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!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Jn 4:43-54 He Left Him

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

There was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who as near death...The royal official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."  Jesus said to him, "You may go; your son will live."  The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. 

The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.  Can I learn to trust in God and to let God be God?  Can I learn to leave or let go?

Doubts.  Why don't you come with me, Lord?  Hey, you never know.  You're grace may have fallen on my next door neighbor and not on me.  Why don't you accompany me? We can go together. 

I am so impressed by this royal official's faith. "Only say the word and my servant shall be healed" (cf. Mt 8:8).  How long will it take for me to hand my doubts over to the Lord and let Him be?  Isn't His grace enough?  

Fears.  Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.  Remember.  Remember.  Believing is seeing.  There is no other way to live life and conquer one's fears.  

Life must be lived by faith. 
Each day must be lived in hope. 
Every person will come alive only through love.  

I must conquer my fears of rejection.  "Only say the word and I shall be healed"

Bitterness.  Let it go.  Come to the Lord for understanding.  Let bitterness be no longer a part of who you are.  Let it go...and forgive.  Let forgiveness reign. 

Believe in Him. Believe in what the Lord said and walk in His path.  Walk away.  The man believed and left.   

Anger.   Let it go.  Come to the Lord for strength; the strength to stretch out your hands and receive His saving grace.  Watch and learn from the Master, for He is meek and gentle of heart. 

He, who did not allow anger to control Him, can control you.  Let it go and come to the Lord.  He went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son.  Go.  It's time to be received into your Father's arms.  Be the Lord's servant and say, "Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).

Revenge.  Let it go.  Come to the Lord for counsel.  Do not allow anger or bitterness to seek and destroy.  The Lord has made a promise to His people.  "Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind" (cf. Is 65:17-21). 

Do not destroy.  Instead, allow the Lord to re-create.  Remember:  Scene One, Take Two.  Do not allow revenge to consume you.  Do not allow it to destroy you.  Put on the shield that protects you - that protects your heart from failing and your mind from falling.  Put on the armor of faith, hope and love. 

The royal official walked towards Him. 
The royal official was received by Him. 
The royal official believed Him.

"...And just at that moment the fever left him."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

John 9:1-41 I Know You By Heart

Fourth Sunday of Lent

(Click here for readings)

Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."  Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"  Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains."

Believing is Seeing.   We have all heard the saying, "Seeing is believing."  Well today, the Lord is turning our visual world upside down (that is, right-side up)  by saying "Believing is seeing."

A long time ago, I attended a wedding in which a beautiful blind young lady married a not-so-attractive young man.  As I child, I was puzzled.  She was beautiful.  He was unattractive.  Why in the world would she ever marry a guy like that?  It took me about twenty years to understand.  He loved her and she loved him.  She knew him the best way you can know anyone: by heart.   

Conditioned by sight.  Having sight is an amazing gift, but it can also be an awful handicap.  It can get in the way of getting to know people. 

Those who are visually impaired have an advantage over those who are not.  They don't live by appearances, so they take their time getting to know someone.  They don't judge on sight.   They see and learn through the heart.  I know you by heart. 

The Lord wants to turn our world right-side up.  He wants us to start judging not by appearances but by the heart.   He knows us.  He knows us well.  And He knows we tend to see things for what they appear to be, rather than as they really are. 

He knows how appearances can heavily (and negatively) influence our conclusions.  He knows how we can judge rich people as happy people or poor people as miserable people.  He knows how we can be seduced into believing that actors are knowledgeable people; or that attractive people are amazing or lucky people; or that professors and/or priests are boring people. 

He knows how we can equate great speakers as great leaders. 

He knows, to our embarrassment, how easily we can judge others based on the color of their skin.

How wrong of us.  And we can blame some of it on our sight.


"Believing is seeing."  This is absolutely true.  And I have come to see things in my life only because I first believed in them.  This isn't novel.  This is a part of our reality. 

"Believing is seeing" happens all the time.  It happened when man landed on the moon.  Didn't we first imagine it?  It happened when wireless communication became a reality.  Wasn't Gene Roddenberry the first to envision it?  It happened with light sabers.  Didn't George Lucas design them before scientists ever got to work on them?

The day we stop believing new things will be the day we stop seeing new things.     

The key to knowing God is through the heart.  When it came time for the prophet Samuel to pick a King for Israel, he went to Jesse's home to pick one out.  As he looked for the tallest and most dashing boy, the Lord spoke to him, saying, Be careful, Samuel.  Be careful. "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart" (Samuel 16:6-7). 

In the end, the youngest son, David, was picked...and the rest is history. 

Turning things right-side up.  All of us have had positive and negative experiences. And although past experiences do not change, our understanding of them do.  And so what we once judged to be a negative experience, may be something positive today; and what we once thought was a positive experience, may actually have been the start of something horribly negative. 

"Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

Awake! is another way of saying "Open your eyes!"

The best way to get to know someone is through the heart, not by our senses or by reading about them.  That's why so many people believe in God, regardless of how different our "bibles" may be.  They can have a real experience of Him through the heart.

And as you can imagine, it's much harder to get to know people than it is to get to know God.  After all, God does not change.  WE DO, and do so constantly.  Let's just hope we are constantly hanging for the better.

