Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."
Mark 7:6

In today's Gospel we have another classic confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus' disciples don't keep their tradition. Jesus is upset because the Pharisees have replaced God's Word with their tradition.

Tradition is big in Catholic circles; bigger than in most non-Catholic ones. But to us, there is a big difference between the Apostolic Tradition (spelled with an upper case T) and various traditions (spelled with the lower case t). It is the latter that are our focus today.

Sometimes we allow our various customs to become our doctrines. We have canonized things like styles of music, dress codes, where we sit in church, and what the church should look like. Any number of these things may be good, but they are simply our traditions, not necessarily God's. They can be changed. In some cases they should be changed. If we're not careful our religion devolves into who agrees with us on these issues. This was what happened to the Pharisees and its how we become Pharisees in our modern context.

This raises a question: just what is it that is at the heart of our religion anyway? Why do we do what we do? To borrow a line from Matt Redman: "It's all about You (Jesus)". We are called Christians because we follow Christ. We seek to imitate Him. We have come to know Him, and so we have a relationship with Him. It's really all about this. The other stuff has varying degrees of importance, but this is at the heart of the issue. Before we can deal with the rest, we need to know that our heart is right with our Lord.

Too many of us make it all about the rules. It's not. It's about the relationship. The Gospel is the divine love story. It is that God created us for Himself, but we were lost to Him through sin. Because of His great love He has redeemed us. We are a mess when He finds us, but He loves us so much that He was truly willing to die rather than live without us. When we begin to grasp some of this love and respond in kind, then we are beginning the road to eternal life. There's more, of course, but it starts here.

The tendency can easily be that the longer we go on, we drift from this core. Now we're caught up in rules and traditions and before we know it, the life has been sucked out of us and we're asking, "What's it all about?" This is why so many have been burned by religion. They either never understood this concept, or they forgot it.

Today, hear Jesus' words afresh. What traditions are keeping us from realizing the intimacy He longs to bring us? Leave the traditions of men, even if they're your own. Renew the first love you had for Him. Then let Him lead you the rest of the way!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Power of a Praying Mother

As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
Luke 7:12

Today is the Memorial for St. Monica, who was the mother of St. Augustine. She is best known for her persevering prayer for his conversion. She is known as the patron saint of all mothers.

In his early days, St. Augustine was a very sinful man. It grieved the heart of his devout mother and she stormed heaven with her prayers continually. After many years her prayers were answered. Augustine finally repented of his evil ways and submitted to baptism. St. Monica died content that her son was in the hands of God.

In today's Gospel a widow receives her son back to life. It is a literal rendering of what St. Monica experienced in the spiritual. Her son who was dead was now alive. How can we who have children gone astray experience the same?

First of all, we must acknowledge that each person has his/her own free will. God will not force Himself on anyone regardless of how hard we plead. But He does continue to pour out His Spirit upon these wayward souls, urging them to come to Him. There really is something to be said for such prayer. St. John tells us if any one sees his brother committing what is not a deadly sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not deadly, (1 Jn. 5:16). St. James tells us the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects, (Jms. 5:16). Our Lord promised us that if we continue to ask, seek, and knock, we will receive the thing we are asking for.

If you've been praying for a son or daughter who has been straying from the Lord, don't give up. With St. Monica as your example, continue to pray. You may even ask St. Monica to intercede on your behalf since we know she has such power in prayer. As we continue in prayer, let us trust that we, too, will see the glory of God!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From The Inside Out

Walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:12

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
Matthew 23:27,28

St. Paul tells us in our first reading that we are called to walk worthy of our God. The distinctive mark of a Christian is our lifestyle. We are to imitate Jesus. We are to reflect His love. Our faith is not merely theoretical, but practical. We practice what we preach. But lest someone think it's all about how we appear, we also have our Lord's exhortation in Matthew's Gospel. It's not sufficient to look good on the outside. Our inside must look just as good to God. The two are related.

We are inwardly pure when we maintain a constant vigilance over our own hearts. We guard ourselves against sin. We fill our hearts and minds with praise and thanksgiving to God. We are continually in prayer. We meditate on God's Word and we receive of the Sacraments. In this way we are made into the image of Christ. We truly have fellowship with God. This inward purity then spills over into a life of outward purity as well. If we are truly pure in heart, then it will inevitably show to others around us. However, the reverse is not necessarily true. People can look good on the outside but be a mess inside. This was the situation our Lord was addressing.

The problem is that if we look good on the outside it is easy to be deceived. We have others fooled and we may even be fooling ourselves. Outward obedience alone is never sufficient. It must be the overflow of a vibrant relationship with God. Only then does it carry the power necessary to be life-changing for us and others around us.

Where do we stand today? Are we even maintaining an outward appearance of holiness? If so, is that the result of inward holiness? The readings call us to carefully examine our state, inside and out. Let us be diligent to do so. Let us be pure in heart and walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hard Sayings

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
John 6:60

This is the response of many who have listened to Jesus as He explained that He Himself is the bread of life and that if we would have life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They didn't understand what He was saying. It wasn't time for Him to reveal all that He meant by it. He expected them to trust Him and to continue to follow Him. Many did not. But when asked if they also would leave, Peter, speaking for the twelve said, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God" (vv. 68, 69).

We don't always understand what Jesus is teaching. It's not always clear what it is He is trying to accomplish in our lives. But we need to continue with Him in faith. Because there really is nowhere else to go.

Why does Jesus give us hard sayings? As the priest who said Mass in our parish this morning said in his homily, it is for our good. All of us, as a result of our baptism, are called to be saints. This is a process. Our Lord's hard sayings are opportunities for us to be challenged and to grow. That growth is intended to make us more holy- more like our Lord.

So what was Jesus saying? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life, (v. 63). Jesus did not intend His words to be understood in a natural way; that is, as cannibalism. Rather, they were to be understood in a spiritual way. However, this is not to say that He meant them merely in a symbolic way. Spiritual is still real. In fact, spiritual reality may be said to be even more real than the physical reality we see around us. These words would not be fully understood until our Lord revealed to His disciples the full teaching about the Eucharist.

We have come to believe that this passage, written near the close of the first century, was intended to teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus is truly and fully present in the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine. This is a precious gift. We are richly blessed through receiving Him in this way. This is a mystery. We cannot fully grasp its meaning. Yet, there is something deep and beyond us here.

Hard sayings are not reasons to turn away from God, or refuse to learn what it is He is saying. They are times to draw near to God. Let us then draw near to hear our Lord's hard sayings and commit to following Him because He alone is the way to eternal life. He will show us what we need to know in time or eternity. We can trust Him. And we must!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Priority of Practice

"They preach but they do not practice."
Matthew 23:3

We are fond of using the word, "hypocrite," about others. We are not so fond of using it for ourselves.

