Sunday, October 30, 2016

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

Monday – Unity and Humility

In today's first reading, St. Paul reminds us of two key aspects of the Christian life: unity and humility. “Complete my joy,” he says, “by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”

The same mind... We embrace the truth as God reveals it in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and guides our interpretation by the Church's Magisterium. 


The same love... We sincerely will the best for one another and do our utmost to help each other achieve that best.

United in heart... We truly care about one another, and we are cautious of each other's feelings. Even though we often have to admonish one another, we do so with love.

Thinking one thing... We discipline our thoughts so they conform to the truth rather than trying to force the truth to conform to our thoughts.

To do all of these things, we must practice humility. This doesn't mean putting ourselves down; it means seeing ourselves realistically. We recognize that everything we have and everything we are comes from God. Without Him we can do nothing good, so we rely on His grace for all. We also realize that God endowed each and every person with dignity, and we treat them accordingly. We put God first in our lives, then others, and finally ourselves.

Lord Jesus, help me live this unity and humility each and every day. Amen.

Tuesday – The Great Multitude


On this Solemnity of All Saints, we remember and honor the great multitude of saints who are waiting for us in Heaven. They are constantly praying for us, cheering us on, and encouraging us by their examples.

The saints are some of our greatest friends, but we have to ask ourselves how well we really know them. And after we've admitted, “Not nearly well enough,” we ought to make an effort to remedy that.

Here are a few ideas that might help:

1. Read a little about a different saint each day either online or in a book of saints' lives.

2. Choose a saint as a prayer partner, and regularly ask him or her to intercede for you.

3. Select a book written by a saint, and read a bit each day.

4. Ask your friends, relatives, and fellow parishioners if they have favorite saints. Get the conversation going!

5. Pull out your old holy cards, and pray some of the beautiful prayers on the backs of them.

Whatever you choose to do, just be sure to develop a relationship with some saints. After all, they will be our companions in Heaven, so we might as well start getting to know them now.

Wednesday – Words of Hope


As we pray in a special way for the holy souls in Purgatory today, we take comfort in the words of hope Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel. “Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me,” He says, “and I will not reject anyone who comes to Me...For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”

Jesus wants us, each and every one of us. The Father wills that everyone be saved. They do not reject anyone who comes to Them with faith and a sincere heart. They turn no one away.

God loves everyone single person who has ever lived and ever will live. We were all created to live in Heaven forever, and we all have access to all the grace we need to get there. God doesn't hold back.

But sometimes we do. We reject grace and turn away from God. We refuse the salvation He offers because we want sin more. But we can still have hope because right up to the last moment of our lives, we can keep turning back and casting ourselves into God's arms. He always accepts and heals a repentant heart.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reflection for the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Spiritual Armor

The spiritual life is a battle. We're attacked on all sides by the enemy, by the world, and by our own disordered passions. We are constantly fighting against temptation so that we don't sin and fall away from God.

But we are not left without armor and weapons. God provides us all we need to fight and win our spiritual battles. First, we possess the truth. That is one of our greatest weapons. We know the truth about God and His plan for us. We know the truth about our enemies and their tactics. And we know the truth about ourselves and our weaknesses. We know that we can never win without God, so we rely on Him completely.

Second, we possess the breastplate of righteousness. When we are in a right relationship with God, we can withstand anything because we are in a position to take full advantage of His grace.

Third, we possess the firm foundation of the Gospel. We stand on the solid ground of God's Word.

Fourth, we possess the shield of faith. Our faith protects us from the arrows of the enemy, arrows of doubt, arrows of confusion, arrows of fear. Our faith guards us from the trickery and deceit that the enemy shoots at us from all directions. When we are firm in our faith, when we truly believe in God, not just that He exists but that He truly is Who He says He is and does what He says He does, then we are covered by a protection that can withstand any attack.

Fifth, we possess the helmet of salvation. Our heads are covered by God's saving grace. When this helmet is in place, the enemy can't mess with our minds. We recognize who we are in God, and we have confidence that He will get us home to Heaven if only we remain close to Him.

Sixth, we possess the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We fight with God's Word. We use Scripture and Tradition, under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium, to proclaim God's message of salvation to the world and to refute those who attack us.

With these weapons and this armor, we can fight our spiritual battles with confidence, assured that God is always by our side, pouring out His grace and healing our wounds, that we may be victorious.

Friday – The Household of God

You are a member of the household of God. When you are in a state of grace and in communion with the Church, you are a full-fledged member of God's family. At your baptism, you entered into a covenant with God, and covenants are family bonds. They create kinship.

