Tag Archive: Christ’s love


Reprint of “Be Me”.

Jesuspic4x6

Again, I am re-printing a prior post. NO, I haven’t gotten lazy. In re-reading some of the older posts, I realize that what they said then is still true now. I am posting them again because they are pertinent to the Lenten season.

Other than rhyming, what else can be said about the topic? Hopefully, this post will take you through all the ramifications of being a Catholic Christian. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” -1 No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. With these nine words, Jesus is laying out for us how we are to live our lives. He is not saying imitate me. He is saying, quite forcefully, do what I do, and with my motives, with my concerns, with my goodness, with my love.

We don’t perform good actions so we can be seen, or recognized. We don’t perform acts of love for that warm and fuzzy feeling we get afterwards. We do good acts because we see a need and want to address it, to remedy it, to give love back to God. Our lives should be, must be, something we strive to be joyful about, to be wholesome, to be acts of love. This, I know, sounds like so many pious platitudes. But it really isn’t.

The central part of our Catholic Christian lives revolves around the sacrifice of the Mass, and to be more specific, the Consecration of the bread and wine. The priest says the words of Jesus over the bread and wine, “This is my Body”, and “This is my Blood”. To really understand the implications of these words for us, we need to step back about 5 or 10 minutes earlier in the Mass, to the Offertory. We hear the priest say the words, “Pray, brethren (all present), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father”.

What sacrifice did you just offer up? Was it a monetary offering? Maybe, it was some good action that you performed yesterday for someone else? Maybe it is a trial or problem, you are trying to cope with? All of these …our sufferings, our sacrifices, our lives… we offer up. They are our gifts to God. We know that they are not very striking, but they are the best that we have at this moment. Maybe, tomorrow, we will have more, maybe we can do more, and maybe we can do better. But right now, linked to each other as the Mystical Body of Christ, together with the priest, we actively offer these gifts to God. So, together we say,” May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church”. Our gifts, our lives are on that plate, together with the Bread, all being offered to God.

Then, a little later, we hear the priest imploring that these gifts are made holy, (everything being offered up, everything offered on that gold plate), that they become the Body and Blood of Jesus. And then, finally, joyfully, the moment has come, he repeats the words of Jesus, “Take this all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Somehow, some way, our trite, meaningless lives have taken on majesty, that none of us dared dream.

Our sufferings, our sacrifices, our sorrows, our lives are deemed worthy to be presented as gifts to God. And this is so, ONLY because we know that “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.” To this all heaven and earth sing out in a loud, joyful, triumphant voice, “AMEN”. We are united with Jesus.

We have come full circle, now. We end where we started this post. Jesus wants us to Be Him, to live our life, as He did, and to love, as He did. Live like there is no tomorrow. See the injustice of the world, see the sick, the guilty, the suffering, the proud, the pleasure seeker, and in all, see a suffering world. Don’t condemn, don’t dislike nor hate, for these are not the qualities that we wish to lay on the gold plate at Mass. See the need that is before you. What can you do to alleviate it? What can this Lent teach us? What can we do differently? What actions would we like to present to God, on that plate of gold?

.

1- John 14: 6

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Divine Mercy Sunday and You

This is the hour of great Mercy

This is the hour of great Mercy

I am at a loss for words. There is so much I want to say to you, and my tongue is tied. I want to hold you by your shoulders, look into your eyes, and tell you, “The time is now. All of us, we need to embrace Jesus in a way that we have never done before”. Love Him. Thank Him. Profess our sorrow for taking so long to embrace Him. Trust Him.

We don’t have the luxury of putting things off. We cannot wait until tomorrow or next week, or next year. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that the world is in so much turmoil? The climate of the earth is changing. There is so much unrest in the world. Evil is drawing its last breath. Each of us has to make a choice. I am not preaching the end of the world, or preaching calamity. I am just saying it is time to wake up, to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We cannot continue to make excuses for our lives and the manner in which we live.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II set aside the Sunday after Easter to celebrate the wondrous, infinite MERCY of Christ. How long can we continue to put off our embrace, our acceptance of his Mercy? He knows that we have problems, and that we have sinned and have turned away from His Goodness. But that is exactly why He came into this world, to save us. We must acknowledge our state of life, the way we are living. We must truly look at ourselves, and honestly see all of our shortcomings. It is only through this acknowledgement and acceptance of His love that we will truly find the peace that we seek.

On the cross, when His heart was opened with the spear, it was symbolic of the love and mercy that would flow out to the world, to you and me. But we, with our free will, can say either, “yes” or “no”. Reading these articles doesn’t make us better. Reading the Bible, even, does not make us better, if it is just words to us. We must give ourselves totally to Jesus, totally to our God. Trust our God. Accept His mandate to love ourselves, to love one another, to stop judging others. Christ said, “Judge not and ye shall not be judged?” Stop. Look at where you are right now. Look at the excuses we make for our life. I am too tired, I am too busy, and I need to work more. I need to exercise. I need, I need, I need. If all we do is take and look out for our own needs, our own concerns, then we are never giving of ourselves to others.

Does it embarrass you to speak about Jesus to others? Do you feel uncomfortable in talking religion? Does your belief in God embarrass you? When all is said and done, the whole reason we exist is to give back to our God. We need to use our God-given free will to express our love for Him, to thank Him, to honor Him. When all is said and done…this is our purpose in life. Each of us has a different path to walk. Each of us has a story to tell. The expression of that story is one of the infinite ways that love is given back to God. Why be ashamed of your story?

On the day we call Good Friday, humanity was “bought” back through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus, truly God and truly man, died for all mankind. We now are asked to accept or reject that sacrifice. Don’t be misled. It is not just a simple, “I accept”. No, it is more than that. It is understanding Who Jesus is. It is accepting what He says and what it means to us and our lives. It means looking at people not as obstacles, not as disgusting, not as annoyances, but as people needing love and care. It means looking at people as Jesus would look at them. Our life style will be changed forever.

Divine Mercy Sunday is the celebration of the mercy of God and His love for us. His promise to Saint Faustina was that His forgiveness, an ocean of mercy, would flow like a fount of water, if we would only ask for it. Realize that you are not alone and that we all have sinned and need forgiveness. Not one of us is without sin. The peace and joy that we are all searching for can be found in the heart of Jesus. Trust Him. Follow the Christ. Follow Jesus.

Here are some other Posts that have a similar theme. Click on any one of them:

1) Divine Mercy Sunday
2) Day of Divine Mercy
3) Mercy Sunday and Trust
4) Divine Mercy Sunday and Saint Faustina

through him 1

I would like to focus our attention on a portion of the Mass which, I believe, is not well-understood. But, before we go there, think about the start of your day. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, (or possibly, like me, retrieve some of them out of their soaking liquid). You then get dressed, go into the kitchen, have a cup of coffee, and maybe a Danish, or a donut. Kiss the husband or wife and the kids, and off to work you go. Wait a minute…let’s go back a bit. Did we forget something? Did we thank God for this day that is starting? Did we tell Him of our love? The prayer, The Morning Offering, goes a long way in doing all these things. In it, we tell Him, of our love, our joy, and most importantly, we dedicate all that we think, say and do that day, to Him. This day, there may be pain and suffering, but we offer that, as well. In our gratitude to Him, we tell Him that our day is dedicated to Him. However, you do know that if we say this in the morning, it makes it difficult to offer that finger gesture, that curse word, that flash of anger to Him. Doesn’t it? I guess we have to watch what we think, and say and do.

Okay, let’s move on. Say it is a Sunday, or a special occasion. This morning you are going to church, to Mass. It’s someone’s anniversary, or, someone who you love is very sick and you want to go to Mass, or, you are attending  a wedding and nuptial Mass, or it is simply a Sunday. What I am saying, here is, you find yourself at Mass. The readings are said. The priest’s sermon (homily) is given. And then, the priest begins the Offertory. (Oh, yeah, I know. That is when they take up the collection.) Unfortunately, THAT is the portion that was being alluded to in the first sentence up above. (Go up and re-read it if you want to. I will wait.) This portion of the Mass is not well-understood. Yes the collection is taken up, but much, much more is happening, something much more personal.

The Offertory is where we can offer ourselves (and mention all of our concerns, our intentions, like sick family members, the dying and deceased family and friends). But what is it that we are really offering? Do you remember earlier when we were talking about the Morning Offering? It was then that we offered to our God, our joy, our love, and every thought, word and action of the day. But isn’t that really like an ant saying to YOU, “Take these efforts of mine, they will be good for you.” Our intentions, no matter how noble; our offerings, no matter how fine; our lives, no matter how good… we are still like the ant giving what we have to Someone infinitely greater than ourselves. You might say, “Then why bother?”

We say that prayer in the morning, every day, so that, when we next attend Mass, we can put all of those offerings on the paten (the little gold plate) together with the bread that will rest on it. The monies collected (representing our sacrifices made to and for others), our thoughts, words and good actions of prior and future days, these are what we bring to the Mass. Our daily offerings are gathered up, and together with the bread and wine, are made holy, through Jesus. All of this is totally associated with the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross. The priest softly utters Christ’s words which He said at the Last Supper, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood”. By this far-sighted loving action, before His death, Jesus enables mankind to rise up from its depths and legitimately praise their God. These words will transform these natural, everyday items, resting on the paten, into Christ. But, you know our offerings are resting there, as well as the bread and wine. Our acts of love for one another, our concerns for others, our acts of generosity, all of these are transformed also. If we are capable of doing anything good, it is only because of the love of Jesus within us. Our lives, puny as they are, are made noble on that paten and they will be offered up to God. This is not blue-sky stuff. This is not make-believe. This is the love that God has for His children, His divine plan. We need Jesus to be in our lives, to be part of our lives. Otherwise, we are just so many other animals walking on this earth.

In this way, our insignificant lives become noble and suitable gifts to God, our Heavenly Father. The priest even says later on in the Mass, as he holds up the Consecrated Bread and Wine, now Jesus’ Body and Blood, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” To which we simply reply, “Amen”, (Yes, I know. Yes, I believe that.”) For we know, that without Jesus’ sacrifice, all of our morning offerings would be meaningless.

Be Me!