In today's Gospel our Lord confronts the Pharisees over a number of their hypocritical practices. Hypocrisy is like cancer. It spreads throughout the whole body if not checked. Hypocrisy is the arrogant choice to teach one thing, but then to do something different. It is not the same thing as making this mistake in ignorance. It is a chosen path. It is born out of pride. It's continued practice hardens the heart against God. In the end it breeds hatred and death. The uncomfortable truth is that all of us, at one time or another, have been hypocrites. Some of us still are.

The essence of hypocrisy is captured in our Lord's words in our text. Hypocrites preach but they do not practice. As I said, this is a chosen behavior. Yet, many of us in our ignorance behave like hypocrites. The heart is not the same, but the results often are. People still come to either believe that they don't have to practice what they preach, or they are so offended at it all that they leave it altogether. I guess this is what people mean when they say they don't go to church because it's full of hypocrites. They're sick of it all. But they really need to take a sober look at the fingers pointing back at them and not just the one they're pointing at others. We all have a lot of work to do in this area.

Most of us know more than we practice. We know we're supposed to share with the less fortunate. We don't always do it. We know we're supposed to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. We don't always do it. We know we must be self-controlled in our eating and pleasures. We don't always practice that. Whether intentional or not, this gives a hypocritical example. What should we do?

We need to begin with a humble confession to God. This should be followed by an equally humble confession to anyone we have hurt or offended. Then we should prayerfully begin to review the teaching of our Lord and ask ourselves, point by point, are we practicing these things? If not, stop and begin to take steps to put this aspect of the Faith into practice.

We cannot help that we have been hypocrites in the past. But we can change how we behave in the future. To choose to abandon hypocrisy and truly practice what we preach is to choose the road of humility. It is to live a life that is truly righteous. By the grace of God, let us not be afraid to journey on this road!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Pledge

"Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
Ruth 1:16

This text sounds like something for a wedding. In many ways it is. Ruth is promising to leave her own people in Moab to follow her mother in law, Naomi, after the death of Ruth's husband. She has no promise of any kind of a life in Judah. Ruth was a Gentile, an outcast, beyond the pale of the covenant of God. At least that's how she would be viewed in Judah. Yet, in spite of all of this, she vows to follow Naomi and begin life amidst her people in Judah.

This story is about conversion. It is a wedding, but it is that wedding between God and His people; between Christ and His Church. It is a woman responding to the wooing of her Lord and consenting to a marriage covenant with Him. God calls to us in a similar manner and yearns that we will respond to His invitation.

"Wherever you go I will go." This is the first act of discipleship; to abandon our past, leave our homeland, and follow Jesus. We may not do this physically, but we must do it spiritually. Only when we have let go of our old sinful ways can we embrace our Lord and His ways of the kingdom.

"Wherever you lodge I will lodge." We find ourselves now in the house of God. Again, this is not just physical, but spiritual. It does not refer to a life devoted to a particular church building. It means that, having become part of God's family, we now reside in His House, the Church. The customs are different here. The surroundings are different. But this is our new family. This is where we will live. This will now be our home.

"Your people shall be my people." The people of God can be a little difficult to deal with sometimes. Sure, it shouldn't be that way. But it is! Just like any new family, there will be some people we won't quite feel at home with. Nevertheless, we are all family now. We must learn to love one another and live together in unity. It's a tough call, but God's grace gives us the ability to live it out.

"Your God will by my God." This is the crux of the matter. It's about worshiping God. We all have gods. We may not recognize them all. We may worship money, fame, possessions, people, or even ourselves. We leave these gods behind as we embrace the one true God. From now on, we will only worship Him.

It's important, from time to time, to re-evaluate our lives to be sure we are continuing in the right direction. Today, this simple pledge from a young pagan woman determined to begin again is a compass for us. May we find ourselves following through on our committment to follow faithfully, dwell in the Lord's House, and worship Him fervently always!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


“Father, you have made a vow to the LORD. Do with me as you have vowed, because the LORD has wrought vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites.”
Judges 11:36

The Old Testament has a lot of strange stories in it. This is one of them.

Jephthah has been chosen by God to be a judge of Israel and a deliverer for them from their enemies, the Ammonites. He is seen as a man with a zeal for God, but tainted with the pagan practice of human sacrifice. He foolishly offers God "whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites," (v. 31).

He wins, of course, and who is the first to greet him on his return but his only child, his daughter. Her name is not even given to us in this passage, but she exemplifies the spirit of the saints in her demeanor. Her response is the text above.

It sounds familiar. It is the language of humble surrender. It was the spirit of our Blessed Mother when she offered herself to become the mother of our Lord: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word," (Lu. 1:38).

We are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. The invitation to discipleship is a call to surrender. This is something we must continually choose. Yesterday's vow will not do. We must embrace it today and hold on to it perpetually.

Surrender is not easy. That is a great understatement. It is close to impossible. It goes against everything that is naturally in us. But it must be so. We must completely die in order for the life of Christ to live in us and through us. As our Lord offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and rose again, so we must die to all that is sinful and allow the Lord to raise us up in His image.

What is God calling for today? What are we holding onto so tightly? May we abandon all and surrender ourselves completely to Him. Like Jephthah's daughter, the world may not know our names, but it will benefit from the life of Christ lived through us as we offer ourselves to Him in complete surrender.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Search of The Last Hour

Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
Matthew 20:6,7

Many will recognize today's Gospel as being the story of the Workers in the Vineyard. The point of the story is that God offers His grace to all people, even to the last second of their lives. Those who come in later will not receive less than those who labored all the day (their whole lives). It is a wonderful testament of God's truly amazing grace. But this phrase in our text captures my attention.

The Lord of the land continued to go out all day long to look for more laborers. Using the elements of the parable as Jesus does, the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven (v. 1). The landowner is, of course, the Lord. The workers are those who have been rescued from sin and brought into the vineyard. They will not starve or go without on this day because they have found a place to work. It is a picture of salvation. But notice, the landowner goes out, even at the last hour of the day. Why? Because he is concerned for the souls of those who will not have anything because they found no place to work.

Look at the text again. When he went out at 5:00 he found them standing around. They were idle. We may even say they were lazy. The case could easily be made that they didn't deserve to be offered a job. But the landowner isn't concerned about that. He is only concerned for the welfare of these men. He offers and they accept.

This is the heart of the landowner which reflects the heart of God. He loves us. He longs for the very last soul to be saved. As Scripture says, The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, (2 Pet. 3:9). If this is the heart of our Lord then it must become our heart as well. We are His body. We must think as the head thinks. We must do as the head directs. The Lord is looking for more to come into His harvest field. Are we going out to find them, or are we expecting them to come in to find us? Do we think that they are too lazy and deserve whatever they get? May it not be so!

