Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflection for the Week of Ash Wednesday, Part 1

Monday – Treasure in Heaven

In today's Gospel Jesus tells a rich man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him so that he would have treasure in Heaven. The man walked away sadly, for he couldn't bear to part with his things.

This reading should make us ask ourselves some difficult questions. First and foremost, we need to ask, “Where is our treasure?”

It's not wrong to have and enjoy material possessions, but we cannot make them our first priority. They are a means, a tool, to use for the benefit of ourselves and others on our journey home to Heaven. If they become an end in themselves, then we have a problem. Then we accumulate, and hoard, the wrong kind of treasure in the wrong place.

Treasure in Heaven, on the other hand, is the exactly right kind of treasure in the exactly right place. It's an accumulation of grace, of prayers, of good deeds, of love. It's a shining trove of spiritual goodness, of blessing, of faith, of hope. We can start building up and enjoying this treasure by accepting each piece of it from the loving hands of God our Father, and one day we will enjoy it fully in Heaven, face to face with the Treasure-Giver.

Tuesday – The Best Sacrifices

What does God want from us? What kind of offerings please Him the most? The author of the Book of Sirach tells us all about the best sacrifices we can present to God:

1. Keeping the commandments and carefully observing God's moral law
2. Giving alms and performing other works of charity with a sincere heart
3. Refraining from evil and shunning injustice
4. Maintaining a cheerful attitude and a spirit of joy
5. Putting God in first place always and everywhere and trusting Him

These are the best sacrifices we can offer God, and we should strive to unite them with the sacrifice of Jesus at every Mass. When we do, we will really be giving God our very selves, all we are and all we do that we may belong totally to Him. This is what God wants from us.

Wednesday – Rend Your Hearts

What are you giving up for Lent? Perhaps a favorite food? Maybe some TV or computer time?

Whatever you decide, just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Giving up something for Lent isn't just something to do because everyone else is or because you've always done it or even because it makes you feel good that you're doing something “spiritual.”

Instead, present whatever you're giving up directly to God. Tell Him that He is so much more important than material things and worldly pastimes and that you are sorry for ever putting those things before Him. And make sure you truly believe that.

In today's first reading, the prophet Joel tells us to rend our hearts and not our garments. The Jews tore their clothing as a sign of distress and repentance, but sometimes their action, like giving things up for Lent, was no more than an external gesture. Joel wanted his audience's external gestures to express something much deeper: hearts of repentance, devotion, faith, and love. Our Lenten sacrifices should express the same internal dispositions.

So as you're deciding what to give up for Lent, remember to rend your hearts, not your garments, to let your practices express your deepest love for God.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Way of the Cross: Praying the Passion of Jesus Christ

Introducing...just in time for Lent...my new book:


The Way of the Cross: Praying the Passion of Jesus Christ




This book is an anthology of Way of the Cross meditations. Some are the original creations of the author/editor. Others have been “rescued” from prayer books that have long been lost to history. Some are written by saints, others by priests, still others by lay people with a special devotion to the Way of the Cross. Some are quite short and will take only a few minutes to pray. Others are longer and will require a greater time commitment. Each and every prayer in this book, however, is designed to deepen and enrich our experience of the Way of the Cross and to enhance and intensify our reflection on our Lord Jesus Christ as He suffered and died for us. 

To purchase The Way of the Cross: Praying the Passion of Jesus Christ, click here for Amazon or here for the CreateSpace store.

Thanks, and God bless!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Presumption

In today's first reading the author of the book of Sirach cautions us against presumption. Presumption occurs when people feel free to go ahead and sin because they think that God will just forgive the sin no matter what anyway.

Presumptuous people say things like, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” They think they will not have to face the consequences of their sins. They rationalize like this: “Great is His mercy; my many sins He will forgive.” While this statement is true, for God's mercy is great and He does forgive sins, it should not make people think that they can just go ahead and commit as many sins as they want. This is presumption. God does forgive, but sin still has consequences.

The opposite of presumption is a repentant heart that feels true contrition for sin, confesses it, and vows not do it again. We must always trust in God's mercy, but we must also work hard to avoid sin, grow in virtue, and follow the moral law. God loves to forgive us, but He does not want us to keep on sinning. We must break the pattern of sin in our lives and ask God for the grace to do His will always and everywhere.

Friday – Discernment


“Give me discernment, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart.”

