Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reflections for the 1st Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – They Left Everything

“Come after Me.” When Peter and Andrew heard Jesus speak these works, they dropped their nets and followed Him. There was no hesitation, no questions, no hemming and hawing, no “But, wait...” They simply left their old lives behind and started new lives with Jesus. John and James did the same thing, even leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired help. Something in that simple call must have touched a place deep down in their hearts and changed them in an instant.

What would you have done if you had been in the place of Peter, Andrew, John, and James? Would you have left everything behind and followed Jesus? Or would you have come up with a dozen excuses not to step out of your comfort zone? 

Perhaps our Lord actually is calling you. He has a mission specially designed for each one of us, and in order to fulfill it and to follow God's plan for our lives, we often have to let go of things we enjoy. We have to step out into the unknown and trust our Lord to lead us where we need to go. 

Are you ready? Will you listen to Jesus' call? Will you follow Him along the path He has set for you? Will you let Him lead? Do you trust Him? 

During this Advent season, spend some time reflecting on these questions and pray that Jesus will pour so much of His grace into your heart that your answers will always be a resounding “Yes!”

Tuesday – Childlike

In today's Gospel, Jesus, in a prayer of praise to His Father, remarks that God has hidden the things of Heaven from “the wise and the learned” but has instead “revealed them to the childlike.” 

What does it mean to be childlike before God? Childlike people possess the following qualities:

* Childlike faith in God and in His plan for their lives

* Childlike hope that God will make everything turn out for the best in the end

* Childlike love that puts God first and wills the best for everyone else

* Childlike trust in God's purposes and decisions

* Childlike dependence upon God to take care of all needs

* Childlike excitement in God's revelation and His little miracles

* Childlike wonder at God's amazing deeds and His amazing Self

* Childlike openness that accepts everything from God's hand

Lord, make me childlike in faith, hope, love, trust, dependence, excitement, wonder, and openness. Help me to welcome Your revelation with joy and live it in love. Amen.

Wednesday – I Fear No Evil

“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side with Your rod and Your staff that give me courage.”

“I fear no evil.” How many of us can speak these words in truth? How many of us can place ourselves completely in God's hands and trust that He will protect us and give us courage to cope with whatever may happen to us? How many of us refuse to worry about trials and sufferings but instead offer them up to God with gratitude? 

Honestly, most of us would have to admit that we have plenty of fears and that we have a difficult time “letting go and letting God” take care of us. 

Today and throughout the rest of the week, then, let's pray this verse of Psalm 23 with sincerity and ask God to give us the grace to put aside our fears and snuggle close in His loving arms.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reflections for the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Daniel in the Lions' Den 

The story of Daniel in the lions' den is so familiar that if we aren't careful, its deep significance could slide right by us. 

Let's begin by revisiting the main events of this dramatic report. King Darius of Persia had issued an absolute decree that no one but the king was to pray for thirty days. Apparently, the king craved direct and exclusive access to whatever god might be out there, and he wanted his prayers answered first and above all. The penalty for disobedience to this decree was stiff: the one who violated it would be cast into a lions' den. 

Daniel, a Jewish official in the king's court, was not about to let this decree interfere with his prayer life. He loved God, and he understood well that prayer was the means to the intimacy with God that he so desired. Therefore, he continued to pray three times a day, just like always, and he didn't care who knew about it. 

Daniel, like any other powerful person, had enemies, and those men were quick to accuse Daniel before the king. Darius, who honestly liked and respected Daniel very much, now faced quite a dilemma. His decree was absolute and irrevocable. Even he couldn't break it although, to his credit, he did look hard for a way to rescue Daniel. 

Finally, however, the king realized that there was nothing else he could do. He ordered Daniel to be tossed to the lions and expressed his hope that the God Daniel so loved would save him. He set his seal on the stone covering the entrance to the lions' den and went away sad. 

Darius, plagued by guilt, had a rough night, and first thing in the morning, he dashed to the lions' den to see if somehow, miraculously, Daniel had survived. Sure enough, when the king called out to his trapped official, Daniel answered immediately. At this point, Darius was probably close to nervous collapse, but Daniel assured him that God had closed the mouths of the lions' and saved him from any harm. 

