Monday, December 22, 2014

Prepare My Heart

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Strengthen my faith that I may truly believe that You are the Son of God born for us as a tiny baby on that Christmas so long ago.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Increase my hope that I may truly long for Heaven and trust that You will bring me home to be with You forever.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Pour Your love into me that it may flow out to everyone I meet.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Fill me with joy that I may truly delight in Your coming.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Calm my mind and heart that I may experience true peace.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Open me up to the wonder of the season that I may be like a little child who stands in awe of all that You have done, are doing, and will do.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Help me to experience Your Real Presence in the Eucharist in a very special way during this season and throughout the year.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Permeate my mind and heart with Your Word that I may know You ever better and love You ever more.

Jesus, prepare my heart for Christmas. Shine Your light through me to brighten the world this Christmas and throughout the new year.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete! Rejoice!

The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word “Gaudete” is an imperative verb that means “Rejoice,” and this Sunday gives us a prime opportunity to do just that. 

In the craziness of this time of the year, we often miss out on the joy of the season. We're so busy shopping, baking, decorating, writing cards, wrapping presents, and planning get-togethers that our joy often slips away and is replaced by stress and exhaustion. 

On this Gaudete Sunday, then, set aside a few minutes for a joy boost and reflect on these ten sources of great joy.

1. God is a loving Father Whose mercy never runs out and Whose compassion extends beyond our wildest dreams. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He loves us infinitely.

2. Jesus Christ was born as our Savior.

3. Jesus Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins.

4. Because Jesus Christ died for us and rose again, we have access to Heaven. We have the opportunity to one day live in God's presence face to face.

5. God has written a love letter to His children. It is called the Bible. We can read it and meditate on it and pray it whenever we want to.

6. Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We can receive Him in Holy Communion in the most intimate way possible here on earth.

7. In the Mass, we participate in the worship of Heaven. The angels and saints praise and worship God alongside us. Mass is truly a little piece of Heaven on earth.

8. The Catholic Church guides us along a sure path of faith and morals. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and has the Holy Spirit as her soul. Her teaching is Jesus' teaching. We can trust it.

9. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Guide. If we listen to Him, He will show us the path we must follow all the way to Heaven.

10. Intimacy with God is ours for the asking. God longs to be our closest friend.

In today's Second Reading, St. Paul says, “Rejoice always.” Semper gaudete. We have much to be joyful for if only we spend some time reflecting on God and His gifts. 

Gaudete! Rejoice!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Everyday Prayers: The Act of Hope

Hope is essential to every Christian. According to Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, hope is “a steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man's nature, that is, toward has its source in the reality of grace in man and is directed toward supernatural happiness in God.” He continues, “Hope is the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God...”

This hope is what we are expressing when we pray the Act of Hope

O my God, relying on Your almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Your grace and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen. 

Let's look closely at this beautiful little prayer.

1. O my God – With these three little words, we are claiming God as our own. We are saying that we have a personal relationship with Him. We are not, of course, asserting that we can control God or that we somehow possess Him. Quite the opposite is true. When we claim God, we submit to His will and His loving control of our lives, and we allow Him to possess us.

2. relying on Your almighty power – God is omnipotent. His power is limitless, and He puts that power to work for our good because He loves us. We, in turn, must rely on His power and not on our own strength, which is extremely limited. As St. Paul says, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

3. and infinite mercy – Like God's power, God's mercy has no end. He is always waiting to shower His mercy upon us. All we have to do is repent and confess our sins, just realize and acknowledge that we are sinners. Then our hearts become open to receive the infinite mercy that is always available from our loving God.

4. and promises – What does God promise? He promises forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ and an eternity in Heaven with Him. Our job is to accept those promises and respond to them.

5. I hope to obtain pardon of my sins – God longs to forgive us. He wants us to be in an intimate relationship with Him, one that is not broken or damaged by sin. We can have firm confidence, therefore, that when, with repentant hearts, we ask God to forgive us, He will do so.

6. the help of Your grace – We need God's grace at every moment of the day. The Catechism says that grace is “favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (#1996). Sanctifying grace is the presence of God in our souls. Actual grace is the help God gives us to choose Him and follow Him at every moment of the day. God loves to give us His grace. He wants to give us His grace. We just need to accept and embrace His grace.

7. and life everlasting – That is our goal, life with God forever and ever in Heaven. God longs to give us that everlasting life, that never-ending face-to-face relationship with Him that is the meaning and ultimate end of everything we are and everything we do. As always, we must respond to God's longing and reach out to receive what He yearns to give.

8. through the merits of Jesus Christ – Jesus died for us to open the way to eternal salvation that was closed by the sin of our first parents. He merited all the graces we receive from God. Because He is God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He did what we could never do, namely, offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice to God to atone for all sin and open the door to Heaven.

9. my Lord and Redeemer – Jesus is God. He is the Lord of all. He is our King, and we must acknowledge His authority in our lives and give Him the proper love, respect, and obedience. Jesus is also our Redeemer. He has saved us from our sins and from the punishment that follows from them. He has purchased us with His own blood and brought us out of slavery to sin to be His beloved subjects and family for all eternity.

10. Amen – With this little word, we give our firm assent to everything we have just prayed. We once again express our hope in God and in His great love for us.

Let us pray:

O my God, relying on Your almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Your grace and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent: A Season of Preparation

Christ has come. Christ is coming now. Christ will come again. During Advent we meditate in a special way on these three statements. We prepare our hearts to remember Christ's first coming when we celebrate His birth on Christmas Day. We prepare our hearts to receive Christ right now when He comes to us in the Eucharist and in the thousands of other ways He comes to us every day. We prepare our hearts for Christ's coming at the end of our lives when we will meet Him face to face and for His coming in glory at the end of time when He will judge the whole world and usher in a new Heaven and a new earth.

Our Advent preparations help our hearts and minds grasp the beauty, the reality, and the mystery of Christ's coming, so we should plan them and perform them with care and reverence. Below are a few suggestions to make this Advent spiritually meaningful.

