Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Coming before the Lord in Sorrow and Repentance

In today's first reading, Ezra 9: 5-9, the prophet bows before the Lord in sorrow and repentance, acknowledging that "[f]rom the time of our fathers even to this day great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today."  He then adds: "And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the Lord, our God, who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place; thus our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief in our servitude."  Ezra could be speaking of the world in which we live today.   He could be speaking of each one of us. Why do I say that?  You and I,  from time to time, are weighed down with sorrow, realizing that we, too, have strayed from the right path.  We are well aware of the wickedness that exist in our world  today and, yes, we are turned over to the will of foreigners, "to the sword, to captivity (in many forms), to pillage, and to disgrace." Then, amazingly, sometimes, it seems, out of nowhere, we experience God's mercy, the good will of another, giving us "new life," restoring our "ruins," and bringing us  back into good graces with the Lord our God,  with others and with self.

In what ways have you experienced being brought back into good graces? In what way have you been  "in captivity" to negative attitudes, negative behaviors, poor choices? How have you experiences being disgraced? And, in what ways have you experienced "God's mercy," the good will of another, the "ruins" of a situation for which you were responsible being restored?

Talk to God about these situations. Share your thoughts and feelings with the Lord. Stand beneath the cross and let the precious blood and water flowing from Jesus sacred side cleanse you, restore you, strengthen you, make you new.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Lord God is My Help

In today's first reading, Is 50: 4c-9a, we encounter the Suffering Servant Song where Isaiah prophesies about Jesus.  Through Isaiah, Jesus tells us that "the Lord God is my help; therefore I am not disgraced...I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right...Who disputes my right?  Let [that person] confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong." In the Gospel, Peter attempts to prove Jesus wrong when He tells them that "the Son of Man must suffer greatly and  be rejected  by goth elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days,....Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him." Jesus tells Peter to "get behind me, Satan, You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

None of us wants to go to Calvary. None of us wants to suffer. How often when suffering occurs in our lives, in the lives of those we love, in the world itself,  in our churches, families, civic communities, do we not think "as human beings do" and "not as God does."  "How can God allow such a thing to happen?" "One disaster after another!" "Where is God in all of this?"  "I can't believe anymore!" "I am leaving this church, this community." "I'm divorcing this person and going out on my own,  back to my mother/father!"

"How can God allow ISIS, human trafficking, abortion, the violence of war, the tragic legislation against the poor and oppressed, against women and children, legislation which protects the resources of the rich while the poor suffer want?" we ask.  God brought the salvation of the world out of Jesus' death and brings salvation to each of us out of our sufferings as well. Jesus rose from the dead, and so will we.

Go forth, Jesus says to us,  before He returned to His Father, and make disciples of the whole world. Live the Gospel; proclaim it by your lives, using words only when necessary, St. Francis of Assisi, says to us.  By the work we do, in Jesus' name, wrongs are made right for us, as for Jesus, who did the work His Father sent him here to do!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Jesus: Savior and Master of our Lives

St. Paul, in today's first reading, 1 Tim 1: 15-17,  states the obvious; namely, that Jesus came into this world to save sinners and that he, Paul, is the worst of such.  Recall that Paul was pursuing Christians to put them to death. He would, today, be a member of ISIS or of any group killing Christians.   He would be a member of tribes in Africa killing other tribes, a member of gangs in any city out to destroy other gangs. He was not someone you or I would want to meet anywhere.  He would be despised by most, hunted down by police, his face among the "Most Wanted" ones.

God knocks him down on his way to Damascus to seek out Christians. He finds him at his worst and transforms him into an apostle, His disciple. Jesus transforms the passion that he used against the gospel into a passion to spread the gospel.  The ugliest sin in him--treating persons as objects to be destroyed--was transformed by grace.  He  now, through God's grace and mercy, works for the good of all, proclaiming the Good News of salvation. He becomes the Light and abandons the darkness.

You and I have the same choice.  We, too, are persons who are sinners, who need God to intervene i our lives, turn us around often and put us on the right path.

How has God intervened in your life?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Be Merciful and Compassionate; Put on Love

In yesterday's first reading, Col 3: 1-11 Paul outlines a life that is contrary to God's will; namely, that in our "nature [which] is rooted in earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and that lust [for power over others achieved by deceitful and coercive means, wealth that is hoarded at the expense of the poor, material things accumulated as God substitutes, and so on],which is idolatry."  In today's first reading, Col 3: 12-17, we are given "the recipe," if you will, of synchronizing our will with the will of our Father/Mother God, our  Creator:  "Because you are God's holy ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord as forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect."

