Friday, March 30, 2018

The Death of Jesus

Today we commemorate Jesus' death upon the cross.  The first reading of today's services is from Isaiah 52: 13-53:12, in which Isaiah reminds us that: "it was our infirmities that he bore..."--yes, mine and yours,  my sins and yours.  It was "our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted."  It was my sufferings and yours--sufferings we deserved for our sins, for our rebellion, for our disobedience to the Lord.  Jesus "was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray, like sheep" Isaiah reminds us, "each following his [or her] own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all."

That guilt, the offenses of all humankind, including mine and yours--past, present and future offenses--crushed Jesus beyond words. The pressure was so great that Jesus' sweat in the Garden of Olives was actually blood oozing from his pores, leaving the slightest touch to cause Him great pain. The scourging was horrible, gouging chunks of skin from his back. Mocking Him and pushing a crown of thorns on his head and driving those thorns through His head--blood everywhere--was also torturous and inhumane treatment!

Being incredibly weak from the scourging and crowning with thorns, Jesus must have fallen many times on the way up to the hill where He would be crucified. Fearful that Jesus would not make it up the hill to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross up to the place of crucifixion. Then Jesus was stripped of his clothes, thrown upon the cross beam and nails driven through His wrists. He was then hoisted upon the wood anchored in the ground waiting for the crossbeam. Once the crossbeam was in place, nails were also driven through Jesus' feet, one on top of the other.

To breathe, the crucified ones had to lift themselves up by their painful legs/feet. When the crucified could no longer lift themselves up, they died of asphyxiation.  That is why the legs were broken. The executioners did not break Jesus' legs because he had already died.

"When [Jesus] was cut off from the living," Isaiah prophesies, "and smitten for the sin of his people, a grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood....If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.....[H]e shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses"--yours and mine. That is how much God loves you and me!  He held nothing back!  Will you? Will I?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Jesus' Obedience and Our Challenge

We open today's liturgy with the following antiphon: At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend of those in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, for the Lord became obedient today, death on a cross: therefore Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"(cf. Phil 2: 10, 8, 11).

As Adam and Eve said "no" to God's design, Jesus and Mary said "yes" to God's plan.  Jesus left heaven and took on human nature and was like us entirely, except for sin.  That did not mean that sin would not impact his life and that He would not experience the effects of sin, of evil, rampart in the world, as Satan spares no one his taunts and jealousy, luring us into sin just as he lured Adam and Evil into sin.  He did not have that power over Jesus and Mary, who unequivocally said "yes" to God!

Jesus became sin for us and nailed it to the cross. In his death and resurrection sin was destroyed--it does not have the power to take away our freedom to say "yes" to God's love and plan for our eternal life with Him for all eternity.  In Christ Jesus, we will triumph over evil just as Jesus did, if we follow the Spirit's lead in our life, obedient to "small" and"big" invitations and not to the allurements of evil spirits at work in the world as well!  Small acts of evil lead to bigger and bigger acts of evil, as in he case with Judas.

Judas was caught in a web of sin throughout his following of Jesus. As treasurer, one who guarded the purse, Judas repeatedly stole money from throughout those three years. In the end, his greed and obsession with money lured him into betraying Jesus so as to add some money to the treasury.  He was led into a trap from which he did not escape.  In despair, after realizing that Jesus, this time, would willingly go to His death and not escape those who arrested Him, Judas despaired. Often, he had seen Jesus escape those out to trip Him up and probably expected the same to happen this time.

When you and I are careless with playing with the "fire" of sin, --"oh, it's just a little lie," or "I only shoplifted a small item," or "oh, I was mean a little--it's no big deal," do we realize that Satan is preparing us for one of his bigger traps out of which we might be unable to escape, as, it seems, was the case with Judas?  Let's not play with the "fire" of sin! May we not take lightly the Holy Spirit's nudges to not do certain things! Instead,  may we follow the Spirit's lead to make right choices, choices we are  capable of because of being baptized into Jesus' death and in His resurrection to new life in the Spirit through this sacrament!