You renew that covenant every time you receive a sacrament. When you partake of Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, you renew your covenant oath. When you go to confession, you renew your covenant oath. When you are ill and accept anointing, you renew your covenant oath. You proclaim to the world that you are a member of the household of God, part of His family, and one of His beloved children.

Now reflect for a while on the following question: Do you act like a member of the household of God?

Saturday – Thirsting for God

“My soul is thirsting for the living God.”
I long for the living water of Your grace, my God.
I reach for the outpouring of faith, hope, and love that only You can give.
I need to hear Your words in Scripture and to meet You in the sacraments.
I strive to keep Your moral law with love and to grow in all virtues.
I desire to stand in Your presence all the days of my life and then perfectly in Heaven.
“My soul is thirsting for the living God.”
Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reflection for the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Thanksgiving

In today's first reading, St. Paul tells us what we should and should not talk about. First let's look at the “should not.” We should not even mention immorality or impurity or greed. Immoral words (the Greek word here refers to sexual immorality) must not cross our lips, nor should impure words (the Greek word can refer to lust but also uncleanness or luxuriant living). We should not speak with an attitude of greed (I want; I want; I want.). Further, we ought to avoid obscenities or any talk that is foolish or crude.

Now pause and think for a moment. Have you always observed Paul's “should not” list? Most of us would have to answer with an honest no. Often words flow from our lips before we even stop to think what we're saying, and then we say things we shouldn't.

We should be grateful that God forgives our slips and stumbles and always allows us another chance.

What kind of talk, then, is on Paul's “should” list? Thanksgiving. Our speech should be filled with thanksgiving. We must recognize our blessings and express gratitude for them. And Who is it that gives all these blessings? Who gives us everything we have and everything we are? God of course! So this talk of thanksgiving (in Greek eucharistia – look familiar?) is really talk about God. We thank Him; we praise Him; we pray for more blessings to be thankful for; we speak to Him about our daily lives, our joys and sorrows; we proclaim Him to others. And we do all of this with well-trained tongues and grateful hearts that the whole world may learn to thank God, too.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on http://www.biblehub.com/.) 

Tuesday – Husbands and Wives

Today's first reading tends to make many modern women rather annoyed. What's all this talk about submitting to a husband? It's simply more than a liberated woman can tolerate.

Or is it?

Unfortunately, many women see the word “submit,” take offense, and quit reading right there. And so they miss Paul's whole point.

If we read a little further, we discover the husband's duty, and he has the more difficult task. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. And what did Christ do for the Church? He died for her. A husband, then, is to love his wife so completely and so strongly that he would do anything for her, even die for her. This is true self-giving love, love that puts the other person first, wills the absolute best for her, and does everything possible to help her achieve that absolute best.

What wife wouldn't want to be loved like that? What wife wouldn't put her self under such a love? What wife wouldn't be willing to submit to a husband who truly loved her like that? How could she not trust that her husband would only want and do what is absolutely best for her, that he would protect her and love her even unto death?

This is love and marriage as God designed it.

Wednesday – The Narrow Gate

Lord, guide me on the path that leads to the narrow gate.
This is the path of the sacraments; may I always receive them worthily.
This is the path of prayer; may I pray continually.
This is the path of the Scriptures; may I read them with devotion and an open heart.
This is the path of the moral law; may I follow it unfailingly.
This is the path of virtue; may I grow strong in every virtue.
This is the path of intimacy with You; may our relationship become ever deeper.
This is the path of love; may I love You and my neighbor with an ever increasing love.
This is the path to Heaven; lead me to eternal joy.
Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reflection for the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Blazing Fire

In today's Gospel, Jesus proclaims that He has come to set the world on fire and He wishes that “it were already blazing.”

What is this blazing fire that Jesus wants to kindle?

There is likely more than one answer, but Jesus doesn't give any, indicating, perhaps, that He wants us to reflect deeply on the question and come up with our own responses.

So let's brainstorm. This blazing fire could be God's love, which is often described in terms of fire. God's love could certainly set the world ablaze. It might also be the Holy Spirit, Who is God's Love in person. It may refer to faith or spiritual enthusiasm or salvation or justice. It could even refer to purification. Or, maybe, Jesus is talking about a combination of all of these and more. Whatever this fire is, He longs to light it in the world, and, as He hints by His next words, He will accomplish that by His suffering and death.

Friday – Interpretation

How well do we interpret the signs of the times? We listen today as Jesus chides His audience for their lack of attention to the spiritual environment around them. Although they are quite good at interpreting the weather, they are clueless about what really counts. They don't recognize Jesus for Who He is. They don't give any mind to the prophecies He fulfills. They don't care about the new order, the new life, He brings.