Jesuspic4x6

Other than rhyming, what else can be said about the topic? Hopefully, this post will take you through all the ramifications of being a Catholic Christian.  Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” -1 No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. With these nine words, Jesus is laying out for us how we are to live our lives. He is not saying imitate me. He is saying, quite forcefully, do what I do, and with my motives, with my concerns, with my goodness, with my love.

We don’t perform good actions so we can be seen, or recognized. We don’t perform acts of love for that warm and fuzzy feeling we get afterwards. We do good acts because we see a need and want to address it, to remedy it, to give love back to God. Our lives should be, must be, something we strive to be joyful about, to be wholesome, to be acts of love. This, I know, sounds like so many pious platitudes. But it isn’t.

The central part of our Catholic Christian lives revolves around the sacrifice of the Mass, and to be more specific, the Consecration of the bread and wine. The priest says the words of Jesus over the bread and wine, “This is my Body”, and “This is my Blood”. To really understand the implications of these words for us, we need to step back about 5 or 10 minutes earlier in the Mass, to the Offertory. We hear the priest say the words, “Pray, brethren (all present), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father”.

What sacrifice did you just offer up? Was it a monetary offering? Maybe, it was some good action that you performed yesterday for someone else? Maybe it is a trial or problem, you are trying to cope with? All of these …our sufferings, our sacrifices, our lives… we offer up. They are our gifts to God. We know that they are not very striking, but they are the best that we have at this moment.  Maybe, tomorrow, we will have more, maybe we can do more, and maybe we can do better. But right now, linked to each other as the Mystical Body of Christ, together with the priest, we actively offer these gifts to God. So, together we say,” May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church”. Our gifts, our lives are on that plate, together with the Bread, all being offered to God.

Then, a little later, we hear the priest imploring that these gifts are made holy, (everything being offered up, everything offered on that gold plate), that they become the Body and Blood of Jesus. And then, finally, joyfully, the moment has come, he repeats the words of Jesus, “Take this all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Somehow, some way, our trite, meaningless lives have taken on majesty, that none of us dared dream.

Our sufferings, our sacrifices, our sorrows, our lives are deemed worthy to be presented as gifts to God. And this is so, ONLY because we know that “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.” To this all heaven and earth sing out in a loud, joyful, triumphant voice, “AMEN”. We are united with Jesus.

We have come full circle, now. We end where we started this post. Jesus wants us to Be Him, to live our life, as He did, and to love, as He did. Live like there is no tomorrow. See the injustice of the world, see the sick, the guilty, the suffering, the proud, the pleasure seeker, and in all, see a suffering world. Don’t condemn, don’t dislike nor hate, for these are not the qualities that we wish to lay on the gold plate at Mass. See the need that is before you. What can you do to alleviate it? What can this Lent teach us? What can we do differently? What actions would we like to present to God?

.

1- John 14: 6

nothing separates

When was the last time you felt good about yourself? Do you remember what it feels like? Stop a moment, close your eyes and think back to when it was. This is something that is very difficult to do and much harder than we think. It seems that we are always able to remember when we were displeased with ourselves. That is something which almost comes naturally to us. But, feel good about ourselves??? That takes some extra effort.

Why do you think that is? Is it because of the way we were brought up? Do we think that we should always do better, and so are never happy with ourselves? Are our expectations of ourselves too high? Do we think that we are capable of doing everything and when we realize we can’t then we are disappointed? Is that what it is? Or maybe, as a child we were berated constantly, so much so, that we have a very poor image of ourselves. We now feel that nothing we do is acceptable.

This article is not about psychology. That is left to others more capable. We are not trying to find out why we are as we are. Whatever stage of development we are now in, is a given. We are as we are. The desire, however, to improve, to raise ourselves up out of these doldrums, that is what we wish to work on. How is this to be accomplished? Isn’t it true that when we look at ourselves and see what we say, what we do, how we treat others then we become ashamed? We don’t like what we see. We cannot accept ourselves.

We have to ask ourselves three very important questions:

(1) Why are we ashamed?
(2) Why don’t we like what we see in ourselves?
(3) Why can’t we accept ourselves?

Each of these three questions has the same answer at its base. The answers may sound different, but in reality are just different ways of looking at the same thing. The answers might  sound like this: I am better than that. I should know better. That is not who I want to be. All of these answers, however, are based on the same thing, namely, PRIDE. We can’t stand to think of ourselves as being flawed. But it doesn’t stop there. If we are flawed, not only can I not accept myself, but we feel that others won’t be able to either. This is how our thinking goes. And so we hide our deficiencies, our flaws. We deny that they exist. We cover them over with something so others won’t notice. And in the process, we begin to loathe ourselves even more, for we see the falseness inside ourselves. We see the extent we are willing to go to hide who we really are.

The answer to this problem is simply, “Jesus”. Before you say, “Oh, brother, here he goes again.” Think about these facts.  He saw you and me before we even existed. He knew how petty we could be, we would be. He felt the pain of our sins. He knew the price that had to be paid. And what does He say to His Father in heaven? “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He makes excuses for us to His heavenly Father. He suffers and dies for you and me. Why? Because He loves us, ACCEPTS us. We won’t find one person in our lifetime, who will know us as completely as He does and still love us. He sees our pettiness, our sinfulness, the evil in our hearts that we are ashamed of. He sees all of this and fiercely loves us, unconditionally loves us. He loves you and me. He even, dare I say it again, accepts us.

If He can accept you and me, in spite of all the evil that we are capable of doing, why can we not accept ourselves? God can accept us, but we can’t. Is our value system better than God’s? Are we better than God? It is time to put away the false pride that is eating us alive. Recognize that we, all of us, are truly a wayward people and instead of prancing around with this false pride, accept that Christ loves us and expects us to treat each other with kindness, love and respect. To do this means we have recognized that we, as well as all the people that we meet, are prone to making mistakes, to committing sins. We are flawed. And, just as Christ accepts us, we must accept ourselves … and others! It’s time to forget the foolishness of false pride and get on with living a real Christian Life.A life that glories in the fact that Jesus really does love us, that God knew what He was doing when He created us. His plan for us rests on our acceptance of ourselves, on our acceptance of His love, on our acceptance that God wants nothing more from us than our trust in Him. Our lives will follow the path He sees possible for us, only when we accept ourselves, as we are, and recognize that our strength, our goodness, our wholesomeness rests in Him.

jesus on trial

(Parables and Impact on Church and State)

“Jesus’ whole life, every word and action was His teaching.”-4 That is why we can’t just look at His miracles or the events touching Him. His whole life, blended together, was his teaching. Throughout that public life, He utilized one special form of teaching: parables. Simply put, parables are short stories depicting a human trait with some moral to be learned.

Many times in the parables, there are multiple people with whom we can identify. For example, in the Prodigal Son parable-5, we can identify ourselves with the erring son, the older brother, the father, or the servant. Each person’s role portrays something, some value that we can identify with. Jesus would use these stories to help the people understand their role in life, the direction their life is moving, the good or bad quality of their life. Whenever He used a parable it was not to condemn but rather to help the person come to a better understanding about themselves. Even in His teaching, his love for the person was of paramount importance. At the heart of each parable was the kernel seed of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, many of the parables would begin with the words, “The kingdom of God is like…” The parable would go on, not about what heaven was, nor where it was, but rather the dispositions needed to acquire it, to get there. As the Church (the people of God) matured down through the years, their understanding of some of the parables grew, as well. For example, the parable of the owner of the vineyard-6 paying the same full wages to those who came very late in the day was originally viewed as God’s mercy. Later, as the Church grew, she realized that it was deeper than that. At the heart of this parable was the teaching that nothing that we can do “earns” salvation. It is purely God’s gift. God calls everyone to the kingdom. How we respond to that call, how we accept that gift is what is critical. Before the break we used the phrase “this makes sense, therefore I believe”. Intellectually, it can make sense, but we cannot leave it there. To accept the kingdom is to place our trust in God. That, placing of our trust, is our response to God’s call.

In another parable we hear that the kingdom of God is the forgiveness of huge, un-payable debts of sin out of God’s mercy.-7 If God has forgiven us these huge debts of our sinfulness, it only stands to reason that we must forgive those debts that are owed to us. Why do we see the splinters of faults in others eyes, when we don’t see the beam protruding from our own eye? So, the kingdom of God will have the good and the bad in it, much like the parable of the net that indiscriminately gathers all kinds of fish.-8 Or, the kingdom is like the field that has wheat and weeds in it.-9 Both of these parables indicate that there will be a separation forever at the end.

To summarize this chapter, it is a glowing example of Jesus’ methodology of teaching. He gently loves us, and tries to urge us to look deeper into what the kingdom of God truly is. His love for us precedes everything else. He wants us to love Him back. He wants us to love our fellow man. Yes, we are sinful and lazy, but His love for us is always there. He died for us, so that we may live. Our acceptance of Him is something that will affect us the rest of our lives. It will affect how we live the rest of our lives and treat others. All of us are guilty of sin. No one can claim innocence on this charge. Because of this common guilt, it makes no sense to treat others as though they are less than us. And, through it all, Jesus (God) loves us and has forgiven us. If we accept all of this, then we accept the kingdom of God.

When I first read chapter five, in our book, I thought it was very dry. So, I read it again, and still again. I slowly realized the necessity of this chapter. It shows the backdrop of the time, into which Jesus came into the world. It shows the attitudes that were present, and why the peoples resisted so strongly the teachings of this Messiah. The Israelites did not expect a kingdom like the one preached by Jesus. Their kingdom was going to be one to overthrow the Roman tyranny. Their Messiah was to be a general, a great leader. Jesus was an enigma to both the Israelites and the Romans, as well. The Romans feared that this upstart Jesus would cause a revolution. But both factions were confused, since his words were that of peace and love.

The Hebrew peoples had grown accustomed to doing the letter of the law. The Torah spelled out everything for them: what they should eat, when they should eat, what they should pray; when they should pray. Life was simply a matter of doing exactly what the Hebrew Law said. If they did, then they would be pleasing to their God. There was no thought of internal moral convictions. You were righteous if you did what the law said. No more-no less. Judaism was a Theocracy: A nation ruled by God. Because of this, the high priest and the Sanhedrin ruled over all, because they were representatives of God. The Sanhedrin was a tribunal that was made up of members of the priestly class, Scribes, Doctors of the Law and the Elders. These last three groups were kind of the learned elite. However, among all the people, there was a great divide, caused by two diverse reactions to paganism.