Discernment is the act of seeing and knowing the reality of things. When we discern something, we seek the truth about it. We gather data and evidence; we consider them carefully; we ask for advice as necessary, especially from God; and we come to a conclusion.

We are required to discern many things: our path in life, our relationships, our activities, and especially our moral choices. A large part of mature moral responsibility involves discernment. We must discern the application of God's moral law to all the varying circumstances of our lives.

First, we get to know God's law. We read the Scriptures. We become acquainted with God's teaching through the Church. We form our consciences based on the reality of God's will.

Then we consider the situations we face and discern how to apply that moral law. We decide how best to act in accordance with the law. Sometimes we ask for help when circumstances are complex and confusing. Sometimes we might discern wrongly. But we have to make our best possible effort to do the right thing in the right way always.

And no matter what, we must always pray: Lord, give me discernment, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart.

Saturday – Childlike


Jesus, You said that “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Make me like a child.
Give me, please, a childlike trust in You.
Give me, please, a childlike habit of running straight to You with all my problems and worries.
Give me, please, a childlike innocence.
Give me, please, a childlike wonder, a childlike delight.
Give me, please, a childlike vision that sees the best in people.
Give me, please, a childlike faith that doesn't hesitate to believe.
Give me, please, a childlike hope that You will provide me with all the best all the time.
Give me, please, a childlike love that clings to You.
Make me like a child, Lord, that I may enter the Kingdom of God.
Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Lord is King

The Lord is King. He reigns over Heaven and earth, over the entire universe. Nothing happens that He does not know about, that He does not ordain or allow for a reason. He holds all of creation in existence. Everything obeys His commands, and His commands are perfectly right and perfectly just and perfectly merciful. They are exactly suited to each creature's nature.

Everything obeys those commands, everything, that is, except human beings. For God gave human beings free will. He gave them a choice to embrace or resist His kingship, to obey or disobey, to be His loyal subjects or renegades. But if they resist, disobey, and behave as renegades, then they must suffer the consequences that follow from rejecting the right rule of their King. Things will go wrong in their lives and in their hearts and, worst of all, in eternity if they continue to deny God's perfect rule.

So we must ask ourselves: Is God King over our lives? Do we recognize His reign and obey His commands? If not, are we prepared to face the consequences of turning our backs on the King of the universe?

Tuesday – In Times of Adversity


Today's first reading from the Book of Sirach offers some practical and helpful advice about how to cope in times of adversity. When trials come and threaten, here is what we must do:

1. Make a firm commitment to serve the Lord no matter what. Place yourself at His disposal.
2. Remain sincere and steadfast, trusting that God wants only the best even though you may not be able to see what that is.
3. Listen in order to understand. Listen to God's word in Scripture. Listen to the wise advice of others. Listen to the saints who have lived through times of trials, too.
4. Cling to God. No matter what happens, hold tightly to Him as your rock and shelter. Don't ever let go.
5. Be patient. This, too, will pass.
6. Realize that God is giving you an opportunity to learn and grow through trials and sufferings. He is polishing you and teaching you.
7. Firmly believe that God will never leave you and that He will help you through all your trials with all the grace you need to come out a stronger, better person on the other side.
8. Wait for God. His timing is perfect.
9. Hope for good things. God will give them to you when you are ready to have them. He is even giving them to you right now, even in the midst of what seems like the worst of trials.
10. Love God. Just plain love God.

So may it be. Amen.

Wednesday – Peter's Advice


St. Peter knew how to be a servant leader, and he was eager to share that knowledge with other priests and with anyone in a leadership role.

First off, Peter says, leaders must take care of those they lead. The word translated as “tend” is poimainĊ, and it literally means “to shepherd.” Leaders guide and protect. They make sure those in their charge have what they need to succeed.

Second, leaders do this willingly, not because they are forced or because they will profit somehow, but because they want to, because they truly care and are concerned about those they lead.

Third, leaders don't let their authority go to their heads. They don't “lord it over” others. The Greek word here is katakurieuo, and it refers to exercising a kind of decisive mastery that fully controls others. Real leaders value others and allow them room to act on their talents and abilities and to make decisions. They recognize the dignity of those they lead.

Fourth, leaders set an example. They offer a reliable model of how to behave and how to do a job. To do this, of course, leaders must get right in and work alongside others.

