Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Angels in Battle!

Readings for Wednesday, September 29/
Feast of the Archangels:
Revelation 12:1-7-12
Psalm 138:1-5
John 1:47-51

Today Mother Church celebrates the feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael and as we do, we not only honor them but we also recall the great things they have done and continue to do for us. In our first readings we heard about the great fight that broke out in Heaven and how Michael and his angels fought against Satan and his angels, which we know now as demons. Michael and his angels were triumphant and Satan was thrown out of heaven and the scriptures recount this hymn of praise “now have salvation and power come”.

But for us today, it is important to look at what immediately follows that hymn of rejoicing and praise. If we look at the very next verse we hear St. John telling us “But woe to you, O Earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath for he knows his time is short.” It then briefly accounts how, being cast out of heaven, the devil tries to kill ‘the woman’ whom we know to be Mary. And failing to do that, the scriptures tell us that the devil then turned instead and set out to kill her children.

My brothers and sisters, we are the children of Mary. We are the ones that the devil is seeking to kill. But we are not alone in the battle. With us here are Michael the Archangel and the other angels, battling among us not for control over the heavens but for control over our hearts. You and I both know how easy it can be for us to forget about the spiritual realm because so much of what we do each day is focused on physical things; and yet the physical things we see are but a small portion of reality. The challenge then is to remember that the reading from Revelation is not just about a one-time event but in a sense points out that there is, to this very day, a spiritual battle going on all around and even with us each day and that the angels still play a vital role in attaining victory in those fights.

As we come to this altar today and join with the angels in singing that hymn “Holy, holy, holy,” we give thanks for all the angels, especially Michael, Raphael, Gabriel,  for their protection until this point and ask that it might continue until we enter into Heaven where we will reign victoriously with them for all eternity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Praying for the Sorrowful

Readings for Tuesday, September 28/Memorial of St. Wenceslaus:
Job 3:1-3,11-17, 20-23
Psalm 88:2-8
Luke 9:51-56

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayer of the Church, different days and times of the day are often characterized by a certain ‘flavor’ if you will. Saturdays are typically more Marian in their prayer, whereas Fridays are more penitential.  Morning prayer is more anticipatory and intercessory and Evening Prayer is more a prayer of thanksgiving. On Fridays at night prayer, we always pray Psalm 85 – a psalm full of sorrow and darkness; a psalm truly intended for those in despair. And yet we pray it each Friday. But sometimes you really aren’t sad when you go to pray that night prayer. On many occasions, I have come to that time of day rather joyful and excited. So how do we reconcile that sorrowful psalm with our joyful state? I once heard this question posed to a priest and he said that often approaches those psalms of sorrow or desolation and finds himself in a joyful mood, and so he remembers that while he is joyful there are many in the world who are feeling sorrow, darkness, and desolation in that very moment. He remembers those who are persecuted for their faith, those who are in prison, those who are plagued by spiritual or emotional darkness; and for each of those people he offers that prayer, knowing that many were unable to pray it themselves. He speaks it for them.

As I stand here at this ambo today I look outside and I see clear blue skies, a nice change in the weather, and am rather joyful at all of this. And yet we hear this reading from Job where he says ‘cursed be the day I was born’ and he laments his being brought into the world. And then we have the psalm which speaks of being brought into the dark abyss and being dragged down into sorrow. And as we hear these readings we are again struck by the disconnect between our experience and the prayers selected for us. So, though we may not be sorrowful ourselves, we remember that today there are thousands upon thousands of people throughout the world who are in great darkness and are in need of God’s grace to sustain them. Let us remember them in this Mass, as we lift up our prayers to the Lord, that he might console them and give them strength.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Little Irritation

Readings for Sunday, September 26:

Amos 6:1,4-7
Psalm 146:7-10
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

The challenge of every homily is to take what the scriptures speak about or what the Church is trying to show us about the faith and to make that apply to the life of those who hear it, the one preaching included. So when we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the question must be asked ‘How does this apply to me? What does this have to do with my life today?’ Looking briefly at the gospel we find the rich man is faced daily with the presence of Lazarus, who lay at his doorstep, and had to choose whether to help Lazarus or not to help Lazarus. Can you think of a time when we are faced with a similar situation?