On the one side were the Sadducees. They were religious but had no difficulty in associating with the pagans. Their group was made up of higher officials, merchants, property owners and priests. They held only to written law. If the law was mute on a point they felt that reason should decide. The other group was the Pharisees. They would not tolerate any dealings with the pagans. If it were not Judaic then there would be no tolerance of anything else. For the Pharisee, all law, written and oral, must control every aspect of human life. Most of the Doctors of Law were Pharisees.

Jesus seemed to be always caustic with the Pharisees. On one occasion, He called them “white washed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones.”-10 On another occasion, when asked why he ate with sinners, Jesus replied, “Those that are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”-11 Because of their blind obedience to the law, they frequently challenged Jesus on why He did things on the Sabbath. Why did He and His disciples pluck ears of wheat and knead them with their hands to make a rough meal on the Sabbath? Why did He work a miracle on the Sabbath? Did He not know the law and that no work was to be done on the Sabbath? To which Jesus replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, not Man for the Sabbath”.-12

It was in this period that Jesus lived. He was constantly being challenged by the authority of the day, both religious and political. Throughout it all, Jesus shows us how to address adversity. Whether it is persecution from others, people challenging our views, ridiculing our lives of temperance and modesty, or just dealing with the sorrows of life, He shows us that our eye must be fixed on Him, at all times. No other way can we survive as Christians. No other way will we want to live.

____________________________

-4 Believing in Jesus Chapter 4, Page 47

-5 Luke 15:11-32

-6 Matt 20:1-16

-7 Matt 18:23-25

-8 Matt 13;47-50

-9 Matt 13:24-30

-10 Matt 23:27b

-11 Mark 2:17

-12 Mark 2:27b

Back to RCIA: Index

OUR INTENTIONS

praying hands2

Yesterday morning at Mass, I was thinking of those relatives and friends for whom I was offering today’s mass. And I kind of got distracted. Why do we make these intentions? What are we expecting? For what purpose are we telling God about these people? Does He not know about their plight, already? Do we think that “SINCE IT IS I” that is making this request surely God will hear and answer it? Are we saying that the merits that I would normally receive from this Mass should be given to them, instead? This last seems plausible, until you think, “How does God distribute something that is already infinite”?

I will be the first to admit that I am really struggling here. This is beyond my scope of comprehension. However, having said that, I still would like to offer another idea, another possible reason. We could petition God to distribute the infinite merits of the Mass to the entire world, and all would be covered infinitely. No more lists of names would be required. No more trying to remember that special group of individuals. But this does not seem right. It seems to be… too clinical, too mathematical. We as a person are not involved. There is no personal involvement, no love, nor commitment. God could snap His fingers and instantly all the problems of the world could go away. But He doesn’t. Why? He doesn’t want it to happen that way. He doesn’t want to remove our free will, our free commitment. He needs….us???

Could it be that when we sit or kneel in the pew and silently mention to God our worries about friends, our concerns about those we love, there is a real unmistakable reason. Could it be that we are silently telling God, all the people who we are mentioning in our intentions WE will try to bring Him to them, today? We will go visit them. We will truly pray for each throughout the day. We will help them in whatever struggles we perceive they are having. Not so much as “I AM DOING THIS”, but rather, “Please God, work through my actions. Help me say the right words, the consoling words, the uplifting words that this person or that person needs. If I am in a position to remove a problem, a weight, a concern, give me the guidance, the love, the courage to do so”.

The Blessed Sacrament of the Mass, even Christianity itself, is not something to be attended nor just enrolled in. As dynamic as Jesus’ love is for us so, too, our love for others must also be dynamic. I am afraid that very often we leave a Mass with a good feeling of having done our duty, of having done something that was painful, but we did it anyway. And we are filled with self-justification. The coming together at Mass, the whole concept of being a Catholic Christian, is to rejoice in the union with Jesus and with each other. We share a joy, a love for our brothers and sisters. This joy, this sharing is singularly visible when we attend Mass. We used to shake hands and say, “hello” to people sitting around us. Why? Why would we do something like that? We would do that, for no other reason than to visibly show this communal friendship. Without that communal friendship we have no community. If there is someone in that church that you cannot look at, speak to, or truly smile at, then your participation in that community is not all that it could or should be.

What does all of this have to do with intentions made before the Mass even begins? The Mass, Catholic Christianity, is all about brotherhood. We smile at and we embrace those who are present. We bond with them. But what of those who are suffering? Are unable to attend? Do not wish to attend? For whatever reason, they are not physically or spiritually present this week or this month? These people that we pray for (they may even be beside us, at Mass) we are telling the Christ that we will try to dispose ourselves today, so that He can act through us, bring the joy of this Mass to them. That is a major commitment on our part. Because, for Jesus to act through us, people must see Him in our actions, hear Him in our words, feel Him in our love and concern. This is no small task. We cannot feign love. We cannot pretend to be concerned about people. People will see right through our hypocrisy and will hold us and all that we stand for, at arm’s length, and thus defeating the whole concept of Christianity. To truly present Christ to a hurting, suffering world that we pray for, we must embrace it tightly. We must embrace the lame and the lazy, the blind and the dirty. Everyone is our brother. Everyone is our sister. Their condition, their disposition is not ours to judge but to embrace. We remember them before Mass, so that we can love and embrace them after Mass.

People We Meet

I was thinking about people, recently. No one in particular, just people. They pop in and out of our lives. Some make a difference, some just appear and are gone, and some sadly, we hardly notice. I will pose you an example. Think of a doctor, married, middle aged, and has two children in grammar school. The doctor owns two cars, a house, and maybe he/she even lives on your street. The family seems to be happy and thriving.

So now, you know someone else, right? ………………Wrong??!!? What else do you know about your next door neighbor, or the person down the street? Do you know what they really like? How about what bothers them? What hurts them to even think about? What pains and sorrows do they have? What silently do they think about, and worry about before falling off to sleep?  Who is sick in their family? What aspect of life are they struggling with? What are they struggling to overcome? These and millions of other things invade their lives, but we don’t know about, or possibly, don’t even care about them.

Think of someone you see on the television. He or she is not really there in the same room with you. It is just a series of electronic dots of varying colors that represent a person to you. And if you like or dislike that person who is represented on TV, then you will instinctively relive a good or bad emotional feeling about that person. AND…. he/she is not even in the same room with you.

The point I am trying to make here is that we feel towards people and in that feeling, we think we know that person. We don’t have a clue what they are struggling with. We don’t care what they are struggling with. We only can see and feel our needs, our feelings. These are what we lay on the people that we meet. I don’t like you, because you have a body odor, and I will shun you. You are not my color, so I don’t trust you. I don’t like your smile, so I don’t like you. You are filthy, so I will avoid you. People…. We are portraying our feelings and treating these people accordingly.

Think of how Jesus treated people. He bathed them. He healed them. He cried over them. He felt their agony and wept. He saw their problems and they affected Jesus accordingly. We, on the other hand, see OUR feelings and treat people accordingly. In that brief little statement is the huge difference, the wide gap that separates us from a true Christian life. In Matt. 11: 29, we read, “…and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls”. In short, be as Christ is and we will find peace. And again, in Luke 18:9-25, which begins with, “…And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable: …” In which, Jesus compares those who judge others with those who judge only themselves.

No matter who we think we are, or what we think we are, each one of us has so much to change in our lives. The best way I can think of to help me change my attitudes towards others is to think of Jesus being inside them. If we open our eyes and see Jesus needing water to bathe, won’t we give it to Him? If we see Jesus as a person of different color than our own, wouldn’t we still trust Him? If His smile seemed somewhat off, wouldn’t we make excuses for Him? We see Jesus fallen and lying in a filthy, smelly mess, would we not cradle Him in our arms and wipe the dirt from His face? Jesus suffers today, just as He did when carrying the cross. The trouble is today is just like that time. The only ones who seem to help are those who are forced to do so, or do so because it is their job.

Maybe, it is time to forget OUR feelings, and feel the hurt and shame and suffering of those around us. It may take the rest of our lives to change our ways. For that matter, our whole life has been spent bringing us to where we are right now. Maybe now is the time to nudge our thoughts into a slightly different direction. Maybe now is the time to change our thoughts, our way of thinking about others and to begin seeing Jesus in the people around us, in the people on TV. The trouble is, we love Jesus in the abstract. Can we love Him in the real people we meet and see every day? He is there with arms extended to receive us. How long can we ignore Him?

On my way over to the hospital today, I felt a complete emptiness inside. This void inside seemed so great, I truly wondered what I was doing going to talk to hospital patients. How could I speak to them of Christ’s love? How could I let them know of the joy that fills us when He embraces us? I felt as joyous and as loving as the street signs I was passing. I truly questioned whether it was right for me to go there, today. Out of nowhere, a gentle thought came across my mind. “It isn’t about YOU”. Talk about being struck between the eyes.  It doesn’t matter what I feel; what I think; what I want. Serving our Lord and God, means we just step out of the way and let Him work through us.

At Mass, today, a lot was said about being in the presence of God. I tried picturing being there in God’s presence. I definitely could not see myself high-fiving God, or even asking Him how He was today. I could only picture myself standing, kneeling, hovering in the back, and not daring to raise my eyes. I believe the two thoughts are strikingly similar. It’s not about us…and… how we act when we find ourselves in the presence of God, If we blend those two thoughts together, a singular thought jumps out at us. When in the presence of God, we must be struck with our own puniness. How insignificant we, probably, must feel in the presence of the Almighty. Our actions at that time, whatever they are, surely must be filled with love, and awe. We probably desire to do perfectly, everything we can. This desire for perfection does not stem from our unworthiness, but rather, anything short of perfection would be out of place. And so we strive, at that moment, to be the person that God has envisioned us being, throughout all eternity.

