Meditation is an ideal way to pray. Using God's word (Lectio Divina) allows me to hear, listen and reflect on what the Lord wants to say to me - to one of his disciples - just like He did two thousand years ago.
The best time to reflect is at the beginning of the day and for at least 15 to 30 minutes.
Prior to going to sleep, read the Mass readings for the next day and then, in the morning, reflect on the Meditation offered on this website.
I hope these daily meditations allow you to know, love and imitate the Lord in a more meaningful way.
God bless you!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lk 11:29-32 Someone Greater

Lk 11:29-32 Someone Greater

(Click here for readings)

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah…At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

“Mammals!” That was the response I got from a fifth grader a few days ago when I asked the question, “If humans are not animals, then what are they?”

I was shocked to say the least, especially because I was speaking to a group of Catholic school kids. I told the child, “You would have been closer to the right answer if you had said ‘Aliens!’”

Yes, I believe we are aliens more so than mammals. I asked these kids, “Do you know any creature on the face of the earth other than human beings that shake from laughter, hide their thoughts out of shame, write poetry, compose songs, write novels, sit in chairs, wear clothes, eat in restaurants, tell stories, tell lies, commit sins, make lifetime commitments, fall in love, act in plays, tell jokes, laugh hysterically, fly in planes and drive cars?” Of course I could have gone on and on, but the child interrupted me and said, “Well beavers use rocks to break open shells .” I asked him, “Do you do that?” He smiled and finally got it. “Well then”, he said, “I guess we are aliens.”

No one seems to complain that science books reduce life to skin and bones, or unscientifically and blatantly ignore those things that make humans look more like aliens. How can scientists keep a straight face when they make the ridiculous claim that the earth is obviously another planet? For all those who think, the obvious is quite different: our planet doesn't work like all the others out there!

So many kids have a remarkably hard time piecing together the sciences (like Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) but find it remarkably breath-taking to find it all pieced together. It is enlightening how our mind can perceive that which the eyes cannot see.

I think it is safe to say that we all find it incredibly difficult to understand how the human brain works, but at the same time find it as common sense to understand that it was understood and designed long before it ever came to be!

We all have a tendency to shove people into categories and chambers, even gas chambers! We do it because it is easy to do and it’s an inexpensive way to hide or destroy someone. It’s far easier to hate someone than to understand them; it takes less time to do. It’s easier to call out people by their politics then to call them out by name. It’s easier to put a label on people then to know them by heart. It’s so much easier to be Anti-Catholic than to be truly Catholic. It is so much easier to hate a Christian than to criticize a Muslim, for it is a lot easier to slap another cheek than to lose your very own head! Ah yes, it’s easy to call Pope Benedict a Nazi because it’s impossible for him to deny his nationality or birthday. It’s easy to call Pope Benedict an idiot, when you cannot attack his PhDs. It’s easy for us to call all priests pedophiles, because it’s harder to admit that the overwhelming majority of them are far more selfless than our selfish selves!

The Lord would not allow himself to fall into any category. He would not allow himself to be reduced to a Jew, a zealot, a prophet, a man, a madman or a King. Friends and enemies both knew that the Lord was far bigger than any of their man made categories or schemes.

The Lord of life did not come into the world to fit inside a man made mold. He came into the world and broke all our molds. And the greatest mold he broke was a man made tomb! For this reason, he is not just someone greater. The Lord is the Lord of life and death.

Lent is the perfect time to start breaking the molds that entrap us by humbling ourselves before God.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mt 6:7-15 Whisper In My Ear

Mt 6:7-15 Whisper In My Ear

(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you should pray: Our Father…

Most religions share a common desire to reach the divine reality. Pagans attempt to reach it though their imagination alone. Christians reached it through interaction with the God who became not only a man, but more importantly our brother and our Father. This interaction continues today through prayer. (G.K. Chesterton)

When a Jewish child is born, his father will take hold of him and whisper in his ear this prayer: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength…” When a Christian child is born, his father should take hold of him and whisper in his ear: "Our Father...." This is our prayer par excellence because it best identifies who we truly are. It is the first prayer that many children learn. We should say it often because the Lord said it, used it and prayed it, and we should do the same. What is striking, absolutely unique, about this prayer is the beginning…Our Father.

Even at the age of thirty-three, the Lord continued to refer to His Father as daddy. And although the Lord grew in wisdom, strength and age, his heart remained like that of a child and his will remained like that of steel!

Today, during Mass, I asked the children if they remembered in Scripture when Jesus cried. One child said, “While he was being crucified.” Another, “While he was being beaten.” Another, “When he saw his mother.” No. No. No. Finally, one child said, “When his best friend died.” Correct! And maybe that is a lesson for all of us too. Just like the Lord, maybe the only time we should ever cry is when we lose someone we love due to death, and when lose someone we love due to sin.