Those who are leaders, then, ought to listen to and follow St. Peter's wise advice about leadership because he learned from the best Leader of all, Jesus.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Covenant

After the flood, God made a covenant with the Noah and his descendants and with every living creature. God would never again destroy the world by a flood as He had done. As a sign of the covenant and a reminder of His love, He set a rainbow in the sky.

God is always a father. Often He has to discipline His children, as He did when He sent the flood over the earth. But He never wants the total destruction of humanity, no matter how sinful we human beings can be. He wants to teach us and guide us to new life, to share in His life and love, and to bring the rest of the world along with us.

When we see a rainbow, then, we should not think about the symbolic value many in the modern world have tired to impose upon it (for that agenda is decidedly against God's will). Instead, we should remember the covenant, the family bond, that God has made with humanity and with all of creation. The rainbow is a sign of God's love and the order God has given to the world and to human life, and it is a reminder that we must follow His moral law if we are to be truly happy.

Friday – Designs and Plans

Today's Responsorial Psalm begins

“The Lord brings to nought the plans of nations;
He foils the designs of peoples.
But the plan of the Lord stands forever;
the design of His heart, through all generations.”

God's designs and plans and our human designs and plans are often very different. Look at today's first reading, for example. The people designed a tower that would reach all the way up to Heaven. They planned a grand city and thought that they could make a name for themselves and become wealthy and famous and self-sufficient.

But God had another plan. He confused the people's language and brought all their grand designs to nothing, for He knew that without Him they had nothing. They needed to learn that lesson, too. God's designs and plans were best, and they stood fast.

In the Gospel, we also see the contrast between God's designs and plans and those of human beings. Jesus says,

“Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow Me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
What could one give in exchange for his life?”

We humans wish to avoid the cross; Jesus tells us to embrace it. We humans plan and design constantly in order to save our lives; Jesus tells us to let go. We humans scheme to get as much out of the world as we can; Jesus reminds us that the things of the world are valueless in the perspective of eternity.

God's designs and plans stand forever. Our human designs and plans come to nothing unless they conform with those of God.

Dear Lord, conform all our designs and plans to Yours. May we always desire Your will and Your will alone. Amen.

Saturday – Terrified


Peter, James, and John were truly terrified at the Transfiguration. After all, Jesus, Whom they thought they knew so well, was suddenly very different, very strange, very awful in the true sense of the world. He stood before them shining, dazzling white, revealing a glimpse of His hidden divinity. He was the same Jesus, but He was also so much more.

Then Moses and Elijah appeared and started conversing with Jesus. Talk about an experience out of the realm of anything normal! Two of the greatest figures in salvation history suddenly stood right before the three disciples.

But it didn't end there. Just as Peter finished making his suggestion about three tents (he really didn't know what to say but didn't realize that he didn't have to say anything at all), the cloud enveloped them, and a voice spoke out of it: “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

Of course the disciples were terrified. In the days of Moses and Elijah such an event would probably mean certain death for any mortal who happened to be that close to the Living God.

But things were quite different now. The Living God was walking among them, and with the Transfiguration, the terrified disciples were now just beginning to understand that.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel both presented offerings to God. Abel took one of the very best firstlings from his flock and presented it with the greatest reverence. Cain brought some of his produce, not necessarily the best, and perhaps a bit grudgingly.

God accepted Abel's offering with favor, but He rejected Cain's. God could see their hearts. He knew the spirit in which the gifts had been given.

Cain was angry and resentful, but God reminded him that he could do well and hold up his head if he really wanted to. It was his choice.

Cain did not so choose. He decided to remain angry and, worse, to take his anger out on his brother in the most violent way. In a jealous rage, Cain killed Abel and buried his body in a field.

Did Cain think that God wouldn't know what had happened? If so, he didn't know God very well at all. God pointedly asked Cain where his brother was but only to push him to admit his crime.

Then God gave Cain a punishment that perfectly fit his crime. If Cain was so possessive of his produce to the point of begrudging it to God and then killing his brother, then God would take his produce away from him. God told Cain that the soil would no longer give him its fruits. Cain, who had so heartlessly planted his brother in a field, would be a wanderer over the earth, uprooted, without family, and all because he had refused to give his best to God and resented someone else who had.

Tuesday – Enthroned


My Lord, Who sits enthroned as King over the whole world, rule my life.
I give myself to You; I fall at Your feet in worship.
My Lord, Who sits enthroned as King over the whole world, enter into my heart.
I belong to You; fill me with Your presence.
My Lord, Who sits enthroned as King over the whole world, pour out Your grace upon me.
I reach out for Your healing touch; cleanse me from all sin and fear.
My Lord, Who sits enthroned as King over the whole world, take me home to Heaven.
I want to be with You for all eternity; bring me closer and closer to You.
Amen.