This leads us back to the original thought. IT’s NOT ABOUT US. How does God envision us? What are His expectations? Does He expect us to be the chairman of the board? Does He think of us as the leaders, who are to make sense out of this world? Will He be upset, if we don’t reach the heights that we think we must? Just what does God want from us? What does He want us to achieve?

Throughout all of creation, God knew that He would be sending His Son. He knew that an example of how to live our lives would be required. Mankind may have intelligence, but we can also let our baser instincts cloud that intelligence. And so, in time, He sends Jesus to be the example, to show us how to live, how to act, how to love one another. To Thomas’ question, “Lord, how can we know the way?” Jesus tells him, and us, the plan to follow, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me”.-1  Nothing that we do, or say, or feel can add anything more to what Jesus has already given us. The path, the plan, is simple…Follow Jesus. He has demonstrated how we are to treat one another. He has, without a doubt, given His all for mankind. Through our inter-connection with each other, we know and experience the goodness and love that is Jesus. We know the way our lives must go.

The question is there for each of us, when we get caught up in ourselves. What shall I say? What should I do? What is expected of me? Why do I feel so empty? Why do these things keep happening to me?  These questions arise from where we stand, in front of a mirror, admiring ourselves, only to realize that we are greatly, woefully lacking.

Or, do we stand in front of God, no longer contemplating ourselves, but in awe of His beauty and love, striving for a perfection of which, anything less would be out of place. Where we stand does make a difference. Our attitude on ourselves, each other, and our world is vastly affected. And so, it is of paramount importance to us, that we reflect on the implications of what our answer means, when we ask, “Where do I stand”?

-1 John 14,6

A Letter to Aunt Molly


Dear Aunt Molly,

There are times in our lives when words cannot reflect the ache that we feel in our heart. We know what we are experiencing, but to form these feelings into words seems to be an insurmountable task. Whenever we experience the loss of a family member, a loved one who has been very close to us, we feel that deprivation. It seems that we can only focus our thoughts on what we have lost, on what we had and will never have again.  It is during these times that we seem to go about our lives as if in a cloud. We know that something else is beyond this time, but we cannot see what it is through the mist of our tears. This is when we must live on trust. A trust that tells us that our friends will be there for us; a trust that comfort and consolation will once again, fill our hearts; a trust in a God who loves us and will hold us ever closer to His heart.

We walk on this earth for one reason, and one reason only. God has breathed into each of us a life so that we can experience the fulfillment of His love, the fulfillment of bringing His love to others. This is a task that every person on this earth has. Each act of love that we perform draws us closer to being united with our God. I believe that Rose completed all the acts of love required of her on this earth. God has drawn her back to Himself, completing the act of creation He had started with her.

The love you have for each other is a constant, it will always be there. Her love for you and family will never cease. Her death does not interrupt her love. Your lives have been intertwined with love and happiness and even sadness. And, through all of your experiences together, you grew together. Love is like that. Love draws us towards God and towards each other.

But what can be said of the heartache that we still feel inside us? How do we address the longing, the hurt which wells up in our throats and almost prevents us from swallowing? How do we deal with that? It is a normal response. It is a sadness that cries out for the loved one. We don’t want the separation. We will miss the shared experiences.

It is at times like this when our faith will rescue us. Yes, we hurt, but its focus is one-sided. We see our life without. We see joys missed. We see experiences no longer shared. These are normal, don’t get me wrong, but we can and should look through the eyes of faith. Christ’s death allowed us to see that suffering on earth is not to be shunned but accepted. His Resurrection enabled us to see that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. His love for us enables us to love one another, and in so doing, unite with others and to God.

So you see, Aunt Molly, the love that each of you had for one another has blossomed into an eternal joy. Rose will always be with you. Your shared memories, your moments of laughter and sadness, the times you worried together, in all of these, Rose is still with you. Cherish these. Don’t let them fade. Your familial love has united each of you with each other and to God. Be at peace. She is.

This rather personal letter is made public for all the Aunt Mollies of the world, both male and female, who are going through a time of suffering and loss. The hope is that you may find some consolation within.

Worries In Our Lives

When was the last time you didn’t have a care or worry in the world? Think back, when was it? It was a time when you didn’t worry about job, or salary; bills and debts did not exist; responsibilities and should’s and ought to’s were not part of your thought process. The last time I can remember I must have been five or six running down the street in North Philadelphia to see my playmates. How about you?

It is a shame since many times we put off thinking about God, praying to Him…because we have so many other things on our mind. I will start going back to Mass, soon, but not right now. I have so many things to do, so many thoughts in my head. Aren’t we really saying, “Mass isn’t the most important aspect of my life? God will understand, because He sees how busy I am?” What is more important than being united with our God? If we think this way, that God can take a back seat and wait, then maybe, we don’t really understand how important He is to our life. Period.

We amass all of these worries and concerns, and then parade them around in our mind as justifying reasons as to why we cannot go to Mass. They become the mechanism why we cannot see good in others, why we should not help those less fortunate. “I am too busy. I don’t feel comfortable around people like that. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” And on it goes, our excuses build up and soon we actually believe these excuses to be real, to be formidable.  So, when we say, “I will go back to Mass, as soon as these concerns are over…,” realize that the last time we were free of concerns was…when??

It is the nature of man, to worry, to fret. It is part of our life. It is almost innate in us. So there must be another way around this issue. Why must our worries be over before we speak to God? Why do all the items in our to-do list have to be checked off, before we can focus on our union with our God? They don’t have to be. It is us! We want order in our lives, so much that we are willing to put off the most important relationship for our lives. But of course, we don’t think of it as so, because … there are so many other things in our life that concern us.

At the end of chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 28-30 speak directly to this point. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Don’t wait until the trials, and problems and money worries, and sicknesses and everything else that oppress us, end. Don’t wait. Run to Him; Seek Him out. Lay these burdens that are suffocating you, at His feet. “Lord, I can’t bear them any more. I am so troubled by all of this.” THIS IS your prayer. This is how you seek Him out. In two small sentences you present yourself, as you are. A person that is seeking, troubled, weighed down, and confused. There are no pretenses here. This is who I am right now, Lord. Help me. Don’t expect the troubles and problems to magically disappear. Don’t expect magic. Expect peace. Your prayer is for peace, not solutions. Solutions will solve one problem. Peace will be your strength in all of your battles. Christ, who loves you, who hears you, who has told you to do just so, will flood your mind and soul with peace. The problems may still be there, but they are no longer insurmountable. You have peace within. And in that peace, in that calm comes the realization that our life is truly meaningless without Jesus, without God in our lives. And with this realization, we know that all of life’s burdens are not mighty majestic mountains, but merely speed bumps that crop up from time to time.

Triggers in Our Lives

Throughout our lives we are faced with making decisions on how to improve things. Every year at tax time, we see our monies in and monies out. We pay close attention to dollars saved and spent. Based on these findings we make certain adjustments. Every six months or yearly we take our car to get inspected and tuned up. At work we are reviewed by our management and suggestions are made to help us advance in the company. The list goes on and on and seems endless. Most of these are triggered by a date or an anniversary of something. In short, we know it is time to do something, to improve something.

What triggers do we use to evaluate our spiritual progress? A retreat? A Holy Day? A death in the family? A marriage? How do we assess our friendship with Jesus? How do we know that our bonds are getting closer to our Savior and Redeemer? This is a difficult situation. On the one hand, we cannot just assume that because days are going by we are getting closer to Him. It might even seem presumptuous of us to think along these lines. On the other hand, we know ourselves and we see all the areas that need improvement. Our struggles seem to pulling us farther away.

Let’s take a look at one area of our lives that is with us always, our perceptions of others. You see someone of another race walking in your direction, what are your first thoughts? The dirty, unwashed beggar, you see at the corner, holding up a card board sign asking you to, “Please help”, what are your first thoughts? The woman in the bank or grocery store, dressed with a veil from head to toe, what first thoughts does she prompt in you? The noisy neighbor, the unruly child, the son or daughter that seems to do just the opposite of what you want, what do they prompt in you? Every person that we see on the street, in the store, in our lives, all of them prompt in us a first thought, our perception of them.

We cannot go to church on Sunday declaring to Jesus how much we love Him and then go out and harbor these first thoughts of others. John chapter 4, verse 20 says it clearly enough for us, “For he that does not love his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he does not see?” Our first thoughts of others, our perceptions of others, they portray the stereotyped images that we have built up in our lives. These images are holding us back and we may not even realize it.

In each person that we meet in our lives, the suffering Jesus resides. Each person is struggling as we are. They have the same basic concerns that we have. They, too, wish to be loved, wish they were better. They, like us, are trying to figure out the HOW. We must become aware of these perceptions that we have, when they occur, not the day after. Instead of wrapping ourselves tighter for protection, or aloofness, or disdain, try a smile, a kind word, a prayer. Be careful though, of feeling justified if you should do this. They are brought into our lives not so we will feel good, but so we can provide them comfort. We can give Jesus what He needs for that person.

These people are letting us know how we can truly be a Christian. They are if you will, our daily triggers that let us know our progress or stagnancy in following Christ. Around 200 A.D, Tertullian cited, “See how these Christians love one another.” This remark was posed in stark contrast to the hatred and killing that their pagan persecutors were filled with. How well do we love one another? Don’t know? Just wait a minute. Another trigger will pass by shortly.

Easter Vigil

For some reason, prominent in my mind today is Jesus lying motionless in his tomb. The horrible events of yesterday are over. All the commotion and butchery, all the insults and pain have subsided. The coolness of the cave, probably even a little damp, seems to offer some comfort, some balm to the raw wounds of His tortured body. The deafening silence seems in awe of Him, Who is laid there.

He, who taught us every day of His life, who preached by word and example how our lives are to be lived, what does He wish to show us now, as He lies there quietly, motionless? Soon there will be the Resurrection. Soon there will be the proof that He would indeed rebuild the temple that was destroyed. But right now, as He lies there motionless, what lesson, what insight can we glean?