The king could hardly believe his ears! He ordered Daniel to be removed, and with an excessive reaction that probably made Daniel groan, ordered Daniel's accusers and their families to be thrown to the lions, who made short work of them. Darius then proceeded to issue another decree that Daniel's God was to be honored and feared throughout his kingdom. 

So what can we learn from this well-known story? First, God needs to be in first place in our lives. Daniel put Him before all earthly wealth and glory. He obeyed Him above all secular rulers. He loved Him and prayed to Him constantly. We must do the same. Second, we need to trust God in times of trial. No, God won't always close the mouths of our lions. We will feel pain sometimes. We will suffer. And one day, we will die. But like Daniel, we need to put ourselves firmly in God's hands and let Him decide what we need and when. Third, notice that Daniel didn't hold any grudges against King Darius. He went back to serving him just as he had before and clearly forgave him from the heart. Fourth, God can use our trials and sufferings to touch the hearts of other people. If Daniel had never been in the lions' den, if he had never come out alive, the king would never have learned about God or spread the word of His great power throughout his domain. Who knows how many hearts were touched and changed by Daniel's trip to the lions' den? 

Friday – The Son of Man 

In today's first reading, we hear about some of Daniel's mysterious visions. After observing four beasts, which represent the enemies of God, Daniel sees a vision of the Ancient One sitting on His throne surrounded by His worshiping angels. The scene stretches our imagination as we struggle to picture what Daniel saw: the brightness, the fire, the adoring attendants. 

As the vision continues, Daniel witnesses God's judgment upon His enemies. The worst of the beasts is slain, and the others lose their dominion although their lives remain for a little while, obviously under God's strict control. 

Then the vision reaches its climax as Daniel sees “one like a son of man” arriving “on the clouds of Heaven.” Clearly, He is the one responsible for conquering the beasts, and the Ancient One gives Him “dominion, glory, and kingship” so that “nations and peoples of every language serve Him.” Daniel learns that “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,” and “His kingship shall not be destroyed.” 

Daniel probably didn't realize the full significance of his visions. He clearly knew that he was seeing God as much as any human being ever could and survive. But did he know Who the one like the son of man was? Could he have ever imagined the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ? No, he couldn't. But we do. Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we know that the son of man Daniel saw is indeed our Lord and Savior, our King Whose kingdom will last forever, the One Who has defeated the enemy and will one day return to bring forth a new Heaven and a new earth that will never again be destroyed. 

Saturday – Be Vigilant 

Always be vigilant. Pray for strength. Do not get drowsy and caught up in the temptations and anxieties of everyday life. Keep your hearts awake and lifted up to God. Do not get caught off guard when Jesus comes. 

And He does come to us. He comes every time we pray. He comes to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. He comes to forgive us in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He comes whenever we call Him. 

In fact, He never leaves us alone. Even when we think that He is not present, He comes. He is with us always. 

He will come for us at the moment of our death, so we must be ready to greet Him. Our souls must be immersed in His grace, the grace He gives so freely if we just accept it. 

He will come again at the end of time in power and great glory. No one knows the day or hour when He will arrive, so again, we must be ready to greet Him and prepare to watch in amazement as He renews the whole world. 

Be vigilant, then. Wait for the Lord. Watch for Him. Keep your eyes and minds and hearts focused on Him. He does come, and He will come again.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reflections for the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – All for God

One widow. Two small coins. An enormous sacrifice.

As Jesus watches, several people place their offerings in the Temple treasury. Many of them are wealthy. They're glad to give, but they give from their surplus. They don't commit their capital, so to speak; they merely invest their interest. And they do so without much care. They know they have plenty to fall back on. They aren't going to starve. They have a roof over their heads and clothing to wear. They probably even have some left over for a little fun.

But the widow is different. She probably seems a little nervous as she approaches the treasury. After all, she is about to give all she has to God. She doesn't know where her next meal will come from. Perhaps she doesn't have much of a place to call home. She certainly doesn't have a penny to spare. But she is still willing to commit totally to God. She trusts Him completely, certain that He will care for her. She bravely casts her two little coins into the treasury and walks away with her head held high.