The situation that comes to my mind is when I get off the interstate and there is a homeless man with the sign asking for help. As he walks back and forth asking for money, I am faced with a decision – help him or ignore him. When this happens, I find that I usually have one of three reactions. Sometimes I will acknowledge them and give them a couple of bucks and a prayer card or religious medal. Other times I act like I’m busy looking for something or turn the other way so I won’t feel so bad for ignoring them. Then there are other times that I hope that the light turns green before he gets to my car, because then I can make myself feel better by saying ‘I would have helped him, but I didn’t want to stop traffic.’ Another example is the telephone. With caller-id on most of our phones, how often do we look at the phone and see that so-and-so is calling and we really just don’t want to talk to them because they bother us? Again, that decision to ignore them or to respond to them.

No matter which option I choose in either of those situations, there is usually some sort of uneasiness that I experience either because I don’t respond to them or because I do respond but not because I actually want to interact with them. There’s always an uneasiness, an irritation if you will. That irritation, though, is actually a point for grace to come into the scene. Think about an oyster; when a foreign substance like a piece of sand gets into the shell, it reacts to it and what results is a beautiful pearl. An irritant at first becomes a great treasure to the world, all because the oyster reacted to its presence.

If we look again at the gospel reading, we will find that the rich man wore fine purple garments and fine linens, often a sign of royalty, and that he dined sumptuously everyday. Simply put, he was living a pretty good life. Was this his sin though? Was the sin that earned him condemnation the fact that he had money and lived well? No! Money is a good thing and those who have it are certainly blessed. The problem comes in when money and riches are too highly valued, as we heard last week. The prophet Amos spoke in our first reading about how the people had become complacent because they were eating the finest foods and living the high life; but his focus was not truly their riches but their complacency that resulted from it. This is what we have in the case of the rich man from the gospel. His problem was that he has focused so much on all of his comfortable things that he began to isolate himself both from those around him and from the Lord himself. In a real sense, he became wholly self-absorbed and so was unable to respond to those in need. And this is where his sin is found - not in having riches, nor in any grave sins, but in simply ignoring Lazarus, in being unable to care for anyone other than himself. By failing to respond to the ‘irritant’ that Lazarus was in his daily life, the rich man missed out on the possibility of having that great treasure grow within him.

And what is that great treasure? Salvation. Lazarus was there as an opportunity for the rich man to reach out to others rather than simply serve himself and by failing to respond time and again to Lazarus’ presence, the rich man effectively walked past his salvation and said ‘no thanks’.

So the next time you see that guy at the red light asking for change, or someone you don’t want to talk to is calling you, or any other situation that demands that we make a decision to either ignore or respond, consider what great treasure might be gained by being willing to respond or what treasure might be lost by failing to do so.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Needs

Some of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal
Readings for Wednesday, September 22:
Proverbs 30:5-9
Psalm 119:29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163
Luke 9:1-6

When we look at the gospel for today and hear all the things that the apostles couldn’t bring with them when they went on a journey – a walking stick, money, food, clothing - you have to ask: what could they bring? In response to such a question, I am sure that the Lord would respond ‘Everything they need.’

In December of 2006 I went to visit the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York City to discern a possible call to their community. At one point in the week we were all sitting inside the house and one of the brothers drove up and everyone started to unload food. I asked what it was for and they explained that stores in the area would donate food to them and so they ate whatever was given. I thought it was neat to see them really living out the call to poverty. Then when I was about to leave I realized I needed exact change for the transit bus and I only had cash, so I asked one of the brothers if he had change for a dollar; he said no. Then I asked another; he said no. Then another; the same answer. Eventually I worked my way to the superior of the house, the leader of a group of 25 guys, and he was able to find 75 cents in his office, a rare thing, he explained. When I realized that even the superior of the house had only a few quarters I realized just how much they lived the spirit of the gospel passage. 

In a very real way, they made the words of Proverbs, our first reading today, their own: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need.” From my point of view it was crazy that nobody had three quarters, and yet they truly had everything they needed. As we go throughout the rest of our day, may we have the grace to make those words our own and trust that the Lord, who looks after all of our needs, will indeed provide for us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hasten to follow

The Calling of St. Matthew
Readings for Tuesday, September 21/Feast of St. Matthew:
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13
Psalm 19:2-5
Matthew 9:9-13

When I was in college seminary doing my philosophy studies, we had to take a few other classes to meet the requirements for our liberal arts degree, one of which was Art History. At the beginning of the course she showed a slideshow of paintings and asked us to comment on each one. Afterward, we were told that we’d be assigned a presentation on one of the pieces. Well, I think she wanted to have some fun with me because the piece I was assigned was not appealing to me in the least little bit at first. In fact, my comment I turned in was something to the effect of “It’s way too dark. I can’t tell what anything is. Probably one of the worst ones in the whole show.” And tada! That’s the one I got. What I soon found was that it was a painting by Michaelangelo Caravaggio entitled “The Calling of St. Matthew”.