As we pray in today's Collect, "O God, who willed your Son to submit for our sake to the yoke of the Cross, so that you might drive from us the power of the enemy, grant us, your servants, to attain the grace of the resurrection.  Through  our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

A Blessed Holy Week, as you contemplative the Pascal Mystery.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

God as our Reward, our Recompense

In today's first reading, Isaiah 49: 1-6,  Israel shares the following realization with us: "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.... ...I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!"

Think of a time when you felt this way. For instance, you went out of your way fulfilling your responsibilities as a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a leader of your company, a supervisor and your efforts are met with sarcasm, rudeness, and/or meanness.  The person whom you were guiding gently, calmly, and honestly turns against you, lashes out at you, and turns the table on you, accepting no responsibility for the behavior that needs changing.  Imagine yourself leaving that situation and talking to the Lord about your frustration. Imagine also that you providentially open the Bible to Isaiah 49: 1-6 and read: "Though I thought I had toiled in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.....I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength."

Whenever we encounter difficulties and come away  wondering whether our efforts were for nought, weather we toiled uselessly, we need to remember  that our "reward is with the Lord, [our] recompense is with God." In difficult encounters, it is our responsibility, as Christians, to imitate Jesus' behaviors of compassionate, caring and honest communication. No matter the outcome, if we remained respectful of the other person, kept our cool and were honest about what needs to be addressed, we then can be assured that  "our reward is with the Lord and our recompense is with God." Any desire to retaliate or to angrily force our feedback in efforts to make the other person acknowledge inappropriate behavior dissipates when our focus is on the Lord.

I hope that this has been your experience, also, when encountering challenging episodes in guiding others under your supervision or leadership. May God bless you!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jesus' Servants

Isaiah 4: 1-7 speaks of Jesus.  Isaiah prophesies, saying:  "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out,  not showing, not making his voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed he shall nor break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the eared; the coastlands will waist for his teaching."

Imagine the following conversation with Jesus:

(Insert your name),  just as I am the Father's servant made so by Him, so, too, are you my servant designed so by the Father.  I delight in you as the Father delights in me.

You: But I am a sinner, Lord, far from you.

Your sins are as far from Me as East is from West, North from South.  I have destroyed sin in you when I poured out my blood for you upon the cross and do so every day in the Eucharistic celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Your sins may be scarlet.I wash them clean in my blood daily.

Thank you, Lord!

You are my servant.  Every day I awaken you to serve Me in little ways: a smile, a kind greeting, a prayer for another in need, your love for those you serve, your taking time to talk to one who is downtrodden.

Thank you, Lord, for doing this good work through me.

You are welcome.

Lord, you reached out and touched everyone I touched today with Your love.

Thank you, (insert our name)  for the many ways today that you touched other people with your love your caring concerns, your kindness.

I ask that you continue to fan into flame the smoldering wicks and to carefully tend to bruised reeds. of those who feel downtrodden.  Thank you when you do that!  I love you, (insert name) and delight in you, my servant!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

O the Love of our God

A reflection on today's reading from Isaiah 50: 4-7.  In this passage, Jesus says to you and me:

Because I love you, (insert your name), I did not flee  from my persecutors.  I deliberately, willingly and courageously entered Jerusalem this day. I knew what lay ahead for me, even though palm branches were strewn on my path and people shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."  I went to Jerusalem for you,  (insert your name). I have not rebelled against suffering. I have not grumbled against my persecutors.  I gave my beard willingly to  those who plucked it. I gave my face to those who spit upon  me, mocking me, making fun of me: "Look at him. Spit running down his his face. How disgusting is this man."  I gave my head to those who pushed a crown of thorns upon it, mockingly saying "Behold the King of the Jews." I gave my back to those who viciously beat me with whips laced with razor blades. I cried out in pain but not in curses toward those torturing me.

My Father was there helping me and I felt no shame. I did not feel disgraced, though I took on the shame and disgrace of all sinned against and those abusively sinning against others.  I took all your shame upon me, insert your name, to free you from its burdens!