All for God. That is the widow's motto. And God notices. 

Tuesday – The Kingdom That Will Last Forever

King Nebuchadnezzar was very nervous. The nightmare he'd had was plaguing him. He didn't understand it one bit, and he certainly didn't like that feeling. There was only one person he could think of who could help him settle his mind: Daniel, the Jewish official who had a knack for deciphering mysteries. He called Daniel at once.

Daniel was more than happy to obliged. He even told the king what his dream was before he proceeded to interpret it for him. The statue that the king had seen in his nightmare symbolized the great kingdoms of the world, Daniel explained, starting with Nebuchadnezzar himself as the head of pure gold and going downhill from there until the last kingdom was divided, partly weak and partly strong. 

In the days of that last kingdom, Daniel continued, God would do something new. He would set up a new kingdom, a different kind of kingdom, one that would break all the other kingdoms into tiny pieces with a single stone. This unique kingdom, however, would never be broken. It would last forever, never to be destroyed or conquered. 

Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we Christians know exactly what this new kingdom is. This kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus Himself, and He is the stone not hewn by human hands, the incarnate Son of God, conceived by a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. All other kingdoms fall before this Stone as His Kingdom spreads across the whole world. 

What is this Kingdom? On earth the Kingdom of God is found in the Church, the Body of Christ. But the Church and the Kingdom are not limited to this world. Because of Jesus' death and Resurrection, the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom stand open, and one day we will follow our brothers and sisters who have entered before us into eternal life. The Kingdom of Heaven, which the Church both foreshadows and participates in, with all its celestial glory, will indeed last forever.

King Nebuchadnezzar was, of course, extremely impressed with Daniel's interpretation of his dream, but he certainly did not understand its true meaning, even though he could appreciate its mysteries. It would take the coming of the Stone, the new King, Jesus Christ, for the king's dream to become crystal clear.

Wednesday – Persecution

In today's Gospel, Jesus warns us that being His followers will not be easy. “They will seize and persecute you,” He says, “They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of My name.” Even those closest to us will turn their backs on us for our beliefs, and some Christians will die for their faith. We will be hated for proclaiming the name of Jesus and for standing up for what is good and true and beautiful. 

But we will not be alone in our sufferings and trials. We will not even have to speak for ourselves. Jesus assures us that we do not have to worry about what we will say when we stand before our persecutors: “I Myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Along with words of testimony, Jesus will also give us strength to persevere in our faith no matter how much persecution we have to suffer. If we hold fast to Him, ask for His help, and surrender to His love, we will emerge unbroken and step into eternity where Jesus waits to embrace us tenderly and wipe all the tears from our eyes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reflections for the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Jesus Weeps

Picture Jesus looking out over the city of Jerusalem, the spiritual home of thousands upon thousands of Jews over the centuries. The city has long been the site of the Temple where God's presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies and where the Jews offered sacrifices to God to atone for their sins. 

Now as Jesus stands, gazing at Jerusalem, He begins to weep. The Jews have rejected Him, the only One Who can bring them the peace they so long for. They have turned their backs on God's Messiah. They have failed to recognize their visitation from God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ. Instead, they remain fixated on their own ideas of who the Messiah should be and what He should do. 

And they will live to regret it. The consequences of their rejection of Jesus will fall hard upon them. Jesus, Who knows exactly what is going to happen, explains that the enemies of the Jews will lay siege to Jerusalem and smash it to the ground. They “will not leave one stone upon another,” and many people will die. 

Jesus' predictions came true in 70 A.D., when the Romans crashed into Jerusalem, destroying the city, pulling down the Temple, and killing thousands of people. The devastated Jews scattered, but many still refused to accept their Messiah. 

No wonder Jesus weeps. 

Friday – Hanging on Jesus' Words

Jesus adds a good bit of drama to the Gospel in today's reading. He enters into the Temple area, and drives out all the people selling animals for sacrifice or operating as money-changers. Other Gospels provide further details about Jesus actually making a whip out of cords to serve His purposes and even turning over tables. 