By dying yesterday, by willingly giving up His life, He took upon Himself all the sins of the world. Everyone’s, yours and mine, He shouldered. This is what redemption required. One sacrificial lamb, the Christ, would be offered up for the sins of mankind. By our Baptism into Christ, we acknowledge that we are sinners. And, bearing the stains of sin we needed to be washed free of the effects of our misdeeds. Regardless of when the baptism was, when we were young, or in the recent past, every day we live we acknowledge our indebtedness to Jesus.

Today, though, right now, there is no movement, no preaching, and no miracles. He lies there still, as though He is waiting for something to happen. Maybe today is for us. Maybe, today is our day to feel the pain, the sorrow, the shame, that our lives have caused. Maybe today we are to focus on where our lives are headed, to recognize that there are areas in our life that need to change. What has transpired over these two days was necessary because of mankind, us. Use this time to contemplate where your life is going. How important are these events to us? Do we really see and understand that Jesus is dying for US? His conquering evil and death is so that we shall be able to rise with Him tomorrow in glory?

After reading this, close your eyes. Picture yourself there in the small cave with the buried Jesus. It is just you and the lifeless body of Jesus. There is no noise, very little, if any, light. You have witnessed the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, the mock trial, the scourging, and the crucifixion. What do you feel? What are your thoughts? Here is a man who died for you! He suffered intensely, so that you would not. Does the direction of your life change? Does it need to change? What one thing can we do to unite ourselves completely with Jesus? What will show our total acceptance of Jesus? It is to have the same love and concern for others that Jesus has for us. Then, and only then, do we reflect Christ. Then, and only then, can we consider ourselves ready for the Resurrection.

Good Friday

Leaving the Last Supper, the twelve, Jesus and the remaining eleven, walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, the Christ was reduced to tears and fear. His humanity was once again evident. Why a man? Why this man? Was it really necessary that He die? Is God so demanding? What would be accomplished? To answer these questions, let us step back and quickly look at what has led to this state.

Someone, (Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve), defied the will of God. Using the free will that God had given them, they chose to use it in defiance, as we do, even today.  In so doing they paved the way for a weakened mankind to defy God. This action brought evil, sickness and death into the world. Throughout time this evil, this cancer grew and continues to grow and spread. To restore the balance in the universe, to restore justice, a sacrifice has to be made. What could offset the evil, the hatred, the murder, the lust, the continuing disregard of God and His Goodness, all of which built up over thousands of years? A god must suffer and die. But, then, God would not be God, if he could suffer and die. A man, a God-man, a person so perfect that He knew not sin would have to the sacrificial lamb.  He would have to be the sacrifice. And so, from all eternity we have Jesus designated for the task of saving mankind from itself.

All of this defies logic. It sounds like a fairy tale. But here is where our faith must bridge the gap. A loving, caring God wants man to freely love Him and so gives him free will. That it is possible that man can choose to turn his back on God, and does, is the price of free will. We have been given a gift. How we use it is totally dependent on us.

The sad part of this is that we, all of us, have sinned. Maybe it was a slight disagreement, or a heated argument, or a murderous attack. Maybe it was stealing a nickel, or something of much greater value. Maybe it was a desire, a lust, an adulterous relationship. Small or big, our sins are added onto the heap of mankind’s willful self-serving. Restoration of order in the universe must be accomplished. If it is not restored, if it is ignored, then God could not be perfect, could not be just, could not be God.

So, here we are in Gethsemane, the apostles , asleep, Jesus, afraid and in tears. We gather our clubs and go after this Man. His agony, His scourging, His pain and torture, and ultimately His death will all take place very soon. Which of these things are we responsible for? Surely, my evil was not this huge.  I am not a mass murderer, like Hitler. Mine was just a small, minor transgression. But, Jesus is suffering for ALL mankind. You and I are part of that group. Our transgressions, big and small are part of this trash heap that He is paying the price for. The pain in His muscles, the flesh being torn, the punches, the insults, the mockery, the nailing to the cross, we are responsible for these. And his response to all of this? “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. He makes excuses for us.

It is much easier to think of all of this as a fairy tale. It didn’t really happen, so I don’t have to be concerned about it. Let me shove it to the back regions of my mind, where my thoughts rarely go. … But it did happen. We are responsible. For us to make amends we have to honestly look at Jesus and see what He did for us and why. Realize that He did this for us. Our free will must again come into play. We must use it now to recognize our guilt, our complicity in this tragedy. With our free will, Jesus wants us to recognize and admit our guilt, accept His act of Love and freely give our love and concern to the rest of mankind. If we do this, we show our love to Him. We give back to God our love using our free will.

Holy Thursday

The Gospel of today, (John 13, 1-15) recounts the washing of the Disciples feet. The last three verses, pretty much say it all what Jesus is teaching us. “You call me, Master, and Lord: and you say well, for so I am. If I then, being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet: you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.”

The foot is considered by many to be the most ignoble part of the body. It trudges heavily in the dust of the earth. Because of its distance from the hands, it is the hardest to clean. Its sole purpose is to take us from one place to another. Unlike the hand that creates and sculpts, or the tongue that sings and praises, or the eyes that see the wonders of the world, or the ear that hears the birds sing, the foot is our beast of burden. It takes us where we want to go.

To wash another’s foot, their lowliest part of the body, is to show that person that you hold them in higher regard than yourself. What is Jesus telling us, by washing His Disciples feet? This is not what we would call grand-standing. If we know Jesus, nothing He does is just for show. A message is being sent to them… and to us. If He is willing to wash our feet, to suffer and die for us, how are we to regard each other? Who among us is greater than Jesus? Later on in the chapter, Jesus tells them that He has given them a new commandment; they are to love one another as He has loved them.

The last Supper was truly a most memorable event. We are told to treat others with love and respect. We are told to love them as Jesus loves us. It is demonstrated to us to what lengths we should be willing to go for others, even to the extent of washing their feet. This is to let us realize that we cannot put on airs. We cannot look down on anyone, even those that have (in our opinion) made a mess of their lives. Again, we hear Christ’s words admonishing us that he, who is without sin, cast the first stone.

When will we get it? When will we understand that all of us are struggling, all of us have problems or pasts of which we are ashamed. We don’t want anyone to know how ugly we can be, how ugly we have been. Instead, we do everything in our power to appear “normal”, to have people look up to us. Beware of pride. It has taken down many before us. It is so subtle we don’t even realize that it has taken hold of us.

The people that we meet and greet are struggling like us. Don’t look at their clothes. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t wonder about their cleanliness. Look at their eyes. Their eyes are the windows to their soul. They are people, as lonely, as confused, as hurting as you. They are trying, like you, to understand where their lives are going, where it all fits in. Love them. Be kind to them.  We are to love them, all of them, as Jesus has loved us.

One of You Will Betray Me

The Gospel today, focuses squarely on Judas Iscariot. Why? Why not Peter, as well? Both men turned their backs on Jesus. Peter with his denial and Judas with his betrayal, both spurned the Christ. In effect, both men wanted nothing to do with Jesus either out of fear or out of greed.

The only difference between the two is faith. Though both had fallen, as all of us do, Peter never relinquished his faith in Jesus. The realization, of how great his offense was, reduced Peter to tears. And in his sorrow, in his time of trial, he fled back to Jesus who was waiting for him. Judas, on the other hand, on his realization of the magnanimity of his offense, despaired. One, relying on his faith in Jesus, returned with sincere sorrow, grateful in that faith that he would be forgiven. Judas had no such strength to fall back on. His faith in material things delivered no such solace. With no reliance on Jesus, his life proved to be empty, meaningless and he sought the coward’s way out, he hung himself.

No one is perfect. Neither you nor I can point our incriminating finger at Judas without turning that same finger back upon ourselves. Christ said it, Himself, “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…”-1  This is not an attempt to soften our own negligence, to make light of our own capricious living. We are all struggling to bring our lives into accordance with God. Yes, He understands our frailty. But our weakness cannot be our excuse. Our lives will always be a continuing struggle. Life is a struggle to excel, to succeed, to grow.

In what are we struggling to excel? To succeed? To grow? That is the important aspect of our lives. If material things are of paramount importance to us, then in that, we have placed our faith. What occupies our main focus during the day? Then in that, we have placed our faith. It is not rocket science. What do we want? What do we desire? What moves us, and motivates us? That, and only that, will show us what our primary concern is. Yes, we should be attentive to our finances, our children, our home, and our jobs. But these concerns must always be placed within our trust in God, our faith in a loving, caring God. We can, like Peter, place our trust in Jesus. Or, we can place our trust in things. What will warm you the most? Which will comfort you in your time of need?

-1 John, 8, 7

Continuing our look at Jesus’ humanity, we see in today’s Gospel Jesus revealing to the Apostles that one of them will betray Him. A friend, a follower, not only walks away, but is the mechanism that enables Jesus’ enemies to capture Him. Someone who Jesus walked and talked with, someone he had taught for three years, they ate and laughed together; Judas turned his back on Him and wanted to be with him no more. How this must pierce Jesus’ heart? The ache inside, the need to cry, the tightness in His throat… how this betrayal must have hurt Him.

We can look on this and say it was a necessary evil. It had to happen. Judas made a mistake. He thought he was doing something that would eventually advance the cause of Jesus. But, we really cannot explain it away, nor, should we. If we explain this away, then we will explain away our own failings, our own betrayals, our own “necessary evils”.

This is, however, one more time that Jesus shows us how we are to deal with the trials of our day. He could have thrown up his hands and shouted, “This is useless”, “Nobody seems to care”, “The heck with him”. But no, all He says is, “What you have to do, do quickly”. No verbal assault. No recriminations. No judgment. He sees the weakness, He understands the weakness, and yet He loves. In spite of the human hurt that must have been felt, He loves.

Each one of us has played the role of Judas at some point in our lives. It may not have been as drastic, or maybe it was, but the point is that our lives are full of hills and valleys. We valiantly strive towards our God and then again, we flee Him. Through all of this, He loves us, He understands. He patiently waits for us to return to Him.

We, all of us, every person that we know and meet have turned our collective back on Jesus. We do this time and time again…and we don’t even realize it. “Yes, I know I have sinned, but look at THAT person…” We just did it again! We turned our back on Jesus. We sit smugly, with moral superiority, judging others, while refusing to look within, at ourselves. In that judgment, we are saying we really aren’t that bad, at least not as bad as that person. If that is the case, then there must be levels of redemption.  Some need it more than others? Are we not saying too, that we don’t need Jesus, as much as other people do? We don’t need salvation, redemption as much as others? The other person does, but we don’t.