O Lord, our God, have mercy on us!
O Lord, our God, thank you for your love.

O the Love of our God!
O the tenderness of our God!
O the courage of our God!
O the compassion of our God!
O the strength of our God!

God, be praised!
God be glorified!
God be thanked!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

God's Covenant of Love Sealed by Jesus' Death and Resurrection

In today's first reading, Ezekiel 3: 21-28, God says to the Israelites through the prophet Ezekiel:  "I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come (some have gone south and some north) and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms....I will make them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the Lord, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever."

Those are God's words spoken to the Israelites long, long ago. God has spoken and so shall it be in kairos time--God's time!  Fast forward to today's Gospel, John 11: 45-46,  where Caiaphas prophesies that Jesus will die "for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God"--you and me and everyone dispersed throughout the world, people of all religions! God will create one out of many. There shall be one flock and one shepherd, all gathered into one Kingdom, the Kingdom of God when life here on this earth comes to an end in kairos time--God's time.

You and I are on a journey to that time.  We are on our way to our eternal home, to the eternal Kingdom that God has secured for us by Jesus' death on the cross to show us the depth, the breadth, the height and the width of God's love for us and to free us from sin and Satan's lies. This week--the holiest week of the year--we contemplate the Paschal Mysteries--Jesus' dying and rising. May we make this week a very holy week by the choices we make to remember and contemplate God's love for us that knows no end!  Nothing is too much for God to say: "I love you personally, unconditionally and eternally! For you I died to save you eternally from the darkness of sin and eternal death. I love you! Do you hear me?"

Friday, March 23, 2018

Rescued from "the power of the Wicked"

In today's first reading, Jeremiah 20: 10-13, Jeremiah says to the Lord: "I hear the whisperings of many: 'Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!' All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. 'Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.' But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked." 

Many of the just, I  believe, are being tested by today's administration. Evil will not triumph. Good will, as it did in Jesus' day. Those who put Jesus to death did not triumph; Jesus did in the resurrection to new life. Those unjustly treated by persons in power will also triumph. Those involved in evil will, I believe,  "in their put to utter shame" in time unless they change their evil ways.

The questions you and I need to answer are: Are we engaged in behaviors to trip up others, to bring them down and raise ourselves up?  Are we on "watch for any misstep" of another person, hoping that that person "will be trapped"  so that we "can prevail, and take our vengeance" out on them?  How easily in the political environment in which we live it is to take sides and hope that the side we oppose "will be trapped."  God have mercy on us. And God help all of those in public office to be awakened to God's will for justice for all and be given the power they need to engage in just practices and in legislation that promotes the common good for all peoples.  And may the efforts to bring other people down by false advertisements and slanderous statements cease!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

God's Everlasting Covenant

"The Lord remembers His covenant forever," we pray in today's responsorial psalm.  The New Covenant is sealed in Jesus' blood poured out for us on the cross on the first Good Friday.  Just as in the Covenant expressed in the Old Testament to the people of Israel to inherit the land  of Canaan, so, in the New Covenant, we who believe in Jesus and keep His Commandments are promised an eternal inheritance, a home in heaven with God forever, as we past from this life into eternity.

Holy Week is a time to remember the wondrous deeds of the Lord--His total self-emptying love upon the cross to secure our salvation.  On that first Good Friday, we have been redeemed, made whole, purified in Jesus' blood. Jesus gave His life for you and me. Jesus died for you and me. Jesus gave His back to be scourged for you and me. Jesus allowed His head to be crowned with thorns for you and me. Jesus walked the hill to Calvary carrying the cross on which He would be crucified for you and me.

We Catholics believe that every Eucharist recalls these saving acts of our salvation. We believe that Jesus' self-emptying, sacrificial love is made present to us at every Eucharist. The very words of Jesus at the Last Supper, when giving the bread and the wine to the Apostles and saying "'Take it,...,this is my body"....This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many," is repeated by the priest at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We Catholics believe that, when the priest says "This is my body," "This is my blood" that the bread and wine used at every Mass are changed into Jesus' body and blood, just as they were when Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper.