The man who was once blind took a leap of faith and came to believe in Jesus.  The Pharisees, who had no problem seeing Him, shut their eyes on Him.  Their problem was a lack of belief, not a lack of evidence.   

"Believing is seeing."  
It's Christ's motto. 
It's our experience.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

LK 18:9-14 All You Gotta Do Is Turn Around


Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)
 
“But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 
A few weeks ago I got a text from a friend asking me if I knew of any Catholic groups that “cater to people with piercings and tattoos”. I suppose that since I have tattoos myself my friend figured I would know if a group like that existed. I have never heard of one so I responded saying that I did not know of any such groups but that the groups I belong to are very welcoming and would love to have that person attend regardless of his/her appearance. My friend then responded saying, “No I mean like entire arm sleeve tattoos and huge ear gauges”. Again I assured him that no one was going to reject or exclude that person from the group, but I never got a response back.
 Now I would be Pope
 
Last week when I first saw this YouTube video of Sister Cristina singing on The Voice of Italy I was completely blown away! She obviously has a beautiful voice, but what I found to be exceedingly more beautiful was her joyful spirit and desire to evangelize. She reminds me of a young, female version of Pope Francis – so humble and eager to extend the love of Christ to anyone and everyone.
 
"If I had met you during the Mass when I was a child, now I would be Pope. I would surely have attended all of the functions."
 
 
Those are the words that the heavily tattooed rapper J-ax spoke to her after her performance, and they immediately took me back to the conversation I had with my friend. Then I began to wonder... what if there is someone out there, a future pope even, who wants to attend “all the functions” but is being left out for some superficial reason?! I’m not okay with that! No one should be okay with that. All the Masses, confessions, holy hours, baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, weddings, funerals… all the young adult groups, parish missions, Lenten fish fry dinners… all those “functions” should be open to all the faithful who are seeking to know the Lord.
 
 Well you have met me now.”
 
This is the simple response Sister Cristina gave J-ax. And with those simple words she gave J-ax, whose real name is Alessandro, hope and an invitation. She gave him an invitation to come back home to the Church and the hope that he could now attend all the functions if his heart so desired.
 
All Alessandro did was turn around when he heard a beautiful voice and instantly he had an encounter with grace – an encounter with the Lord. Instead of seeing a half-dressed girl, which is probably what he expected to see, he saw a woman covered by the Son. He saw a women clothed in strength and dignity (cf. Proverbs 31:25). He saw a bride of Christ, and the joy of the Lord that she radiated stirred something inside of him. Tears began to fall and they were his Act of Contrition.
 
 The Little Way
 
All Christians are called to become “another Christ” – to serve rather than to be served (cf. Matthew 20:28). Whether you are called to religious life, married life, or single life, you still have this same calling to go out in the world and live the joy of the Gospel. How you live it will look different than how I live it because we all have different gifts and talents. Not everyone has a gift for singing like Sister Cristina, but whatever gift you have it is meant to be shared with others. Maybe you will share it with millions of people or maybe you will only share it with a few - both paths leads to holiness as long as the gifts are shared with love.
 
St. Therese of Lisieux taught us this “little way” to holiness. Through the lessons of her life we know that holiness does not have to be achieved by some grand gesture. Holiness can be found in very small, ordinary, and humble places. Holiness is lived every moment of every day that you choose to extend the love of Christ to another person, realizing that we are all made in the image and likeness of God regardless of whatever sins we have committed.
 
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)
 
This is what it means to pick up your cross and follow Christ for He always went out of His way to seek the lost, the forgotten, the hurt, and the suffering. He always went out of His way to love those that society had cast aside or thrown away. He ate with tax collectors, spoke to prostitutes, touched lepers, and never had a single care about what anyone was going to think. He was totally selfless and His love was sacrificial way before Good Friday. Out of pure love He humbled Himself so that he could enter the darkest, dirtiest, most sinful places of our hearts because He knew that only sacrificial love could cleanse us of our sins. He knew that only the beauty of mercy and compassion could move us to repentance.
 
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue with our Lenten journey let us remember that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (cf. Romans 5:8). Therefore, we can all still show love to one another despite the fact that we are all still sinners.
 
But hopefully we are sinners who are trying to become saints!
 
This mediation was written by Stephanie Juarez. She is a pro-life advocate in Dallas, TX and serves on the Core team at St. Monica’s Catholic Church. For more of her writings please visit her blog Lover of the Light.
 
 
 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mk 12:28-34 Put A Little Heart Into It

Friday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

The scribe said to Jesus, "Well said, teacher.  You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he.  And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."  And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

No one asked any more questions.  Are you kidding me?  How could anyone leave it at that!  This is not right.  It's not fair!  What did Jesus mean when He said, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."  What's missing???  I can't believe no one asked any more questions.  This is awful.  I wouldn't be satisfied with someone saying to me, "You're 70% right."  Oh, great.  Thanks a lot!  So what's missing?  What did I forget?

Which is the first of all the commandments The Lord answered the scribe's question by saying:  "Hear O Israel!  The Lord our God is Lord alone!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." 

The scribe basically nodded his head and said in reply, "Ditto."  But apparently this was not enough for Jesus or to enter the Kingdom of God.  Something was still missing.