This idea that the landowner goes out at the last hour is compelling. It's been a long day. Everyone's tired. Who wouldn't want to just finish up and go home? Not the landowner. Not our God. His heart beats for every last soul. There are still men idle in the marketplace. Maybe they can be saved, even from themselves. Do we share the same heart? Are we diligent after lost souls? Are we willing to go look for them even in the last hour; even when we are spent and tired? Will we try to find just one more? It is the heart of our King? Do we share it?

I hope this story grips you like it does me. I hope that if you are finding yourself lost you will come in. I hope that if you are a Christian that you will be compelled to go after lost souls today. Compel them to come in, as our Lord says. They may be lazy and unfriendly, but our Lord loves them. We must go to get them.

Don't let the lesson of the parable fade from memory. Maybe we need to read it every day. Make it your priority now and always. So when the Master calls it "a day" on that last Day there will be many more souls lining up for their wages because we were diligent to go out at the last hour.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doing The Impossible

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:25, 26

For those who are willing to honestly confront the demands of the Gospel it soon becomes evident that it is hard to live the way Jesus teaches. In fact, it is impossible. Who can forsake everything, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love their enemies, deny themselves, and give to anyone who asks? Nobody! It is impossible. It is completely contrary to everything in our human nature. Then why does our Lord demand such a standard?

The answer lies in our text. With men it is impossible for anyone to be saved. But for God anything is possible. It requires grace from God and faith from us. He has made known the fact that He is willing to offer His grace. But will we believe?

The disciples have just watched a prime prospect for the kingdom walk away because Jesus was too demanding. He insisted that this rich man sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow Him. The man went away sad because he was very rich and loved his money more than righteousness. This elicited the comment from our Lord that it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the disciples' minds this meant that if the best of society couldn't do it then what hope was there for them? Then who can be saved?

The only ones who can be saved are those who will recognize that salvation does not come from us but from God. We recognize that riches, intellect, or even our own virtue cannot save us. We are still sinners separated from God. As St. Paul wrote, "There is no one just, not one," (Ro. 3:10). Only God can save us. He offers us His grace through the saving work of our Lord in His death, resurrection, and ascension. We must respond, not by thinking about what we have to offer to God, but by humbly acknowledging that we have nothing to offer to God and we are beggars in need of His grace. As our Lord said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," (Mt. 5:3).

All of this being true, it is also true that God will not save us apart from our free will. We must choose Him. He offers His free gift of eternal life. We must choose to receive it. We do so by faith. We recognize that He alone can save us and we call out to Him for His help.

Many of us know this. It is the most fundamental of truths in our faith. Yet, it seems that we often are in need of being reminded. For the same way we began is how we are to continue. We must walk by faith. If we are to become more like God, it will continue to be through His grace. He is continually offering this grace. We must keep on believing in order to receive it.

Let us today, once again, abandon ourselves and all the things we think we have to offer to God. May we remember that we are beggars, but that He is most willing to richly supply all the grace necessary to bring us safely home!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Process of Perfection

"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Matthew 19:21

A rich man came to Jesus and asked Him what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him by telling him to keep the commandments. The man pressed him with which commandments he should keep at which our Lord gave him a summary of the Law. Then the man said he had kept all of these commandments since he was young. In response, our Lord gives him the directive that is our text today. He did so to highlight the man's self-righteousness. No one keeps the Law. We are all sinners. We violate the Law continually. This man was deceived. He thought he was completely righteous when he was really lost in his sins.

There are a lot of things about this story that we can draw from for our own lives. The first is what we might think of as an examination of conscience. Using the Law as our guide, are we really living for the Lord as we think we are? The test is to look at some of our most prized possessions. Or, perhaps, to put it another way, it is to look at the thing that is closest to our hearts. If we must forsake that, does it bring grief to our hearts? Are we willing to walk away from Jesus over this one thing? As our Lord says elsewhere, "What will you give in exchange for your soul?"

Jesus gives this man the way of perfection: truly abandon everything and follow Him. This is scary for us to read. We want to pass by it. We hope the Lord will not exact such a commitment from us.

Our Lord calls us all to perfection. He calls us away from the things of this world in order to follow Him. But the thing that we often fail to recognize is that we must get there by degrees. St. Paul wrote that even if he gave everything away and his own body to be burned, but he did not have love it would be worthless (see 1 Co. 13). So we see that the perfection that our Lord calls for is not merely the abandonment of all worldly goods. Rather, He wants our hearts. "Where your treasure is, that is where your heart is also," (Mt. 6:21). The giving away of our things, the helping of the poor, the detachment from things of this world are not ends in themselves, but have their end in a deeper love for God. But again, we must get there by degrees.

First, we must ask ourselves if we keep the Law. In other words, are we living by God's word? Are we striving to become more like Him? We start here. We see that we have failed to keep God's commandments and we are sinners. We humble ourselves and ask for His forgiveness. We obey Him by coming to the Church to be nourished by Word and Sacrament. We develop a life of prayer. We learn to become a servant and give to those in need. All of these things are steps in the journey to becoming like Christ. We can't get there over night. We must take it one step at a time. No one is ready to go and give away everything without going through this process first. Only after we have come to a certain place will we find ourselves in this place of perfection. Most of us will never get there in this life, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't still have it before us as our goal.

Where are you in this journey? Maybe you haven't even begun yet. It's not too late. Today is the day to start. Begin where you are and allow Jesus to take you further. To follow Him in faith is the way that leads to eternal life. God does want us to strive for perfection. But we must take it one step at a time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

All Will Call Her Blessed

From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.
Luke 1:48,49

Why do we call Mary blessed? Because, in her own words, "the Almighty has done great things for me." Mary is not bragging. She is praising God for blessing her to be chosen as the mother of our Lord.

From its earliest days the Church has held Mary in very high esteem. It began to develop a theology around her based on the theology of our Lord. Some people believe this is getting away from the truth. But it is actually the development of that truth. The Church had to establish its theology of Christ first. Then it could approach other matters. It took almost 400 years to fully develop the doctrine of Christ. Marian theology was well underway by this time.

If Jesus is God then Mary is the Mother of God. If God could not dwell in an unclean vessel then Mary must have been preserved from sin. The Church calls this the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. If she is free from sin by a specific act of God's grace then death would have no claim on her as it does on the rest of us. This leads to the doctrine of the Assumption which we are celebrating today.

The Assumption is the teaching that Mary "fell asleep" and was assumed into heaven body and soul. It is a precursor to the general resurrection at the end of the age. Other saints have been assumed into heaven. The Scripture tells us that Enoch and Elijah had this experience. So it is not out of line to believe that Mary could experience it as well. The Scripture tells us that those who inherit eternal life will reign as kings with our Lord. Therefore, it should not be strange to believe that Mary, because of her unique role, now reigns as the queen of heaven.