Today's responsorial psalm reminds us that "The Lord remembers his covenant forever." Let us also always remember the wondrous deeds of the Lord at the Last Supper in giving us the Eucharist for our daily food and on Good Friday offering His life on the cross to secure our eternal salvation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Faith in "Good" Times and "Bad"

In today's first reading, Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego face death if they do not worship a manmade idol--a golden statue molded by King Nebuchadneazar.    All are put to death who do not bow down in worship of this idol. These three men respond to his threat by saying: There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you  in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up."

Notice the words "if our God can save us...may he save us" and the phrase ""[b]ut even if he will not..."   There is no manipulation of God by these three men. There is total surrender to what is or can be. There is total trust in God, the trust Jesus teaches us on the Cross. Resurrection and new life with the Trinity follows for the three men and for Jesus.

It is difficult to leave the outcome to God. Many times I am telling God what to do. And it is particularly difficult not to defend myself or my religion when people say "If there is a God, why does this or that happen? Or, being asked the question: "How can you believe in a God who allows evil or in a church that does such and such? Or asks, how can you believe in a God who allowed your mother to die of cancer and leave four small children without a mother"? Can I say: "If God can save so and so of dying prematurely of cancer, may He save her. But even if he will not, know that I will continue to believe in God and in His compassion, love and mercy?"

Monday, March 19, 2018

Feast of St.Joseph, the Foster Father of Jesus

God promised Abraham that he would he would be made the father of many nations.  Paul reminds us in the first reading of today's liturgy, Romans 4: 13, 16-18, 22, that it "was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes through faith."  In the Gospel, Matthew 1: 16, 18-21, 24a, Matthew calls Joseph a righteous man.  Joseph, in faith, takes Mary home to be his wife after an angel appears to him in his sleep and says to him:  "'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'"

We, too, are made righteous, not through the law, but through our faith in Christ Jesus and in the Spirit leading us through life's challenges.  Our faith may be tested many times, as was Abraham's when asked to sacrifice his son Isaac and as was Joseph's in discovering Mary's pregnancy, deciding to divorce her privately, and asked by he angel to not let fear dictate his choices. We may find ourselves in many dilemmas, as did Mary and Joseph, as we follow God's will throughout our lifetimes.  To triumph over fears that could block us from following the Spirit's lead, we, like Mary and Joseph, need to recognize God-with-us and develop an intimacy with Jesus.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

God's Justice

Today's liturgy opens with the following antiphon:  Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength (cf. Ps 43 (42): 1-2).  In light of those who have recently been stripped of their jobs , I paraphrase this antiphon as follows:  "Give them justice, O God, and plead their causes against faithless leaders. From the deceitful and cunning rescue them, for you, O God, are their strength."

In today's responsorial psalm, we pray to God as follows:  "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.  Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sins cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me...."

May God have mercy on those unjustly firing their employees. May God have mercy on the "deceitful and cunning" and "in the greatness of [His] compassion wipe out [the offenses of those doing the unjust firing]."  It is more difficult to apply the rest of the psalm to the persons who dominate our news today, yet we know that Jesus forgave the good thief on Calvary when he turned to Him and asked to be remembered. "Remember me, Jesus, when You get to Your kingdom" and Jesus responded: "This very day you shall be with me in my Kingdom."  Jesus does not rejoice in even one sinner, you or me or anyone else, being lost. All sin was destroyed on the cross and all sinners saved. I pray for this salvation and for God's saving graces to transform the evil we are seeing in our own lives and in the world of today!  God, have mercy on  us all!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Presence of Evil

In today's first reading, Jeremiah 11: 18-20,  the prophet realizes that he, "like a trusting lamb led to slaughter had not realized that [his enemies] were hatching plots against [him]."  "I knew their plot because the Lord informed me; at that time you, O Lord, showed me their doings."  As with Jeremiah, so, too, with Jesus.  Men blinded by personal ambitions felt threatened by Jesus and plotted his death.  His wisdom was too much for them. The Truth of his teachings were feared.