Well then, what would be enough for God?  Christ made it abundantly clear that knowing the commandments was good, but not enough.  And obeying them was very good, but not enough.  I think He would say we were close but still not there, like 50% not there. 

What's missing?  The other commandments?  No.  Not the other commandments, but the most important aspect in all the commandments:  the heart.  Commandments, like rules, need a heart.  And guess what?  Ours is it.  Is yours still missing?

It's not enough just to know the commandments and to live them.  We need our heart to ignite them.  We must fall in love with God's Will.  

Let's be honest.  We're all good at faking.  We're all good at pretending we like what we're doing, even when we don't.  We're also very good at letting people know when we don't like what we're doing, even though it is something good and noble.

Jesus, our Savior, is insisting we put our heart into what we are doing, especially when we are doing His Will in our lives.

Commandments need a heart, just like music needs emotions.

It's not enough just to be able to read music.  It's not enough just to be able to play music, even a robot can do that!  What we need to do is put some emotion into our music.  This is what drives fans insane.

When I was a kid I went wild listening to The Who.  I went wilder when I saw one of them smash their guitar on stage.  That's emotion!  Our grandmas went wild when they heard Elvis Presley sing.  They went even wilder when he threw one of his filthy sweaty towels at them.  Yuck!

Christ is inviting us to put some heart - some passion - into His music.

There is nothing wrong with the Lord's commandments.  They don't need to be erased, added or modified or updated.  They simply need a heart like His to operate them. 

And even though Christ lived over two thousand years ago, His words and actions are as challenging today as they were back then (They are also as inspiring and thrilling today as they were back then.).  

So maybe what is missing from our lives is not so much His Will as it is His passion.  And we know He gave every drop of it to us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lk 11:14-23 Turning Our World Right-Side Up

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed...Some of them said, "By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons." 

Driving out Critics. Jesus traveled up and down Israel, visiting towns and villages and curing the ill and the possessed.  His skeptics never accused Him of having faked a miracle.  They couldn't.  Everybody knew each other.  Towns and villages were small back then, as some are today. In the case of the blind man, people knew the man's family, especially his mom and dad.  They knew the man.  They grew up with him.  In the case of the poor widow who lost her only son, neighbors and friends were there to see for themselves his death.  They saw him take his last breathe.  They comforted his mother.  They painstakingly prepared the young man's body for burial.  I could go on and on. 

Now what cannot be ignored is the fact that most of Christ's miracles occurred in public, in front of believers, skeptics and critics.  For example, the multiplication of the loaves; the raising of Jarius' daughter and the resurrection of His personal friend, Lazarus.  Since the Lord's critics could not accuse Him of having faked a miracle, they needed to accuse him of something else, like breaking the Sabbath, and now, working for the devil, the prince of demons, Beelzebul.  

Critics and skeptics are not at all uncommon. Often, they attribute good things to "chance" or "coincidence."  Some fundamentalist protestants attribute visions of Mary to that of Satan.  Some interestinfellow today attributes the pope's fame as a sign of being a "false prophet."  It's also a sign of the end of the world.  Oh boy. 

On a more serious note, some non-believers claim Pope Francis hired a great PR firm to shore up support for the Catholic Church.  Sounds intriguing, but void of any facts.  If anything, they ignore the fact that the pope is saying and doing and living exactly the way he did back in Argentina.  

Now for others, the pope is affectionately known as the People's Pope, or the  Poor People's Pope.  For the right, he is another President Obama.  For the left, he is their poster child and  President Obama's Last Hope.  

But if we were to all come back to reality for a moment, then we would have to say that Pope Francis is simply the pope, the Vicar of Christ, with frailties, failures and humanity combined.  It's that simple...and that spiritual.  Everything else is spin and a clever way to turn the truth upside down and get it ignored. 

There are so many people in our world that would love to secularize the world, including the Church.  They do it for obvious reasons.  Sure the pope could teach a few lessons on leadership to CEO's.  It's clear he would be the greatest leader in the world.  But let's not forget the obvious.  The pope is a spiritual person, a son of the Church, a child of God, a man living by a very high standard:  Jesus Christ. It's no coincidence.  It's no lucky break.  It's the result of grace, faith, personal prayer and great sacrifice.

Driving home God.  During Christ's life, there were more than a few people who wished to spin Him, insult Him, belittle Him and twist Him. In summary, they wished to define Him.  But their definitions came from preconceived notions and from blind ignorance, not facts.  Similarly, some people see the pope the way they want him to be: as a false prophet, a PR man, a stunt man, a political man, a people's man.   But before God, He is what he is, regardless of the constructs of others.  The pope is both sinner and the Vicar of Christ; meek and powerful; poor and dignified; servant and head; friend and confessor.  These paradoxes are as surprising as Jesus being both God and man.   

Hey, it's not the pope's fault. It's Christ's.  He started this whole paradox thing.

Only the Lord could put such things together and redefine success.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mt 5:17-19 Not Fair But Beautiful

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."

Setting us up for failure.   Life is what it is.  It takes hours for a house of cards to go up and only seconds for it to come down.  It takes months for stocks to rise and less than a week to see them crash.  It takes years of countless good deeds to trust someone and only one bad deed to doubt them again.