Why is Jesus so ticked off? He explains that all these entrepreneurs have filled an old prophecy: “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” The Temple is meant to be a place of encounter between God and His people, but instead, it has become a site of corruption and greed.

Needless to say, the Jewish leaders are not at all pleased by Jesus' actions or words. They are ready to get rid of Him permanently, but they hesitate. Why? The common people are hanging on Jesus' words.

Hanging on Jesus' words... These people are seeking something, seeking Someone, and they are finding the answer to their longings in Jesus. Probably without even understanding why, they are attracted to His teachings. They recognize truth in His words. They feel His love. They understand that there is something special about Him. They may not know exactly what, but they can't help listening to Him. 

Do we hang on Jesus' words? They are at our finger tips if only we open our Bibles. The whole of Scripture speaks of Jesus in one way or another, either predicting His coming, describing His life, death, and Resurrection, or chronicling the growth of His Church. In fact, Jesus Himself actually speaks to us through the Scriptures, which, as Dei Verbum says, have God as their Author. 

But do we listen? Do we read Scripture? Do we meditate deeply on what we find there? Do we pray in response in order to make our reading a true dialogue? Do we hang on Jesus' words? 

Saturday – Rejoicing in Salvation

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for dying for me. You wouldn't have had to, but You loved me even when I was in my sins, and You died for me. I love You.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for pouring sanctifying grace, Your very divine life, into my soul when I was baptized. May I never lose that grace.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for forgiving my sins when I repent and confess and for always bringing me back into Your loving arms.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for giving Yourself to me, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. May I always receive You worthily and meet You with great love in the depths of my heart.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for hearing and answering every one of my prayers. I trust You, Lord, recognizing that You know what is best in every situation.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for opening the gates of Heaven. Please, Lord, bring me and all of my loved ones home some day to praise and rejoice with You forever in love.

Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reflections for the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Conforming to the World

In today's first reading, we hear about the Jews' response to a period of great temptation. The pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes had issued a decree that his whole kingdom must be united. Each ethnic group was to abandon its religion and customs and adopt the Gentiles' way of life.

Many Jews chose to conform to the world around them. They figured that an alliance with the Gentiles would keep the peace and make life a bit easier. Perhaps they were thinking that they could make more money or climb up the ladder of success in business or politics. They quickly allowed the Gentiles to build a Greek gymnasium and apparently proceeded to engage in the gymnasium's physical, social, and educational programs. They abandoned the covenant they had made with God, covered up the sign of that covenant, namely, the mark of circumcision, and defiled themselves with unclean foods.

Their conformity didn't stop there. The king erected a pagan idol on the altar of the Jerusalem Temple, and many of the Jews offered sacrifices to false gods, both in Jerusalem and in outlying areas. They even destroyed any scrolls of God's Law they could get their hands on. They clearly didn't want to be reminded of their sins. They were simply too comfortable in the world.

Other Jews, however, took a much different path. They firmly refused to break God's Law, no matter how tempting the Gentiles' offers were. They clung to the covenant, knowing that they were God's beloved family and trusting that no matter what happened, God would take care of them. The world and its attractions held no appeal to them. They declined to worship idols, eat unclean food, or deny their identity. They were ready to die for their faith, and they did, bravely and even gladly. 

Like the Jews of old, we have a choice. The world around us is tempting with its lure of money and possessions and power. Voices whisper on every side, telling us that if we just conform, things will go well in our lives. But conforming to the world and worshiping modern idols means rejecting God and His law. It means denying who we are as God's children and turning our backs on our loving Father. Like our ancestors in faith, then, we must be ready to surrender our very selves rather than embrace the immorality of the world and fall into sin, and we should pray for the grace to do that bravely and even gladly. 

Tuesday – Zacchaeus

Imagine for a few minutes that you are Zacchaeus in today's Gospel. You've heard that a miracle worker named Jesus is about to pass through your town. You normally don't care much about that sort of thing. Prophets seem to be a dime a dozen. But something about Jesus intrigues you. He doesn't seem to be just any old prophet. You decide that you'll try to take a closer look.