This painting, which depicts the story from the gospel tonight, is really striking once it is properly understood. On the left are five figures around a table. On the right are two men standing. The two men are St. Peter and the Lord Jesus, who is pointing at one of the men at the table. The interesting this is the body language of the five men at the table. One is seeming to reach for his sword – a sign of violence opposition. One is staring in the direction of Christ but apparently unconcerned about what is happening. A third appears to be unaware of Christ’s presence in the room; he is simply concerned with the money on the table. The fourth is one who seems to be intentionally ignoring the Lord, his heard down so as to be unable to see Him. But the fifth, he is pointing to himself, with a shocked look on his face. This fifth figure is the person of St. Matthew at the moment he is called by Christ to follow. And if you look carefully in the picture, it seems as though his legs are already in motion to get up. This really struck me because it gets at the point of the gospel passage. Let us look at it again. It says “Jesus pass by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Him.” Just that quickly – he got up and followed Christ. He wasn’t violently opposed, he wasn’t unconcerned, he wasn’t unaware, he wasn’t intentionally oblivious. He was open to the call, and with haste he moved.

As we honor St. Matthew today, pray for the grace always to have hearts like his, open to the call of the Lord and willing to act with haste in following.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

We are all Frauds

Readings for Sunday, September 19:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2,4-8
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

Have you ever looked up what your name meant? When I was in high school we had to do a writing assignment that included finding the meaning of our first and middle names and writing how they might describe us in some way. I found that my first name, Patrick, meant “nobleman”. I thought that was a good start. But then I found out that my middle name, Brent, meant “steep hill”.  I was less than excited. I mean, when I think of steep hill, I think of something difficult that you don’t want to deal with; the first sounded much better.

Why do I mention this little story? Because I think it’s something we’ve gotten away from – understanding the meaning of our names. In the days of the Old Testament, a name typically prophesied the type of life one would live. Think of Abram and Sarai, whose names were changed to Abraham and Sarah when God chose them for a new mission. A name meant a lot. And so when the people of Israel heard that the prophet Amos was coming, they all got an uneasy feeling in their gut. The name Amos means ‘burden’ and so by his prophesying he was a burden to the people of Israel; he said the things they didn’t want to hear, things that would call them out for their sinful actions. This is what we hear in our first reading. The Israelite people would celebrate the feasts, such as that of the new moon and the Sabbath, and yet they were not really concerned with these things but were concerned only about their wealth and power. Rather than being people of integrity, they were frauds and Amos came among them and called them out on it.

I’m gonna step out on a limb here and say that I believe each one of you is a fraud, a fake, just like the Israelites were. But before you get upset, I must add that I am a fraud and a fake as well, and maybe more so than any of you. You see, our hearts are divided just like the Israelites and so often what is on the outside is not what is on the inside. We are not always people of integrity.  Simply put, we are sinners.

A couple of Fridays ago I was asked to join Bishop Muench and our two vocation directors for the diocese at Saint Jean Vianney school. We met with each of the classes and spoke about vocations and allowed them to ask questions about religious life. At one point the three of them went off to visit another group of children and had me stay and talk with the 7th and 8th grade boys. I spoke about my vocation and the greatness of the priestly vocation and opened it up for questions. After ten minutes or so the questions moved from vocation-focused questions to random questions in the line “what kind of music do you listen to?” and such. One young man raised his hand and said, “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?” I can’t remember my exact answer, but it was something along the lines of “I’d donate some to good charities, use some to buy things for a few parishes, and put a bunch toward buying books and stuff to evangelize.” I reflected on it afterward and asked myself whether that was entirely true and I had to wonder. I mean, when I get a good chunk of money now, what do I do with it? Buy some new books for my library, buy a nice new vestment, or spend it on something that I don’t really need but really want. Sure, I do my tithing and charitable donations, but my heart is still somewhat divided. There is something in my heart that wants to get more and more things and have more and more control. And that thing that is in me is in each one of us, that concupiscence that compels each of us to act for our own self-benefit.