1. Read the Bible every single day. The daily Mass readings are available online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, and they are ideal for Advent reflection. If possible, also choose one of the Gospels and read it slowly over the next few weeks.

2. Pray the Bible. Don't just read the Bible; interact with God through His Word. Read slowly, several times as necessary, to really understand each passage. Meditate on the words. Listen to them with your heart, and think about what they reveal about God, His actions in the world, and His love for His people. Pray back to God with blessing and adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. Then be still and listen to God's voice as He speaks from the depths of your soul. 

3. Find and use a good set of Advent meditations. Many churches provide Advent booklets for parishioners to take home, but you may prefer one of the many online resources available. Try those at EWTN or the email reflections provided by Fr. Robert Barron.

4. Go to Mass every Sunday and more often if possible. Don't just be present in body; be present in mind, heart, and soul. Pay attention to this most Holy Sacrifice. Greet Jesus warmly when He becomes present on the altar and especially when He enters into you in Holy Communion. Really pray the Mass. 

5. Increase your devotion to the Eucharist. Jesus comes to us right now in the Eucharist. Focus on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Read about, study, and meditate on this great mystery. Visit the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association website for theological meditations, personal testimonies, and information about Eucharistic miracles.

6. Examine your prayer life and make changes as necessary. Pray at least ten minutes a day if you aren't already. Discipline your mind to limit wandering and lack of attention. Add something new to freshen up your prayer routine (begin praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet every day, start a prayer journal, or try the Liturgy of the Hours).

7. Receive the sacrament of Confession. Even if you haven't committed any mortal sins, the sacrament immerses you in God's forgiveness and grace and gives you a fresh start.

8. Quiet your heart as much as possible and remain in the presence of God. Try not to get too distracted by the busyness and materialism of the world, especially when you are constantly bombarded by advertisements and advice about creating the perfect Christmas. Give your Advent and your Christmas to God. Prepare with Him, in Him, and for Him. Only then will you discover the true meaning of the season: Christ has come. Christ is coming now. Christ will come again.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Everyday Prayers – Act of Faith

The Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love help us express our commitment to and acceptance of these three theological virtues that are gifts from God and lights for our hearts, minds, and wills.

In this post, we will take a close look at the Act of Faith:

O my God, I firmly believe that You are one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Your Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths the Holy Catholic Church teaches because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.

1. O my God – With these three little words, we are claiming God as our own. We are saying that we have a personal relationship with Him. We are not, of course, asserting that we can control God or that we somehow possess Him. Quite the opposite is true. When we claim God, we submit to His will and His loving control of our lives, and we allow Him to possess us.

2. I firmly believe – The Catechism says that faith “is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself” (#166). Faith is both “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him” (#153) and “an authentically human act” (#154). When we say that we believe, we are not merely assenting to a set of intellectual truths, although that is certainly part of the equation. We are also accepting the Person Who has revealed those truths. The Catechism sums this up nicely in #176: “Faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals Himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through His deeds and words.”

3. You are one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God is both Unity and Trinity. He has one divine nature but three distinct Persons. As Father William Most explains, “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet we do not speak of three Gods, but only one God. They have the same nature, substance, and being.” The Blessed Trinity is profound mystery that humans could never have discovered on their own. God Himself has revealed it, and we accept it in faith and seek to understand it as much as we can with our limited human minds.

4. Your Divine Son became man – The second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Divine Son, became man. Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He took on human flesh, but He did not leave behind His divinity. He is truly both God and man.

5. and died for our sins – Jesus died on the cross to save us. With the greatest love, He sacrificed Himself for us. The Catechism explains, “This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father Himself, for the Father handed His Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with Himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered His life to His Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience” (#614). Sin separated us from God. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered the penalty for sin, which is death, so that we may be reunited with God both on earth (for He dwells within our souls) and in Heaven (where we will see Him face to face for all eternity).

6. He will come to judge the living and the dead – Jesus promised that He will return at the end of time and proclaim a final judgment on the whole world. Everything that is hidden will be revealed. The current Heaven and earth will pass away and be replaced by a new Heaven and a new earth. We will receive resurrected bodies that will be like Jesus' resurrected body. This is a great mystery, but we believe that it will happen, for Jesus Himself has said so.

7. I believe these and all the truths the Holy Catholic Church teaches – The Catholic Church possesses and teaches the fullness of truth. The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and her soul is the Holy Spirit. She is also the Bride of Christ, and she faithfully listens to, guards, and explains the fullness of His Divine Revelation in both Scripture and Tradition.

8. You have revealed them – Divine Revelation comes from God. That's why it can never be changed. No human being has the right to add anything to or take anything away from God's Word. Truth is objective and absolute.

9. Who can neither deceive nor be deceived – God is omniscient. He knows all. What's more, He is truth itself. He cannot lie. Therefore His Divine Revelation is true. We may not always grasp the depths of its meaning. It may confront us with mysteries beyond our ability to understand. But it is truth because God is truth.

10. Amen – With this little word, we give our firm assent to everything we have just prayed. We once again affirm our faith in God and in everything He reveals.

O my God, I firmly believe that You are one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Your Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths the Holy Catholic Church teaches because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Points to Ponder from the Readings for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

First Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

1. The prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of a new Temple. The previous one had been destroyed in 587 when the Jews were carried off into exile in Babylon. This new Temple will be a source of living, flowing, life-giving water to the world.

2. This water flowing from the Temple will be so fresh and wonderful that it would actually freshen the saltwater of the sea. In other words, it is miraculous water.

3. The water flows in a river that is teaming with life both within and on its shores. The natural world will flourish with the touch of this water, and trees will grow up beside the river's banks and provide the best of food and medicine.

4. What is the miraculous water that flows from the new Temple? Ezekiel doesn't say. Perhaps he doesn't fully know. The answer would only be revealed when the Messiah hung on the cross and a stream of blood and water flowed from His side. 

Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9

1. The psalmist assures us that “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.” God is with us. We need not fear even the strongest earthquake. We are in His care.

2. The psalm also mentions a running stream that gladdens God's city.

3. God dwells in this city, and He will not forsake it. In fact, He will protect and aid His dwelling place that it may not be disturbed.