Now, since you're the chief tax collector in Jericho, you're definitely not the most popular fellow in town. In fact, the other Jews can't stand the sight of you, and they shoot you plenty of dirty looks as you slink through the crowd. You spend most of your time both ignoring them and trying to see over them. You're not very tall, and at this rate, you're not even going to catch a glimpse of Jesus. 

You look around and catch sight of a nearby sycamore tree. Perfect! You scramble up into the branches and arrange your garments, rather proud of yourself. Your neighbors stare at you with a combination of disgust and amusement, but you don't really care. Now you will be able to see Jesus.

You watch Him curiously as He approaches, talking to various members of the crowd and blessing some of them. Then He stops directly under your tree, looks up, and calmly says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 

You nearly fall out of your tree.

After you regain your balance, you scramble down. To your great surprise, you discover that your heart is filled with joy. You don't understand it, but you can't help it. You smile widely at Jesus, and He smiles back. Something deep inside you has changed, and you know that you will never be the same again.

You hear the crowd around you grumbling about Jesus going to stay with a sinner. Yes, you know that you were a sinner, and you realize that you will never be perfect. But you are willing to make things right. You turn to Jesus and proclaim, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And you mean it. 

Jesus' smile grows even wider. He gently places His hand on your shoulder and speaks to the crowd: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” 

Your neighbors stare at you as you lead Jesus to your home, welcome Him, and begin to prepare for a wonderful evening. You've never felt so loved in your life. Who would ever have thought that this would happen to you? You smile to yourself. Jesus did; that's who.

Wednesday – Steadfast

“My steps have been steadfast in Your paths, my feet have not faltered.”

Thus does the Psalmist address God in today's Psalm. Can we honestly say the same? Do we embrace God's plan for our lives? Do we remain in His paths? Do we follow His moral law? Do we trust Him to care for us and for our loved ones? Do we persevere in faith, hope, and love?

Or do our feet falter? Do we slip and slide into sin? Do we turn aside from the way God wants us to live and follow our own paths? Do we trip over the things of this world and fall flat on our faces? Do we doubt? Do we let fear overwhelm us? Do we fail to love? 

Let us pray for the grace to always proclaim with the Psalmist, “My steps have been steadfast in Your paths, my feet have not faltered.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reflections for the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Truth

God's truth endures forever. God is a sure source of truth. He has revealed His truth in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and He has given us the Church's Magisterum (or teaching office) to guard and teach the truths of Divine Revelation.

Our modern world tends to sound a lot like Pontius Pilate, when he cynically asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Some people think truth is whatever works for a particular person in a particular situation. Some say that truth is non-existent or at least not knowable to human beings. 

This is false. We human beings are pre-programmed for truth. We seek it eagerly. We long to find it. We know deep down that it is out there somewhere. But we are so fallen and weak that we often fail to see it. 

That's why God has revealed His truth to us. He wants us to “get it right” about Him and about His plan for our salvation. He wants us to “get it right” about His moral law. He wants us to “get it right” so that we can live in an intimate relationship with Him now and in face-to-face bliss with Him in Heaven. 

Lord, may we always seek and find Your truth in humility and love. Amen.

Friday – Glimpse of God or Distraction?

Today's readings invite us to reflect on the created world around us. Does it help us catch a glimpse of God, or is it mostly a distraction that keeps us from recognizing higher spiritual realities?

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom and the Psalm remind us that God does greet us through created things. The goodness, truth, and beauty we discover in the world are meant to draw our eyes up to the Goodness, Truth, and Beauty that is God Himself. As the author of the Book of Wisdom says, “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original Author, by analogy, is seen,” and the Psalmist reminds us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.” Creation, then, is designed to lead us to God.

Humans, however, have a nasty tendency to distort things. The created world often becomes a distraction that draws our minds and hearts away from God as we focus our attention on material things, money, power, honor, and fame. We still seek goodness, beauty, and truth, but we fail to look up when we find it. We look down instead, becoming more and more immersed in the created world. Our perspective becomes warped, and we forget the Creator.

Strive, then, to put the things of this world in their proper position. Although they are flawed, they do contain goodness, truth, and beauty, not in themselves but as a reflection of the God Who created them just for us.