Our gospel speaks to this division of the heart and Christ says to each of us ‘you cannot serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and mammon,’ that is, wealth. We must choose one or the other. The one that gets most of our attention is undoubtedly the one that we choose. So where do we put our emphasis?

The unjust steward obviously put his emphasis on the physical things. He was so prideful that he wouldn’t let himself become a beggar and he was so self-concerned that rather than repent and turn toward good, he continued in his evil ways in an even greater way. And yet, oddly, we hear the Lord commend him for his prudence, despite his wrongdoing. The steward knew that he was about to be in a bad spot and that he would have to rely on others to help him out until he could get back on steady ground again. He got creative, he started to think real hard about the future and made all sorts of plans to prepare for the inevitable and then put all of his energy into it to ensure that it would work out as he planned.

The challenge the Lord wants to speak to us today is to be more like the unjust steward, not in doing wrong and self-seeking materialism, but in the zeal with which we pursue the things that are to come in  eternity. As Christians, we believe that death is not the end of life, but the beginning. Our earthly life is the time when we determine where we will spend our eternal life. Here we must stop and ask ourselves some questions. Are we willing to put forth the effort to ensure we live well in the future? Are we willing to pour ourselves out in prayer everyday? Are we willing to boldly preach the gospel to others? Are we willing to give what is ours to serve and aid others? Are we willing to live a life of radical holiness – not simply being a good person or nice person but one who strives to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, as St. Paul says?

All of those questions really done down to one question: Are we ready to no longer be frauds or fakes, but true sons and daughters of God, no longer living with divided hearts but wholly focused on Jesus Christ and His glory?

The Holy Eucharist has the power to change hearts in a single instance if we are truly ready and we are about to receive it into our very bodies. Let us pray that each of us would be transformed today in this Mass and that we would have hearts that are not divided but wholly devoted to the Lord and his people. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

I was watching Pope Benedict's homily given at the prayer service at Hyde Park and when I heard this quote I almost fell out of my chair...

No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society. We know that in times of crisis and upheaval God has raised up great saints and prophets for the renewal of the Church and Christian society; we trust in his providence and we pray for his continued guidance. But each of us, in accordance with his or her state of life, is called to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom by imbuing temporal life with the values of the Gospel. Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person.” (emphasis mine)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nothing New Under the Sun...

Readings for Friday, September 17/
St. Robert Bellarmine:
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Psalm 17:1,6-8,15
Luke 8:1-3

The scriptures were right – there is nothing new under the sun. In the course of the past two months that I’ve been leading the Bible study here on Thursday nights, it has been shown how again and again the Israelites made the same mistakes. Being the spiritual descendents of the Jewish people, the Catholic faithful follow in a very similar path as the Jews. Over and over again, we encounter the same problems. And over and over again, we respond in the same fashion.

In the first reading we encounter Saint Paul writing to the Corinthians on account of some who had begun to reject the teaching of the resurrection of the body. They thought that they could simply take the teachings they wanted and reject the other teachings with no consequences. Saint Paul, however, responds to this first generation of what we call today cafeteria Catholics not by saying ‘you have to believe it!’ but rather by showing them that if they reject the reality of our resurrection, then it follows that they must reject Christ’s resurrection, and if they reject that then they and everyone else are still in sin and are the most foolish people for thinking otherwise. He shows them that beliefs are not to be taken or left without consequence but are deeply connected and intertwined. To reject one belief is to weaken the whole system.

St. Robert Bellarmine, whose memorial we celebrate today, encounter the same problem 1500 years later as he fought on countless fronts to defend the Catholic faith from dissidents, those who wanted like the Corinthians to take only parts of the faith. He too knew the interconnectedness of the Catholic faith and was such a great defender of it that he was named the patron of catechists.

As I said at the beginning though – there is nothing new under the sun. Even today we experience these same situations, people accepting some teaching but rejecting others without casting a second thought on it. Thankfully we have in Pope Benedict another great name in the list of many who have seen the interconnected nature of the Catholic faith and who seek to show the world that one cannot simply accept only bits and pieces but must embrace the whole of the deposit of faith. Some of you may know that Pope Benedict is in England right now on a state visit and that there is much conflict because of it. Because he stands up for the Catholic faith and encourages everyone else to cling to the Truth that is Jesus Christ, he experiences a lot of persecution from the secular realm. And yet, he goes there boldly to once again preach this message that has been preached for 2000 years – the Catholic faith is a single deposit of faith and that all of the pieces come together as a body and so each part much be honored. As we continue through this day, take a moment to pray for Pope Benedict, that he will continue to be a light of Christ to the world by his words and witness and pray that those to whom he is speaking will have open hearts and that his words and presence will bear much fruit for the Church in England.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Lady of Sorrows