You could do a thousand good deeds and go entirely unnoticed or make one mistake and be remembered forever.  We remember the wrong people do far better than the good they do. 

Life is what it is.  It is sooo upside down! 

Moses spoke to the people and said: "Now, Israel, hear the statues and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the god of your fathers, is giving you.  Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.  Observe them carefully..." (Dn 4:1,5-6).

This is all find and good, but was it enough?  Did God give His people what they needed to observe His statutes and decrees? Or did He set them up for failure?

Did He promise His people the Promised Land just to take it away from them?  Did He give all humans a heart made to love only have it be broken and hurt so bad?  Did He give us the amazing gift of reason only to foresee pain and suffering and experience mental anguish? 

Not necessarily. 

But because of sin, we can lose it all and our lives can easily turn upside down.  But God is at work doing what He does best:  turning things right-side up.

"You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, O Lord" (cf. Ps. 16:11).

Show us the path of life.  Jesus said to his disciples:  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets."  Really?  Are you serious?  How can you say that?  After all, you spoke to women in public, even sinful women; you ate at the homes of tax collectors and sinners; you touched lepers and allowed others to touch you; you worked on the Sabbath.  

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law.

Oh, I get it!  You're turning things right-side up.  Your taking your Cross and turning it into your throne.  The servant is the glory of the Lord and the lamb is the mightiest.  A thousand years are a single day.  The last are first and the first are last.  You pay handsomely all your workers, regardless of whether they arrived first or last.  You seek not the death of the sinner (that would be too easy) but their conversion.  You're quick to forgive and slow to condemn.  The gates of heaven open just as wide for the thief as they do for the Pope.  Why?  Because you're unfair!  You're generous!  You're loving.  

You leave the ninety-nine well feed sheep behind to spend quality time with the one that is lost, cold and frightened.  You allow a lifetime to be lived before judging an individual.  

You fulfill the Law by adding the missing ingredients:  love, compassion and mercy.  You are quick to forgive but won't let go of a the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter of the law.  You follow the rules but won't let go of the soul. 

This morning I read an article about a young girl who took it upon herself to shave her head bald.  She did it out of love (solidarity) for a friend who has lost her hair due to cancer treatments.  Unfortunately, school authorities, citing school policy, suspended her.  How ridiculous!  This happened in Colorado, the same state that legalized marijuana?  (I wonder if there is any connection). 

School policy states...So what!!!  Where does one find the heart of the policy?  In the policy or in humanity? 

Atoms do not think.  Molecules do not think.  DNA does not think.  Rules do not think.  But we have the freedom to think and turn things either upside-down or right-side up.  Our sins lead us in one direction while the Lord leads us in the other.  This young girl turned her life upside down (that is, right-side up) to show the world that to suffer for a friend is worth more than all the stares in the world.  BRAVO!

God's laws are not the problem.  People are.  And for this reason He sent His Son to us.  He didn't have to, but He did.  And what He did for us was not fair to Him at all....It was absolutely beautiful.

Just like what that little girl did for her friend.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lk 1:26-38 Calling All Christians

The Annunciation of the Lord
(Click here for readings)

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you."

I always wondered why the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25th.  It took a woman to tell me.  "Well Father, it typically takes nine months for a child to be born.  So nine months from now will be December 25th.  Understand?" 

Our Calling.  Mary's call from God is quite unique, but it isn't singular.  We have all been called by God to know Him more closely and to follow Him more dearly.  He is, and will always be, the answer to our most profound questions. 

Who am I?  I am a gift from God.  I am the Lord's personal gift to others.  I am a "favored one." 

What I am may come from my parents and environment, but who I am comes from the decisions I make in my long standing relationship with the Lord. 

Do you see yourself as a gift from God to the world?  Do you value yourself as an entirely unique "never-again-to-be-seen" individual?

What am I here for?  To be holy.  To be a saint.  To be another Christ. 

I have been sent by God right now right here to talk His talk and to walk His walk.  His life is my life.  Without Him I can do nothing.  With Him, I can do all things lovely, regardless of how inadequate I may feel.  Rain or shine, day or night, beautiful or disfigured, I have been called by God to imitate Him throughout my life and in the various stages of His life (i.e. Crucifixion and Resurrection), for He is the definition of saintliness and holiness.

What does it mean to be a saint?  To do the Will of God. 

To answer His divine call with a human yes.  To answer His divine whisper with one gigantic Texan yell.  That's one small step of faith in God, one giant leap of help for humanity.     

Every morning, every day and every night, I need to say to myself "Let it be done to me according to your Word.What a great way to start the day, keep the day, and end the day.  What a great Lenten resolution for the rest of my life!

What does it mean to do the Will of God?  To love.

We have been called by God to love like His Son:  to bear all things, endure all things and conquer all things. To never give up on anyone or never write them off.  

But love is not magical; it requires sacrifice, and sacrifice requires selflessness.  The Good News is God is nailed to us (the Cross represents us).  The Bad News is we are constantly telling Him to save Himself and get down from the Cross.

The husband-and-wife singing duo Captain and Tennille said it well, "Love will keep us together."  Talking about love is a lot easier than sustaining it.  Selfishness does to love what acetone does to nail polish. 

The only thing that can peel two people apart is selfishness.