The Assumption of the Blessed Mary into heaven serves as a sign of hope for us all. We take courage to know that she is our Mother in the Faith and, as such, offers us her intercessions. We also think of our own reward if we will remain faithful to God to the end. The two are connected as we believe that through our Blessed Mother's prayers we will be made fit for heaven.

If you've never given much thought to the role of our Blessed Mother in our lives and in our salvation, I invite you to prayerfully explore this wonderful truth. Mary is a true Mother to us. We love her, honor her, and with countless generations, pronounce her to be Blessed to the glory of God.

Friday, August 14, 2009

May We Divorce?

"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?"
Matthew 19:3

Divorce has been a problem for an awfully long time. In today's Gospel we see that it was prevalent in Jesus' day just as it is in ours. From the outset let it be understood that everyone acknowledges that not all marriages were made in heaven. But here's the part that we often fail to recognize- marriage itself was made in heaven.

This is key because we often treat marriage as if it is a human institution and, therefore, subject to change as we see fit. But marriage is divine in its origins. Our Lord tells us that here: "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate," (vv. 4-6). If it is from God then only God can define the rules or make any changes.

We live in a time when we are quick to abandon our commitments for the sake of our convenience. We do this with marriage, children, clubs, communities, church, and even God. No relationship, or commitment, is safe from this tendency. We find ourselves asking the question of our text: can we divorce for any reason? The answer from our Lord is no. Man cannot separate what God has joined together. We may call it divorce. We may define that as free to remarry. But God says He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Furthermore, our Lord is telling us here, as is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, that to remarry after divorce is not to contract a new marriage, but to live in adultery against the former marriage (see v. 9).

So what are we to do? We are to be reconciled to our spouses rather than divorce them. If this becomes impossible we may need to separate. While that may lead to a legal divorce, we must remember that in God's eyes we are still married. Therefore, we must remain single and celibate or be reconciled to our spouse (see 1 Co. 7:10,11). This sounds hard. But God promises to give us the necessary grace to do it. We just need to commit ourselves to the keeping of God's word.

This all may sound very harsh to those us us drenched in a modern divorce culture. But it really isn't. In fact, it's redemptive- to marriage, and all individuals involved.

God understands, and wants us to understand, that divorce is very painful. We must be very compassionate towards those undergoing it. In many ways it results in some becoming practical widows or orphans. We are to sensitively respond to this situation.

For the many who find themselves divorced, especially to those who did not want it to be so, take courage in God's abundant love and mercy. His prohibitions are meant for your protection, not for your punishment. He is a good Father who is always watching out for our best. Faith is required to obey. But blessings follow when we do. If reconciliation with your spouse is a possibility then pursue it. If not, then pray for them and ask God for His strength to walk the road before you. May you experience His abundant and never-ending grace as you do!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Noble Faith

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.
1 Peter 4:12,13

Today is the Memorial for St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, both martyred in the early 3rd century. The following excerpt from a letter by St. Cyprian captures the noble faith of these early days. I have decided to produce the entire excerpt here to show how different Christianity was practiced in those days with a view to inspiring us to imitate the same. Read on and be blessed.

With what praises can I extol you, most valiant brothers? What words can I find to proclaim and celebrate your brave hearts and your persevering faith? Examined under the fiercest torture, you held out until your ordeal was consummated in glory; it was not you who yielded to the torments but rather the torments that yielded to you. No respite from pain was allowed by the instruments of your torture, but your very crowning signaled the end of pain. The cruel butchery was permitted to last the longer, not so that it might overthrow the faith that stood so firm, but rather that it might dispatch you, men of God, more speedily to the Lord.

The crowd in wonder watched God's heavenly contest, this spiritual battle that was Christ's. They saw his servants standing firm, free in speech, undefiled in heart, endowed with supernatural courage, naked and bereft of the weapons of this world, but as believers equipped with the arms of faith. Tortured men stood there stronger than their torturers; battered and lacerated limbs triumphed over clubs and claws that tore them.

Savage and prolonged beating could not overcome such invincible faith, even when the bodies of God's servants were so mangled that no whole members were left to suffer punishment, but only wounds remained. Enough blood flowed to quench the fire of persecution, a glorious river to cool even the burning heat of hell. What a divine display it was, how sublime and magnificent. How pleasing did the sworn allegiance and loyalty of his soldiers render the dead in God's sight! In the psalms, where the Holy Spirit speaks to us and counsels us, it is written: Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints. Rightly is their death called "precious," for at the price of blood it purchased immortality and won God's crown through the ultimate act of courage.

How happy was Christ to be there, how gladly he fought and conquered in such servants! He protects their faith and gives strength to believers in proportion to the trust that each man who receives that strength is willing to place in him. Christ was there to wage his own battle; he aroused the soldiers who fought for his name; he made them spirited and strong. And he who once for all has conquered death for us, now continually conquers in us.

How blessed is this Church of ours, so honored and illuminated by God and ennobled in these our days by the glorious blood of martyrs! In earlier times it shone white with the good deeds of our brothers, and now it is adorned with the red blood of martyrs. It counts both lilies and roses among its garlands. Let each of us, then, strive for the highest degree of glory, whichever be the honor for which he is destined; may all Christians be found worthy of either the pure white crown of a holy life or the royal red crown of martyrdom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tell It To The Church

"If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church."
Matthew 18:17

I have heard this passage often. It is our Lord's directives regarding how to handle disputes, or more specifically, how to deal with serious sin within the Church. There is a process, which if it does not result in repentance on the part of the individual, can lead to excommunication. The purpose is to be one of redemption; of reconciliation. Some people abuse this process. Others ignore it altogether. Still some others take exception with various aspects of it. But, as with everything else, we are really called to a simple, faithful, obedience. But the thing that has my attention today is the last part: "Tell it to the Church." What is meant by "the Church"?

Is the Church the local assembly one attends? Is it a broader Church? Is it even a visible Church? Let's take it back to its original context and the context of Matthew's original audience. Our Lord gave this directive before He had actually constituted a Church. There were allusions to such an entity as, for instance, when He told St. Peter that He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. For Matthew's original audience, they lived in the context of one Church on various levels. There was the universal Church, and there was the local Church. The local Church probably was even broken down into smaller units which we might today call parishes, cells, assemblies, or even house churches. But even though there were various levels of the Church, there was still only one Church.

For our Lord to say that the Church was the final court of appeal presupposes that the Church is a visible entity. It means that if such a problem arose, everyone knew where they were to go to have it resolved. This was not like our current context where we have literally thousands of organizations claiming to be the Church of Jesus Christ. In their view, the Church, as it is alluded to here, is the composite of all of these entities combined. It is an "invisible church" if you will. However, the great problem with this is that if one church enacts such a level of discipline then the person simply goes down the street, or to the next town, and is usually welcomed with open arms into that church. This is so because these various churches are not in union with one another and there is no clear authority.