The Lord hardly ever cried because he learned to trust in His daddy. One of the reasons why we cry a lot is because we never really learn to trust in our parents or in our Father, our big daddy. How did Jesus learn to trust? The hard way. He learned to trust by going out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. He learned to trust by praying incessantly and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide his every word, every decision, and every move. He learned to trust by handing over his work, his life to his Heavenly Father; by saying over and over again, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And while he learned to trust, he also learned how to live, persevere and die.

Our Father. God is our Father. Creation is His glorious work and man is his masterpiece. There can be no Father without a Mother, and Mary is our beloved mother – not nature! In fact, nature should not even be referred to as nature but rather as creation since its only purpose is to provide for the Father’s masterpiece. The “Our Father” places all things in their proper place, starting with God in Heaven! All glory, all praise and worship to Him alone!

Thy Kingdom Come, thy Will be done. It is amazing what billions and billions of tiny rain drops can do: bring life on earth. It is amazing what the Word of God can do: bring life to the sinner. It is amazing what the Saints in Heaven can do: pray for all God’s children. God’s word, God’s people “shall not return to Him void.” (Is 55:10-11) Give us this bread that came down from Heaven! Give us forgiveness that comes down from Heaven, and lead us not into temptation that comes from below!

Do what your Father in Heaven does. We know how to love because Christ taught us. We know how to forgive because Christ showed us. We know how to live because Christ is alive and well. Do as the Father does, allow Heaven to reign on earth. Allow Him to call you by name! Allow heaven to touch earth. Allow God to be God, and to shower His creation with His love and Holy Spirit. Allow the Lord to bear fruit in all his creation and in all His children.

Do not be like the others, who live and work for their own petty kingdoms!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mt 25:31-46 Do Something!

Mt 25:31-46 Do Something!

(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”

As a Catholic Christian I do not believe in “faith alone”; that is, I do not believe that I will inherit eternal life because I have said that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior. Instead, what I believe as a Catholic Christian is that Jesus Christ is my only Savior and the only Savior of the human race and I, as a Christian, have been called to breathe and live Christ’s words in my words and in my decisions. That is the only plausible explanation from today’s Gospel passage.

Don’t kid yourself. Stop fooling yourself. The Lord has called us to serve Him and our neighbor unconditionally, honestly, humanly, and lovingly. There is no easy way out of it. Don’t even try to be nice if you aren’t willing to be nice! I know. I recently learned a great lesson regarding this.

A few weeks ago, a mom brought in her children to speak to me. I have known this family for a long time now and I have always felt very comfortable being around them. Well, the mom was a little concerned about her children’s recent behavioral issues and asked if I could speak to them individually to see how they were doing. I had some time and so I agreed. When the last child finished speaking to me, I noticed a gift basket I had received for Christmas. It was unused and still wrapped in its original paper. I immediately thought to myself, “This would make a nice little gift to give to this family.” Well, the child was a little reluctant to take it. I told him, “No, please. I want your mom and family to have it. You guys deserve it.” “But father…” the boy insisted. I said, “No buts…it’s on me.” The child reluctantly accepted my “generous” gift and brought it over to his mother. I was not at all surprised by her reaction. She looked shocked! She said to me, “What’s this?” Smiling, I said, “It’s a little gift for you and your family.” She said, “I can’t believe you are giving us this basket?” I shook my head and I said with a humble voice, “You and your family deserve it.” She said to me, “What I am saying is that I cannot believe you are giving us back the basket we gave you for Christmas!!!”

I don’t think I have ever been this embarrassed in all my life! I deserved every bit of it!!!

Why doesn’t everybody help? Why don’t more people get involved and help strangers or relatives? The answer is simple: It doesn’t make any sense to. There are a thousand great reasons not to help and only one great reason to help. As a priest, our greatest temptation is to keep our doors closed. How often do you hear something like this, “Why should I get involved in other people’s problems? It will only return to haunt me!” And you know what? It’s true! How true that is! If a poor person came knocking on your door, would you help them? I ask because every time I help one poor person, it seems as though that poor person tells all the poor people they know and all of a sudden they are all knocking on the parish door with the most bizarre and convoluted stories I have ever heard!

As I said above, there is only one great reason why anyone should help another? Out of love for God and neighbor. The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” He then proceeded to give the people the great laws of love.

Why should I help? To be holy. What does it mean to be holy? To love God and neighbor. How must I do it? Honestly, lovingly, humanly and unconditionally. Not embarrassingly.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mk 1:12-15 Alone

Mk 1:12-15 Alone

(Click here for readings)

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.

