should strive to follow her example of pondering these things in our hearts. We, too, should bear Christ in our heart and allow him to animate our entire life. When we ponder Christ in our heart and allow him to move us, to teach us, to work through us, we participate in giving flesh to Christ on this earth, just as Mary did.

We are called to follow Mary and bear God into the world.

Today’s Readings:
January 1, 2021
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Families Save the World

Now, more than ever, we need the Feast of the Holy Family. When we look out at the world around us, the family is not much respected. Families are broken and shattered by the tragedy of divorce. We see families whose members prefer to spend time with screens over each other. We see the attempted redefinition and unmooring of the family from the structure God gave it at the dawn of creation. All of this is a result of sin in the world. Satan hates the family, because it is through the family that salvation comes into the world. If we look at salvation history, we see that this is true.

The family comes at the very dawn of creation: Adam and Eve, our first parents, were wedded as husband and wife in their original innocence. God is a communion of Three Divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve, being the pinnacle of God’s material creation, mirrored that communion of love here on earth. Together, they were given the gift of communion with God.  Satan hated them so very much that he deceived them and tempted them into the original sin that shattered the order of the entire universe. The breakdown of our families, even now, is a tragedy of universal order, because it is in the family where we are supposed to learn to love one another as God loves himself and as God loves us. When this love is violated, it has universal consequences.

Abraham, our Father in Faith, and his beloved wife Sarah did not receive the gift of a Son until their old age. They show us that the family must always be oriented to the worship of Almighty God. When they received the gift of their son Isaac, they recognized him to be a gift from God. We all remember the nearly tragic sacrifice Abraham was called to make of his son Isaac. It was not Abraham’s son that God desired, but his faith to follow God wherever he might lead. From Isaac, God promised to bless Abraham with descendants as numerous as the stars. What Abraham did not know was that one of these descendants would be the Son of God himself, Jesus, the Christ.

We see this pattern of salvation through the family or utter disaster through the breakdown of the family play out again and again. Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold into slavery in Egypt, saved the entire family of Israel by bringing them to Egypt in time of famine. King David, while extraordinarily successful and victorious in uniting Israel, wrought destruction on Israel and himself by violating the family of Uriah. David’s wanton violation of what a family ought to be led to infighting amongst his children who, in some cases, slaughtered one another outright. David’s broken family led to the breaking of the 12 tribes of Israel: the original covenant family was shattered.

It would not be until that quiet night in Bethlehem when the family would be restored to its original glory. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provide an antidote to the ails of the family. Theirs is a wholly pure and chaste love for one another, one which transcends sin. The entire Holy Family was to be a light to all of the world of the glory of the family. Jesus spent 30 years with his mother and foster-father before beginning his public ministry. God himself spent 30 years obedient to his earthly parents, honoring them and caring for them. His first public miracle was at the celebration of the establishment of a new family: the wedding at Cana. His final act from the Cross before he expired was to establish a new covenant family: giving John to Mary as her son. While there were many reasons for this, one was undoubtedly that this final act of filial reverence would ensure John would honor and care for his mother.

We must care for our families. Husbands: love your wives. Wives: love your husbands. Parents: love, discipline, and teach your children. Children: obey and honor your parents now, and care for them in their old age. Above all, love God, who will bring your closer together. If we do these things, our families will bring peace and redemption to the entire world, because the Holy Family will be incarnated in this world again: shining out to all nations through our families.

Today’s Readings:
December 27, 2020
Feast of the Holy Family, Year B
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40