The Church that our Lord founded is a visible entity. It subsists most fully in the Catholic Church (see the Catechism and Vatican II). Today, as in times past, if someone has a case to take to the Church, they know where to find it. Because it is unified, a decision made in one part of the Church will be held in any part of the Church.

This Church that our Lord founded is called the "pillar and ground of truth", (1 Tim. 3:15). Our Lord has given the Holy Spirit to Her to guide Her into all truth (see Jn. 16:13). She is our Mother (Gal. 4:26). All of this means that we can trust the Church to guide and direct us. We need not be afraid She will err and lead us astray. God works and speaks through Her. To trust Her is an act of obedience to our Lord.

It is true that there are now, and have been in the past, those within the Church, even among Her leadership, who go astray and lead others astray with them. But when one knows what the Church truly teaches, they are safe. The truth of the Church is unchangeable. It remains the same as it always has been.

I say all of this to encourage each of us to come to the Church without fear. And as we do so, to learn of Her teaching and obey it. We will find, as we do, that we are being led nearer to our Lord and made ready for heaven.

It has been a little over two years since I was received into full communion in this Church. I am continually amazed at the great riches that are found here. There are prayers, devotions, customs, and practices that are deep, mysterious, and spiritual. I once feared this Church, but now no longer. Now I love Her and I yearn for others to discover the hidden treasures to be found here.

Today let us heed the voice of our Lord as He directs us to take the hardest cases to the Church. Let us come to her with our questions and misgivings as well. Whatever is on our hearts, tell it to the Church. May we not be surprised when we hear clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Her.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Becoming Like Children

"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:3

Today is the Memorial for St. Clare of Assisi. She is not as well known as her contemporary, and spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi. But she lived a life exemplifying the text above.

From her childhood, St. Clare longed to devote herself completely to Jesus. She was a beautiful noblewoman and had many suitors. But the only one she wanted was her Lord. She eventually stole away secretly one night to give herself to God. She founded an order of women known then as the Poor Sisters, but who have since become known as the Poor Clares. They devoted themselves to poverty and to prayer. They spread quickly throughout the world. Today, nearly 800 years later, the Poor Clares continue to live a life of poverty and prayer.

Not all of us are called to live out our vocation in Christ in such a radical fashion. But as we look at the text today, we see that we are called to embrace this fundamental principle: childlike faith in God. We are called to a simple obedience. Rather than question and reason, we are called to merely believe. In this, we show ourselves to be the children of God; children of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

As adults, there are a lot of things that we allow to get in the way of such childlike simplicity. We think we are too sophisticated. We have outgrown such childish fantasies. We live in the real world. We have have grown-up responsibilities. It goes on and on. But in the face of all of this, and knowing full well what He was saying, our Lord still calls us to take the position of a child in relation to our heavenly Father. Jesus teaches us to trust Him completely.

A sure sign that we fail in this calling is the never-ending propensity for worry and anxiety. Stop for a moment and think of young children at play. Are they distracted by thinking about how they will pay for college, manage their stocks, or plan for retirement? Of course not! The idea is laughable. Yet, God calls us to live as children and we worry about those things and a host of others besides. It shows that we are thinking more like the world around us than the children of God whom we are called to be.

The place of a child calls for humility as well. The old adage that children should be seen and not heard has a long history. It indicated that the place of a child was the lowest rung of society. Our Lord is calling us to such humility; to take the lowest place, be self-effacing, and hidden.

Such are the aspects of the child that we are called to imitate. Jesus tells us that this disposition is essential if we are to inherit eternal life. Such a demeanor comes only through a life given to prayer. In prayer, we see ourselves through God's eyes. We are humbled. We see our own wickedness and know instinctively that we do not deserve God's grace. Yet, we find, as the Scripture says, that His mercy endures forever, and that His love is without end. We are free to become like children because we find that we truly have a Father who loves and cares for us.

St. Clare demonstrated these principles in her day. God calls us to demonstrate them in ours. May His grace give us such faith to completely become as children before Him today!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Fruit of Death

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
John 12:24

Today is the Feast of St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence lived, and died, in the mid 3rd century. He was a deacon of the church in Rome. He was faithful to the end and willingly gave his life as a martyr. He was literally slow roasted to death. But to his last breath he continued to pray and give a faithful witness. Some of those who watched his execution were converted and provided a proper burial for him.

The Gospel for today's feast reminds us of the fruit that is born through martyrdom. In the text, our Lord is referring to Himself as the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit. But since we have been called to follow in His steps, we may apply the statement equally to martyrdom of any believer.

I have heard that God gives special grace in the hour of martyrdom so that we may bear it heroically as so many have done in the past, and continue to do today. I'm sure there's some truth to that. But it's also true that many who were called to a martyr's crown denied the Lord and forfeited their true treasure. I believe this shows that we can only truly lay down our lives if we have already done so in our hearts.

As disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to lay down our lives. We are instructed to die daily; to carry our cross. This is a very real death. It means the abandoning of everything. We learn this death moment by moment in the tedious affairs of life. We must endure suffering, unfair treatment, grief, and even tragedy. In all of these things we have the choice to become angry and bitter, or we can lay aside our "rights" to these things and choose humility and patience. As we do, we are dying to ourselves. In these "little" deaths we are being prepared for the grace of martyrdom should we be called upon to experience it.

But let's return to the little deaths. Because these are mini martrydoms if done with a pure heart for the glory of God. These, too, are fruitful. As long as we live our lives for ourselves we are like the grain of wheat that stands alone. But when we choose to die, we offer God an opportunity to produce much fruit by us. Then there are opportunities to reach out to lost and hurting souls around us. Then there will be those moved by our example of patience. Then there will be those benefited by our prayers. The list goes on and on. The possibilites are truly endless. Our great God who is eternal in His wisdom and might can do more than we could ever imagine through such things.

Today is Monday, and most of us dread Mondays. But what opportunities lie before us to lay down our lives that God may use it to produce much fruit? We will not likely see the fruit right away, or in some cases, we will not see it at all until we are in glory. Nevertheless, God is working through us if we will humbly and patiently lay down our lives for our Lord and His people.

Today is the day of martyrdom. We are called to die; perhaps not in body, but certainly in spirit. Be faithful true Christian, for an unspeakable crown of glory awaits those who triumph in death.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Feeding On Jesus

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
John 6:51

How do we "eat" Jesus? Here our Lord compares Himself to bread which we are instructed to eat. Furthermore, He clarifies that He is not only bread, but the living bread. This is distinctive. It is in contrast with natural bread which, after one eats, is no longer able to sustain him. But this bread is eternal. It lasts forever and brings eternal life to whoever eats. Jesus is the living bread. He is distinctive. One cannot find this bread anywhere else, or in anyone else.