This obviously, is false, but our actions, how we live our lives, how we treat others seems to point in that direction. Each time a son or a daughter, a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbor, a co-worker, a person that we see on the street, each time we make a judgment on any one of these, we deny them the love of Jesus. We deny that Jesus’ way of life is anything but a pipe dream. Once again, we betray Jesus.

Humanity of Jesus

As we enter into Holy Week, let’s focus on the humanity of Jesus. Too often, we think only of the divinity and we lose appreciation of what Jesus went through. It is almost like we see a person drifting through time, being a part of it but yet not being affected by it.

He lived and died. He smiled, laughed, and cried. He was amazed at other people’s goodness. And, He was saddened by their heartlessness and cruelty to others. Yes, He was truly human, experiencing all of the emotions that you and I feel.

Yesterday, we celebrated His processional entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey as people laid down palm branches before Him. From here, however, it is all going to go downhill, speaking in human terms. How could there be such a turnaround in so short a period of time? Such is the fickleness of mankind. We, all of us, are swayed by the winds of change very easily. One moment, we are ready to go into battle behind our leader. “Peter saith to him: Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee.”-1    And the next moment, “But he began to curse and to swear, saying; I know not this man of whom you speak.”-2  One moment we are singing out, “Hosannas” and the next moment we are shouting, “Crucify Him”.

In spite of all of this capricious vacillation on our part, Jesus’ love never ceases. It is like He is looking at us, as He would His little children. He knows we mean well, but are not strong enough to stand behind our convictions. He is as human as we are. He understands. In the garden of Gethsemane, near the Kedron brook,

His human body was racked with fear and trembling. He prayed, “Father, if it is possible let this pass from me.” He was human. He didn’t want the pain and torture that was coming, any more than you or I would. His agony is so complete that He sweats blood. And yet, in the end, He acquiesces. “Not my will, but yours be done”.

It is this humanity that we must focus on, during this time. There are many things in our lives that are disdainful, are torturous; we wish to flee, to avoid. There are so many situations that we want to undo, to correct, but we cannot. It is necessary, at times, for us to recognize that some challenges are meant to be faced. Instead of fleeing, of running from them, it is necessary for us to stop and turn and face them. We must recognize them for what they are, namely, times of trial that are meant to shape us, and prepare us for the next plateau. God willingly and lovingly allows these times in our lives. Through them we can feel God’s presence and grow closer to Him. Without them, we remain anchored in one place, never getting any closer to our God. It is difficult but necessary for us to voice the words, “Not my will, but yours be done”.

-1 Mark 26, 35

-2 Mark 14, 71

 

Mercy Sunday and Trust

First I want to apologize for having published only one post over the first two weeks of April. Many other things have occupied my attention and my time. I will try to do better over the remainder of the month.

Last year around this time, thesteppingstones wrote about “Divine Mercy Sunday and Saint Faustina”. Also published was “Divine Mercy Sunday”. (Click on either publication to go directly to it.)  It is in that  last publication that the following words were quoted:

I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened.” (Diary, 699).

The Divine Mercy Novena begins on Good Friday and extends to the Sunday after Easter. By clicking on Chaplet and the Novena you can go directly to these prayers. Both can and probably should be recited every day. But a strong effort should be made by us to recite and pray these special prayers from Good Friday to the Sunday after Easter.

This time of Grace seems to be most special to Our Lord. It is He who urges us to return to the fount of His Goodness, His Love. It is He who wishes us to return to the simplicity of life and the trust of little children. You need not be a harbinger of doom to recognize that our civilization is seeking everything it possibly can that leads it away from the Christ and towards its own destruction.

Jesus said time and time again, that we should be as little children, and to let the children come to Him. What is it that makes a child, a child? At the core of every child is it not TRUST? Jesus asks us to do nothing more than trust Him, lay our lives out before Him. Instead of wealth, or material things, or prestige, or position, let us trust Him and His goodness. If your child trusts you, will you not do everything you can to put your arms around them and protect them? It is the same with Jesus?

First and Last

There is a very human and warm Gospel passage-1 in today’s Mass. The mother of the sons of Zebedee, (James and John) asks Jesus that her two sons be allowed to sit at His right and left side. Isn’t this really a very natural and motherly trait, wanting the best for her children and willing to do anything to help them?

But, Jesus turns to them and tells them that they don’t realize what is necessary for them to do to accomplish what they are asking. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” These words echo down through the ages to all of us. What are we willing to do, to tolerate, to endure for the prize? Very often we want the accolades, the notoriety, and the fame. We want our lives to be comfortable, not plagued with difficulties. We want to be recognized and seen as someone special. But what makes someone special? Jesus tells us bluntly, “…Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”.

Well there it is the formula that gains the prize. How simple is that? We cannot covet the accolades, the notoriety or the fame. This is not the way to the prize. This is not why Jesus came into this world, to teach us to strive for success and glory. How many times, how many ways does Jesus warn us with His words and Life, not to seek out the first position but the last? He goes on to tell them, “…that even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” (I think it rather humorous that the other Apostles became indignant at James and John. They probably wanted those prized positions for themselves??)

If we are honest with ourselves, if we view our lives without those rose colored glasses, we see how picky and trite we can be. We look at people who are different from us and … look away. The unwashed, the dirty, the people who wear their clothes differently than we would, the people who don’t act the way we think they should, all of these we look down our noses at. We judge them to be problems. But, we don’t judge our problems. Who are we that we can treat them with little or no concern? Are we not all struggling to live our lives with a sense of decency and goodness? Ahh.. There is the problem! We don’t judge ourselves. We don’t do any introspection of ourselves. We don’t critically look at our way of life. So, how can we possibly see that our lives are struggling to achieve decency and goodness, if we don’t look critically at our actions, our motives, and our judgments?

Jesus wants us to follow Him. He has shown us the way. But before we can make that first step along His path, we have to place our trust and love in Him. We must love Him enough; trust Him enough that we can face our weaknesses. It is only through Him that we gain the freedom to accept ourselves, with our failings. It is only through Him that we gain the courage to judge ourselves and see ourselves as we are. Then, and only then, in seeing our own frailty and knowing that He still loves us, do we realize that all the people that we meet, ALL of them are loved and struggling. What we do then is….

-1 (Matthew 20: 17 – 28)

Jesus and Now

Oh, the beauty and simplicity of the Bible. Today’s Gospel (Luke 5:27-32) says in very simple words, why Jesus came to mankind.  Read the cited passage, but if you don’t have the time to look it up, verses 30 to 32 say it all. “And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

There, in less than 50 words, Jesus tells us, “I know you need help. It is for this reason, I have come to you. Trust Me. Acknowledge and confess your guilt, your confusion.” He came into this world for sinners, you and me. When will we recognize our plight? When will we admit that we are not the perfect person, we want others to think we are? We spoke yesterday of hiding behind a mask. We protect the illusion of goodness and propriety, at all costs.

And Jesus patiently waits for us. He waits for us to hear, really hear, His words and understand that He is speaking directly to us. We seek out so many things that are unimportant. We let them occupy our time, our thoughts and our energies. And that which is most important, namely, our acceptance of His words, our belief in His words, our living our lives based on His words, these we relegate to a dusty corner in our life.

All we need to do is go to The Physician. Tell Him we are not well. Tell Him we may not even know what is wrong with us, but we know that something is wrong. Believe in Jesus, TRUST Him. Trust Him with every fiber in our body. Know that He will be with us and provide us what is best. Then, having said this, having done this… live every moment of our life in the present. Don’t worry about the past. It is over. Don’t be concerned about something an hour from now. We have no control over the future. That person who you just met, give them your undivided attention. That problem that just cropped up, recognize it for what it is and not a crisis. That feeling that you feel right now, be aware of it but not a slave to it. Christ is NOW. He doesn’t dwell in the past. Nor is He to be found in the future. He is what makes the present, beautiful. He waits for us, in the now.

ASH WEDNESDAY

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. We go to Mass and afterwards, the priest gently presses his thumb in burnt palms from last year and makes the sign of the cross on our forehead. It winds up looking more like a circle, but we know a North, South, West, East mark was made on our forehead. “Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay, and thou wilt bring me into dust again.” (Job 10:9) These words or a paraphrase of them are said as the priest makes the sign of the cross on our forehead.

“Why, this ritual?” we should ask ourselves. Especially since the Gospel in the Ash Wednesday Mass makes it quite clear, how we should fast, and how we should do good. “When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you”, and again “when you fast, do not look dismal”, and still again, “that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father”. (Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 18) It seems almost like a contradiction. We wear ashes and yet are told to wash our face, to not appear any different to our fellow man. The fact is, we don’t wear the ashes to proclaim our holiness, or to appear to all that we are getting ready to fast, but rather to acknowledge that we are a community of sinners in need of repentance and renewal.

It is only when we look into our souls and recognize all that is preventing us from truly uniting with Jesus we begin to understand our life, our direction. Maybe, this should be said in a different fashion. Our desire to be so united with Jesus gradually frees us and allows us to understand what it is that is keeping us from getting closer to Him.

The ashes that we wear on Wednesday, do remind us that we are sinners in need of repentance. They should also remind us that Jesus died for us, loving us. We, who have so many imperfections and sins, are understood and loved. THAT is what breaks the bonds holding us back. His love for us, His total all-encompassing Love frees us. We can look at ourselves and our fellow man, recognizing that all of us are struggling with the same problems, the same sins, the same proud actions and all of us are loved. No one person is better than anyone else. No one person can look down on anyone else and feel superior. We are all struggling, all loved.

This Lent, whatever acts of self denial we choose to perform, let them be actions that cost us something, and not be actions that make us feel good about ourselves. We can give up smoking, or candy, or something that we like. We could also do something for someone else. Do we know someone who is home bound? Do we know someone who is lonely, grief-stricken, or depressed? What can we do for them? YOU who have suffered through illnesses, and grief, and depression, YOU who have struggled with sins and despair, YOU can quietly bring the love of Jesus to someone. How can you? You can, because Jesus loves you. This Lent is a time for all of us to bring Jesus’ Love to the world, the world of our friends and acquaintances. Let’s have a great loving Lent!