Children cry when their toys are taken away from them. Teenagers cry (and get angry) when you take away their cell phones. Adults cry when you take away their home, and the elderly cry when you take away their car keys. Why doesn't Jesus cry when he loses everything?

Jesus remained in the desert for forty days. How could he have done that? We wonder only because we can’t even bear the thought of something like this ever happening to us! But the truth of the matter is simple: We wonder because we are weak, and we are weak because we are like babies that cry for anything and everything! Lent is training time for war!

Even for a day, the desert can be an extremely harsh place to stay. Now, imagine being there for forty days! Some people can do this type of training; for example, men who want to be Navy SEALS. But for most of us, we cannot do this because we are not willing to do it. What does it take to stay in the desert for so long? What does it take to remain faithful to God even while under distress? What does it take to speak the truth while seeing the sword? It takes love. A love that drives us to the point of near madness! The Lord is mad, madly in love with His people and with His Father. Nothing else matters. Lent is a time to get there!

The Lord, throughout his earthly life, was constantly challenged to prove who he is, but most of all, who he truly loves. Witnesses will not suffice. Claims will not suffice. Miracles will not do. What finally does his enemies in is his love for us and how love conquers all things. But for love to conquer, sacrifice must precede it.

By now it should be very clear to all of us that Christ received no special privileges for himself. Neither did his Apostles. Neither did their disciples. Neither will future followers, priests, bishops or Popes! And never will the Church. Like Christ, all those who follow will have to endure whatever Satan dishes out.

While I was a seminarian in northern Italy, we would on special occasions take hikes up very high mountains. These excursions were considered treats for the younger seminarians. For me, it was hell on earth! I not only feared heights but I also feared what could happen if something went wrong, especially in the winter time. We never brought with us extra supplies like clothing or food. None of us wore the right shoes. We never took any of the precautions that professional climbers take, and still, we were expected to go up to the very top of these mountains, some of which were close to 2,000 meters high! I worried about every possible thing. Well, I finally gathered the courage to tell my superior about my fears. He told me not to worry, that the next hike would not be so bad. I asked him where we would go. He turned and pointed at a range of mountains that were far away from us. He said, “That one.” I looked and could not figure out what mountain he was pointing to. So I said, “I don’t know which mountain you are pointing to.” He said, “It’s easy, it’s the only mountain that has snow on it!”

His words were like a knife in my back! And even his words are part of the training!

Now that I look back on it, I needed all this training, including his harsh words. But as good as the training was (and I hope still is), it still comes as a surprise to me how often one gets stabbed in the back, and how painful it feels!

What will get you through it all? Your love for God. You have to have more love for God than love for yourself or even for your neighbor. And that’s why the desert (and mountains) are ideal, for there is no one there except for you and God, and no reason to be there except to serve the Lord.

Let us pray to God that we take full advantage of these forty days. May each day be worth a year! It is much better to waste forty days in reflection than forty years looking back and crying.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lk 5:27-32 Looking For Less

Lk 5:27-32 Looking For Less

(Click here for readings)

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.

It seems like all the power, all the authority, all the wealth and comfort were not enough for poor Levi. I find it striking how quickly Levi got up from his custom’s post and ran out the door to follow the Lord. I find it bizarre to say the least how Levi smiled and leaped for joy when he was invited to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Don’t you?

Have you recently had a discussion with someone that went something like this: What’s going on? I’m not happy with my life. Something is missing. What’s missing? Ah, I don’t know… something.

I find it absolutely amazing that I can have these thoughts but cannot express them in any language. I know there is more to this life than what I am living, but while I am looking for it, I can’t seem to say it! I can’t name it because I don’t know it. I can’t describe it because I haven’t experienced it. And yet, deep down I know that there must be more. Or is it less?

In 1957, Dolores Hart caused girls across the world to turn green with envy when she made her film debut kissing Elvis Presley. This striking blonde went on to share the silver screen with everyone from Stephen Boyd and Montgomery Clift (who starred as a priest in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “I Confess”), to George Hamilton and Robert Wagner, but found herself falling for an even more famous figure: Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow evening, Dolores Hart, today known as Sister Dolores, will be walking the red carpet to attend the 84th Academy Awards ceremony. All eyes are upon this old nun who, having entered a cloistered monastery at the age of 24, is the subject of an Oscar-nominated HBO documentary ‘God is Bigger than Elvis’.