Most people in reading this passage assume Jesus is using bread as a metaphor to show that faith in Him sustains us spiritually as surely as eating sustains us physically. This is, indeed, a part of what is being said. But there is more.

John is using this incident to teach the early believers to whom he is writing about the core teaching of the Church of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Jesus is showing us that He is truly present in the bread. It really is Him. It is not merely a symbol of Him, or something like Him. It's Him. For those who dispute this, they need only look on further in the chapter where our Lord makes it even more explicit that this is what He is teaching. When the people are offended by this, He could easily have told them He was only speaking figuratively. But He doesn't do that because He wasn't speaking figuratively. On the night of the Last Supper when our Lord took bread and pronounced, "This is My Body," we can be sure the apostles knew in that moment what He meant when He gave this teaching recorded for us in John's Gospel.

Why is this so important? Because it is in coming to the Eucharist that we are replenished with Grace. Sins are forgiven and strength is provided to live out this calling to a holy life. Without the food of the Eucharist we are spiritually malnourished. In such a weakened condition, we are easy prey for the enemies of our souls.

There is more. By giving us the precious gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has made Himself manifest to all believers. We can come, draw near, and worship. We can see Him and touch Him. He takes on, once again, physical proximity. He does this to comfort and encourage us; to aid us in our faith as we continue our pilgrimage through this life.

By giving us His flesh in this manner, we become unique partakers with Christ in the atonement He offered at the cross for our sins. We are one with Him. Through Him, in Him, and with Him, we are offered to God as a living sacrifice.

The people of Jesus' day didn't understand this. It offended them. They were trying to grasp these sacred mysteries by their own understanding. It doesn't work. As our Lord explained later, they are spiritually discerned. It must come by revelation.

To believe in Christ is a good start. But we are called to feed on Him continually. We do this in many ways, but the primary one is to receive Him in the Eucharist. Let us draw near, then, with hearts full of faith and feed on our Lord Jesus Christ who has so lovingly given Himself for us all.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nothing Is Impossible

"Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20

Most us have a pretty limited faith. We can trust God for a lot of things, but they are usually small enough not to stretch us. From time to time God will bring things into our lives designed to more or less force us to take a greater step of faith. So we can all relate to the apostles in this passage.

Peter, James, and John have been with Jesus on the mountain where He was transfigured (see Thursday's post). As they come down, they meet a crowd. A man has brought his son who is a "lunatic" to the other apostles. But they could not cure him. Then Jesus does. Afterward the disciples come to Him and ask Him why they could not cure the boy. Our Lord tells them it is because of their unbelief and then gives them the exhortation of our text.

We all face "lunatics" in our lives and I don't mean some of the people we work with, or are related to. I mean the impossible situations that God brings into our lives. How do we face them? Most of the time we begin by panicking. Then we begin to plan. Eventually we reach frustration, anger, and even despair. Then, sometimes, we might pray. But, even then, it's not because we've suddenly been filled with faith, it's because we've tried everything else and we're desperate. Our prayers lack faith. They sound more like whining than praying. Why do we follow this track? Because of our unbelief.

If we stop for a moment and meditate on the text this morning, we find that our Lord intends for this process to be quite different. When faced with an impossible situation, the first thing we should do is pray. In the beginning, a lot of this prayer will be focused on telling God how much we are struggling and that we need faith to believe. It will sound like the man's prayer as recorded in Mark's Gospel: "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief." But eventually, if we are faithful in continuous prayer, our prayer will already be filled with faith and we will turn to God in the quiet confidence that, though we have no idea what to do, He does. As we wait on Him in prayer, He will often give us a direction. We are to follow, even with the smallest faith (a mustard seed). Then we will be able to speak to the mountain in our lives and command it to move out of the way.

The key to all of this is that last line: "Nothing will be impossible for you." Most of us can accept the idea that nothing is impossible with God. But to say that nothing is impossible for us seems to be a fantasy. It isn't. If we will trust in God we become one with Him. We don't strike out on our own and expect God to back us up. Rather, we wait on God and follow His direction. Then we may have the confidence that nothing will be impossible for us because nothing is impossible with God.

Does this mean we will always get what we want? No. That's the point. It's about trust in God. It's about submission to Him. It is not about telling God what He should be doing. That is the very opposite of faith. Sometimes we will still lose the job, the marriage will break up, the sickness will not go away, and people we love will die. The difference is that if we approach all of this in faith, the situation will bear the fruit of the grace of God in our lives and in the lives of others around us. Otherwise, there will be no fruit, but anger and despair.

Whatever we are facing today, God is calling us to faith. He is leading us to go beyond our understanding or comfort zone to find that He moves mountains and delivers lunatics. Nothing is impossible to God. And if we believe, even with the smallest faith, nothing will be impossible to us either.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Choice

"What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
Matthew 16:26

In today's Gospel we hear our Lord confronting us with the basic truth that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world are on opposite planes and operate by vastly different rules. In the kingdom of heaven it is the poor who are rich, the foolish who are wise, the weak who are strong, the last who are first, and those who willingly choose to die who inherit eternal life.

He begins this exhortation with the call for each one to "deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me," (v. 24). This is a picture of a trial, conviction, and condemnation. The accused is denied his rights to life and liberty because he is found guilty of a capital crime. He is then led out for public execution. The disciples understood very well that to see a man carrying a cross meant he had no future plans or ambitions of his own. He was to die shortly. Jesus uses this illustration to show us graphically what it means to be a disciple. Before we can embrace the life that Jesus offers, we must first find our old life of sin guilty of treason against the King of heaven, and, therefore, led out for public execution. We are to be the executioner. That is, we are to put our old life of sin to death. Only in doing so can we hope to gain the eternal life that Christ offers.

However, the unfortunate truth of our present time is that we think that we can live very comfortably in both kingdoms. We expect to enjoy all that this world has to offer and still inherit eternal life as well. Look back at our Lord's teaching. This is not what He is saying. Furthermore all of the Gospels, the teaching of the Church, it's history, and the lives of the saints show us exactly the opposite. We are called to make a choice. We will either have our pleasure here or hereafter, but not both.

This cannot be merely theoretical. So many would easily say that they are obeying Jesus. But their lives demonstrate something completely different. Our time, our plans, our ambition, and, yes, our money are all offered to God to be placed at His disposal if we are truly living out this teaching of our Lord.

The question must be asked then: how much does it cost to gain eternal life? Some would say nothing; Christ paid it all. Others would say a great deal. But our Lord is telling us it will cost us everything. Does the price seem too high? Then He asks us the question, what will you give in exchange for your life? What is worth so much to you that you would keep it and forfeit your own life? When measured against eternity, the things of this world do begin to look pretty paltry.