Doesn't this sound like the world today? People are very good at interpreting earthly things like the weather or business cycles or entertainment trends, but they are clueless about spiritual realities. They don't read the signs of the times. They don't recognize what God is doing. They fail to heed His warnings. They don't think about the consequences of their actions.

But there will be consequences. Many members of Jesus' original audience suffered when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. What will we suffer if we fail to interpret the signs of our times?

Saturday – Grow Up

Today Paul tells the Ephesians (and us) to grow up. “Living the truth in love,” we must grow in Christ so that we know our faith well and resist being swept away by every new wave of false teaching and doctrinal confusion.

If he were standing before us, Paul may indeed ask us how well we are doing with this. Do we make any effort at all to grow in our faith, to learn more about God and His plan of salvation? Do we study and pray the Scriptures? Do we delve into the richness of Church teachings? Do we read the writings of the saints? Do we take advantage of faith formation classes and study groups?

Or are we too busy? Does our faith take a back seat to everything else in our lives? Do we learn more about our jobs and our hobbies than about God? Do we even know how to respond when someone questions our faith?

It's time, then, for us to grow up, to learn the truth and to live it in love, to really know our faith and understand its rich beauty, and most of all, to come ever closer to God, Who longs to bring us to full maturity in Him.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Reflection for the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Saved by Grace

Protestants often misunderstand Catholic beliefs about salvation, claiming that Catholics try to earn their way to Heaven and other such nonsense.

Indeed, Catholics firmly hold that we do not save ourselves. God saves us by grace. His grace is a free gift that He pours into our souls. We do not earn it. We cannot claim it by right.

But we can and must respond to God's grace. God is a gentleman; He never forces Himself upon us. Instead, He waits for us to accept Him, and we do that through faith. Faith is our yes to God. We believe in Him and in His revelation. But even more, we enter into a relationship with Him.

This faith, however, doesn't stand alone. It must flow outward into love. Faith is only alive if it leads to good works. This is why Catholics believe that good works are necessary. We don't earn our way to Heaven by doing them, but we express the faith that accepts the grace of God that does bring us salvation. And of course, God is right there all along, giving us grace, inspiring us to faith, and urging us to work in love.

Tuesday – Deserted

Paul was completely deserted by his so-called friends. Standing before the Romans, putting his life on the line for the Gospel, he was all alone. No one came to his defense. No one turned out to support him. No one seemed to care.

But did Paul hold it against them? Definitely not. And he prayed that God wouldn't do so either. He was determined to excuse those who had hurt him, to understand and forgive.

How could he do this? Paul knew that he was never really alone. Humans may have deserted him, but the Lord was right beside him through it all, strengthening him and giving him everything he needed to proclaim the Gospel. And this was enough.

So when we feel alone, deserted, abandoned by people we thought were friends, we need only to remember that we are never alone. Another One stands by our side, One Who will never leave us.

Wednesday – Confident and Unafraid


“God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid.”

Confident and unafraid. Can we truly proclaim these words and mean them? If not, why not? What is keeping us back from placing our full trust in God and letting go of our fear?

Do we really believe that God is our savior? That He wants to pour out His grace upon us? That He stands ready to give us everything we need to get to Heaven if only we stand ready to open our hearts and receive it?

Lord, make me confident and unafraid. Fill me with faith that I may boldly proclaim that You are my Savior. Fill me with hope that I will trust You throughout my whole life and all the way to Heaven. Fill me with the perfect love that casts out fear. May I stand before You open and ready, confident and unafraid. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Reflection for the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Sing

“Sing to the Lord a new song!” Have you ever noticed that the Scriptures are filled with music? Someone is always singing praise to God or lamenting in song or even working out difficult problems through music (check out Psalm 49).

Do you ever sing to God? And I don't mean mumbling your way through the songs at Mass but really singing out from the heart in praise or even in pain. We are all called to make music before God. It doesn't matter how good your voice is or if you have any musical ability at all. Music is an integral part of human life, and like ever other element of human existence, it should be used to draw us closer to God.

So find a song you love, and sing it to God, or maybe even compose a brand new song in His honor. Whatever you do, see if you can follow the Psalmist's advice and sing to God. It's good practice for Heaven!

Friday – Sparrows

God keeps track of every little sparrow. He knows each one. Even though humans don't value these insignificant birds very much, God does.

How much more, then, does He know and value us? He has even counted every single hair on our heads.

Therefore, we shouldn't be afraid. God is in charge, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He cares for us. He sees everything that happens to us. He guides us on the paths He wants for us, but we have to cooperate with Him. We have to open our hearts to His grace. We have to accept His guidance and help. We have to embrace His love and remember what Jesus says: “You are worth more than many sparrows.”