Her story is not as unique as the paparazzi would like to make it, but it is surprising! Of course, nothing is surprising or even shocking in Tinseltown; not even the plague of drug or alcohol related deaths and suicides that strike hard at famous actors and actresses. But what still remains a surprise to many, especially in Tinseltown, is how someone could have it all, and would rather jump on the occasion to have it so much less, and live happily ever after, even to a ripe old age of 71 (another surprise for Hollywood) and enjoying every minute of it!

Although this kind of story dates back two thousand years ago, it continues to be a unique and mysterious story even for the best of Hollywood directors! I wish they would try writing it a few times a year! Unfortunately, they always seem to mess it all up!

You see, God is not bigger than Elvis. Actually, God made himself smaller than Elvis by living the life of a slave. In all honesty, Elvis is bigger than God and God wouldn't want it any other way. Yes, God is bigger than life, that’s true! But the reason why God is bigger than life is because he gave his life. That’s the shocking truth!

Sister Dolores is not greater than Elvis, and she wouldn't want it any other way. In fact, she became smaller for Elvis by praying for Elvis. That too, is the shocking truth!

Why can't Hollywood get our story right! It’s old enough and they should know it by now!

Isaiah, the greatest Old Testament prophet, called upon his own not to start something new but to renew, rebuild, repair and restore all that was old!

“The Lord will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden…The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake…‘Repairer of the breach’, they shall call you, ‘Restorer of ruined homesteads.’” (Isaiah 58:11-14)

This Lent, let us renew our relationship with God; rebuild our prayer life; repair the damage our sins have done and restore our life of grace. The old give witness to what is tried and true. All that has endured the test of time gives witness to what works best. By now we should know that simple and smaller are always better.

Maybe our resurrection will begin this way too.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mt 9:14-15 Grow through Loss

Mt 9:14-15 Grow through Loss

(Click here for readings)

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

The days will come…

If you ever wondered why the prophet Isaiah was put to death by his own people, now you know why: He wasn’t afraid to say it like it was.

Thus says the Lord God: Tell my people their wickedness…They seek me day after day, like a nation that has done what is just…They ask me to declare what is due them…They say to me, “Why do we fast, and you do not see it?” Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers…Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance? (Is 58:1-9a)

Isaiah is lamenting that God’s chosen people are sacrificing selfishly, for their own needs and not for God and others. Sound familiar? Ask around; find out for yourself what most people give up for Lent. The answers will sound very discouraging: “Well, I need to shed a few pounds.” “I gave up sweets.” “I gave up beer and women.” “I gave up going to the movies.”

Oh boy, do we all need help!

After celebrating my fourth Ash Wednesday Mass, I went back to the sacristy and was greeted by a gentleman. He told me that he had arrived late for Mass and had just missed the ashes. I told him not to worry, there was going to be another Mass in five minutes. He asked me if he could get them now. I looked up at him and not-so-gently reminded him that he had not just missed the ashes, but that he had missed the opening prayer, the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, the Gospel, my homily (which was his worst offense!) and the distribution of the blessed Ashes. I told him, “The problem isn’t that you arrived late. The problem is that you arrived now!” He wasn’t pleased with my answer. He told me, “Okay…I know I am good with God…I don’t need your ashes!” That was all I needed to hear. I told him, “Of course your good with your god…you just finished creating him!”

If Ash Wednesday was all about ashes, then we would have by now created a drive-thru for all those who wanted to receive them! After all, I hear it all the time; that is, how pressed we are for time! But it is truly amazing how people are pressed for time, especially when it is God’s time!

I don’t receive ashes for the sake of ashes. I receive them for the sake of my soul!

We all have a very hard time giving up what we hold on to for dear life! So, what we are unwilling to lose or sacrifice for Lent, the Lord will strip it for us.

Some people don’t have to think about what they will give up for Lent this year; the Lord has already taken care of it for them. They no longer have to imagine living their life without their mother or father or child. They don’t even have to think twice about living their marriage without their dearly beloved spouse. While some are working on shedding a few pounds during Lent, the Lord is working on creating saints.

Two days before a good friend of mine unexpectedly passed away, I received this text message from them: “Yesterday was a day for me to live Christian love beyond reason and in a radical way…Honestly, in the end it may not make a difference but at least I tried. I will have to tell you all about it the next time I see you.”

I am sure one day I will find out what this person wanted to tell me; when we meet again in Heaven.

Today, I sent her a message: “I miss you.” Why? Because we need to shed some real tears during Lent. We need to experience a real Lent, where the wedding guests mourn because the bridegroom is no longer with us. Getting rid of some extra pounds from Christmas and New Year’s is not Lent. I need to experience real weight and real weight loss, the weight that comes from sin and the loss that comes from grace. Because one day, the honeymoon will be over; the wedding feast will come to an end.