Readings for Wednesday, September 15/Our Lady of Sorrows:
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Psalm 33:2-5, 12, 22
John 19:25-27

Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Today we remember Our Lady of Sorrows, who knelt at the foot of that glorious Cross. Ever since I first became aware of Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, I have been drawn to her. In my journey of faith there have been times when I experienced some particular suffering and couldn’t understand why things were the way they were, and that was really tough. But to know that Mary, too, experienced great pain and sorrow unlike any we can ever know, makes her real to me.

As a seminarian, I have often encountered people who don’t know how to respond to trials and suffering. Many atheists will say they can’t believe in God because no God who is truly good would allow suffering as it exists in the world. I too once held that belief, and, since my conversion, have struggled at times to have faith in the face of trials. But what it comes down to is what St. Paul says in the first reading – we see dimly now, but in the future will see fully. As Mary knelt at the foot of the Cross, I’m sure she had faith the Christ would rise from the dead as He has said He would. And I’m sure she had faith that she would be rejoined to Him. And yet she experienced great sorrow because, regardless of the amount of faith one has, we necessarily experience the pain because we still see only dimly. We cannot grasp the whole picture.

In this world, then, where we seen dimly and experience the sorrow and pain of life, it is a great blessing to have Our Lady of Sorrows here to join with us. If you notice, the gospel passage says that ‘the disciple’ was with Mary. The name is not noted. It is believed that John, being the author of the gospel, didn’t want to point himself out. But some add to this the idea that the person of ‘the disciple’ is where we are to place ourselves into the story. We are there with Mary, joining in her sorrow and allowing her to share in ours, both at the feet of Jesus.

One of the priests who taught me in the seminary always gave homework at the end of his homilies, so I’m going to follow his example and give y’all a little homework. At some point today, set aside five or ten minutes and really put yourself in the place of the disciple at the foot of the cross. Share your sorrows with Mary and experience her sorrows yourself. And then listen to the last words Jesus speaks to you personally: “Behold, your mother.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Look at the Crucifix

The Crucifixion by El Greco
Readings for Tuesday, September 14/
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

When one begins to study the scriptures, they will inevitably run across something called typology. This is the term used when there is something in the Old Testament that foreshadows something to occur in the New Testament, that this is a ‘type’ of what is to come. For instance, when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and were saved from the Egyptians, this was a type that foreshadowed baptism, when a person passes through water and is saved from death. As we celebrate this joyous feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the day when we celebrate the wood of the cross, the instrument of salvation, the scriptures show us another instance of typology – that of the Cross of Christ.

The first reading from the Book of Numbers spoke about the serpents attacking the people and their gazing upon the serpent mounted on a pole as the means to remaining alive. Jesus references this very passage, which we hear today in John’s gospel, saying that He would be lifted up as the serpent on the pole and he too would be the means to remaining alive. But the beautiful thing is that the passages mutually benefit each other; in light of the other, each becomes even more profound as we ponder them.

The story of Moses and the people speaks of the serpents attacking the people and causing them to die. But in the New Testament, this is taken to a new depth. The mention of the serpents ought to remind us of the ancient serpent, Satan, who tempted Adam and Eve and caused their fall from grace. Satan’s bite, we know, causes not only physical death, but more importantly, spiritual death, because it draws us away from God and toward sin. And what medication do we have to heal this wound? Nothing other than to gaze upon the Holy Cross and to have faith in the One lifted up on it, He Who is our salvation, our hope, and our joy.

A number of years ago I was given a little poem that I have treasured since then and I want to share it with you now (not sure of the author or origin). It goes like this:

If you want to know God...look at the Crucifix.
If you want to love God...look at the Crucifix.
If you want to serve God...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder what you are worth...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder how much God loves you...look at the Crucifix.
If you want to know the need for self-denial and sacrifice...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder how much you should forgive others...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder how much you should do for others...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder how much your faith demands of you in humility, charity, poverty, and the other virtues...look at the Crucifix.
If you want to know what unselfishness and generosity are...look at the Crucifix.
If you wonder how far your own unselfishness should to go bring others to Christ...look at the Crucifix.
If you wish to live well...look at the Crucifix.
If you wish to die well...look at the Crucifix.