Our Demons

What has a hold on us?

Yesterday, the last day in January, the Gospel reading (Mark 5:1-20) was about Jesus casting out the demons into the pigs that were nearby. However, this is not about the exorcism, but the person on whom this event centers.

After being freed of the demons that had plagued him, only naturally, the man, wanted to follow Jesus. Isn’t this a normal reaction? Having been freed of some life-long illness, some evil that we have struggled with all of our lives, wouldn’t we want to follow and praise the person who had healed us? But, Jesus told him “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

How many demons do you and I have? What sins devastate us? What illnesses wreak havoc with our bodies? What things persecute us and wear us down? From some of these demons, we may even have been freed. Somewhere, somehow we got the strength to overcome them. We may feel that we found a way, or we might believe that only through Jesus’ help were we able to overcome them. The emphasis is not on how we were healed, but that we were healed.

The joy of having a heavy burden lifted from us floods our souls. The tears of relief flow down our cheeks. We have been healed. We are being healed. Our resultant life has been changed for the better. Christ’s words ring in our ears, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Here is where our faith in Jesus, our trust in His love comes into play.

Sometimes, our problem is a result of our own negligence, our own willfulness, our own doing. But now, now we are out of the hole that engulfed us. We look around. We make sure nobody has noticed the cancer that has plagued us. We don’t want anyone to know of the shame that we have carried. Tell someone else? Let somebody know what problems I am, and have been, struggling with? Why would I do that?

It has been said here, many times, that Christ loves us as we are. We are, right now, the result of everything that we have lived, and experienced. Someone with whom we see, or meet, or even love is experiencing a problem similar to what we have struggled with. If we truly try to love the people that we come in contact with, then in that love we will say something, stemming from our past experiences, that will help them. We won’t know WHEN we are helping them; we won’t know HOW we are helping them. But through that love which we have for them, Christ will use our experiences to guide us. “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has loved you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Jesus Walked Down the Street

If you were to meet Jesus as you walked down the street, what would you say? What would you do? How would you act? Would you even recognize Him? He won’t have a sign hanging around his neck saying, “I am Jesus”. So what would you do?

Even if we saw Him wearing a rough white robe, fastened with a rope of some kind around His waist, and wearing sandals on His feet, we probably still would not recognize Him. Having long hair and a beard would probably only add to the problem. The first thought coming to our mind, might be, “Look at this weirdo. What is his problem?” In a time and place where automobiles are speeding by, horns are honking, people chatting on cell phones as they walk down the street, we might, indeed, not expect, nor recognize Him. And that is very sad. The entire message of His life and death will have been lost.

During the time of Christ, the believing Hebrews still expected the Messiah to come as a king, with an army, delivering them from their oppressors. Today, we would probably expect to see Him preaching words of wisdom that would be so compelling in their nature that they would almost force us to believe. But He is not a warlord. He will not force our belief. He will continually respect our free will. His message is as clear now as it was in apostolic times. Christ (God) can be found in every person that we meet.

The truth of the matter is: we don’t really believe in the words of Jesus. HE is in every person. Whatever we do for the people that we meet, we do for Him. The people that we dislike, the people that bother us so very much, the people who have no manners, the people who act like animals, the people who are sick and dying, the people who live next door, the people who we fear are trying to take our jobs, the people who we fear, the people who have no “self-control” and take drugs and alcohol just to flee the thought of themselves, the people who commit crimes, heinous crimes, the list goes on and on… Whatever we do for these, we do for Him.

I think we believe that we would treat Jesus differently. Even if we did treat Him differently, would He really love us for that???? Aren’t we saying, by that act of “LOVE???” we can love Jesus because He doesn’t bother us, He meets OUR standards. Somewhere along the line, our Christianity got mired in the mud of our likes and dislikes. We choose the people who we can love and not love. And we do this IN THE NAME OF JESUS!!!! Where did we get off of the path? Where did we stumble and fall? Why do we love only those who don’t bother us?

Maybe, if Jesus were to come to this day and age, He would come as a beggar, a dirty smelly unwashed beggar. In His love for us, He would show us that love transcends what we find pleasing, that love does not weigh on a scale what gifts a person has or lacks. People are people. ALL OF US are guilty of crucifying our Lord. What crime, what indecency, what evil is greater than that? We cannot look at another with disdain. We are no better or worse. The love that Christ has for us is the same love that we must have for each other. If we loved one another, by that very act we would be accepting Jesus’ message that He delivered over two thousand years ago.

What we NEED now!

Well, here we are, one week into 2011. Gifts received about two weeks ago, don’t seem quite as important as they did then. The joy and luster that shone from our eyes has dimmed a little. Resolutions that were firmly made have begun to slip a little. What is wrong? Why is this happening? Saint Augustine said it quite well in the beginning of his “Confessions”. He said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee”.

We see something and we think, “…maybe this will make me happy”. And we go out and buy it. We hear others are happy because they do this or that. So internally, we think again, “…surely this will fill the void that I feel.” We try it also. We see people laughing and having a good time, so we imitate whatever they are doing. All of these are our attempts to feel good, to feel good about ourselves. They all seemed to be promising at first, but none delivered the hoped for relief, the desired well-being that we craved. And, once again, we feel that loneliness, that sinking feeling that we are missing something. That emptiness cries out, “…there must be more to life than this”.

Our hearts ARE truly restless, until we find the comfort, the relief, the calm that only Jesus can provide. Man’s ache that he feels inside, that craving to understand why he exists, why he is, that ache has been in man ever since he walked this earth. Some philosophers attribute that very craving as proof that there is a God. They contend that it would not exist, if there wasn’t something that would satisfy it. That craving can be thought of as existing in us because of God’s love for us. He put this in us to help us strive to find Him. Because of it, mankind continually seeks to make sense out of life and seeks to find what will make him happy.

In our search we experiment and try this and that. We look in every nook and cranny. It seems like everything that might possibly provide relief we try. All of this, just to find a reason for our existence, to find something that will fill the void within. Again, we hear the words, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.” Only one thing will satisfy these needs within. To say that Jesus will provide the relief that we seek is not a complete answer though. Yes, we can recognize that His goodness and love will be the salve for our wounds. But it only becomes meaningful to us, when we bring Jesus into our hearts. With His goodness and love inside us, we finally feel the calm that has eluded us. Only until we crave the relationship that must exist between us and Him, only then can we say our hearts have found rest.

Who Is Jesus?

How Do You Answer?

Who are YOU? That seems like a simple enough question. We might mention the job we have. We could respond with the size of the salary we have. We might call attention to the position we have in the company that we work for. There are many ways how that simple question can be answered. But these kinds of answers are NOT really for the question, “Who are you?”, but for the questions, “What do you DO?” “How WELL do you do it?”

Rather than playing a guessing game, I’ll just mention a few ways how, “Who are you?” can be answered. I am a human being. I am an animal, but with the ability to think. I have the ability to make good and bad decisions because I have free will. I can see, hear, and feel, but these are because of physical things like eyes, ears and nerve endings. I can think. Thinking is not physical. Thinking transcends, or rises above, the physical world. Thinking involves the spiritual realm. So, I am not only physical, but spiritual, as well.

In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16, vs. 13-17, we see Jesus asking the Apostles, Who do people say that the Son of man is? Their answer comes back with what they heard people saying, namely, John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremiah or a prophet. The question then turns to the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” -1 This is a question that He also asks us, you and me, to answer as well. We know Peter’s response, “You are Christ, The Son of the living God”. To which Jesus replies back to him that Peter has been blessed, because he doesn’t know this by his own doing, his humanity, but because of Jesus’ Father in Heaven, God.

So, Jesus asks us, also, “Who am I”? All of the ways we have been taught, from our earliest years on how to answer this, we know. We know them so well, that they have almost become meaningless to us. Jesus is the Christ! Yep, yep, I know that. What does that mean? He is the Savior, the Redeemer. What did He save? Who did He save? Why? What is this Redeemer business? Remember, we are animals, with the ability to think. We need to know the answers to all these questions. These answers should mean something to us. They must mean something to us! What does His life and death mean to me? To you? Did He really die for us? What is the relationship we have with Him, because of His life? His death? His Resurrection? If we are really being honest with ourselves, we must not just read these things, but internalize them. This is not question-and-answer time. This is question-and-what-does-this-really-mean-to-me time. Our life on this earth and for all of eternity is determined by how we answer these questions.

If we logically think through this process, we would hear our thoughts go like this: Christ, who is the Son of God, came to show me how to live. Mankind, of which I am part, has brutalized God. I turned my back on Him. I separated myself from God, through actions which I knew were not in my BEST interests. Jesus came to repair the damage. He died on the cross for me. For His life and death to mean something to me, I must know why He came into this world. For it to mean something to me, I must accept that He died because of things I have done.  For it to mean something to me, I must finally show my acceptance, by living in the fashion that Jesus showed me, namely, through love, concern and acceptance of others.

We look at our lives and realize we have grown soft. We like the comforts which we have become accustomed to, no matter how small. We don’t like to be inconvenienced. We are intolerant of others actions, especially when they disturb our peace of mind. We seek every creature comfort that we can afford, or want. The thought of right and wrong, we try not to think about. Our heads hurt when we think that deeply, so we turn up the sound box a little louder, so we can’t think, don’t have to think. Our children have become responsibilities that we put up with. They are no longer little people craving to learn how to cope with life, how to embrace their God, how to learn, how to love. We seek only ourselves and in so doing, are in the process of losing ourselves.

Christ knows how we are, with all of our deficiencies, and inclinations. He saw us before we were born and knew then of our shortcomings. And, He still loves us. Knowing our actions, He loves us and dies for us. He loves us, as we are NOW. How do we explain that? We who can’t tolerate another person’s awkward glance or stare, how do we explain a love that will die for us as we are? Infinite love is as incomprehensible to us, as the thought of an infinite God.