4. Where does God dwell today? What is the city gladdened by the running stream and protected by God? The psalmist could not have said, but we recognize the Church.

1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17

1. The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Its building blocks are its members.

2. Paul laid the foundation of the Church at Corinth. He was the one who preached Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Others, he says, will build upon that foundation, continuing to preach the Gospel and bring new members to the Church, but they must be careful how they build, for there is only one foundation and therefore one building. There must be no schism.

3. Paul also informs each of his readers that he or she is a temple of God. When we are in a state of grace, God dwells within our souls. His Holy Spirit is active in us, and as temples of God, we are holy and set aside for God's use and service.

John 2:13-22

1. Jesus is surprisingly violent in this reading. He is tired of the abuses occurring in His Father's house, the Jerusalem Temple, and He is going to put a stop to them. He turns over tables, spills coins, and even drives humans, sheep, and oxen out of the Temple with a whip of cords. This might seem out of character for Jesus, but His zeal comes from the fact that the holy courts of the Temple are being profaned by these actions. The sellers and money-changers are not in the Temple to pray and worship but to make a profit. This is unacceptable to Jesus.

2. The Jews are shocked by Jesus' behavior, and they ask for a sign that He has the authority to act this way. His response shocks them even more: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They question Him, not understanding or believing His words.

3. Jesus, of course, is not speaking about the physical Temple in which He is standing. He is talking about His own body, which the Jews will indeed destroy and which will be raised up in the Resurrection.

4. The disciples do not understand Jesus cryptic response any more than the Jews do. Only after the Resurrection will they realize what He means. He is the new Temple from Whom living water will flow out to the whole world. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lord Jesus, Make Me a Saint

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; fill me with Your indwelling presence that I may always be in a state of grace.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; make me holy and set me aside for Your service.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; may I belong wholly to You.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; pour Your love into me that I may pour it out upon You and upon every person I meet.

Lord Jesus, make me saint; increase my faith that I may never doubt You and the truths that You have revealed.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; fill me with hope so that I may look ahead to an eternity with You.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; help me practice every virtue and spurn every vice.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; open my mind that I may understand Your teaching and strengthen my will that I may follow it.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; make me always obedient to Your commands.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; may I always put You first, others second, and myself last in a spirit of true service.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; fill me with Your joy and light that I may radiate that joy and light to all people.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; give me a prayerful heart that I may live in an intimate relationship with You and intercede for my fellow human beings.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; use me as Your little instrument to spread Your grace and love throughout the world.

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; may people see You when they look at me. 

Lord Jesus, make me a saint; when my last day on earth is done, take me to Heaven to live with You forever.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Everyday Prayers – Grace After Meals

Most people pray some kind of grace before meals, but how many people do you know who pray grace after meals? This used to be a common Catholic practice, but it has slipped into disuse over the years. Perhaps it's time to renew the practice with the following little prayer:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, Who livest and reignest forever; and may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Let's take a close look at the meaning of this compact yet expressive prayer.

1. We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits – By saying this, we are recognizing that everything we have comes from God. He pours out His benefits upon us: His love, His mercy, His blessings, all our material possessions, the natural world around us, and even our very existence. Our job is to acknowledge God as our source and to give Him thanks with a grateful, loving heart.

2. O Almighty God – God is all-powerful or omnipotent. People often have difficulty wrapping their minds around that. God can do anything He wills to do, but He always wills what is good, true, and beautiful because He is, in His own nature, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty at their highest.

3. Who livest and reignest forever – God is Being itself. He does not depend on anyone or anything for His existence. He simply is. He lives. God is also the highest of kings. As the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-seeing, all-loving God, He reigns supreme over the whole universe and every creature in it, for He made them all and holds them all in existence at every moment. What's more, God lives and reigns forever. He is eternal. He has no beginning, and He will have no end.

4. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace – Catholics must pray for the souls of the faithful departed who are or may be in Purgatory. Our prayers and the good works we offer for them help to bring down God's mercy upon them. For a more in-depth explanation of how this works, please click here. The goal of our prayers is, of course, the souls' eternal rest in the presence of God in Heaven. That indeed is true peace beyond anything we can grasp here on earth.

5. Amen  With this one little word, we give our final, heartfelt “yes” to our prayer.

From here on out, then, let's remember to pray this short but very meaningful prayer after every meal:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, Who livest and reignest forever; and may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Everyday Prayers – Grace before Meals

How often do you pray grace before meals? Do you say the “traditional” Catholic prayer of grace as below?

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Even if you do pray this little prayer several times a day, do you ever stop to think about what it really means? Or do you just rattle it off out of habit? 

In this post, we're going to take a close look at this familiar prayer and discover what it tells us about God, about His gifts, and about ourselves.

1. Bless us, O Lord – We begin the prayer by asking for God's blessing upon us. Think about the verb “bless” for a moment. We use the word and its derivatives all the time, but do we really understand what they mean? Do we really know what we are asking when we ask God to bless us?

When we ask God to bless us, we are requesting that He pour out His divine favor upon us. We are begging Him to shower down His love upon us and to give us all the good things that we need. What's more, we are urging Him to set us aside for His purposes, to make us His own holy people, consecrated to Him and sanctified for His service. That's a lot of meaning and a big request in one little word! But God is all too happy to bless us. We just need to open our hearts to accept the blessings He gives us.

2. and these Thy gifts – Everything we have ultimately comes from God. He is the Creator, Who has provided this world for us to live in, food for us to eat, and materials to make our clothing and shelter. When we pray these four little words, we admit that fact, acknowledging our dependence on God, recognizing His gracious providence, and gratefully accepting His wonderful gifts.

Further, we ask God to bless these gifts that He has given. We request that He pour His favor out upon His gifts so that they can be maximally useful to us and meet our needs perfectly. 

3. which we are about to receive from Thy bounty – Once again, we are acknowledging the great gifts of God and proclaiming that everything we have comes from Him, the divine Giver. What's more, we recognize that God possesses great bounty. All things belong to Him, but He shares them with us. He provides for our needs, often very lavishly when it is to our benefit.