What a treasure we have in the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ, the simple wood of a tree that was made to be the means to our salvation. Thanks be to God for so great a gift.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,

That others may be loved more than I, 

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (Repeat after each line)
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, 

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (d.1930)
And a link to learn more.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Presumption and Humility

Running the Race!!!

Readings for Friday, September 10:
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-27
Psalm 84:3-6, 12
Luke 6:39-42

“I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

These words of St. Paul are for us today a call to keep away from the sin of presumption. Presumption is, of course, when we elevate ourselves and forget the fact that we too have flaws that need to be worked on. St. Paul knew all too well the temptation to presume on his own salvation. After all, he was chosen separately from the other Apostles, given a unique mission, and had endured countless sufferings for the sake of the Gospel. If any disciple had a ‘right’ to salvation, it would seem, he’d be the guy because of the zeal he had and the number of converts he won over for the faith. And yet he knew that even the greatest of disciples could fall flat on their face, so he strove to run the race well.

Just like St. Paul, many of us can have this temptation to be complacent and presume that we’re in a good place spiritually. For those who have been going to daily Mass for years, who are active in all sorts of ministries and charitable works, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of trying to pull the splinters out of the eyes of others without first checking ourselves. So what is the best way to counter this temptation? Humility. To recognize that even though we may do great works and are very pious and holy, that we ultimately do not deserve the salvation – it is a blessed gift from the Lord. Today, as we go through the day, spend a moment in meditation on this great gift which is held out to us, and surely we shall again be renewed to continue to run the race fervently and not aimlessly.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Wisdom of God

Image of the Praise of 'Maria Bambina'
(The Child Mary)
Readings for Wednesday, September 8/Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 13:6
Matthew1:1-16, 18-23

I got an email yesterday that spoke about some people whose lives were spared in the September 11th terrorist attacks because of little things that occurred that day that were out of the norm – someone had to change clothes after spilling something on their shirt, another was caught in traffic, another stopped to pick up breakfast for coworkers, and yet another had to stop to get a bandaid because their new shoes were causing a blister. All of these little things happened and as a result their lives were changed forever.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of only three liturgical celebrations of a person’s entry into earthly life. And while we certainly honor the great gift that the Blessed Mother is to each of us personally as our spiritual mother and as the one through whose ‘yes’ we received our savior, we also recognize that this celebration is really about the greatness of God’s wisdom. I am sure that Mary would not object to this point, since she herself does all things not for her own glory, but for His. 

God’s wisdom is far beyond our understanding, and scripture tells us that His ways are not our ways. Surely none of us would have chosen the means to salvation that He chose; entrusting his flock to flawed leaders, the incarnation, the cross. All of these are beyond our thinking. But from the very beginning of time, God knew all of these things and destined that they be fulfilled. He knew the plan of salvation, including the role Mary would play in it, before Adam and Eve breathed their first breath. Mary is implicitly noted in the third chapter of Genesis and spoke of at points throughout the Old Testament, including our reading from the book of the Prophet Micah, written over 700 years before Mary’s birth. In the genealogy from Matthew’s gospel we can see how it was that God brought about this great miracle of salvation – through a bunch of people whose small actions ultimately had large consequences, from people who were sinners, from people who sometimes turned away from God and sought their own glory. And yet, in all of that God was at work bringing about our salvation. Through the little things the history of the world is changed, and great fruit born.

As we celebrate Mary’s birth, we recall the great wisdom of God that worked to bring that to fulfillment and the fact that He is involved in even the smallest of details. And as we recall that, we are reminded that God’s wisdom and attention did not end 2000 years ago, but continues today. If we are open to the Spirit of God, He will also work in us through those small details to bring to fulfillment our personal salvation and the salvation of others as well. Pray, then, that we might have the grace to respond to His call in those times.

The Gift of Discipleship

Readings for Tuesday, September 7:
1st Corinthians 6:1-11
Psalm 149:1-6,9
Luke 6:12-19

We’ve been hearing a lot about discipleship recently. Last week we heard what happens when we are faithful to the call in the story of Peter casting the nets and pulling in a great number of fish. This weekend we heard Christ speak about the cost of discipleship. Today we hear about the calling of the Twelve, but if we listen closely we also can hear the small whisper of thankfulness for having been called to follow as disciples. Listen again to those words of St. Paul from our first reading that follow the list of sinful practices formerly done by them:

“…That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves wash, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

These beautiful words of Saint Paul really get at the heart of discipleship.