The mystery of the Annunciation is the answer to our prayers.  God calls us in as many ways as there are people, prayers and nail polish.  Yet our answer should always be the same: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will" (Ps. 40: 8a, 9a).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lk 4:24-30 Leave Behind All Your Big Things

Monday of the Third Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:  "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."

Namaan the leper.  Today's first reading is absolutely beautiful.  It is the story of an army commander who had more than he ever imagined, including leprosy.  His illness brought him to his knees and to the river Jordan.  It is there he discovered "there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel" (2Kings 5:15ab).   

Have I allowed my trials and tribulations to bring me closer to the one true God? 

Conversion the easy way.  Every conversion to God requires an admittance of powerlessness.  I am not as strong as I think I am.  I am not as intelligence as I think I am.   I need a Savior.

The atheistic group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is demanding that Governor Scott Walker remove a tweet he sent from his official twitter account.  At first, I thought the poor governor had sent some scandalous or outrageously shocking or appalling or terrible or awful message to his followers.  Instead, this is what he sent:  "Philippians 4:13"  That's it.

If you look it up, it reads: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Baker wrote in a letter to the governor. “To say, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’ seems more like a threat, or the utterance of a theocratic dictator, than a duly elected civil servant.”

Wow!  Immediately, I thought to myself, This outrage to belief is unbelievable.  It appears I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Next, I thought, Wait. Tens of thousands of politicians in the United States have used Bible verses and asked for God's blessings in their speeches and among their supporters.  Using Twitter is no different.  Now they can communicate with their followers with ease.

Finally, I said to myself, The FFRF is doing what they do best:  intimidate.  Their philosophy is simple:  Create hysteria around nothing and intimidate Gov. Scott and others like him to never send out a religious tweet again. 

I don't know if you remember, but not too long ago, President Obama made a comment that ruffled a few GOP feathers.  He said: 

"We are not just going to be waiting for legislation...I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone."

Imagine for a moment if the GOP came out with a statement along the same lines as the FFRF: “To say, ‘We are not just going to be waiting for legislation...I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,’ seems more like a threat, or the utterance of a dictator, than a duly elected civil servant.”

What do you think about that?  Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?  Sounds like they may have taken his words out of context, right?  And although we all know "the pen is mightier than the sword," I don't believe the President intends to use it as a weapon of mass destruction on the Constitution.

It's time for the FFRF to take it easy.  Relax.

Take it easy.  Naaman was a man who always thought big, real big.  After all, he was accustomed to being in charge, giving out orders, moving great armies and invading great cities.  He wore big hats and a lot of them.

But his big head nearly cost him his life.  He had a hard time accepting the advice of a little Jewish servant girl.  "If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy" (2Kings 5:3).

What are you saying?  A Jewish prophet can cure me?  Who are you trying to fool??? 

And yet, humble people have a way of gaining our respect and trust, and this little Jewish girl ended up convincing her "master" to go and try it out. 

On his journey to the prophet's home, Naaman took with him horses and chariots, a letter from the King of Aram, ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments.  He must have said to himself, This is going to cost me a lot of convincing and a lot more money!

But none of these things turned out to be necessary.  The only thing Namaan had to do was wash himself three times in the river Jordan.  That's it.

Wait?  Are you serious?  Is that all?  How can this be?  How can it be so simple?  I thought you were going to wave your hand or a magic wand all over me and heal me!  This is ridiculous!     

I have had similar reactions from people who have not been to confession in years.  Forgiveness is ridiculously simple.  What takes time and some effort is getting there.

Holiness is not complicated or costly.  It doesn't require an army moving mountains, but faith the size of a mustard seed.

I hope in the Lord, I trust in His word.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jn 4:5-42 Breaking Bad!

Third Sunday of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there.  Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.  It was about noon.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  ...The woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"

Christ is turning my life upside down, which means right-side up.

Is anyone to small for God?  As a priest, it irritates me to no end how some people pray for others but not for themselves!  Really?  Who doesn't need God's blessings?  Most often the guilty ones are moms and grandmothers.  "I just ask God to look after my children and grandchildren.  I don't ask Him for anything else."   Give me a break!

Not too long ago, I overheard someone tell their friend they were praying to God to get into the college of their first choice.  The friend said in reply, "Why are you bothering the Lord with that?  Don't you know He has more important things to do?"  Wow!  I couldn't believe it.  Come on!  Is God really too busy with bigger things?  Does He not care about our problems?  Are we too little for him?  Do our problems have to be big to warrant his attention?

The Jews often tested the Lord by saying:  "Is the Lord in our midst or not?" (Ex. 17:7).

Jesus passed the test.  In fact, He spent a great deal of quality time with little people who had more or less little problems.  Surprise!  Who would have thought?  The Jews imagined a God who would have spent all his time with emperors and kings, not common folks and fishermen.       

A little woman with a little problem.   The Samaritan woman wasn't a queen or a princess.  She wasn't even a Jew.  She was a nobody:  a reject, a loser, a lost cause.  She was helpless (cf. Rom. 5:5-8).  At noon she went to the well to fetch some water.  Noon?  This fact speaks volumes.  It means she was trying to avoid people, for nobody in their right mind went to a well at noon.  They either went early in the morning or late at night, when the temperature was cooler.  So why was she their?  To avoid embarrassment and punishment.  But it was precisely at that hour she encountered the Lord.