Lent is an ideal time of year to grow through loss.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lk 9:22-25 An Old Sofa

Lk 9:22-25 An Old Sofa

(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself.”

Who do I want to be? There can only really be one answer to this question: A Saint. What must I do? Follow God’s Will. And what is God’s Will? To love unconditionally. How can I do that? Only one way: Self-denial. That is, I must deny myself and take up my cross daily and follow the Lord.

Of course none of this is easy. But some of the best things in life are not easy. The Good News is that we have the perfect role model: Jesus Christ. What did he do? What must I do?

Baby steps: Before Christ traveled from town to town, he spent many years at home. Home is still the ideal place to learn the virtues and to practice self-denial. Moms and dads by now know that home is not where everything goes great but where everything can go seriously wrong. And that is ok, since the home (the family) is ideal for honest correction, detailed attention and love beyond belief (and relief). Learn to consider your home not a resort but a school. Success is not measured by how perfect you or your children are, but rather by the type of instruction they are receiving.

Concrete steps: Although written centuries ago, Sacred Scripture continues to inspire us much more than any novel written one hundred years ago; or movie viewed just a few years ago; or T.V. show watched a few seasons ago! Why? Because Scripture is sacred, it is inspired by God. It is honest communication, and highly practical, inspirational and spiritual food for the body and the soul. Scripture speaks and I enjoy. Today’s Gospel passage is the perfect message for a mom who was complaining just a few days ago about her young son. She recently sent me this very delightful e-mail.

“My friend and I have been having an ongoing laugh about the trials of being a stay at home mom. I was bemoaning the fact that I stayed home with the boys and my husband and I sacrificed for them, hoping to create a happy and loving childhood for them, but yet they had just told me they didn’t remember any of the things we did together! They didn’t remember any of it – trips to the zoo, hosting the neighborhood playgroup of TEN little boys, mornings at the playground…etc. I joked that I was going to write all these things down so they would know how hard I tried. Shortly after, I was giving away an old hand-me-down sofa. My son told me, “Oh mom! You can’t give away that sofa! It has my memories!” I immediately felt happy, thinking that he remembered all those times we spent curled up reading together on that sofa. But then he continued, “Yeah. I threw up on the arm of that sofa!”

My friend and I joked and we said that we were going to start taking photos and documenting all our efforts!”

If any mom, or dad, or husband or wife, etc. wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Isn’t it beautiful how Scripture can speak to me right at the perfect moment? Isn’t it amazing how God works his miracles in mysterious ways? Self-denial does not come easily, but it does come naturally…it comes from God. And although it does come naturally, it is universally recognized, appreciated and considered as the most difficult, and yet ultimate, way to live life!

Don’t throw the baby out with the old sofa!

Everyone loves a generous giver. Everyone loves an unconditional friend. Everyone can recognize another Christ. Be that Christ today!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mt 6:1-6,16-18 Ash Wednesday

Mt 6:1-6,16-18 Ash Wednesday

(Click here for Readings)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”

You may not be able to accurately judge a book by its cover, but you can know something about it, like its title and author. The same is true for people. You may not be able to judge someone quickly, but you can know something about them by the way they look and dress. For example, when someone wears a Dallas Cowboy’s jersey with Tony Romo’s number on it, it means they are brave or looking for trouble. If you come across a kid wearing a Texas Ranger’s baseball cap, it means that kid forgets and forgives easily. If someone wears a Mavericks jersey, it means they expect some respect. If someone wears ashes on their forehead, it either means they have come out of a fire alive or they are an acknowledged and repentant sinner. In this case, both possibilities would not be far from the truth.

On this day, Ash Wednesday, we have walked out of our burning home, alive, and walked straight into the burning bush of the Lord! Today, we have humbly acknowledged our failing and have asked the Lord for pardon and strength. It takes a humble individual to acknowledge his or her sins. But the truth of the matter is: we are all sinners. And the truth of the matter is: we don’t all believe it.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Last year, on Ash Wednesday, an old lady came up to me to receive her ashes. As I was placing the ashes on her forehead I said to her, “Remember that you are dust…” but before I could finish, she blurted out, “And so are you!” I told her, “I know I am, that’s why you see ashes on my forehead too!”

For some reason, we love to point out the defects of others. For the very same reason, we have a hard time pointing out our very own. The reason for both is the same, PRIDE!