4. though Christ our Lord – The Father uses a specific channel when He pours out His gifts upon His people. Everything comes through Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the God-Man and the mediator between God and man. He is the Word of God through Whom and for Whom all things were made and in Whom all things live and move and have their being.

5. Amen – In saying Amen, we give our assent to everything we have just prayed. We say “yes” once again to our prayer and to God.

Next time you say grace before a meal, then, be sure to think closely about what you are praying and mean every single word you say.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rediscover Catholicism Celebration 2014

Last Saturday, October 4, 2014, I was privileged and blessed to attend the Rediscover Catholicism Celebration at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The celebration featured a fine set of speakers, excellent music, and a most-beautiful Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Nienstedt.

In this post, I'm going to share a few outstanding ideas from each of the speakers I heard at the celebration. These are just “teasers” for reflection and “food for thought,” and I would highly suggest that interested blog readers order their own copies of the talks, which are available through the Rediscover website.

The celebration's theme was “Horizon of Hope.”

Jeff Cavins

Jeff Cavins was the celebration's emcee, but he offered some excellent reflections along the way. Here are just a couple:

“We are a people of faith on a journey to a new horizon of hope.”

“Our Catholic faith is the transcendent road map toward the horizon of hope.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley

The title of Archbishop Paul Coakley's talk was “Prayer as an Expression of Hope.” He began by noting that prayer is the setting for hope and that prayer sustains hope because in prayer we gratefully remember the wonderful things God has done in the past and recall that He will always be just as loving and faithful in the future. 

The Archbishop also reminded his listeners of a passage in St. John's Gospel in which John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples. The disciples turn to Jesus and ask Him where He is staying. He replies, “Come and see,” and they follow Him. St. John then notes that it was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The Archbishop then invited his listeners to remember their own “4 o'clock moments,” those moments when God has specially touched their hearts and transformed their lives. 

Father Dave Dwyer

Father Dave Dwyer's presentation, entitled “The New Evangelization in Your Everyday Life,” helped his hearers understand the term “New Evangelization” as the “reaching out to baptized Catholics and rekindling of faith in persons and cultures where it has grown lackluster.”

Father Dwyer also told his hearers that the “New Evangelization” must start with each Catholic individual. “We can't give away what we don't have,” he said practically, so “we need to be reconverted and set on fire.” That means renewing prayer life, living the Mass, being nourished by the Eucharist, and ever deepening and strengthening one's relationship with God.

Scott Hahn

Dr. Scott Hahn also emphasized the role of the Mass in the New Evangelization. “The basis for the New Evangelization is the Eucharist,” he taught. In the Mass, he continued, Catholics breathe in the Spirit and ingest the Word of God. Then they go forth to proclaim the Word they received and exhale the Spirit.

Several of the main points of Dr. Hahn's talk came from his books Consuming the Word and Evangelizing Catholics. He pointed out especially that Catholics need to be joyful in their faith in order to draw others back to or into the Church. When Catholics lack joy, he said, God is reminding them that they still need that ongoing grace of conversion in their own lives that opens the door to the joy that only Jesus can give.

If these ideas have inspired and/or intrigued you, please visit the Rediscover website to order your own copies of the above talks and the many other wonderful presentations that were part of this year's Rediscover Catholic Celebration.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Online Education Opportunities

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now that I'm a life-long learner. I simply love to learn new things, use my mind in creative and diverse ways, delve into interesting subject matter, and generally enjoy all that the intellectual world has to offer. Luckily for me and others like me, there are now countless online education opportunities, both paid and free, that satisfy the desire to learn and grow in nearly every imaginable subject area. Below are just a few online learning possibilities:

1. The Knights of Columbus offer two free online courses and a free correspondence course in the Catholic faith. Course booklets are also available online at no cost.

2. John Paul the Great Catholic University provides a free online course entitled “Pillars of Catholicism” taught by Dr. Michael Barber, Dr. Christine Wood, and Fr. Andy Younan.

3. The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology offers several free online Bible study courses in text and audio forms, including “Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview”; “Genesis to Jesus”; and in-depth courses on several books of the New Testament. This site also contains an excellent resource library.

4. The Catholic Home Study Service provides free classes about Catholic faith, life, and prayer. 

5. If you don't mind paying a bit for a class, Catholic Distance University has some excellent options for courses and seminars; the University of Notre Dame's STEP program offers the opportunity to earn certificates in various areas of theological studies; Catholic Courses through TAN books is always adding new classes for reasonable rates; International Catholic University also provides quality classes for reasonable prices, and of course, Franciscan University of Steubenville has a top-notch distance learning program with MA degree and non-credit options.

6. Coursera teams up with colleges and universities to offer courses in a wide variety of subjects. There's something for everyone here. Classes are free, but certificate options are also available for reasonable prices.

7. Like Coursera, edX offers college level classes in nearly ever subject area. Classes are free, but certificate options are also available for reasonable prices.

8. The Open Culture website lists over 1,000 free courses, some on iTunes, some on websites, and some on both, from colleges and universities like Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and many more. The site also offers links to free online language lessons and free online textbooks.

9. The Annenberg Learner site hosts plenty of fascinating video series for learners of all ages.

10. Don't forget iTunes U for a whole bunch of interesting, free classes.

11. Check out the open courseware pages at colleges and universities like MIT, Yale, Notre Dame, Harvard and others for a wide range of options.

12. For lovers of fantasy literature, don't miss the Mythgard Institute. Mythgard offers paid options to audit classes or earn credits toward an MA degree in Literature and Language, but its Academy section provides several free online courses, focusing especially on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Tolkien Professor offers further Tolkien classes and information.

I'm merely scratching the surface with this list, but there is enough learning material here to last a lifetime. A word of caution, however... Some of the college, universities, and classes on some of the sites mentioned here are secular in nature and contain ideas that are incompatible with Catholic belief. Be on your guard as you learn. Nevertheless, enjoy your classes and never, ever stop learning!