Saturday – Remembrance

“Remember the marvels the Lord has done!” 

Memory is key to our faith, hope, and love. We remember the wonderful things God has done for us in the past, and our faith grows stronger. We remember how God has provided so carefully and thoroughly for our salvation, and we are filled with hope that He will continue to do so until we are safely home in Heaven. We remember God's great love for us from all eternity, and we blossom with love for Him in return. 

“Remember the marvels the Lord has done!” 

Spend some times today remembering the marvels God has worked in your life. Remember His love. Remember His constant care. Remember His fatherly guidance. Remember His responses to your prayers. Remember that God does not change. What He has done for us in the past, He will continue to do now and always.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflections for the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Temple of God

On this Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, our readings focus on the many meanings of the Temple of God. First off, a temple is a place of encounter between God and humanity. It's a place of prayer and worship and sacrifice, a place where people fall down before God in adoration and receive His forgiveness and blessings. 

In the past, the Temple was a physical building in Jerusalem. King Solomon built the first Temple, a magnificent building filled with luxurious materials that symbolized the Israelites' best gifts to God. That Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, who carried the Israelites into exile. Eventually, the exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, but it was never again as grand as before. In the second century B.C., the Temple was again desecrated by Gentiles. Judas Maccabeus, the great Jewish military and spiritual leader, defeated the Gentile armies and rededicated the Temple. In Jesus' day, the Temple was still central to Jewish life, but that would all change in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, leaving the Temple in ruins, never to be rebuilt.

Long before the physical Temple's destruction, however, prophets began to speak of a new kind of Temple. Our first reading today is a prime example. The prophet Ezekiel, writing during the Babylonian exile, received a vision of water flowing out of the Temple's façade. This water begins as a mere trickle but, as the prophet walks along, the water deepens and widens until it becomes a great river. This river brings life to whatever it touches. Fish and animals thrive in and around it. Trees line its banks, trees that always provide fruit for food and leaves for medicine. When this river touches the salt waters of the sea, it makes them fresh and clear. Looking back on this prophecy through the lens of Christ, we can recognize the living water that He provides: the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism. 

This brings us, then, to another Temple, one that is far superior to any physical building. Jesus refers to this Temple in today's Gospel. After chasing the money-changers out of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus says something rather strange: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews, of course, thought He was speaking of the actual Temple building, but He wasn't. He was speaking of His own body. Jesus, then, is the new Temple. He is the ultimate meeting place of divinity and humanity, for He is both fully God and fully Man. He is also both priest and victim, offering His Father perfect prayer, perfect worship, and the perfect sacrifice of His very self. From His own body flows the living water: the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism (opened up by the lance that pierced Christ on the cross). 

We are members of Jesus' Body, which is the Church. Therefore, we, too, are part of this new Temple. The Church is our place of encounter with God. We receive His sanctifying grace in Baptism, when His divine life comes to dwell within us. We receive His forgiveness and grace in Reconciliation. We receive His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, when we join our sacrifices to His sacrifice made present for us on the altar. 

Finally, we ourselves, are temples of God, as our second reading informs us. When we are in a state of grace, God dwells within us. We are consecrated, set apart, for Him, holy and beloved. We encounter Him in the depths of our hearts, in prayer and sacrifice, in joy and sorrow. At every moment, He is with us, in us, loving us, supporting us, holding us, transforming us from the inside out, in the temples of our souls, where we adore Him, worship Him, and love Him. 

Tuesday – Unprofitable Servants

In today's Gospel, Jesus asks His apostles a question: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?”

The obvious answer is “No one.” No master would say such a thing. Instead, as Jesus continues, a master would order his servant to “‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished.’”

When the servant follows these orders, then, the master isn't particularly grateful. After all, the servant is just doing what he is told. He's not going above and beyond in his service. He's plodding along whether he wants to or not. He is not a very profitable servant; he's merely doing his job.

We can draw several lessons from this parable:

1. We, too, are unprofitable servants when we plod along doing just enough to get by without making a special effort to grow in love and service.

2. God doesn't owe us anything even though He has given us everything we have, including our very selves. He gives us the grace that saves us and even the gift of faith to accept that grace. We get nothing from ourselves. We don't earn Heaven.