Wednesday – A Strange Healing


It was a strange healing. Jesus stood before the blind man. He took spittle and put it on the man's eyes. Then He lay His hands on the man and asked, “Do you see anything?”

The man must have hesitated a bit before he answered. He could see something all right, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what. Finally he settled on, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” People looking like trees and walking? Huh?

Jesus didn't seem phased by the man's reply. He simply placed His hands on the man's eyes again. When He took them off, the man could see everything clearly. He was completely healed.

What happened here? Couldn't Jesus heal the blind man the first time around? Had He failed somehow?

Of course not! Jesus had proven the contrary many times before and after. We must assume, therefore, that this strange healing had a purpose behind it and a lesson for us. Perhaps the answer lies in faith. Jesus often said that faith contributes to people's healing. If they have faith, they can be healed. If not, they close themselves off to receiving the healing power that Jesus wishes to pour out upon them. He does not heal them without their consent and cooperation. 

Perhaps this blind man had some faith but not quite enough. Perhaps he started to cooperate with Jesus but then got cold feet or started doubting. Maybe he was taken aback by Jesus putting spittle on his eyes and started to wonder what that was all about and to close his heart. Maybe he needed a little jolt like seeing people who looked like trees to recall him to the task at hand. Maybe he could see enough to notice Jesus smiling at him with a knowing expression.

At any rate, the blind man had faith in the end. He was healed. He had opened himself completely to Jesus and His healing touch, and he completely received his sight, perhaps even more spiritually than physically.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reflection for the 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Persistence

The Syrophoenician woman in today's Gospel had persistence. There's no question about that. Her daughter was suffering, and she would go to any lengths to get Jesus to help.

Even when Jesus appeared to deny her request, the woman kept going. Jesus even said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Many people would have taken great offense at this and stomped off in a huff. But the woman didn't give up so easily. Instead, she responded, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps.”

With these words, the woman cleverly passed Jesus' test. She revealed the depths of her persistence, faith, and humility. Jesus must have smiled when He granted the woman's request: “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”

Friday – Confession and Forgiveness


Psalm 32 tells the story of confession and forgiveness. The psalmist begins with a beautiful truth:

“Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.”

Then he tells his hearers how they can obtain such a blessing. At first, he says, he tried to hide his guilt from God, but his sin weighed so heavily upon him that he began to waste away both spiritually and physically.

Finally, he cried out to God, confessing his sin, laying all his faults before the Lord, exposing the whole measure of his guilt. And God forgave him. It was as simple as that. God wiped out the sins and took away the guilt.

Then the psalmist was safe. He snuggled into God's sheltering arms, finally free and fully protected. And he was quick to advise others to confess their sins that they, too, might partake of God's generous, loving forgiveness.

Saturday – A Prayer


Jesus, You had pity on the crowds that flocked to You; have pity on all those who are seeking You today.

Jesus, You multiplied the bread and fish to provide a meal; may everyone have enough food today.

Jesus, You allowed Your disciples to distribute the bread and fish to the people; use us as Your instruments to distribute Your blessings today.

Jesus, You taught the crowd and Your disciples an important lesson about generosity; may we, too, learn that lesson today.

Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reflection for the 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Healing

In today's Gospel, we hear about Jesus healing many people in Gennesaret. They swarmed around Him, carrying the sick on mats and setting them as close to Jesus as possible. Even those who merely touched the tassel on His cloak were healed.

Think about how amazing that is. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of people were cured with just a touch.

We might wonder why Jesus would do this, and we might even feel just a little jealous. Healings like this happen so much more rarely these days. But we must remember that Jesus heals people physically only when it will spiritually benefit them and/or those around them. During the days Jesus walked on earth, He was establishing a new kingdom and a new covenant. He worked miracles to demonstrate His power and the divine legitimacy of what He was doing.

We, on the other hand, live in the established kingdom and are members of Jesus' covenant family. Our spiritual needs are different. We have centuries of witnesses. We have the sacraments. We have Scripture. Jesus still does miraculously heal people, more frequently than we might think, but He still does it only for spiritual reasons. If physical healing will benefit a person spiritually, Jesus will heal that person. But if physical suffering will actually carry a greater benefit, Jesus will allow it in order to heal a person spiritually. Spiritual healing always outweighs physical healing. We may not be able to discern that or fully understand it, but we must trust that Jesus knows exactly what He is doing and that He will provide the exact kind of healing we need the most.