We have examples of persons who clothed themselves in the virtues Paul mentions: Nelson Mandela,  who forgave his enemies, lived a life of kindness toward those who had him imprisoned for 26 years for working for the equality of all peoples;  a woman who pinned a prayer on the lifeless body of a child killed by terrorists that read: "Remember, Lord, those of good will and those of evil will. Do not hold the evil against those who did this but may all of the fruits born of this evil deed  be their forgiveness"; Mother Frances, the Foundress of my religious community, who forgave those who, in her absence, deposed her from the office of Superior General, replacing her with another person; and, above all, Jesus on the cross, who said to His Father: Father, forgive  them for they do not know what they are doing.

In  what ways am I, are you, taking seriously Paul's message?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Setting Our Sights High

It is interesting how Satan lures us into temptation and when we fall leads us to laugh and take pleasure initially in what we have done that is sinful, like enjoying gossiping about  someone or something or looking scornfully at a homeless person or feeling good about ourselves when we walk away from the  good God invited us to do or the challenge to make  better that about which we are complaining. We may even find a way to  congratulate ourselves when we lust for power, are envious  of another's success, or jealous of anyone. Satan call also lead us to justify unjustifiable anger.

Saint Paul reminds us that we "have been raised up in company with Christ" in our baptism.  We are strengthened by Christ in His Word, in the Eucharist, in Reconciliation, in our own love, understanding, compassion, mercy and forgiveness of others, and they of us: acts of God that begin with self and are possible because God first loved us.

"Set your hearts," Paul tells us, "on things above rather than on things of earth.  After all, you have died" with Christ in baptism. We have also risen with Christ in our baptism, risen to being sons and daughters of God, made new and placed on a path to holiness by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus destroyed Satan's power on the  cross. Being the Father of Lies, Satan, however, wants us to believe that we have no power to turn away from sin once we have fallen. Because of our faith in Christ Jesus we know that is not true. Yes, over and over again, we can reset "our  clocks to "heavenly time."

Being a Presence in our World that Radiates Holiness

Today we celebrate the birthday of Mary, Mother of God, our blessed Mother!  In the office for today, the second antiphon reads:  "When the most holy Virgin was born, the whole world was made radiant; blessed is the branch and blessed the stem which bore such holy fruit."

The world was made radiant!  Mary's "yes" brought salvation to a fallen world, a sinful world, a world that frequently, to this day, says "no" to God!  Every  "yes" to God's will and every "no" to God's will effects every human being on the face of the earth. When you and I cooperate with grace, we radiate the world within us, around us and beyond us. When we say "no" to God's will, we bring darkness into the world and that darkness effects, not only  us, but others as well.

"Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, proclaims joy to the whole world, for from  you arose the glorious  Sun of Justice, Christ our God; he freed us from the age-old curse and filled us with holiness; he destroyed death and gave us eternal life" (Antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah).

St. Paul reminds us that God did not give us a spirit of cowardliness but of power--the power of holiness poured into us by the Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation and re-enforced, renewed, in our reception of every sacrament, in our sitting at the feet of our Lord as we ponder the Scriptures of old and the Scriptures of our lives.  May people know by our lives that Jesus "destroyed death" and"freed us from the age-old curse" of saying "no" to God's will. With Mary, today and every day, may our lives be a resounding "yes" to the Lord.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Energy of Christ within Us

In today's first reading, Col 1: 24-2:2 and 3, St.Paul states that he was commissioned by Christ to become a minister in the Church for the sole purpose of preaching the word in its fullness, "that mystery hidden from ages and generations past but now revealed to his holy ones....For this I work and struggle," he says, "impelled by that energy of his which is so powerful a force within me."

You and I, by virtue of our baptism, also have been commissioned by Christ to preach the word in its fullness by our lives and, when necessary,  St. Francis of Assisi says, with words.  In baptism and confirmation and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, by the holy sacrament of matrimony, priesthood and religious vows, we, too, are "impelled  by that energy of his which is so powerful a force within [us]."

Christ lives in each one of us. His power is within us. The good we do and are invited to do is empowered by Christ.  May we have the wisdom and the courage to be a source of goodness in the lives we touch today. And may we recognize and acknowledge Christ in others, as well, remembering that they, too, are members of Christ's body, the Church.  

God Is in Our Midst

In today's first reading, Is 35: 4-7a, the prophet says to those whose hearts are frightened: "Be strong, fear not!"  I think of all of the people in the world whose hearts are filled with fear: those escaping countries ravaged by war and/or violence of any kind, those fleeing, or trying to flee, their human captors  (six traffickers, slave labor, drug lords, out-of-control addicts of any kind), those trying to free themselves from a variety of addictions, those terrified for the lives of their children and/or of themselves because of those addicted to anger and unjust behaviors,  and so on!  "Here is your God," Isaiah says, "he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you."  "When", we ask, as we watch the news and hear of the evil that seems to have gripped our world,   will "the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared," as Isaiah tells us. When will "the lame leap like a stag,... the tongue of the mute...sing"?  When will "[s]treams...burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe." When "will [t]he burning sands...become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water"?  When, through grace,  we change our behaviors and attitudes that create these kinds of realities in our our world!