What difference would it make if we gain the whole world, but lose our own soul in the end? What is worth the price that Christ requires? Do we hang on to our profits, pleasures, possessions, positions, prestige, or popularity? Are these worth more than our own souls? Do we really think our Lord asks for too much?

Today we deal with the uncomfortable truth that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world are at war. As surely as someone could not be a loyal citizen of two nations at war with each other, so we cannot live comfortably in both kingdoms. We must make a choice. What will we choose?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"It Is Good To Be Here"

"Rabbi, it is good that we are here!"
Mark 9:5

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration; the time when we reflect on this momentous occasion when our Lord chose to reveal Himself in His glory to His chosen apostles. For a moment, heaven came down to earth. In the words of St. Peter, "We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty," (2 Pet. 1:16). On that occasion, Peter uttered the words of the text cited above. How good it was to be in the presence of the glorified Christ. Many of us, as we take a few moments to meditate on these words, and this incident, echo that sentiment. How awesome it would have been to see our Lord in His glory!

Yet, numerous opportunities are afforded us of just such an experience. What are we doing with them? I am referring to the many instances in which we can experience the Lord in prayer or at Mass. But someone will say, "Oh, God doesn't do that anymore. We can't experience something that good." Is this so? All we need do is look at the saints for a refutation to this statement. Many of the saints had very powerful experiences of God's presence. Why can't we?

The difference is that they were men and women of devout prayer. They lived in the presence of God. Their hearts yearned for Him continually. So God rewarded such fervor with extraordinary revelations of Himself. If we would have a similar devotion we too could have such experiences.

However, we will not get there in a moment, or even in a day. For some it may take the better part of a lifetime. The point is not really the experience. The point is that as we draw near to God, He will draw near to us and fill us with Himself. This is the whole purpose of our lives. It is to know God; to love and serve Him. We were made for Him. He longs for us. There is an intimacy which is intended. It fills the untold number of gaps we currently experience.

Today, determine that you will lay aside whatever keeps you from quiet moments alone with God. Go to Him in prayer. Seek Him diligently. Take time with it. Don't rush. Allow yourself to wait upon Him. Bask in His presence. Give yourself completely to Him. See what will happen, and don't be too surprised if He chooses to bless you with a revelation of Himself allowing you to see Him in His glory. Then you too will utter the words of St. Peter: "Rabbi, it is good to be here."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Last Straw

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked assembly grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the children of Israel against me. Tell them: By my life, says the LORD, I will do to you just what I have heard you say. Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
Numbers 14:28,29

Beware of grumbling and complaining. Beware of doubt and unbelief. These were the things that brought God's judgment on Israel.

We hear often that such things can be healthy. They actually help us grow in our faith. They allow us to explore aspects of our faith that we don't understand. They give us an opportunity to vent. These all have meaning in a modern psychologized society. But they do not have meaning with God.

God wants to be trusted more than anything. We can only demonstrate a true love for God if we are willing to trust Him. Grumbling and complaining show that we do not trust Him. We think we know better, or worse, we simply are unsatisfied with what He is giving.

God put up with Israel through many complaints, but this was the last straw. Why? Was it because they were now at the border of the Promised Land only to turn away out of fear and unbelief? Perhaps. God treats this episode as a complete rejection of Him. But then, there were many such incidents. I think God responds to them as He does because He has promised them this land since they came out of Egypt. This is what it was all about. Now they wanted to run. They were rejecting God's plan for something else of their own making.

It's true that we encounter doubts along the way. If we do not allow them to overwhelm us they can turn into an opportunity to strengthen our faith. Sometimes we have a bad day and grumble and complain. God knows that we are weak and far from perfect. However, when these things become a habit they are awfully hard to break. The more we yield to them, the further we fall from God. If we do not turn back, we will find ourselves utter skeptics and rejecting the Faith altogether. It has happened so many times in the past. We must not think it couldn't happen to us.

We may not understand various aspects of our faith and we may not understand what God is accomplishing in us through our present circumstances. That's all right. God doesn't call us to understand. He calls us to believe. He calls us to believe in Him. It's all about Him. It's about our relationship with Him. He doesn't care if we are theologians, but He does want us to be lovers. Lovers trust each other. God wants us to trust Him as a sign of our supreme love for Him.

If we are making our home in this world and rejecting the one God is preparing for us, it's a pretty safe bet that we will find ourselves left outside of it in the end. This is the judgment He pronounced on Israel. He will do the same to us if we follow in their footsteps. Let us renew our pledge of faith this day. Let us trust Him to aid us even in overcoming our doubts and fears. Let us now turn back when faced with the giants of our promised land. Let us go forward in faith!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Being Watchmen

"I have appointed you a watchman"
Ezekiel 3:17

Today is the Memorial for St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney was a simple man who struggled with his studies to become a priest. When he was finally ordained, he was assigned the pastorate of a small village parish called Ars in France. When he arrived in Ars, he did not find the people fervent in their faith. In fact, he found that such fervency was terribly lacking on account of numerous sinful practices of the people. He labored incessantly for their conversion, but it only brought more grief as the people began to resent him. But St. John Vianney was a man of prayer. He prayed for hours and fasted so regularly that it became his regular diet to eat very little. Slowly the situation in Ars began to change. Many began to seek the saint out to hear their confessions. His reputation as a confessor grew to such an extent that people from all over the world would come to make their confessions. At one point, he was hearing confessions for about 16 hours a day. St. John Vianney died in 1859. He is the patron saint of priests. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, the Holy Father has declared this year to be the year of the priest. We are especially reminded to pray for our priests.

St. John Vianney embodied the exhortation to be a watchman found in today's first reading for the saint's Memorial. He could have easily settled for a life of ease in a little village parish, being well liked and well thought of by all the people. Instead, he endured the difficulties and obstacles with an eye towards the salvation of the souls under his charge. His sermons were filled with powerful rebukes against very many sins prevalent among the people of Ars. Contrary to popular perception, such is the true heart of a priest who loves his people because such is the heart of God. It was prayer and the faithful preaching of the Word that brought Ars to a true conversion. It is ever the same in every place today.

These exhortations are not for priests alone. For all believers in Jesus Christ have inherited a share in His priesthood. It is our responsibility to proclaim His Word to every creature and to pray fervently for an outpouring in our nation such as was seen in Ars. But who will pay the price? Who will endure the ridicule? Who will risk the loss of friends or popularity? Who will undergo such fasts and commit hours to prayer rather than the televesion or a host of other inane distractions competing for our attention? Who? Will it be you? Will it be me?

As long as we are content to leave such stories on the page and bask in the warm afterglow of their thoughts, nothing will change. When we take them as our own and recognize that the God of Ezekiel, and the God of St. John Vianney is our God today. He has not changed. If we will be so committed to the care of souls around us, we may count on His power to fall once more.