Knowing everything that we have said above, what does Christ want from us? He wants us to recognize who we are, complete with our deficiencies (our sins and evil inclinations), and still know that He loves us, right now! Does He want us to move towards Him? Of course, He does. But, He still loves us as we are, with an infinite love. We, for our part, must simply trust Him. We must totally accept His love, while acknowledging that our lives fall so very short of where they should be. How completely can we accept Jesus? Our life’s story will continue to play out, as we struggle to rein in our lives. Christ knows us for what we are, and we ashamedly, know what we are. The difference is we can’t tolerate ourselves, and Jesus loves us infinitely. He wants us to raise our minds, our hearts, our very existence, and offer them to Him. Take our lives, Lord, hold them, and do with them as You wish. We trust in You. If we trust Him, in this fashion, our lives will change. We will see others in a way we have never seen them before. They are our brothers and sisters, all struggling with the same problems we have.

-1 This is covered a little more thoroughly in the blog, “Who Do You Say I Am?

Did you know that a sheep’s normal vision of sight is only seeing six feet? It will eat constantly and will have its head down; all the while it is eating, or looking for food. It moves from one patch of enticing grass to another. It’s like, the sheep is thinking, “oh here’s one, and oh, look, there’s another”. It is not concerned over what the rest of the sheep are doing, or where they are going. It will continue to look for something to eat, wherever it wishes. In short it is wrapped up in its own needs and becomes oblivious to the safety or dangers around it.

Now multiply that by a hundred sheep, and you can see that the shepherd must be on his toes, all the time. He is constantly bringing the herd together, ensuring that they will all arrive home safely. No matter how good the shepherd is however, one or two will invariably find a grassy spot behind a knoll, behind a large boulder, or in a stand of trees. And once that happens, the job of the shepherd doubles in its difficulty. He must still continue to keep the herd together, but he must locate all the strays that have wandered from his sight.

Why all of this about sheep? Yesterday’s Gospel was from Luke, Chapter 15, verses 1 to 10. In it is the parable of the Good Shepherd and looking for the one that strayed. The priest mentioned the fact about the sheep’s eyesight. It made an impression on me. I thought about the impact of keeping one’s head down, while coupled with seeing very poorly. We have to agree that this is definitely something that we cannot do in a bustling community with traffic whizzing by.

And yet, sometimes we do just that. Whether we call it tunnel vision, or blind spot, one-track mind or being oblivious, the end result is the same…we don’t see, nor do we want to see any other point of view, but our own. We can talk and hear about Christ and His love for us all day. But for it to be meaningful to us, to have this change our ways, we have to put away our blinders. Our blinders are usually set up by ourselves. We have grown comfortable with them. They help us see only as much and as far as we want to see. With them we only see the problems that other people have, the value systems that we know are not right (and are thankful they are not ours). These blinders prevent us from seeing our own, self-made problems, our hampering attitudes, and worst of all, they prevent us from getting closer to Jesus.

We are oblivious to the Shepherd hunting us down. We move on from one enticing “grassy” spot to another. We are constantly searching for something that will help us get through our day, something that will satisfy our immediate needs. St. Augustine chose to word it, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.” In short, we seek out everything that we know of, that we think will satisfy the aching, yearning in our hearts. All the while the patient Shepherd seeks us out, waiting for that moment when we throw up our hands, and earnestly cry out, “God, help me!” Then, and only then, with our free will desiring assistance, the gentle Shepherd, caresses us and places us on His shoulders and carries us back to the fold.

Music in Your Soul

How softly Johann Strauss’ On the Beautiful Blue Danube begins. It gathers strength and purpose until it reaches your soul. There it swirls around and dances with you, sometimes playful, but always purposeful. Gradually, you feel at one with the music and find yourself wanting to move with it. At that point, it has you and lifts you to heights you have always desired. I often have felt that composers, capable of writing songs that are beautiful and majestic, provide us glimpses into their very souls. Like painters and saints, they have the capacity of reaching out to their God, and in so doing, provide us glimpses of Him, as well.

Knowing that all analogies fall short let’s compare music with love. Music, in the mind of the composer, has a purpose, be it to bring you joy, or beauty or something else. Whatever its purpose, though, it is always something positive. A feeling of sorrow can also be positive, as long as it is not intended to leave you there. Music, when performed as the composer intended, lifts you up, plays with your feelings, and delivers you to a better place.

How does love compare with music? True love, not the love portrayed on so many TV and movie screens today, true love seeks out goodness for someone else, never self. When a person feels a love for someone else, their own spirit is joyous. They may feel light and airy, or they may feel quietly happy. Either way, the goodness that they feel is deep inside them and can’t wait to express these feelings to their beloved. When you feel this love, you know, not only that it is true, but that it will be beneficial to both persons. It is never one sided.

Christ has this love for us, you and me. When I see a picture of Christ smiling, for some reason, it touches me so much more than one of Him suffering, or performing miracles, or anything else. The smile that He has seems to convey to me His fondness, His love and His concern for me. Strangely, it is at these times, I realize how I fall so very short of being able to return His love. Knowing His love is there for us, though not demanding anything in return, how very much I desire to love Him. His smile, His love picks me up and dances with me.

Knowing His love is there for us, realizing it is continually there for us, we are invited to join Him. Once we recognize His love, once we see how it is freely given then our love that we return to Him takes on a deeper significance. We are loving someone who gave His life for us. We are loving someone who asks us to become Him. Our love for Him has grabbed us, awakened us. How can I say I love Jesus, if I do not love my fellow man? It is impossible. No excuses. No golly gees.

That person is of a different color. That person is dirty or slovenly. That person is not charitable. That person is downright evil. All the people that we have difficulty with… we must love, have a true concern for their growth, their sickness, their lack of morals.

Christ came into this world, for sinners, YOU and ME. Our expectations that others clean up their act, goes equally for ourselves, as well. With this love that Christ brings us, it swirls around us, it lifts us up, and it makes us better than we ever dreamed. We are then, finally, caught up in the music of love.

Where am I Now?

Which One in the Crowd am I?

“None of us start out as saints.” That pretty much describes us and causes us to think, almost automatically, “Well, where am I, now”. I saw that statement used in conjunction with yesterday’s Gospel, when Christ chose the twelve apostles. -1 Couple that thought with Paul’s statement, in today’s Epistle to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus”. -2

When the two are brought together in close proximity, it becomes loud and clear that we are a work in progress. We agonize over our mistakes. We dwell so much on the errors of our ways that we forget about Christ’s love for us. It is almost like we can’t turn to Christ UNTIL we clear up our mistakes. Talk about the cart before the horse!! It isn’t up to us. We are not the solution to our problems, Christ is. We did not start out as saints, and we are not saints now, and yet, wonder of wonders…Christ loves us, right now.

Somewhere along the line, we, mankind, got the impression that we were masters of our own lives. We could do anything. Maybe it is pride, maybe it is a leftover from the first sin, maybe it is confidence in our mental abilities, but wherever it stems from, it falls short. When Christ said, “I am the Way”,-3 He turned the key to unlock the process for us. I guess we thought they were just pretty words, signifying nothing. Nobody told us to pursue this unlocked door. If we wish to be free of the guilt, free of the gnawing feeling that something is not quite right with us then open the door.

The door has been unlocked for us, by Jesus. He has redeemed us. He loves us. He has told us to follow Him, to follow His example. He is not asking heroic deeds of us. He is simply saying, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”-4 Sounds simple enough, but realize that includes ourselves, as well.

We asked ourselves, at the beginning, if we did not start out as saints, then “Well, where am I now?” That question is filled with high expectations of ourselves. The expectations arise out of the “NOW” part. We must have made some progress. Then, how much? How close are we to Christ? How much do we feel the love of Christ in us? How much do we love everyone else? How many exceptions are there to that love? Answer these questions, honestly, and you will know HOW MUCH.

-1 Luke 6:13
-2 Philippians 1:6
-3 Jesus said to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me. John 14:6
-4 A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34

Why Should I Forgive Myself?

Flowing of Forgiveness and Love

A good friend of mine, a priest, was talking to me about growth. During this conversation, he pointed out how forgiveness of self is just as important as forgiveness of others. “Actually”, he continued, “if we don’t’ forgive ourselves, it becomes impossible to forgive others.” My head did a double take on that. A gigantic lesson was being placed in front of me, one to which I knew I had to pay attention. We spoke of many things that afternoon, but I would like to pay particular attention to this thought.

It all begins with Christ and His love and forgiveness for us. This is not just a pretty grouping of words, but rather it is the heart of Christianity. When all is said and done, the central theme of Christianity, Catholicism, all revolve around Christ. He knows who we are. He knows what we are. He knows that we don’t always accomplish the good, we desire. However, His love for us is constant, always there. Yes, we must strive to do better with our lives. Yes, we must strive to return this love to Him. But, in spite of our slips, our falls, our downright evil actions, He is constantly loving us and desiring our love in return.

So, think about this, to Jesus, what we did last night, what we want to do today…He forgives and loves us. What we did in our distant past…He forgives and loves us. He knows that once we accept His forgiveness….wait….really accept His forgiveness, feeling truly sorry for our actions, craving to become more like Him and loving Him, as He is, in us and others, then we have truly begun our journey to and with Him.

Do we know we are forgiven? Do we know that Jesus loves us? Take out the “we” and “us” and let it read, “Do I know I am forgiven?” Do I know that Jesus loves me?” Why is it so important for us to know these things? You and I are no different than ANY other person walking this earth. Think of the best in your eyes, and think of the worst in your eyes. We are all alike. There is no best and worst. We are all loved by and forgiven by Jesus. We cannot look upon others any differently than we look upon ourselves. We have all sinned. Because of us, it was necessary for Jesus to come into this world. And because of Jesus, we are all saved. What we have to do is acknowledge, accept, and embrace the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

There is one last thing that we should consider. It can be very informative to us. If we DO find fault in others, if we find it difficult to embrace others with their problems, their faults, their way of living, THEN we have not yet forgiven ourselves the way Christ wants us to forgive. We do not have to embrace other’s problems, other’s faults, other’s way of living, but the person saddled with these, we must embrace, we must forgive. Forgiveness is a willed action, not a feeling action.