What happened to Jesus and to Jeremiah happens to us to this very day. Sometimes we are the one's plotted against and sometimes we are the ones doing the plotting.  Jealousy and pride can continue to consume people as they build  their ego "dynasties" or protect "dynasties" already built! Evil is born in these situations, as we witness our government leaders and leaders of other nations plotting evil against those who they see as threats.  No one is safe in these evil schemes.  People, "like a trusting lamb, [are being] led [to the] slaughter."

With Jeremiah, let us say to the Lord: [T]o you I have entrusted my cause!" Let us, also, entrust to the Lord the cause of those who have become the latest victims of the jealous rage of those building ego "dynasties". And finally let us answer the question: Am I involved in plotting evil against anyone?  Am I, have I, slaughtered anyone by  slanderous, deceitful words that led to unjust job losses or the loss of their reputation?

Friday, March 16, 2018

As with Jesus, so with Us

In today's Gospel, John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30, we learn that Jesus did not want to go to Judea because the Jews were out to kill him.  However, given the fact that his brothers went up for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, he also went to the city but in secret.  Some people recognized Jesus and raised the question: "Is he not the one they are trying to kill?" Yet no one attempted to seize Jesus. "Could the authorities," the bystanders wondered, "have realized that he is the Christ?" Can't be, they reasoned, because we know where Jesus has come from and, "[w]hen the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from."  Jesus, hearing the conversation, cries out:  "'You know me and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.' So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come."

"His hour had not yet come."   Whatever Jesus did, He did with the Father, as He and the Father are one.  "I do nothing except what the Father asks me to do," Jesus says to us in another passage in John. And the time of showing the depth of God's love by the ultimate sacrifice of pouring out His life on the cross had not yet arrived.

Having been baptized unto Jesus' death and having rose to a new life with Christ,  we are Christ's ambassadors sent into the world, also, by the Father to reveal the depth of God's love.  Like Jesus, we reveal the Father's love by a self-emptying, sacrificial love in our service of others. We reveal who God is by loving others as we love ourselves. God's love radiates through us, also, when we are  patient, compassionate, forgiving,  and obedient to what the Spirit is asking of us each moment to bring forth he best in others and in ourselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Merciful, Forgiving God

In today's first reading, Isaiah 49: 8-15, the Lord says to us through the prophet Isaiah: "Along the ways [you] shall find pasture, on every bare height shall [your] pastures be. [You] shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike [you]; for he who pities [you] leads [you] and guides [you] beside springs of water. I will cut a road through all my mountains, and make  my highways level...." 

Today I scorched others by my impatience and anger. The "sun" of my hot temper "burned" others, as I found myself in a position of powerlessness and helplessness.  I reacted like a child having a temper tantrum when not getting his/her way. When I entered into prayer this afternoon and told God how frustrated I was with myself, God made my "highway  level."  God "took pity on me and [led me to] springs of water."  He "cut a road mountains" of pride.  The Scripture passage  "Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart" came to my mind.  The Lord also reminded me that He does not condemn me and asked me not to condemn myself either.

What a grace this was for me, as I usually "beat" myself up mercilessly when I do wrong, as my need for perfection rears its head!  Over and over again, I need to come to the "springs of water" and let God smooth out my mountains of pride!  What about you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Stirring the Pool of Life-giving Water"

In today's Gospel, John 5: 1-16, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and finds blind, lame, and crippled persons going down to the Bethesda pool. The first person to enter the pool when the waters are stirred up is healed. Jesus notices a man there "who had been ill for thirty-eight  years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, said to him, 'Do you want to be well?'"  He answered: "'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on the way, someone else gets down there before me.'  Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your mat, and walk.' Immediately the man became well, took up his mat and walked."

Jesus noticed the man's inability to get to the pool first and, knowing that he had been ill for a long time, had pity on him. He asks him: "Do you want to be well?"  Jesus asks us the same question. "Do you want to healed" of that which  holds us back from being made whole, of becoming well so that we, too, can participate fully in life around  us!  What is crippling us? Do we know? And do we want to be healed?  Just sitting around, when other options are possible, is an option but there are other ones if we accept Jesus' invitation!