The Lord rejected cultural habits, stereotypes and prejudices.  By speaking to her, he broke three rules:  (1) never speak to a woman in public; (2) never speak to a Samaritan; (3) never use (touch) something used (touched) by a sinner.

She was helpless.  Jesus knew everything about this woman and still...He spoke to her.  Why?  Because He is a hopeless romantic.  He follows His heart. 

Our human tendency is to judge others because of stereotypes, customs or prejudices. That's wrong.  But what do we do when they fit the stereotype?  What do we do then?

I know what the Lord does.  He reaches out to them.

A week ago I read the following:  "You can't hang around negative people and expect to live a positive life."  I liked it.  I even tweeted it.

But today I disagree with it.  The Lord hung around a lot of negative people and lived a very positive life. 

Titus Brandsma, a Dominican priest, hung around a lot of Nazis while he was imprisoned in a concentration camp.  He never gave in to negativity, bitterness or anger.  This, of course, got the Nazis mad at him.  So when they threw him into solitary confinement, they were amazed at what he did.  He wrote a poem, a love poem.  This is what he wrote:



Dear Lord, when looking up to thee,
I see thy loving eyes on me;
love overflows my humble heart,
knowing what faithful friend thou art.
A cup of sorrow I foresee,
which I accept for love of thee.
Thy painful way I wish to go;
the only way to God I know.
My soul is full of peace and light,
although in pain, this light shines bright.
For here thou keepest to thy breast
my longing heart, to find there rest.
Leave me here freely all alone,
in cell where never sunlight shone.
Should no one ever speak to me,
this golden silence makes me free!
For though alone, I have no fear;
never wert thou, O Lord, so near.
Sweet Jesus, please abide with me;
my deepest peace I find in thee.



How did he do it?  How did he stay so positive?  It's clear:  Titus was a man of God.  He was deeply rooted in Jesus Christ.  

Titus Brandsma, pray for us!

Let's accept the Lord's challenge.  Break with the stereotypes, customs and prejudices.  SPEND TIME WITH NEGATIVE PEOPLE!!!  Turn their world right-side up. 

You will live not only a positive life, but a life more like Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 The Sound Of Music

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  So to them Jesus addressed this parable.  "A man had two sons..."

This is so unfair.  The scribes and Pharisees were complaining about Jesus, again.  This time they accused him of welcoming sinners and eating with them.  That's not entirely true, however.  The Lord didn't "welcome" sinners; He reached out to sinners. 

Regardless, these men of the cloth must of felt unfairly treated.  After all, if Jesus was a religious man, then why wouldn't he be more like them:  hanging out with them and preaching to the choir?

Life can be so complicated. 

Anyways, the stage was set for one of the most beautiful parables the world has ever heard.  The Prodigal Son. 

A man had two sons.  The Lord starts off his rebuttal with a parable revolving a family - a father and his two sons.  This is highly significant, for He is making it clear to all his listeners that they are much more than one big village.  They are one big family. 

One big village is the least of who we are.  One big family is the truth of who we are. 

All Jews are one big family.  And in this one big family there is one father (God) and two types of Jews:  the observant and the rebellious.  The Father treats all his children the same way: with unconditional love and mercy.  This is so unfair!   

The young son is welcomed back.  The story begins with the youngest son demanding his share of the inheritance.  With great sadness, the father gives him what he asks for.  Soon after, the son collects his belongings and leaves the family. After freely spending all that he had and realizing his grave mistake, the son makes the long journey back to his father's house.  Upon the boys arrival, he is greeted by his father's hugs and kisses.  With that, the home is filled with the sound of music, music that reaches the ears of the older son. 

With understandable anger and disbelief, the older boy goes over to his father to complain.  How can this be?  I have been faithful to you like no one else!  I have never disobeyed you and never once stolen from you.  And now you are throwing a party as if this loser son of yours got all A's on his report card!  This is not fair.  This is totally unjust.  You get what you deserve.  Fair is fair. 

Yes, fair is fair: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. 

But there is something that is much more than fair.  In fact, it is totally unfair.  Love. 

Love is stunning.  It endures all things, hopes all things and conquers all things...including the worst of us and the worst in us. 

During Christ's lifetime, tax collectors and sinners were being loved at an alarming rate; alarming, that is, to the Pharisees and scribes, who spent most of their time highlighting people's sins rather than forgiving them.

The Pharisees and scribes may have been observant Jews, but we all know that looking good is not the same as being good.  I know this well.

Lent is all about prayer, sacrifice and hard work.  Let's work hard at being unfair to those who deserve nothing, like the father was to his son, who was lost and found.

That was music to His ears.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gen. 37:3--28 Are You Being Driven By Fairness?

Friday of the Second Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

Israel Loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

God is so unfair!  In most of the Old Testament, God is very fair:  an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  That's pretty fair.  And that's as close as we can get to justice. 

But the story of Joseph and his brothers is one of a handful of stories in the Old Testament that are not fair at all, at least not in the way Joseph handles it.  

What drives you mad?    Joseph's brothers were driven to madness out of jealousy and envy of him.  They couldn't stand the fact that their kid brother was loved the most by their father and that he was a man on a mission, with goals and lofty dreams.  Their madness turned to sarcasm, "Here comes that master dreamer!"  