We know, in faith, that everything Isaiah says will become a reality in the resurrection of the dead, in our resurrection.  In the meantime, we live with the reality that the "weeds" will grow along side the "wheat," as it also did for Jesus during his earthly sojourn.  He did not escape violence,  hunger, famine, nor will we!  However, we have the assurance that God walks with us through the deserts of life, endures the violence with us and gives us the strength to endure and the hope to persevere in our faith until the end of our lives here on earth.

It is our responsibility to do what we can in assisting others in need, to bring justice to our world, to free those oppressed in any way and to bring hope to the hopeless, as we, too, build up hope within ourselves through our relationship with Jesus, by drinking at the well of Living Waters,  feeding ourselves with the Bread of Life, nourishing ourselves with the Scriptures and strengthening our resolve to become instruments of reconciliation and forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Yes, we are called to follow Jesus' example and rely on the Lord, who makes us strong and quiets our fears!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Knowing the Grace of God in Truth (Colossians 1: 1-8)

In  today's first reading,  Colossians 1: 1-8, Paul says to the Colossians, "...we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven....Just as in the whole world it [the Gospel] is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you, from the day you  heard it and came to know the grace of God in truth..."  You and I have come
"to know the grace of God in truth" because that truth is/was spoken to us through our parents, teachers, pastors, associate pastors, friends, counselors, co-workers; through our very selves, through creation itself, through the goodness in our lives and the good you and I have and are doing each day and will do today, as well as the good others do.

Like Jesus, in today's Gospel, Luke 4: 38-44, we, too, leave our places of worship and encounter issues that need to be addressed, that need our compassionate responses, our healing touch (a smile, a listening ear, an errand run or a good deed done on their behalf, a service rendered). We may confront "demons" today, as Jesus did in the people that others brought to Him or which are within ourselves (pride, deceit, lust, abuse of power and control, jealousy, envy, avarice, impatience, imprudence, and so on).   We may also be pressured by the crowd to give in to demands that we know are not the will of God for us. Jesus says to the crowd: "No, I have been sent to proclaim the good news of the reign of God to other lands, to other peoples. I cannot stay here."    We may not be called to other lands but to another task that is beckoning us.  Sometimes, we may find it hard to "depart" for that to which we are called--what will others think if I leave this conversation, this crowd; if I don't continue to join in or go where the crowd insist on going?

Jesus very clearly states the reason He has been sent to this world. Am I as clear as Jesus was in terms of what my mission is--why I am where I am today?  Did I, today, prepare myself to address the issues that will come by way today by taking time to pray, as Jesus did?  Am I faithful to "the grace of God in truth" that I have come to know and which is stretching to bear fruit and grow within me?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Be Stouthearted and Wait the Lord" (Ps 27)

In today's first reading, 1 Thes 5: 1-6, 9-11, Paul cautions us to be alert concerning the coming of the day of the Lord.  When we least expect it, this day will come like a thief in the night. We have no idea when we will be met with the end of our lives here on earth.  However, we are reminded that we are children of the light, not of the darkness, and that "God has not destined us for wrath but for acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."   Though Paul is speaking about our deaths, we could also reflect on this in light of the daily invitations to die to selfishness, to demanding our way, to wanting immediate successful results in whatever we are doing, to not encountering setbacks, or disappointments, or illness.  Suddenly, like a thief in the night, a "storm" arises within us or around us that slows us down, throws us into confusion, steals of us of our serenity, blocks our way.  These are opportunities for "acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  However, those very experiences bring me face to face with the demons in my life (compare today's Gospel, Luke 4: 31-37): my insistence on having it my way, of encountering no obstacles, of sailing smoothly to my destination. My pride and entitlement issues raise their heads and do not want to die easily.

In the Gospel, Luke 4: 31-37, the demons in the demoniac suddenly meet their demise.   They are dead "in the waters," so to speak.  To confront the "demons" in my life requires faith and trust. I need to encounter the Lord personally, as did the person in today's Gospel.  As mentioned in the liturgy's responsorial psalm, I need to discipline myself to "wait for the Lord with courage; [to become] stouthearted, and wait for the Lord."   May I have the courage to do just that. And if I fail, may I have the humility to talk to the Lord about my failure, to repent, and ask for the grace to learn from these kinds of mistakes.