Every one of us is a sinner. We all have a history, a list of things that we probably should not to have done. And yet each one of us is still called by God to become a disciple of Christ. We have had ourselves washed, sanctified, and justified by the waters of baptism, the forgiveness of confession, and the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Eucharist. What we were matters no longer, for what we were has been washed away. All that matters is what we are. And what we are is God’s beloved children, sons and daughters called to a loving relationship with the Lord Jesus, called to be disciples who would follow Him as a lamb follows a shepherd.

What loving and merciful God we have, what a blessing we have in His forgiveness, and what a great gift each of us have received in being called to follow as His disciple. In that face of these things, how can we help but be grateful?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."

-Blessed Theresa of Calcutta

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship

Readings for Sunday, September 5:
Wisdom 9:13-18
Psalm 90:3-6, 13-17
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

For the past few months I’ve been toying around with the idea of getting a new cell phone. I’m sure you all know that there are hundreds of types of cell phones out there so I set out to find the one that would best suit my needs. I did all sorts of research on the internet, talked with different people who had phones I was interested in and ultimately decided to get an iPhone; this was only part of the planning though because after choosing the phone, I began to look at the costs – the cost of the phone itself, the activation fee, the monthly bill, the miscellaneous items such as cases and cables and all the rest. I got the phone this past week and couldn’t help but connect my own experience of researching and calculating costs for this new phone with the gospel passage which I was reflecting on throughout the week and which we just heard. No right-thinking person, says the Lord, starts out on a project without first calculating the costs, and even the risks. So what does this mean for us in our own journey of faith?

Scripture tells us that we are called to love God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength and that the greatest sign of love is to lay down our life for a friend. The proof of love, then, is the willingness to suffer for the one we love; to be willing to go without for the sake of the good of the other. This applies not only to our relationships with one another, but also to our relationship with God. And this is the point of our gospel today – the fact that our love for God will necessarily involve great costs.

In his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ the 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is not necessarily a physical death, though some may be called to martyrdom, but it is primarily a death to self. As we hear it in the gospel, we must be willing to pick up our cross and follow after Christ; moreover, not simply picking up our cross, we must be willing to mount it each day and be crucified to ourselves so that the Lord might be glorified. And here we see the true cost of discipleship – nothing less than everything we have.

Our gospel gives us two examples that probably hit close to home for many of us – that of hating our family and renouncing our possessions. When Jesus tells us that we cannot be disciples unless we hate our mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even ourselves, it can sound a bit confusing. We’re supposed to love our enemies, but hate our family? Sounds rather foolish said that way. Saint Matthew, however, sheds a bit more light on this concept in the parallel passage in that gospel with the addition of three small words – “more than me”. If we love our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, or ourselves, more than the Lord Himself, we have gone astray. Our love for God should be greater than any other love that we have. The same applies with the passage about the renunciation of all of our possessions. While some are called to a life of voluntary poverty, most of us simply must be mindful to keep our love for created things, our wealth and treasures, subject to our love for God. The point is to be willing to give up everything.

Sometimes this ‘everything’ will include our own desires and dreams, our aspirations and ambitions, or an activity that brings us joy. The thing is that if the Lord came to us at this moment and said “I want you to give up …” and He names our biggest treasure, a relationship, a dream, are we willing to follow after Him out of love, to die to ourselves and pay the cost for love of God?

When it comes down to it, no matter how tough the decision may be and no matter how great the cost to ourselves, there are only two ways to respond to the call to discipleship. Either we can echo the Blessed Virgin Mary who at the Annunciation from Gabriel responded to God, saying, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word” or we can echo the evil one, Satan, who, when called on by the Lord, responded “I will not serve.”  There is not middle ground; either one is a disciple or not.

Our redemption is freely offered; but it is not free. It came at a great cost to Christ and comes at a great cost to ourselves. But if we are willing to pay it, if we are willing to say yes to the Lord God and climb the cross to offer ourselves each day out of love for Him, then the great treasure that we will reap will be far greater than any phone, building or relationship that this world has to offer. We will receive countless blessings in this life and the reward about which the reading from the Book of Wisdom say we cannot even conceive, the gift of Heaven and eternal life with God. The question then is this: are we willing to pay the cost for so great a treasure?