What is driving you mad?  What is occupying more and more of your heart each day?  Is it jealousy?  Envy?  Greed?  Be careful.  These things can easily consume your mind, body and soul.  If these things have taken over your life, then it is time to go and make a good confession. 

Now some of the finer details contained in this story may seem a bit foreign to us.  For example:  cisterns, Ishmaelites and twenty pieces of silver.  But the story in its substance rings all too familiar for me as a priest.  Far too many family members are currently in a feud among themselves, and far too many children hate their siblings and wish they would die!  Often, the responses among family members are far too, well, just...and like I said before, justice may be fair, but it isn't inspiring or beautiful.  It is simply "there."

Joseph remained silent.  While being viciously beaten and attacked by his brothers, Joseph would have been in the right to have cussed out his brothers.  It would have been completely understandable if he held anger, bitterness and resentment towards them for the rest of his life.  And after having been dumped into a dry cistern to die, it would have been fair of him to seek God's wrath upon them or promise sweet revenge. 

But he didn't.  He didn't do any of it.  And that was surprising to me.  It was also totally unfair of him.

His strong faith in God enabled him to bit his tongue.  His love for God enabled him to show forgiveness, compassion and mercy on his brothers.    

Now don't think for a moment that Joseph knew how his story was going to end.  He didn't.  He didn't have a clue what was going to happen next.  He simply placed his life in God's hands. 

So why did the Church, in all her wisdom, consider it unwise to read the entire story today? Why did it leave out Joseph's triumph and his unforgettable forgiveness?  Why did it end with Joseph being sold for twenty silver pieces (does this sound familiar???).  Why can't we savor the moment Joseph reveals himself to his starving brothers?  Why are we left with only half his story, the most bitter half?

I think it is because this is how life is.  It never comes all at once.  Rather, we must live it one chapter at a time - one day at a time - and never quite sure how it will all come together in the end. 

This is where faith comes in.  This is where love must come in.   

How do you respond to trials and tribulations?  With faith or with sin?  How do you respond to evil and hatred?  Fairly or unfairly?

Are you allowing God to write your own story or are you forcing his hand?

Are you falling into temptation?  Given today's scriptural readings, I think we can safely say that falling into temptation means rewriting God's ending to our story.  Of course we must do everything in our power to defeat evil.  But fighting evil with evil is forcing God's hand. 

Heavenly Father, this Lent I ask you for the grace to be driven by your love and to be driven to your forgiveness.  Amen.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lk 16:19-31 From Fair to Unfair

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
 (Click here for readings)

Jesus said to the Pharisees:  "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table."

The founders of Communism were all atheists.  They believed Capitalism was held in place by religion; for without religion, and the hope of heaven, Capitalism could never survive.  The masses would not allow it to survive!  As Karl Marx once wrote, "Religion is the opiate of the masses.  The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness."  Although he states that religion is "the heart of a heartless world," it is, according to him, in need of a major overhaul.  Communism and atheism are the answers.  Hmmm.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote: "Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.  Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life." 

From all that I have read, religion (Judism, Christianity and Islam) appears to be more like a warning to the powerful and rich, than an opiate for the poor and destitute.  But when all is said and done, The Good News is a message of God's love:  to love God above all things and to love thy neighbor, even thy enemy, above thyself.  This is not fair!

A rich man who dressed in purple garments.  After thousands and thousands of years, you would think by now we would have solved the problem of material poverty, or that it would be considered as much of a national disgrace as slavery or racial discrimination.  Apparently, it is not.   It is still very much tolerated.  

You would think by now, after so many millennia, the tragedy of war would be something relegated to the past.  It obviously is not.  In fact, its execution still generates trillions of dollars worth of business and wealth, even at the expense of priceless lives.

Like so many things, the problem with the "War on Poverty" and the "War on War" is rooted in our deliberate misrepresentation of humanity and are minimalist demand for justice. 

Humanity.  I can't stand it when people claim that Hitler or Stalin acted like an animals.  They didn't.  Animals do not experiment on others or torture others, and they definitely do not discriminate against others based on race or religion.  No, Hitler and Stalin did not act like animals, they acted like human beings:  rational, irrational and emotional.  I can't even say they acted like barbarians!  Both men were excellent public speakers.  They both dressed well and were well-mannered.  And from all I can tell, they always treated their guests graciously. 

They weren't loons or insane, either.  Apparently, they loved their friends and hated their enemies.  What's so crazy about that? They did what they did to get what they wanted.  They intentionally deceived world leaders, such like Chamberlain, and their people(maybe they wanted to be deceived).  In the end, they held millions of people hostage for years.  

Now when it comes to Hitler, we must admit he grew up in Austria and Germany, two of the most civilized nations in the world. He was not brought up in a jungle by wild animals but in the land of Mozart, Beethoven, Kant and Einstein. 

So why do we call them animals?  I believe it is to hide the fact that they were humans.  It's meant to protect our minds from the obvious, the fact that Being a human being isn't good enough anymore.  It won't cut it.  We can't rely on it.  We all need to evolve into something greater than human.   

Jesus invites us to be more like him.