3. Our job is to cooperate with God's grace and accept His gifts, and we should do so with love and enthusiasm. We ought to be eager to serve our God and to serve our neighbor for God's sake. We are called to surrender our entire selves, going above and beyond the call of mere duty to the self-giving heights of true love.

4. God actually does what human masters do not. God calls us to Him, sets us a place at His table, and serves us His meal. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and God Jesus Christ. He gives Himself to us in a radical way, raising us up from unprofitable servants to God's beloved children. 

Wednesday – Gratitude

Jesus heals ten lepers in today's Gospel, but only one of them comes back to thank Him, and he was a Samaritan. This should give us a little poke in the conscience. How often do we pause to thank God for all His gifts? Do we thank Him for the salvation He gives us, for the divine life He has poured into us, for the sacraments, for His forgiveness, for His love beyond measure? 

Take a few minutes today to express your gratitude to God, and try to make it a habit. We never really realize what God has done for us until we stop to thank Him for it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reflections for the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – One Goal

We ought to have only one goal in this life: to know and love God, giving ourselves completely to Him. As St. Paul tells us in today's first reading, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” 

God, in turn, also has only one goal: to get all of us home to Heaven to live with Him forever. That is the point of Jesus' parable in today's Gospel. The shepherd leaves his ninety-nine well-behaved sheep to search high and low for the one that is lost. When he finally finds it, he doesn't scold the erring creature. Instead, he gently carries it home, rejoicing all the way. 

Lord, I know that You want nothing more than to bring me home to You now in faith, hope, and love and forever in eternity. Please give me the grace to know You, love You, and give myself totally to You. Amen.

Friday – The Strange Story of the Crooked Steward

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a rather strange story about a crooked steward. This fellow's master has finally caught on to his dishonest behavior and is demanding an account of his stewardship before he is dismissed. The steward knows he's in trouble now, and he starts to panic when he thinks about what he's going to do next. After all, he isn't strong enough to perform manual labor, and he has too much pride to beg. “Now what?” he wonders.

The steward, however, is a crafty man, and he quickly thinks of a way to secure his future. He calls in some of his master's debtors and proceeds to cancel out some of their debt, thereby earning their gratitude and making them indebted to him. He figures he can easily find employment with one of these men because they now owe him a big favor. 

Obviously, what the steward does here is morally wrong. He's cheating and stealing. So why, then, does Jesus tell us about him? 

Even the steward's master (although he must have been furious) recognizes that his former servant has acted prudently. He accesses the situation, makes a firm decision to do something about it, and acts on it in order to better his lot in life. 

Jesus adds that “the children of this world,” like the steward, “are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.” This brings us to a question. In terms of the spiritual life, do we access our situation, make a firm decision to do something about it, and act in order to better our lot in eternity? Are we prudent in cooperating with God's grace? 

Let's conclude by listening to what St. Josemaría Escrivá has to say about this parable: “What zeal people put into their earthly affairs: dreaming of honours, striving for riches, bent on sensuality! Men and women, rich and poor, old and middle-aged and young and even children: all of them alike. When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, we will have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our apostolic works” (The Way 317).

Saturday – He Became Poor

In today's Gospel Acclamation, we proclaim, “Jesus Christ became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” 

Jesus emptied Himself when He became incarnate. He was still completely God, but now He was also completely man, like us in everything except sin. He assumed a human body, a human soul, and a human will. He learned what it was like to be tired and hungry and sad. He experienced rejection and scorn. He laughed, and He wept. He became poor; He didn't even have a place to call home. Finally, He suffered and died on the cross in the most abject misery. And He did it all for us. 

He did it so that we might be might become rich...rich in God's grace, rich in the treasures of Heaven. He did it so that we might receive forgiveness for our sins. He did it so that sanctifying grace, the very presence of God, God's very divine life, might fill our souls. He did it so that we would have full access to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. He did it so that we could know more about our loving God. He did it so that we could live in the intimacy of the New Covenant family. He did it so that one day we can go home to Heaven to live with God face-to-face forever.