Monday, September 22, 2014


In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon defines reverence as “The virtue that inclines a person to show honor and respect for persons who possess some dignity.” He identifies four types of reverence: 1. toward parents; 2. toward civil authorities; 3. toward the Pope, bishops, priests, and others who serve the Church; and 4. toward “any person, place, or object related to God.” The highest reverence, of course, that goes beyond all others is the reverence we owe to God Himself.

In this reflection, I'd like to concentration on Fr. Hardon's forth type of reverence, that religious reverence toward “any person, place, or object related to God,” as well as on the reverence we owe to God Himself. I've been noticing something lately that disturbs me very much. Many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it, and they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. 

I apologize ahead of time if this reflection turns into a bit of a rant, but Catholics need to regain their reverence for God and for the things of God, and that includes the sanctuary, the Mass, and especially the Eucharist. 

Let's look at a few examples. Many Catholics have developed the bad habit of entering the sanctuary before Mass, praying for a few moments, and then sitting back and entering into conversation with their neighbors. This behavior shows a decided lack of reverence for a holy space, the sanctuary, and a lack of respect for other people. 

When we enter the sanctuary, we are coming into the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is present in the tabernacle Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Therefore, our time in the sanctuary before Mass is to be used in quiet, reverent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It is not a time to catch up on the latest news or plan activities for later. Anyone who wants to chat instead of pray should leave the sanctuary and go out into the narthex to avoid disturbing those who do wish to pray quietly. 

Along with sitting in prayerful quiet before Mass, Catholics can show their reverence for the Eucharistic Jesus by greeting Him as they enter the sanctuary. This greeting can take the form of a mindful sign of the cross with holy water upon coming in and a pause to genuflect or bow upon entering the pew. We Catholics need to remember why we do these things. They shouldn't be merely unthinking routine. We make the sign of the cross with holy water to remember our baptism and to recall that we are saved by and united with Jesus Christ Who died for us on the cross. We genuflect as a sign of our belief in and reverence for Jesus, present in the Eucharist. 

When Mass begins, everyone present should strive to be fully attentive and to fully participate. Yes, distractions creep in for all of us. That's very human and very unavoidable, but we must do the best we can to stay focused on the Mass and to pray and worship with our minds and our hearts. Mass should be the high point of the whole week because in the Mass, we offer God the highest possible worship and praise and, what's more, we receive Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. 

When we receive Communion, therefore, we must recognize Whom we are receiving and do so with the greatest possible reverence. We bow in worship before receiving Jesus, and we say a firm “Amen.” The key here is mindfulness. We are not consuming just little piece of bread or a little drink of wine. We are consuming the King of the Universe Who has stooped down to make Himself our food and drink that we may enter into the most intimate relationship with Him this side of Heaven. This is not something we do lightly and without thinking. 

After receiving Jesus, we should return to our pews for a time of thanksgiving and prayer. Jesus is present within our very bodies at this moment. Now is the time to speak with Him in a special way.

I'd also like to made a note here about proper, reverent attire for Mass. Many Catholics, especially in the summer, show up to Mass looking like they are going to the beach or camping or to a sporting event and often showing far too much skin. Clothing for Mass doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be neat, clean, and modest. The key word here is modest. Women should pay attention to hemlines and necklines. Short skirts, short shorts, ripped jeans, tank tops, low cut blouses, and anything that is too tight or that reveals too much on the top, in the middle, or on the bottom does not belong at Mass. Men, too, need to consider their appearance and avoid unsuitable clothing that reveals too much. We are at Mass to worship the King of Kings not attract attention to ourselves.

I began this reflection by commenting that many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it and that they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. Now is the time to reverse that trend. We all fall into bad habits at times, so we must make an effort to look closely at our behavior in the sanctuary before and during Mass, make changes as necessary, and present ourselves to our Lord and King with as much reverence as humanly possible.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

The Saints Speak about the Cross

“Let us be afraid of being deprived of sufferings more than a miser is of his treasure. Sufferings are the jewels of Jesus Crucified...The more painful the cross, the greater our advantage. The more contradictory creatures are with us, the dearer we will be to our Creator. A single moment of tribulation assures an immense weight of glory. Never to suffer would be the greatest danger for us.” - St. Paul of the Cross 

“If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.” - St. Ignatius of Loyola 

“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.” - St. John of the Cross 

“It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross, who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul. Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord, are faithful...” - St. Faustina 

“If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when He suffered He did not threaten; He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and He did not open his mouth.” - St. Thomas Aquinas 

“I see crosses at every turn. My flesh shudders over it, but my heart adores them. Yes, I hail you, crosses little and great, I hail you, and kiss your feet, unworthy of the honor of your shadow.” - St. Francis de Sales

“The Gates of Paradise are not closed to those who carry the standard of the Cross.” - St. Alphonsus Ligouri 

“All the greatest pains become sweet for whoever looks at Jesus Christ on the Cross.” - St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi 

“It is loving the Cross that one finds one heart, for Divine Love cannot live without suffering.” - St. Bernadette 

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses...We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for, whatever we do, the cross holds us tight -- we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses, and make use of them to take us to heaven?” - St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney 

“All those who belong to Jesus Christ are fastened with Him to the cross.” - St. Augustine 

“Even if Jesus lays on us some part of the Cross, He is there to help us bear it with self, sacrifice and love.” - St. John XXIII 

“Whoever does not seek the cross of Christ doesn't seek the glory of Christ.” - St. John of the Cross 

“I wonder what the world would be like if there were not innocent people making reparation for us all? Today the Passion of Christ is being relived in the lives of those who suffer. To accept that suffering is a gift of God. Suffering is not a punishment. Jesus does not punish. Suffering is a sign--a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that He can kiss us, show us that He is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in His Passion. Suffering is not a punishment, nor a fruit of sin; it is a gift of God. He allows us to share in his suffering and to make up for the sins of the world.” - Blessed Mother Teresa 

"Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." - St. Rose of Lima

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Speaking Out

It seems these days that nearly every attempt at asserting a moral truth or pointing out a moral evil is met with such comments as, “If you're a Christian, you aren't supposed to judge because Jesus said not to.” and “Love means never judging.” 