What is holding you and I back from the pool of graces available to us on a daily basis?  What prevents us from "stirring the pool" that will give live to others and to ourselves?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Getting to Know Jesus and Taking One's Needs to Him

In today's Gospel, John 4: 43-54, Jesus returns to Galilee, frustrated that he was not received in his hometown, saying: "...[A] prophet has no honor in his native place."  Experiencing the indifference and hostility of his hometown, Jesus goes to Galilee, where He is welcome. He actually returns to Cana of Galilee, where he performed his first miracle in changing water into wine. A royal official from Judea approaches him and begs Jesus to heal his son who, in Capernaum, is at the point of death. Initially, Jesus responds with a reproach: "Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe."  The royal official simply says to Jesus: "Sir, come down before my child dies." Go,  "your son will live."  On his return home, the royal official learns that his son actually began to recover at the very moment that Jesus said: "[Y]our son will live."

There are several learnings here. First of all, we learn that Jesus is a human person like us. Jesus experienced all of the emotions you and I experience when we are rejected, ignored, and/or treated with indifference. Jesus could feel frustrated and, also,  taken advantage of, as when he complained that people just wanted to "see signs and wonders."  Second of all, we learn that Jesus reads hearts, as with the royal official. The royal official did not approach Jesus just to see a sign. He knew that Jesus healed people and would heal his dying son! Third of all,  we learn that Jesus is a God of compassion and love. He cared for and about the royal official and his dying son!  He cares about us and our families, too.  Fourth of all, we learn the importance of approaching Jesus with our needs and doing so with faith!

As we reflect upon this Gospel, I also suggest that we ask ourselves the following questions: If I were a resident of Jesus' native town, if Jesus entered my  home, would I be indifferent to Him? Would I want him to leave or, much worse, want to "throw him over a cliff", as the people had attempted to do when he preached in the synagogue he attended as a child?

As we reflect upon the royal official'  faith, however, I suggest we ask ourselves the following questions: How do I relate to God? Do I approach God with a humble faith?  Or am I simply curious, wanting to see "signs and wonders"?  Am I a person who has heard about Jesus and the work He has done and does, but simply remain distant from Him, not taking time to get to know Jesus and His works and His compassion for me and my needs and those I care about?

If you want to grow in your faith, I suggest spending time in prayer, personal and communal, liturgical and familial; picking up the Bible and reflecting on passages that resonate with you. Also helpful is reading books that nurture your hunger and thirst for God.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Heeding God's Words, God's Voice, God's Commands

In today's responsorial psalm, God says to us: "If today you hear [my] voice, harden not your hearts."  In the first reading, Jeremiah 7: 23-28, the Lord says to the Israelites and to us: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper."  Saddened, God tells us that "they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts, and turned their backs, not their faces, to me....This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself has banished from their speech." Is that also true of you and me? Is that true of our nation, our country, our city, our society, our family, our religious communities, our parishes?

Satan, a fallen intelligent angel, roams the world seeking souls to devour. In no way does He want us to listen to God's voice. He and those angels who followed him did not!  They lost their home in heaven and no way want us to achieve that goal!  May we take heed of God's voice directing us, guiding us, beckoning us to do God's will, keep God's commandments, listening to the prophets in our midst, some of them children used by God to direct us toward the good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Closeness of our God

In today's first reading, Dt 4:1, 5-9, Moses asks the people:  "[W]hat great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?" And we, today, can say to our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our grandnieces and grandnephews: "Who, like us, has a God who walked among us here on earth,  fulfilling the letter of the law in loving his neighbors, eating with outcasts, forgiving sins, raising the "dead" to life, curing illnesses and diseases of all kinds, who accepted all peoples as equals?   Who, like us, has a God (Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity) who showed us how to love God unreservedly, trust God totally and say yes to God even to the point of death on the cross?  Who, like us, has a God who walks with us, talks with us, counsels us, guides us, lives within us, and who strengthens us on a daily basis to follow His ways of justice and peace, forgiveness and mercy and unconditional love for all peoples regardless of their race or creed, gender or nationality, or cultural backgrounds? Who, like us, has a God who fulfills the law and brings each one of us to fulfillment, as well?