God grant that we will be watchmen and grant an outpouring of Your grace upon us! Amen!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Bad Day

“Why do you treat your servant so badly?”
Numbers 11:11

In today's first reading Moses is having a bad day. That's to put it mildly. By the time we get to the end of the reading, he is pleading with God to strike him dead. Why is he so upset?

The Israelites are complaining again. They don't like eating manna all the time. They opine about the wonderful fare they had in Egypt when they were slaves. Only it appears they have forgotten the part about the slavery. Now, any complaint against God is a complaint against Moses. They cannot see God, but they can see Moses. If this were an isolated occurrence, I am sure Moses could have dealt with it. But it's not. The Israelites spend their time in little else but complaining. Moses has had all he can take.

To me, this is the perfect reading for a Monday. Many of us are fed up with a number of things in our lives. Monday just brings out the worst. We return to work, we begin another week, etc. There are issues on the job, at home, and various other places. The combined pressure can get to us at times and cause us, like Moses, to ask God, "Why are you treating me so badly?" In these times, we may feel that we would rather God just strike us dead. Obviously, we need to step back and gain a little bit of perspective.

The fact is that this life is hard and there are numerous trials that we must face. The good news is that God is faithful to work through all of these circumstances to perfect us and prepare us for heaven. When we answered our Lord's invitation to discipleship, we were called to carry a cross. This means suffering, and more, it means patiently enduring such suffering. This suffering comes in a variety of ways. It may be dealing with our co-workers, neighbors, or family members. It may be physical illness. It may be tragedy. It may be persecution for righteousness' sake. Whatever it may be, God is well aware of it and He is allowing it in our lives, as I said, for our perfection. It may not be what we want, but it's what we need.

Though these trials may seem like they will last forever, they are actually very temporary, especially when seen against the backdrop of eternity. When the pressure begins to build and you feel yourself beginning to think like Moses, it's time to find a quiet place to get away. Our Lord illustrates this in today's Gospel.

He has just been brought the news that Herod has executed John the Baptist. He is grieving. He goes away by Himself. But the crowds see Him and follow. Rather than tell them He's taking some time off, He is moved with compassion and heals their sick. Then He feeds them all. How does He find such resource to continue to minister to others when He is hurting Himself? Well, He's God of course. But more than that, I think He was able to have enough time to commune with God. Perhaps a better answer is that He was so in the habit of continual communion with the Father that when the crisis came He had more than enough resource to deal with it.

Today, regardless of what we are facing, or will be facing, let us remember the difference between Moses' reaction to crisis and our Lord's. Though we will be tempted to side with Moses, let us, rather, find ourselves on the side of our Lord. Let us choose to think more of the others around us in need than our own need. Let us draw near to God continually so that we will have all the resource necessary to face the trials of today, and every day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

More Than A Free Lunch

Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
John 6:26,27

I find some of the passages of Scripture rather humorous. This is one of them.

Jesus has just accomplished the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. Now the people keep following Him, not because the miracle has brought them to faith, but because they like the idea of hanging around with someone who is able to give them a free lunch. The following dialogue is pretty funny because it is clearly seen that the people are trying to manipulate Jesus into giving them another free lunch, while our Lord is trying to get them to look beyond their bellies to the spiritual hunger that He longs to quell.

This isn't so far removed from our own experience. Don't we like Jesus, at least in part, because He's handy for getting us out of jams? How many times have we made bargains with God that essentially boiled down to that we would really serve Him if He gets us out of our present pickle? We know better, but we still often behave as if we can manipulate the Lord. It can't be done.

One of the things I continually am growing to appreciate about our God is that He doesn't always give us what we want, but rather He gives us what is truly best for us. Jesus didn't mind feeding the crowds because He had compassion on them. But the miracle was intended to point to more. Jesus concludes this passage by saying, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst,” (v. 35). If Jesus provides a meal it meets the need of the moment, but if we come to faith in Him, it meets every need for all time. This is what He means when he says that we will never hunger or thirst again.

We are born with an innate hunger to know God. This can only be satisfied by welcoming Him into our lives. Unfortunately, we try to fill that void with many other things. Some of us even have the nerve to ask God to help us in this pursuit of something other than Himself. He refuses, of course, because He knows what we truly need and He is waiting for us to ask for that.

What are you substituting for God? Are you trying to use Him for what He can do for you rather than surrender to Him to be at His disposal? The thing you are truly hungering for is the bread that endures for eternal life. Jesus is that bread Himself. Today, come to Him without any attempts at leverage, but rather just to feed on Him and be completely satisfied.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Directed By The Spirit

(we) live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.
Romans 8:4

Today is the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori. St. Alphonsus lived in the 18th century. He was a brilliant man and received his Doctor of Laws degree when he was only 16 years old. However, God had other plans for him. He eventually answered God's call to the priesthood. He had a long and profitable ministry in which he preached the word and wrote many books.

The life of St. Alphonsus illustrates the fundamental principle that we see in the verse above. He chose to live according to the Spirit, rather than according to the flesh. Most people in the position of St. Alphonsus would have chosen the prestige and prosperity of a lawyer. Instead, he laid it all aside in order to follow the Spirit's direction. This is what it means to live according to the Spirit and not the flesh.

The call to follow Jesus as a disciple is a radical one. It calls for death to our old way of living and a clean break from the principles of this world. A disciple lives with other values in view. He does not labor for money or fame. He labors to bless others and glorify God. He does not seek to accumulate wealth and possessions, he looks for opportunities to give them away. He does not turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor, or the oppressed. He labors to provide for them the things they need. He does not give in to the current wave of immorality, he stands for virtue and chastity. These are just some of the ways in which one finds himself living according to the Spirit and not the flesh.

To do this is not easy. In fact, it is impossible- on our own. So God has provided His Spirit to live within us and guide our steps. He is the one who gives us the strength to live holy. To live according to the Spirit is to develop the ability to hear the Spirit's voice, and to follow His directions.

How can we do such a thing? It requires one thing- prayer. In prayer we encounter God. When we do, we see how contrary we have been living to His ways. We begin the process of reconciliation and the changes that become necessary if we are to continue to follow the Lord. More and more, we begin to learn to wait, to listen, and to commune with God. In this, we are being trained by the Spirit. As we respond, we will be walking in the Spirit. And so we will find ourselves living according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

Others around us will think that we are strange. They will say that we have lost our minds. They will call us fanatics, or worse. But this is just the point; we do not strive to win the applause of the world. We are working, rather, to have the approval of God.

Today, take some time to get alone with God. Allow Him to do a spiritual inventory on your life. See what things need to be dealt with. Do not be afraid of this experience. Then spend some time in silence and begin to learn what it is like when the Spirit speaks. And when He does, obey Him, no matter what. Then you will be living according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.