Why do we do what we do? "Please don't come up to me and say, "So, what are you going to give up this year for Lent?" Don't ask me! Ask instead, "Who do you want to be during Lent?" That's the question! And the answer will determine what I should give up for Lent. Why Lent? Why even bother? Christians did not invent personal reflection time. Christians were not the first to say to the human race, “Seek silence, solitude and simplicity in order to better yourselves.” Since the beginning of time, men have reflected. The Greeks reflected just as well as the Romans. Barbarians and atheists reflect too. Even Adolf Hitler reflected about his life (and struggles) a great deal and wrote about it while he was in prison. But what were Hitler's struggles? Was he struggling on how to save lives or eliminate them? Hence, the problem with journaling! If our reflections only reflect ourselves then we reflect like a mirror. What is missing is a standard, something like a star to point to; something or someone to strive towards or to bounce ourselves off of. What is missing is someone that can tell us if we are truly progressing or messing around. We all need someone like a Rock. Ashes on my forehead remind me that I belong to the human race but that I am striving towards a higher standard! But who?

Lent presents itself as the perfect season to get away from the crowd, as far as possible from humanity. Throughout the centuries, individuals have used philosophy as their star, a guru as their goal, a Buddha as their rock, or a Mohammad as their prophet, and I believe it helps them to get further away from the crowd, but in the wrong direction. To be a faithful follower of a certain philosophy, or guru, or religion could very well lead to the destruction of the human race. But to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, to live by his words and example, could only mean a love for all!

Christians seek Christ, and I believe Christ will get you to the highest point, the greatest point, and the furthest possible point away from humanity by bringing you to the heights of the Saints, and depths of your own humanity.

There is nothing more tragic than an elderly individual who looks back on their life and regrets the decisions they made! How can one avoid this? What is the solution? Christ is the solution and Lent is the means.

Take some time every day to reflect on who you are and what kind of person you have become. But your reflection must include Christ's life and the decisions he made. If I notice a difference between myself and the Lord, then I need to bridge this gap! Then, and only then, can I be sure that I am living my life with the highest standard of living!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mk 9:30-37 The Last Shall Be First…Really!

Mk 9:30-37 The Last Shall Be First…Really!

(Click here for readings)

The disciples were arguing among themselves who was the greatest. Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” If it weren’t for the facts, this saying would be very hard to believe! And yet, our brains have a hard time – very hard time – embracing it. We shouldn’t wonder. This saying wasn’t meant for the brain but for the heart, and when the heart embraces it, the mind catches up to it!

When I think of the last being first, I think of a graduation ceremony where the Principal calls out, to my surprise (and horror), the Z’s before the A’s. I guess God, like man, can roll call us in whatever order he chooses, and he so happens to choose the last before the first. It might seem screwed up to us, but that’s only because we’ve turned His world upside down while Christ turned it right side up!

In his book, “Leadership”, Rudolph Giuliani says something to the effect, “The best leaders under-promise and over-deliver. I like the former Mayor of New York, but I couldn’t agree with him less. It would have been more fitting for him to say, “The best politicians under-promise and over-deliver.” Real leaders are not real politicans. Leaders are humble yet tenacious. Tenacious because they deliver what they promise. Humble because they recognize the great potential of those under them. They spend time and money training them to replace them. Sound familiar? Christ was humble and tenacious. He prepared his men well.

The Lord spent time, precious time, with the Twelve, preparing them for His eventual departure. And although they loved to debate among themselves, with regards to who was the greatest, the Lord did not immediately interject and put the argument to rest by saying, “I’m the greatest and you most definitely are not!” Instead, he let them debate and reminded them of what it took to be great: You must serve all!

I know a lot of moms and dads out there that wonder if their child(ren) will ever remember or appreciate all the sacrifices and physical, spiritual and emotional pains and trauma they suffered for their beloved children! I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. I do know that God will not forget!

Christians are called to live their lives in a radically different way than human beings live their lives. It’s not that we have a monopoly on serving. We would never want that! But we do have a monopoly when it comes to living like the poorest of the poor to be with the poor, or living and dying like a leper to be with the lepers, or being a prisoner in a concentration camp and dying like a Jew to be like Jesus. In our world, they would be considered the least of all. In God’s world, they, along with their humble brothers, are considered the greatest of all.

Christ gave a face to the faceless. He gave sight to the blind, hope to the hurt, a lift to the lame, and love to the unlovable. He served, and when all appeared as a loss; He received. Take comfort moms and dads, single women and single men!

As we begin Lent, let us prepare ourselves today, on fat Tuesday, with girded loins to be more like Jesus, who was the greatest of all by serving us all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mk 2:1-12 Go Away Unclean Spirits!

Mk 2:1-12 Go Away Unclean Spirits!

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As Jesus was coming down the mountain…someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so…If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” He said in reply, “If I can! Everything is possible to one who has faith...bring him to me.”