Saturday – Knowledge of God

How do we come to know God? We can know Him a bit through our reason, at least that He exists and is the first Cause and Creator of the universe. But our reason is limited by our human nature and marred by sin, so we need something more.

We need the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” that St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Ephesians. In other words, God must reveal Himself to us and give us the wisdom to receive the revelations if we are to truly know Him, at least as much as our human minds ever can. He must enlighten us, pour His brilliance into us, if we are to understand His characteristics and His actions.

But the good news is that God wants us to know Him! He wants to give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation. He wants to enlighten us. He wants a real relationship with us. For that's what the word “knowledge” means here. In Greek, it's epignĊsis, and it doesn't refer to simply knowing about someone or being acquainted with the facts. It denotes a personal knowledge received through direct contact. This is the knowledge of intimacy, the knowledge of love, the knowledge of a life lived in communion. This is the kind of knowledge God wants to give each one of us. He is willing and able to do so. Our job is to open our hearts and minds and drink in all we can of the knowledge and love that God so generously and lovingly provides.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reflection for the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Sign of Jonah

In today's Gospel, Jesus is confronted by a crowd that demands a sign. The people want to see some kind of miracle, something that will “prove” Jesus' claims and teaching. Clearly, they are far more interested in witnessing something spectacular than in learning about God and His plan.

Jesus responds quite cryptically. No sign will be given, He announces, “except the sign of Jonah.” This must have raised a few eyebrows. The sign of Jonah? How could that stubborn, pouting prophet be a sign of anything?

We might wonder that, too, so let's look closely at Jesus' meaning. Jonah was sent to warn the Ninevites that they were on the path to destruction. Of course, he went in the exactly opposite direction and ran from his mission, only to be swallowed by a giant fish. And here is where Jonah first becomes a sign. He remains inside the fish for three days and three nights. Sound familiar?

When the fish finally spits Jonah out onto the shore, the prophet wipes himself off and finally undertakes his mission. He goes to Nineveh and proclaims that in forty days the city will be destroyed for its sin. The Ninevites, even though they are Gentiles, actually take the prophet seriously, repent, and begin acts of penance. Because of their humility, God saves them and their city. Again, Jonah has become a sign. He prefigures another Person, Who would come to sinful people, even Gentiles, with a warning and an invitation to repentance and salvation.

The sign of Jonah, it seems, is a pretty good pointer for Jesus' original hearers and for us, too.

Tuesday – Freedom


Our culture holds some odd ideas about freedom. Modern people often think that to be free means to be able to do whatever one wants to do whenever one wants to do it. Freedom, for many, denotes a lack of restraint or rules or supervision and the ability to determine one's own actions independently. This kind of freedom is freedom from interference and restriction.

But this isn't God's definition of freedom. The freedom we receive from God is perfectly compatible with rules and regulations because it is far more freedom for something than freedom from something. It is freedom for truth, beauty, and goodness. It is freedom for intimacy with God. It is freedom for love, a strong, active love for God and our fellow human beings. It is freedom for faith and hope. It is freedom that helps us let go of everything that holds us back: sin, weaknesses, flaws, faults. God's freedom helps us live the best lives we can here on earth that one day we may be free to enter Heaven. Now that's the best freedom of all.

Wednesday – Fruits of the Spirit


St. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These fruits grow in us as we grow in Christian living, as we open ourselves more and more to the grace of God, and as we allow God to work in and through us.

Take a few minutes today to reflect on these fruits of the Spirit, and ask yourself the following questions for each.

1. What does this fruit mean to me?
2. Where does this fruit manifest itself in my life?
3. Where is this fruit lacking or weak in my life?
4. What is one concrete thing I can do this week to help this fruit grow in my life?

Lord, may these fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, grow and flourish in me through the help of Your grace, for by them I will show You to the world. Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Reflection for the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – The Friend

Doesn't the friend in Jesus' parable today seem just a bit annoying? First, he has nothing on hand when he receives a guest. We can, however, sympathize with him a bit there, for we all know the kind of panic inspired by an unexpected visitor. But it's already midnight, and instead of just tucking his guest into bed and promising a nice breakfast in the morning, this fellow goes galloping off to his friend's house and bangs on the door. He must know that the family would be in bed and asleep, but he bothers them anyway.

And he won't quit! He probably gets his loaves of bread in the end, but he might also have lost a friend or at least ticked him off.

What is Jesus trying to tell us by this parable? First off, we must admit that we're often just as unprepared as the friend in the story, not just materially but spiritually. We don't have what we need when we need it, and we don't always realize that until it's quite late in the game. That's usually when we discover that we need to ask for help.