Tuesday – Image and Likeness


We are created in the image and likeness of God. Isn't that amazing? We are endowed with reason that we may understand the truth and discern right from wrong. We have free will that we may decide for ourselves how we will think, speak, and act. We possess the gifts of imagination and creativity that we may write stories, play music, and produce beautiful works of art. We can know, love, and worship God within the measure of our human nature, and we even have the potential to share in God's very life by and through His grace.

Yes, we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that makes us human beings different from any other of God's creatures. Isn't that truly amazing?

Wednesday – One Prohibition

God gave our first parents one prohibition. Just one. It wasn't even a difficult or burdensome one. All they had to do was avoid eating the fruit of one tree in a garden overflowing with beautiful, delicious fruit. How hard could it be to deny themselves just one thing?

We know the answer to that question, of course; it was an emphatic “very hard,” and nearly every human being has suffered the consequences of our first parents' sin ever since.

But we ought to pause for a moment before we criticize our first parents too strongly. Their sin should make us examine our own consciences. Do we obey God's prohibitions, or do we ignore them and go our own way? Do we appreciate the beautiful gifts we have, or do we want more, often what we can't or shouldn't have? Do we deny ourselves anything, or are we self-indulgent? Are we any different from our first parents? What would we have done if we had been the ones standing before that tree in the Garden of Eden?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – God Presented to God

When Mary and Joseph presented the forty-day-old Jesus in the Temple according to the requirements of the Law, they were actually presenting God to God.

That sounds strange, doesn't it? But it's true. God had suddenly entered His Temple, just as the prophet Malachi predicted although Malachi would never have expected Him to come as a tiny Baby.

Simeon recognized Him, though. While he might not have completely realized the divinity of the Child, he certainly understood that this One was the long-awaited Messiah, the glory of Israel and the light of the whole world.

Anna, too, saw in that little Baby the redemption the people of Israel had been expecting for so long, and she proceeded to tell everyone who would listen that He had arrived at last.

Yes, God was presented to God in the Temple that day, the Son to His Father, the Messiah to the One Who sent Him to save the world.

Friday – The Girl

The girl did what she was told to do. First, she performed a dance for her father, Herod, and his guests. They were delighted, if more than a bit tipsy, and her father offered her grand gifts, even up to half his kingdom.

But the girl didn't know what to ask for. Perhaps she didn't really care. Perhaps she wanted to maximize her advantage but wasn't sure how to do that. Perhaps she didn't know how to think for herself. In any case, she went to her mother with the question “What shall I ask for?”

The girl's mother, Herodias, knew exactly what to ask for. Something, or rather someone, had been bothering her for quite some time. John the Baptist, who was a prisoner of Herod, was always going on about how Herod and Heriodias should never have been married, for Heriodias had once been the wife of Herod's brother. It was irritating, and Heriodias saw the perfect opportunity to end that annoyance. She told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist.

The girl went back to her father and did just that, adding a little twist of her own. “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist,” the girl commanded. At once? On a platter? Perhaps the girl had a malicious streak of her own.

Herod was stuck. He didn't like it, but he had no choice. His offer had backfired on him. He actually rather liked John and didn't want to kill him, but a promise was a promise. He sent off an executioner, and a little while later presented his daughter with the head of John the Baptist. The girl immediately handed it over to her satisfied mother.

We never hear about the girl again in Scripture, but other sources tell us that Salome (her actual name) was married twice and had several children. Like as not, her marriages were political in nature, and she probably had no choice in the matter. We may wonder if she turned out like her mother. We may wonder if somehow she was able to find happiness. We may wonder if she ever came to regret her request for John the Baptist's head.

Saturday – A Sacrifice of Praise


Lord, I offer You a sacrifice of praise. I raise my mind to contemplate the wonders of Your being. I step out of my cares and worries and focus my attention on You. I sing out how amazing You are, how awesome in the true sense of the word. I give You thanks for the all You have done for me, are doing for me right now, and will do for me in the future. I recognize Your grace working and active in my life, and I embrace it. I let go of myself, even if just for a little while, and cling to You with my whole being. Lord, I offer You a sacrifice of praise. Amen.