Do I, do you, know this God personally? Do we take time to get to know God by reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures, by spending time in personal, communal, familial prayer? Do we take time to dwell in solitude listening to the Lord speak to us, flooding us with peace, calming our fears, purifying our hearts and enlightening our minds?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Living for God Alone

In today's first reading, Daniel 3: 25, 34-43, Azariah stands up in the fire, into which he and two others were thrown because they refused to obey the king's order that would have violated their beliefs, and prays: "For your name's sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, to whom  you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. For we reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins....[W]ith contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received....[L]et our sacrifice be in your presence today, as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame....Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory  to your name, O Lord."

This prayer as applicable to our nation today, as it was to the nation of Israel. As of old, God looks with mercy and love upon us. With Azariah, we pray: "With contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. Let our sacrifices to do what is right be in your presence, as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. Deliver us by you wonders from sinking into deceitful ways and corrupt decisions that increase hardships for others around us and beyond us.  We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen."

Monday, March 5, 2018

Openness to God at Work in the Ordinary

In today's first reading, 2 Kings 5: 1-15b, we encounter Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram and a man afflicted with leprosy.  We are told that Naaman is highly respected by his master, for through him the Lord brought victory to the Arameans.   In that military victory over Israel,  a little girl was captured and made a servant to Naaman's wife.  This little girl says to Naaman's wife: "If only my  master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria, ..., he would cure him of his leprosy." The faith of a little girl!  Do I have the faith of a child?

The little girl's master sends Naaman to the king of Israel. The king reacts angrily when Naaman approaches him. His fear and his pride get in his way--what will he say? will he fail? will he look like a fool? "Am I a god with power over life and death,"  he asked.  Is the king of the Armenians "looking for a quarrel with me!" Where is this king's faith?  In reflecting on my responses to challenges, how does my fear and pride block me from acting in positive ways?  Are there times when I conclude that people are just out to pick a fight with me when that is absolutely not  true?

The prophet Elisha hears that the king tore his garments in anger and confronted him. "Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel."  Then there is Naaman who reacts angrily when the prophet sends a messenger to him and he is given the following instruction: "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean."   
Naaman is insulted that 1) the prophet did not come out of his house and talk to him in person and 2) that he is asked to wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Ever bulk that you were not treated as "royalty," as someone of importance deserving a personal interview and a dramatic response to your need for help? "Wash seven times in the Jordan?  You kidding me! We have rivers in my own country!"  Ever walk away from a situation out of pride, refusing to follow a suggestion that, as for Naaman, could have brought you amazing results of God's mercy and compassionate, understanding love? Without humility, we easily deny ourselves hidden graces and blessings such as Naaman experienced.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Our Bodies: Temples of the Holy Spirit

In today's Gospel, John 2: 13-25,  Jesus goes up to Jerusalem.  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He approaches the Temple area and is outraged that the people have turned it into a marketplace and are also cheating people who are purchasing animals for sacrifice. He "made a whip out of cord and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.'"  When the Jews challenged Jesus' authority and asked "'What sign can you show us for doing this?' Jesus answered: 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.'"

The Temple to which Jesus is referring is His body, which they will crucify on Good Friday. Three days later, Jesus will rise from the dead. Like Jesus, we, too, are to treat our bodies as sacred. Our bodies, Temples of the Holy Spirit, will also be risen from the dead, as death has no power over us anymore than it had power over Jesus' body.