I don't usually write things like this on my blog, but that is a bunch of baloney!

First off, when Jesus said not to judge lest we be judged, He wasn't talking about asserting moral truths and pointing out moral evils. He was talking about making a decision about whether or not a particular person is eternally saved or not. We cannot and should not make that kind of judgment because we do not know the state of anyone's heart. Only God does. He alone knows all the extenuating circumstances of sin. He alone knows a person's culpability. That's why we can't look at someone who has committed suicide (objectively a mortal sin) and make the judgment that that person is going straight to hell. How do we know what was truly going on in that person's mind? How do we know what happened during that last few moments of that person's life? We don't. But God does. That's why we leave this kind of judgment up to Him.

That being said, however, Christians do have the right to look at a particular deed and judge whether or not it is in tune with God's moral law. In fact, we have to do that. It's part of our job as Christians. We have the responsibility to know God's law, follow it, and recognize when it is being broken. What's more, we have the obligation to speak out, both to promote the moral truth of God's law and to point out the moral evil of acts that break God's law.

Today's readings make this very clear. In the First Reading from Ezekiel, God tells the prophet that he is a watchman for the house of Israel. Ezekiel has the responsibility of warning his fellow Israelites when they are breaking God's law, and when he does this, he is warning them as a representative of God. What's more, if he fails in his task and doesn't speak out against moral evil, the prophet is actually, at least partly, responsible for the death that will come to the wicked.

By now you might be think, “Well, that's just Ezekiel, though. He was a prophet, so he's different.” We, too, are prophets. When we are baptized, we receive a share in the priesthood, kingship, and prophetic office of Jesus Christ. Part of our responsibility is to recognize moral evil for what it is and speak out against it. Please note that our task here requires prudence and prayer. We have to know when and how to speak out, and we discover that through prayer as we bring our questions and difficulties to God, Who will provide us with the opportunities, means, and courage to do as He requires.

Furthermore, we don't have to speak out alone, at least not all the time. Jesus makes that clear in today's Gospel. The question seems to have risen among the disciples about what they are supposed to do if someone sins against them. (Note that sin affects the whole community and is never private. It is always a sin against another person even if the other person isn't directly involved. Everyone feels the effects of sin.) Jesus doesn't hesitate to answer. If someone sins, His disciple is to go to that person and tell him his fault in private. Notice that He doesn't say, “Just love the person, and the sin won't matter.” or “Don't judge anyone!” No. Jesus says to go and point out the sin, to speak out against moral evil. 

Jesus is also well aware that sometimes, maybe even often, this kind of individual conversation doesn't work. The person sinning might (and probably will) resist, perhaps saying a variation of the phrases that occur so often in our modern day world. In that case, Jesus continues, the person confronting the sinner must go and get two or three others to help. Together they must speak to the sinner again. If this second attempt still doesn't work, the Church must be alerted of the situation, and its leaders must confront the sinner. 

What happens if the person in sin refuses to listen even to the Church? Jesus says that, in such a case, the person must be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector. The people of Jesus' day would have understood “Gentile” and “tax collector” as “outsider.” In other words, the person who stubbornly remains in sin will no longer be treated as a full member of the community. In modern terms, that person must not receive the Eucharist because he or she is in direct disobedience to the Church and is willfully remaining in sin despite being told numerous times of the truth of the moral law and his or her failing to follow that law. 

In other words, sin has consequences. The person who gravely sins cuts himself or herself off from the community of the Church. 

Now what about love? Many people would say that cutting someone off doesn't seem very loving. The biggest problem with that opinion is that many people today don't understand the true meaning of love. They tend to think of it in terms of nice, cozy feelings and being accepting all the time. Actually, true love has far more to do with the will than with the emotions. True love means willing the absolute best for the loved one in every circumstance, and that absolute best definitely does not include sin, which shatters relationships with God and other people. True love, therefore, means making every possible effort to draw a loved one away from sin, and that means asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. True love doesn't want a loved one to throw away his or her life, in this world and especially in eternity, because of sin. True love means speaking out even if the loved one doesn't appreciate it.

We'll conclude with one more observation about asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. It must start with oneself. Jesus tells us to remove the beams from our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the specks from others' eyes. We have to recognize and deal with our own sin so we can effectively help others.

As Christians, then, we are called to speak out, proclaiming what is morally right and combating what is morally wrong. We do so out of love and with love, but we must do so nonetheless.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Prophet's Protest

To fully understand today's First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah, it helps to have a little background information. When God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah was still quite young. He protested to God that he was only a boy and did not know how to speak. But God insisted that He had consecrated Jeremiah as a prophet even before he was born, told him not to be afraid, and assured him that He would give His prophet words to speak and deliver him from his enemies. Jeremiah accepted his mission and set out to deliver an unwelcome message to the land of Judah.

Now, however, some time has passed, and Jeremiah is starting to feel like God hasn't quite kept His promise. After all, he has spoken God's message throughout Judah and has gotten nothing but trouble for it. His life has been threatened. He has been struck. He has spent the night in the stocks. Clearly, the people are, at best, uninterested in what he has to say and, more often, hostile to his prophecies. 

“You duped me, O Lord,” the prophet protests, “and I let myself be duped.” Jeremiah seems to be a bit miffed with God. He feels like God has deceived him with His promises of protection and enticed him into prophetic service without supporting Him. “You were too strong for me,” Jeremiah continues, “and You triumphed.” Jeremiah is considering himself rather ill used at the moment, especially when he recalls how people laugh at him and mock him all day everyday because he speaks God's words. If God were truly with him, he seems to suggest, such things would not be happening.

Jeremiah is even becoming fed up with the message he is assigned to proclaim. He cries out all the time and it's nothing but violence and outrage. The words are always negative, always bad news, and all they bring back to him are derision and reproach. People can't stand to hear him. 

The prophet has even made up his mind that he won't speak God's word anymore. He will just stop being a prophet. He will remove himself from the situation and get on with his life. But it doesn't work. God's word sets him on fire. He feels it burning deep within his heart and within his bones. He can't keep it in any longer. He can't endure it, and it pours out of him in spite of his best efforts to keep it in.