Jesus became poor for us. May we always be open to accepting and embracing the riches He showers upon us.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reflections for the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Love of Purgatory

What do you think of when you hear the word “Purgatory”? Suffering perhaps? Flames? Weeping, pleading souls? Punishment? Praying for the poor souls? 

What would you think if you were to hear that Purgatory is all about love? It's true! Purgatory is an expression of God's great love for His children. Let's explore this idea.

We all know that humans are messy. When we sin, we fall into spiritual muck and get ourselves all dirty. When we repent and confess our sins, God forgives us at once, but the consequences of sin remain. We are still covered in the muck of our fall even though our relationship with God is no longer broken or damaged. 

Nothing impure or unclean can enter Heaven. So what happens if we still have have spiritual muck on us when we die? There's where Purgatory comes in. In Purgatory, the love of God envelops us and scrubs us clean. Yes, there is suffering involved because the dirt doesn't come off easily. God needs to scour us a bit. But He does so because He loves us, and He does so with His own pure love. 

According to saints and mystics who were given the gift of speaking with the souls in Purgatory, those souls, while suffering, are happy. They know that they are saved and will one day be in Heaven. They realize that they are surrounded by love. They do, however, ask for our prayers and acts of mercy and love, which can help them be cleansed of their spiritual muck more easily and quickly. They are also more than willing to pray for us in return. After all, they are immersed God's love, and they are eager to share it.

On this All Souls' Day, then, let us pray for the souls in Purgatory that they may soon experience the Beatific Vision in which they will see God face to face for all eternity.

Tuesday – Some Practical Advice

In today's first reading, St. Paul offers some practical advice to the Romans and to us. 

1. “Let love be sincere...” – Really love others, i.e., will the absolute best for them and then pray and work to help bring it about. Don't just pretend. Love isn't about show or even merely emotion. Love is active.

2. “[H]ate what is evil...” – The Greek word for “hate” is very strong. It consists of a base that means “abhor” or “detest” and a prefix that adds the intensification “utterly.” We must stay far, far away from evil and never be lured by its seeming appeal.

3. “[H]old on to what is good...” – The Greek for “hold on” literally means “glued to.” We are to be stuck to good things like glue, and of course, the greatest good in our lives is God. We are to cling to Him and whatever comes from Him.

4. “[L]ove one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor...” – The Greek for “mutual affection” is really “brotherly love.” We are to treat each other as family and recognize the value and dignity of each and every person.

5. “[D]o not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit...” – We must be passionate for God, burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit in our own spirit. This passion must overflow into every area of our lives as we shine the light of God to the world.

6. “[S]erve the Lord.” – God's will must be our will. We should be obedient to His every command, trusting that He knows what is best for us in every situation.

7. “Rejoice in hope...” – We have so much to look forward to. Heaven awaits those who remain in God's grace.

8. “[E]ndure in affliction...” – Trials and suffering will always be part of life. They teach us to cling more closely to God and to trust and rely on Him in the midst of pain and sorrow.

9. “[P]ersevere in prayer...” – Prayer is our direct line to God. Much more than mere requests, our prayers keep us connected to God and help us grow in intimacy with Him. Sometimes it's difficult to pray, and we feel as though we're surrounded by darkness and distractions. Then we must pray even more, reaching out to God and trusting that He is holding us close.

10. “Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.” – God has given us everything we have. We, in turn, must share our blessings with others in love.

11. “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.” – Love extends even to those who hate and mistreat us. We must still will the best for them and pray and work to bring it about. After all, that's what Jesus did.

12. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – We are to share in the joys and sorrows of those around us with true sympathy and empathy.

13. “Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.” – Each and every person in this world is created in the image and likeness of God, and God loves everyone with a love greater than we can ever comprehend. Each and every person possesses human dignity and must be treated accordingly. Every human life matters. 

Wednesday – Lavish Giving

Today's psalm describes a man who fears the Lord, takes great delight in His commands, acts with mercy and justice, and gives lavishly to the poor. 

Please take some time to read the following blog post about lavish giving, and please share this important article with others: “Dear Word: Let's Stop Giving our Crap to the Poor”