As with the material Temple in Jerusalem, our bodies are not to be abused. They are not to be sold for pleasure or for profit. We are holy in God's sight! We are His dwelling place, out of which flows graces that transform us and others so that God's presence in us radiates through our actions in such a way that all things are made new and give the honor and glory of God!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

God's Delight in Us

In today's first reading, Micah 7: 14-15, 18-20, Micah prays as follows, asking God to reveal Himself as our Shepherd: "Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel.  Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old; as in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs." Micah then asks: "Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again  have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt."  In today's Gospel, Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32, Jesus reveals the nature of God in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He reveals a God who "removes guilt and pardons sin," "delights in clemency", is compassionate, loving, and caring, a God who waits for our return when we go astray, when we choose a path that leads to destruction, even death of the body and the spirit.  With great delights, God receives us back into His Presence, rejoicing and celebrating our coming back to our senses and living a life of justice, love, peace, honest and right relationships with others, ourselves and our Creator God.  No one is more excited when we choose rightly by turning away from evil to do good than God, our constant companion, our Guide, who lives within us, works through us, and hovers over us with Love!

May we come to this realization and work unceasingly to become our best selves, reaching our potential to live like Jesus lived!  Our goal here on earth is to be totally transformed by grace so that our being made in the image and likeness of God is never in doubt!

Friday, March 2, 2018

An Instrument in God's Hands

In today's first reading, Genesis 37: 3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a, we are presented with the story of Joseph, the youngest son of Israel whom Israel loved above all his sons and treated him as his favorite child.  Joseph's brothers grew to hate Joseph and, when Israel sent him to join them in the pasture where they were tending the sheep, they plotted to kill him. Reuben talked them out of doing so and suggested they sell him to Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt. In the Gospel, Mt 21: 33-43, 45-46, we are given the parable of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it out to tenants.  At the time of the harvest he sent his servants to collect the produce.  The tenants beat some of the servants and killed others. So the owner sent his only son, believing that he would be respected and the produce given to him. "No!" They also killed the son.

We may respond in disbelief! However, how often have we, behind another's back, spoken ill of another person. Though we may not have plotted to commit murder, we may have "murdered" that person with harsh words and and damning judgments!   Concerning today's Scriptures, we know that God brought good out of both situations. Ruben saves Joseph from being put to death by his brothers and, in turn, Joseph, who was sold to the Israelites on their way to Egypt,  saved his brothers and his father from dying of starvation during a severe famine that hit that area. The son killed by the tenants in the parable Jesus tells the Pharisees is a foreshadow of Jesus being put to death on Calvary.

The questions I need to ponder are: Who am I in these Scripture readings? Israel playing favorites? Joseph who is given special treatment and thus hated by others denied the same favors? one of Joseph's brothers jealous of others, speaking ill of others, plotting against others? Am I a Reuben who intervenes for the sake of others? Am I one of the tenants intent on stealing the produce entrusted to me by another and resorting to whatever it takes to get what I want?  Or am I an upright, honest person, following Jesus' example?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Listening and Responding Caringly

In today's Gospel, Luke 16: 19-31, Jesus tells the Pharisees the story of "a ricman...dressed in purple garments and fine linen [who] dined sumptuously each day. ...[L]ying at his door was a poor man Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the craps that fell from the rich man's table."  Both men died. The rich man ends up in eternal torment while Lazarus entered heaven.  The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers to pay attention to the poor. Abraham refuses, telling the fallen rich man that his five brothers have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them. "Oh, no, Abraham," the rich man responds, "if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."  Abraham responds: "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."

Someone has risen from the dead who is Jesus the Lord. Am I listening to Him? Do I pay attention to the small, whispering voice within me guiding me, urging me, encouraging me to respond to the needs of the poor in my midst? The "poor" could be the homeless man/woman standing on a street corner, a fellow parishioners suffering from a terminal or chronic illness, the helpless child in one's home, an infant who is crying out of hunger or sleeplessness or needing a diaper change, a spouse who is exhausted from the demands of caring for toddlers all day. The Spirit may alert me to stop for groceries on the way home from work or some other errand on behalf of the family. Am I listening? Am I responding or do I simply ignore that small, quiet voice, as, most likely, the rich man did when he passed Lazarus by the gate of his mansion!