What are we to make of Jeremiah's protest? We are all called to speak the truth of God's word even in the more difficult situations, even when people laugh at us or reproach us or sneer at us, even when people threaten us or harm us or simply ignore us. We may sometimes feel like Jeremiah in these circumstances. We may wonder where God is and whether He has abandoned us. We may wonder whether it is worth speaking out if all we get in return is trouble. 

It is worth speaking out, and Jeremiah knew that, too. He kept right on prophesying even after his protest. He blew off whatever steam he needed to and then returned to his mission. He still faced many trials. In fact, he was imprisoned, thrown down a mud-filled cistern and left to starve, and led away against his will to Egypt. But no matter what happened, he continued to speak the word of God that so inflamed his heart, and deep down, he knew, as we all should, that God was right next to him the whole time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Creating a Vicar

Today's First Reading might seem a little odd at first glance. There are a couple strange names in there; the context is a somewhat unclear; and it is rather difficult to understand exactly what is going on. Let's look closely at the reading, clear up some of the confusion, and discuss why this little text is so important to our understanding of today's Gospel.

In our reading, God is speaking through the prophet Isaiah. He is addressing Shebna, who was the master or steward of the royal household. As a steward, Shebna would have had control over the household, its servants, and its material resources, especially when the king was away from home. Shebna would have kept the keys of the household and had the final say in whatever decisions needed to be made to keep the household running smoothly and securely.

Shebna, however, was not a good steward. He was abusing his position, and God was getting pretty tired of it. In fact, He was kicking him out of office. Firmly. A few verses before our reading we hear, “The Lord is about to hurl you away violently, my fellow. He will seize firm hold on you, whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into the wide land; there you shall die, and there your splendid chariots shall lie, O you disgrace to your master's house!” 

God has had quite enough of Shebna, and He already has chosen someone to replace him, namely, Eliakim. Eliakim is God's servant, which suggests that he was a good and holy man who put God first in his life and in his work. God will place the steward's robe and sash on Eliakim, who will take on the authority of the office. 

Notice how important that office is. Eliakim will become a father to the people of Jerusalem and to the whole house of Judah, to the whole kingdom. One would think that the king would be a father to the people, and indeed he is, but he shares that role with his steward, who represents him and cares for the people in the king's name. 

Eliakim will also receive the keys to the king's household. He will have access to everything and full control. What he opens, no one else had better shut, and what he shuts, no one else had better open. He is second only to the king in his authority. 

What's more, God will make Eliakim firm, steady, and strong. He will be like a “peg in a sure spot.” He will not move or fall. God will support him and uphold him in a place of honor in his family.

Keeping all of this in mind, reread today's Gospel, Matthew 16:13-20. Simon has just identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. He may not know completely what that means at this point, but he realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the One sent by God to save His people. Jesus, in return, calls Simon blessed and tells him that he didn't come to this conclusion on his own; the Father in Heaven has revealed Jesus' identity to him. 

Jesus then goes on to change Simon's name. “You are Peter,” He says, “and upon this rock I will build my church.” Simon is Peter, the rock, and he will stand steady and strong. God will support him, and he will be a solid foundation for Jesus' Church.

Look at what else Jesus tells Simon: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This should sound familiar. Jesus is making Simon Peter His steward. Like Eliakim, Peter will hold the keys to the king's household. He will have access to everything and full control. What he looses, no one else had better bind, and what he binds no one else had better loose. 

Peter, as the steward, the vicar of Jesus, will represent Christ the King and care for the people in Jesus' name. He will be a father to Jesus' family on earth, the Church, leading them and guiding them. 

Jesus knows that He will soon go to the cross, rise from the dead, and ascend into Heaven. Even though He will always remain present to His Church in many ways, He leaves a visible steward behind, first Peter and then Peter's successors, for Peter himself will not live forever but the Church will always need guidance. 

Who are these men, these stewards whom Jesus appoints beginning with Peter? They are, of course, the popes, the vicars of Christ, who can trace their lineage all the way from Peter to Pope Francis I. They are Jesus' visible representatives on earth, who hold the keys to the kingdom, the Church. They are fathers to the King's people, guiding, protecting, and leading them. They are upheld by God and made firm in their teaching and their judgments. They hold a place of honor in their family and are second only to the King in authority over the Church on earth. 

This, indeed, is the will of God, Who appointed Eliakim over the House of David and Peter and his successors over the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Incorporating the Gentiles

Today's readings are all about the hope and salvation God offers to the Gentile nations, that is, the non-Jews. Originally, God made a covenant, a bond of self-giving love, with the nation of Israel, the Hebrews, or as they later became known, the Jews. The Jews were God's chosen people, the ones who lived in relationship with Him, recognizing Him, worshiping Him, receiving His commandments (although not always keeping them), and (ideally) rejecting all false “gods.” They were a people set apart from the Gentiles, who worshiped multiple “gods” and did not know the one true God. 

The Jews took pride in their position as God's people, but sometimes they failed to realize that God had bigger plans in mind. Israel, in fact, was God's firstborn son, a child whose role was to lead his younger brothers and sisters, the other nations of the world, to God. God certainly wanted to save Israel and bring the Jews into an intimate relationship with Himself, but He wasn't about to stop there. Through Israel, He would attract everyone else and bring salvation and intimacy to the entire world.

In today's readings, then, we hear about God's relationship with the Gentiles, to whom He reaches out through Israel, through Jewish prophets, prayers, and preachers and ultimately through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Who also came from the Jews. 

The First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah tells us that at some time in the future, the Gentiles will join themselves to God. They will become His servants and worship Him. They will enter into His covenant and become part of His family, joining their elder brothers, the Jews, in flocking to God's holy mountain to offer sacrifice. They will stream to His house of prayer to kneel before Him in joyful intimacy. 

The Psalm continues this theme, declaring that the nations will “be glad and exult” in God and that God's way will be known throughout the earth. The Gentiles will praise Him, and He will rule over all the nations. 