Unclean spirit. It is interesting how the Lord refers to this “spirit” as an “unclean spirit.” Today is a good day to ask some honest and tough questions. How many unclean spirits do I have? How many negative and terrifying thoughts reside in me? How many impure and evil thoughts seize my heart and throw me down? How many times a day is my mind occupied by these unclean thoughts? As one of these thoughts races through me, would a stranger sitting next to me see my lips moving (as if I were speaking to…), head shaking (as if I were debating with…), and eyes rolling (as if I were disgusted by…)? Would the stranger be scared of me? Unclean spirits, like bacteria, comfortably reside in me because they never get out of me! They are not embarrassing enough to me to get rid of them! That’s what makes them so hard to die. That’s why linger for years.

Since childhood. The Lord asked this poor creature’s guardian, “How long has this been happening to him?” The man responded by saying, “Since childhood.” That’s a long time! And yes, a lot of our problems can stem from our childhood; or better yet, from the people involved in our childhood. But do I still blame my fits and failures, flirts and fantasies on my upbringing? Do I still try to solve my problems like a child or like a faithful and devoted Christian? If so, then I will continue to blame my personality and struggles on others? My targets will be those who have been closest to me…my parents, siblings, spiritual mentors, teachers, friends and neighbors. The truth of the matter is: I will never grow by blaming others. I will only grow by increasing my faith. Let’s not forget. This poor man suffered since childhood. He did not run away from the Lord. He did not even blame the Lord for his ailment! How easy it could have been to have done both! Rather, he fell before the Lord and asked the Lord for help.

Only through prayer. The Apostles asked Jesus, “Why could we not drive the spirit out?” The Lord responded, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” There are some spirits that will only be driven out through prayer. Jealousy, envy, resentment, bitterness, anger, etc…are just a few of the unclean spirits that can only be driven out through prayer. Impurity and other sexual sins can only truly be driven out through prayer. Why? Because they are ailments of the heart. And the heart can only be healed through prayer. Without prayer, all “Five Step” or “Ten step” plans will be futile, and these ugly spirits will only return with a vengeance! All of us need to be honest with ourselves. How much time do I spend in meditation? I do not mean journaling! I mean concrete and honest-to-God meditation. There are many ways to make yourself better, but how do I measure better? According to what standard? According to what rock? Am I my own master? I better not be! What I need to do is personally reflect on God’s word daily? I need to be able to measure where God is and where I am? Do I understand that my struggle exists because there is an abyss between me and the Lord?

Thinking better thoughts will not do. Doing nicer things will not do. Wishing these spirits away will not wish anything away. Asking the Lord directly in one short sentence will not be enough. What will solve all our ailments, all our temptations, and all our vices will be my decision to finally step into Christ’s sandals, the sandals I am not even worthy to untie! It will mean developing a strong desire to be born again and to live a new. It will take following the Lord, step by step, from Bethlehem to Calvary, and doing it over and over again every single year of my life! It will mean visiting his people, speaking to strangers, and witnessing the suffering of others. This way, His sacrifices will be my sacrifices, his experiences will be my experiences, His resurrection will be mine too!

Some evil spirits will never go away by what we do, but rather how we pray.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mk 2:1-12 Utterly Shocking!

Mk 2:1-12 Utterly Shocking!

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When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was not at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bring to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, the opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

A couple of days ago I began reflecting on today’s Gospel passage. I was having a hard time wrapping my thoughts around it. On Friday, I saw a booklet entitled, “Living with Christ. I opened it up and read a reflection for this Sunday’s Gospel. The reflection was entitled, “God comes in surprising ways.” First of all, I know that God’s ways are numerous. I would even say that God’s ways are amazing. But to say that they are surprising? If that were the case, then it would mean the Lord was unpredictable. And if God is unpredictable, then it would mean He was unreliable. Secondly, how in the world can we say that God comes to us in surprising ways given today’s Gospel reading of the paralytic man! If anything, we would have to say that “Man comes to God in surprising ways!” This man was willing to go through Hell to get to God! He was determined to do whatever it took to get closer to the Lord! His story should be our story. This story is beautiful in many ways.

The paralytic was carried by four men. We think we are strong, and most of the time we are. But there comes a time in our life when we cannot do it alone. Often in our lives, we need others to help us get to God. We cannot always do it alone. Do you realize that your prayers can actually lift people up and help bring them closer to God?

When Jesus saw their faith. A priest takes vows in order to increase his faith, hope and love in the Lord. Married couples take vows in order to increase their faith, hope and love for one another and in the Lord. I am sure that all of us feel close to our spouse when we are experiencing good times and good health. But what is striking – absolutely shocking – is how we can actually come closer to our spouse and to God when we are experiencing bad times and bad health! This is what has surprised me the most in my life!