Unlike the awakened and annoyed friend in the parable, however, the One we need to ask is always prepared to answer our requests. Yes, He wants us to persevere in our prayer. Yes, sometimes it seems like He takes a long time to answer. Sometimes He even says no. But He is always listening and always responding. He is our best Friend, the One we can always turn to in time of need. We can trust Him to hear us, answer us, and give us exactly what we need exactly when we need it. And He won't even be annoyed!

Friday – Children of Abraham


In today's first reading, Paul explains to the Galatians that, when they have faith in Jesus, they are children of Abraham. This might have come as a surprise to them, for the Jews claimed that designation for themselves and weren't about to extend it to Gentiles like the Galatians.

God, however, was perfectly ready to expand the meaning of “children of Abraham.” After all, He had once promised the patriarch himself that his descendants would be more than the stars or the sands on the seashore. All nations, in fact, would be blessed through Abraham.

And when Jesus, a physical descendant of Abraham in His incarnation, became man and died for our sins, He made us the adopted children of God and also of Abraham. He brought those who believe together into one big family, initiated by a covenant oath and held together by bonds of love.

We, too, then, can and should claim Abraham as our father. He is our ancestor in faith, our patriarch in salvation history, and, as we hope and pray, our companion forever in Heaven.

Saturday – Look, Seek, Recall


Today the psalmist tells us that we must do three very important things.

1. “Look to the Lord in His strength.”
2. “Seek to serve Him constantly.”
3. “Recall the wondrous deeds that He has wrought, His portents, and the judgments He has uttered.”

As we look to the Lord, we focus our attention on Him. We remember His constant presence. We lean on His strength to carry us through bad times and good. We pray and worship Him with faith and love.

As we seek to serve the Lord, we listen closely to learn His will and strive to carry it out with the help of His grace. We shine His light as we perform whatever tasks He wants us to do.

As we recall the Lord's deeds, portents, and judgments, we remember what amazing things He has done in the past and trust that He will continue to do so in the future. We marvel at His care for His people. We turn to Scripture to jog our memories and hear God's words.

Today, then, let us look at, seek, and recall our loving God.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Reflection for the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Pleasing God not People

What is your first priority: pleasing God or pleasing people? St. Paul makes the correct choice quite clear when he says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” But how would you have to answer that question if you were being truly honest?

It's easy to fall into a habit of pleasing people. After all, we want to be liked and appreciated. So perhaps we go along with something we aren't really comfortable with, or maybe we fail to speak up when we know something is wrong. We keep our mouths shut and our eyes down even when realize that pleasing people means displeasing God.

So how do we break this habit? First off, we have to recognize what we're doing, hence Paul's reminder. Second, we have to make a firm commitment to put God first in our lives no matter what the cost. Third, we have to pray for God's grace to fulfill that commitment. Fourth, we have to jump in and act. Speak the truth. Live the faith. Please God not people.

Tuesday – The Better Part

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” What did Mary choose? What is this better part?

Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to Him, to talk to Him, to give Him her full attention. Martha was doing important tasks, too, of course, but those tasks took her eyes off of Jesus. She was serving Him, or preparing to serve Him, but she wasn't focused on Him. She had to concentrate on the jobs at hand. Mary, however, kept her eyes on Jesus. And this is the better part.

What's the message for us here? Should we just give up everything we're doing and enter convents or monasteries? No. Not everyone is called to that kind of life. But we are all called to choose the better part at least regularly. This means taking the time to sit at Jesus' feet in prayer and focus our attention on Him. This means listening for His voice in our hearts and being quiet enough to hear it. This means going to Mass on Sunday. This means reading and meditating on the Scriptures. We should all be choosing the better part, no matter how busy we are and how crazy our lives get because the better part is Jesus.

Wednesday – Father

Today Jesus teaches us to call God “Father.” This may not seem like a big deal to us. Many of us have been brought up praying the Lord's Prayer and have called God “Father” since we were tiny children.

But to Jesus' original audience, this teaching was new, fresh, and even shocking. Sure, the Jews recognized God as a Father, but He was the Father of their nation, not of individual people. Claiming God as one's personal father just wasn't done, for the Jews just didn't have that knowledge of His immanence and intimacy.

That's why Jesus had to teach them Who God really is. He is a Father. He is Jesus' Father because the First Person of the Blessed Trinity has begotten the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity from all eternity. Then, when Jesus became human and died for us, He became our Brother. We received a share in His sonship and become adopted children of God, sons in the Son, heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, we can confidently call God “Father” and mean it with our whole hearts.