In the Second Reading, St. Paul speaks directly to the Gentiles, telling them that the old prophecies have been fulfilled. God's plan is in full swing. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come through the Jews, and He has opened the doors of God's mercy and salvation to the Gentiles. Paul also presents an interesting twist to the Israelite/Gentile story. His own people, the Israelites, have mostly rejected the Messiah. The elder brothers have turned their backs on God's plan, and the younger brothers have stepped up to grasp what they refused. But all is not lost. Paul says that, even as he turns his attention to the Gentile ministry, he still has hope for the Israelites. Even though they are disobeying now, they will someday see the great mercy given to the Gentiles and long for the same thing for themselves. They will become jealous of their younger siblings and reach out to accept their own salvation. 

Finally, the Gospel offers us another glimpse of the relationship between Israel and the Gentile nations. Jesus is in the region of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile country. He is perhaps seeking privacy and time alone with His disciples, but He doesn't get it (which is probably no surprise to Him). A Canaanite woman, a Gentile, approaches Him, crying out to Him to help her possessed daughter. Jesus actually seems pretty harsh toward her. He ignores her at first, but she keeps insisting until the disciples get so annoyed that they tell Jesus to send the woman away. He replies to them that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the elder siblings.

This seems like a refusal, but the woman still isn't ready to give up. She falls before Him and begs for help. Jesus still seems to resist (notice, however, that He has not sent the woman away), saying “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, the elder siblings of Israel have priority. The young siblings of the Gentiles (the little the Greek word for “dogs” here suggests) have to wait their turn. 

The woman still doesn't relent. She offers a clever response: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” This is just what Jesus has been waiting for. The woman offers the exactly right blend of humility, perseverance, and good sense. Her faith remains strong even through all Jesus' apparent rebuffs, and Jesus grants her request. The woman's daughter is healed at that very moment. 

What is Jesus doing here? It seems strange that He would be so reluctant to help a Gentile since it has been God's plan for centuries that the Gentiles would one day enter into a covenant with Him. Perhaps Jesus is showing us what it takes for the Gentiles to assume their proper place in God's family. It will not be easy, He seems to say. It will take faith. It will take perseverance. It will take humility. They will meet with resistance. Their elder siblings will not share their inheritance very willingly. But if the Gentiles persist, like the woman does, they will discover the wonderful mercy and love of God.

Today, most Christians are Gentiles. We are the younger siblings of Israel. We have been invited to intimacy with God. We can stream to His house of prayer and praise Him with exultation. We may reach out for God's mercy and experience His love. At the same time, we are called to embrace the faith and humility of the Canaanite woman, knowing that if we do so, we will always touch Jesus' heart and find Him waiting for us with miracles.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Recognizing God

Do you recognize God's voice when He speaks to you? 

Elijah did in today's First Reading. The prophet had fled from the wrath of Queen Jezebel. He was tired and discouraged and pretty much wanted to die, but he still obeyed when God told him to go stand on Mount Horeb and wait for Him to pass by. 

Elijah was a wise man, even in his depression. He stood still and watched as a strong wind came up and smashed rocks, but he knew that God wasn't in that wind. He remained in place as an earthquake rattled the mountain around him, but he knew that God wasn't in that earthquake. He bravely endured as a fire swept by, but he knew that God wasn't in that fire. 

Then Elijah heard a still, small voice. He pulled his mantle over his face and went to stand at the entrance of the cave. The prophet recognized God in that still, small voice. He had courageously watched and waited during the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. He had overcome his fear, knowing that God would not let him down, no matter how bad things seemed or how scared he was, and now he received his reward. He heard God, and he recognized His voice.

Notice what Elijah did when he heard and recognized God. He pulled his mantle over his face in a gesture of humility and reverence. He understood that the still, small voice he was hearing was the all-powerful Creator of the universe. He realized that, as a sinful, weak human being, he wasn't worthy to hear God, so he covered his face. God, of course, spoke to him anyway, for He reaches out to the weakest, most sinful people in order to draw them into a relationship with Him and raise them up. 

Pay attention also to Elijah's second action. He went and stood at the entrance of the cave from which he had been waiting, watching, and listening. This is a gesture of readiness. He is prepared to listen to God and obey His command, whatever that may be. Elijah presents himself as God's servant, ready to interact with God and to act on God's words. 

Now let's consider the disciples' response to Jesus in today's Gospel.

Jesus had sent the disciples off in their boat while He went up on the mountain to pray. In the wee hours of the morning, as a strong wind tossed the boat around and threatened to swamp it, Jesus came walking toward the disciples on the water. 

When the disciples saw Him, they were terrified. They didn't recognize Him at all. Instead of seeing Him as the calm in the midst of the storm, they panicked and cried out in fear that they were seeing a ghost. They were so focused on the chaos around them that they couldn't see Jesus for Who He was. 

Jesus was quick to announce Himself and reassure them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter, quite in character, called back, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” What was he expecting? Did he believe that he was seeing some apparition who wouldn't take him up on the challenge and would simply go away? Or had Jesus mostly convinced him of His identity, giving Peter the opportunity to present himself as ready for anything his Lord might request?

Perhaps to Peter's surprise, Jesus replied, “Come.” Peter bolstered up his courage and went. He had the gumption to step out in faith even in the midst of what seemed like an impossible situation. He had now recognized Jesus and responded, and he found himself walking on water.

Then he noticed the wind and the waves. His faith wavered. His courage failed. He began to sink. At least he had the presence of mind to call out to Jesus. “Lord, save me!” he shrieked, recognizing that in the midst of such terror and danger, Jesus was indeed the only One Who could save him. And Jesus did so. Immediately. He reached out and grabbed Peter and led him back to the boat to the rest of the disciples who were probably sitting there gaping like fish. 

If the disciples hadn't known before that there was something very special about Jesus, they certainly realized it now. In fact, they seem to have recognized something divine in Jesus, for they bowed down before Him, saying “Truly, You are the Son of God.”

Do you recognize God's voice when He speaks to you?