There was no longer room for them. It is not surprising in the least that the faithful were seated next to Jesus. Those who are blessed feel close to God. What is utterly shocking to us are how those who have suffered the most are the most determined to get closer to God! Instead of backing away, instead of saying, “You did this to me! I don’t want anything to do with you.” No! Those who suffer the most insist on getting closer to God! And they succeed!

God’s ways are normal ways. God comes to us through prayer, through Scripture, through the Eucharist, Confession, the Sacraments, sacrifice and humility. These are safe and sure paths that bring us in God’s presence. Of course the Lord can do whatever he wants to get to us, and he does! But what is stunning – absolutely surprising – is how suffering motivates us to get closer to God! And how it works!

Many churches lack one segment of society: teenagers. On average, teenagers lack faith because they feel very strong. They say, “I don’t need God.” They can say that because everybody is supporting them. Life is good for them…so far. They say to themselves, “My legs and arms feel strong, my mind and body are quick and flexible. My heart is in good shape. My knees still bend. But what a teenager does not do for himself, God will eventually do for him. And it is no surprise.

The elderly and the wise go to Mass because they know that one day they will lose it all. They will no longer be able to go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and stand tall as they once stood tall.

The wise (and the elderly) know what it takes to get closer to God and are determined to succeed!

We all go through loss in our life time: Loss of a job, loss of friends, loss of loved ones, loss of family members, loss of health and loss of life. Nothing new here. But what is amazing, utterly shocking, is that the Son of God was willing to go through it too; out of love for His Father and out of love for me; to get closer to His Father and closer to me!

How shocking!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mk 9: 2-13 Start Walking

Mk 9: 2-13 Start Walking

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Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.

I don’t know if any of you noticed, but we have written in Scripture what Peter, James and John said when they reached the top of the mountain. What we don’t have recorded is what they said as they were being led by Jesus up a very high mountain. We cannot forget that these men were fisherman, not mountain climbers! I know what I would have been saying!

I can’t say that I ever doubted my vocation. But I do remember some moments, during my ten years in the seminary, when I thought I didn’t have what it took to be a priest. While remembering the tough moments, I also remember the hand of God guiding my directors, spiritual advisors and classmates in the right way and at the right time that were just right for me.

Peter, James and John are the old guard. Out of all the Apostles, they have spent the most time with the Lord. They may very well have been going through a tough year. They may very well have been feeling a little weary of their lifelong commitment to the Lord. They may actually have been contemplating the “old” days, when life was in their hands and out of Christ’s reach!

How is your year going? How are your New Year resolutions? Do you even remember them?

As I approach the Lenten season, I long for change. But what do I need (or want) to change? Who do I want to be? Do I want to be “all that I can be” or do I want to be “all that I want to be”. Do I want to be a different man or do I want to be the man that God created me to be?

We all know that which is new quickly becomes old. This is true not only of newlyweds but also of religious! The honeymoon, with my parishioners, is over. My faith is put on trial on a daily basis. The time has arrived to do some spiritual exercises. I need to start climbing again, and I need to start climbing up the right mountain! I feel a great need to do this. I feel that I have arrived at a crossroad. Which path will I take? One path will transform me into another Christ. The other, will assuredly disfigure me.

I am reminded of a quote from Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. In it, Dorian, our young protagonist, laments at his portrait: “I grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” (Chapter 2)

The Lord led them up a high mountain. Following the Lord and allowing him to change you is never easy. It means working hard. It means climbing high. It means being led. To start, I must swallow my pride. Questions like, “Why me?”, “Why this?”, “Why now?” are out of the question! We will know all things, but only at “The End.” To make progress I need to dig in my heels. I can’t be constantly questioning everything and everyone every time! To persevere, I must take another step. I must keep walking! I must keep moving! I must keep climbing. I can’t look back. I can’t keep holding on to the past. I have a way of keeping track of my progress: Did I do better today? Did I do better in this situation? Did I love more? Did I forgive more? Did I give more?

All in all, I need to have faith, hope and love in the Lord and in His Commands. I will have to listen more and speak less. This is how I will keep up! The more I climb the more graces I shall receive. What shall I fear? It is not my talents that lead me. It is Christ that leads me!

Brothers and sisters, start thinking of going on a retreat; start thinking of doing daily meditations on God’s word. These are the tools the Lord has given us to know Him, follow Him and love Him. The more we do this, the less we will grow disfigured.

Why did the Lord transfigure in front of these three men? Because they needed it. But before they could witness it, they did some 24 hour fitness.