Justice is fair, but not beautiful.  Are rich people bad people?  Of course not.  Most of them made their wealth the honest way:  they worked hard and were very creative.  I'm not about to say they don't deserve what they have.  What's fair is fair:  they made it and we bought it.  That's fair, and let's admit it:  most of us have given them the money they now have.

As you can see, justice may be fair, but it is not beautiful.  What is beautiful is love, and love is not fair, at least not Christ's love.

The ways of the Lord are unfair (Ezek. 18:25).  The rich man botched up God's final test not because he was unfair to Lazarus but because he was fair and just to him.  He left him alone.  The Lord tells his listeners that the rich man would often walk by Lazarus, who sat near to his door, day and night.

It isn't enough that we don't kill anyone.  That's fair!  It's absolutely necessary that we start saving people.  That's unfair!

Justice is fair, but it is not beautiful.  Christian love is entirely unfair, and remarkably beautiful. 

Love your neighbors is fair.  Hate your enemies is fair.  Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you is unfair!  But when it happens, it is stunning.  Holy.  It is transformative.  It is revolutionary and evolutionary:  from human being to Child of God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mt 1:16,18-21, 24a Stop Protesting. Start Listening.

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
By Faith

(Click here for readings)

“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.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.”

The Feast Day of St. Joseph. I’ll admit it’s a little intimidating to write a reflection today. I mean, St. Joseph!! He’s a big one. Protector of homes, patron saint of the universal Church, fathers, a happy death...

I must admit, I haven’t given him enough credit before recently.  I guess it’s because I’m neither a father nor husband. As I started asking around about saints and St. Joseph, I realized how instrumental his role—and the role of all the saints—is in our life. In praying for St. Joseph’s intercession and reading about him these past few days, I have begun to unravel the example of holiness and obedience that is St. Joseph.

Before now, in my mind, he just kind of observed. He stood by as the big stuff happened. After all, throughout the entire Bible, he didn’t even say anything! But, you see, what I’ve come to realize now is that he didn’t stand by. He stepped aside. He stepped aside so God could be glorified, not him.

Joseph was asked to marry the Blessed, the Holy, the One and Only Virgin Mary. He was asked to adopt the Savior of Humanity. Tasks like that could have easily given him a big head. But he instead chose the route of humility and obedience to our Lord.

First, take his relationships with others. St. Joseph lived with perfect people. Imagine that. He was the only sinner in the entire bar Joseph household. Talk about pressure! Imagine prayer time with his adopted Son…. “Dear…You, please, uh, bless me and my blessed, holy, perfect wife.”

Imagine how he treated Jesus. God had entrusted him to watch after and instruct the holiest and most perfect child to be born onto this earth. There was a lot of pressure involved with that, no doubt. Yet still, Joseph taught Jesus his trade, his prayers, his way of life. And well, yes, he lost him for three days, but hey, it happens to the best of  ‘em, right? (kidding)

Imagine how Joseph treated Mary. He loved her with such a pure love that no physical means could define or express it. He embodies what it means to be united man and wife and, most importantly, God. Now I don’t know much about marriage, but I spoke with someone who does, a man who is devoted to both his wife and to our Lord. He says it better than I ever could.

“St. Joseph is the perfect spouse. He was hardworking, compassionate, understanding, patient, kind, and loving. Marriage is tough work. A Christian marriage requires both humility and trust, but it also invites God into the picture to be in relationship with the husband and the wife. It takes three to make a marriage work. St. Joseph knew that well. As a husband, although the head of the household, I am called to lower myself in relation to my wife in order to love, protect, honor, and respect her just as St. Joseph did for Mother Mary. This act of lowering oneself - humility - is seen when you put your needs and wants aside for what is best for your spouse. St. Joseph is the perfect example of putting his needs and wants aside for what was best for his wife knowing that he was doing the will of God. Was it difficult? Of course. That's part of being Christian. That's part of picking up our Cross to follow Him.”

Joseph knew humility inside and out. He knew the love owed to Mary because he knew the love of God. Think about how he treated the Lord. He had been blessed with the gifts of a holy and perfect family. But soon, he learned that his adopted Son, beloved and divine, would be killed viciously and unjustly. A sword would pierce the heart of the woman he loved. And he could do nothing. It was part of a plan that Joseph, being human, probably didn’t fully understand. And still, he accepted it, just like he accepted marrying a pregnant woman who his culture would have assumed the worst. He didn’t protest. He didn’t grow angry. Joseph swallowed his pride, closed his mouth, and listened.

This takes courage. This required Joseph to put God first, to step aside and trust that God’s plan, though seemingly chaotic to him, would work for the best. The fact that Joseph said no words in the Bible is not a sign of insignificance. Rather, that silence speaks wonders. St. Joseph is an example to us all.

Like his life demonstrates, silence is necessary. Silence means that we put God before our doubts and our protests. We accept His will without a fight. We put our needs aside and arm ourselves with God’s word and God’s guidance. In doing so, we don’t enter into a journey without suffering, but we DO enter into God’s journey, a path that will never disappoint.

This Lent, follow Joseph’s example. Stop protesting, and start listening.  
 
This meditation was written by Faith, a senior at a local Catholic high school.  She is a frequent contributor to Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse.  You can find Faith at heavens boulevard.