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!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mt 13:47-53 A Work In Progress

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to the disciples:  "The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.  What is bad they throw away."

Today's Gospel passage reminds us of our Lord's incredible patience.  Nothing is cast away, nothing is thrown away, until the very end. Everything is collected.  Why?

Recreating ourselves.  "Who am I?" is a good question.  "Who am I today" is a better question.  It allows for a more precise (and honest) response. 

We are constantly recreating ourselves.  I'm not the same person I was five years ago.  I'm not even the same person I was a year ago! These changes are not the result of any unconscious cell changes or genetic mutations but rather a conscious effort to be a better man, a better Christian and a better priest.  In many aspects I have failed, but in some aspects I have succeeded in my goals.

Regardless, the blueprint -  the master plan - of who I am rests firmly in the hands of the Lord.  He is the master Potter. 

This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD:  Rise up, be off to the potter's house; there I will give you my message.  I went down to the potter's house and there he was, working at the wheel.  Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again...Then the word of the LORD came to me:  Can I not do to you...as this potter has done?

Patience.  The Lord is patient.  I know He is patient for a couple of reasons:  firstly, because He has shown great patience with me for forty-nine years (today is my birthday - I had to throw that in here); secondly, because He has shown great patient with great sinners, and just like the potter in today's first reading, he has taken the time to re-sculpture them into great saints.  Today's great saint, Ignatius of Loyola, is a testament to God's patience and grace. 

Mercy.  "It's not over until the fat lady sings." This saying may be true for the opera, but it isn't true for the Lord.  It's never over for Him until our final breath.  And then...I am sure the Lord is merciful.  

Yesterday I went to visit a beautiful family of three boys and one girl.  As I was heading out, the father of the household noticed I had a flat tire.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  A few days ago I was warned by a mechanic that my tires needed to be replaced in the near future.  I thought to myself, "The night before my birthday and I get a flat tire!"  Before I could sulk, the dad ordered his three boys to replace my tire and to get the job done in less than ten minutes.  He had just taught them how to change a flat tire!!!

Praise the Lord, O my soul; I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live (cf. Ps 146: 1b-2).

Sharknado.  Today's parable reminds me of how our lives can be instantaneously turned upside down.  All kinds of fish are caught in the Lord's net: the good, the bad and the ugly.  Is this not what happens to us when our world suddenly collapses before our very eyes?  Is this not what happens to us when we are finally caught red handed?  And still, the Lord shows his mercy and justice by not throwing away anything until He has to. 

"Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous." 

"Can I not do to you...as this potter has done?  Instead, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand." (cf. Jer. 18:6) 

This morning, I read a wonderful meditation from a young lady that is allowing the Lord to recreate (re-sculpture) her.  She is coming out beautifully!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mt 13:44-46 Truth and Terrorism

Wednesday of the Seventeeth Week in Ordinary Time 

By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE

“When I found your words, I devoured them;
they became my joy and the happiness of my heart,
Because I bore your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
I did not sit celebrating
in the circle of merrymakers;
Under the weight of your hand I sat alone
because you filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain continuous,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook,
whose waters do not abide!”

A man quite knowledgeable in deception and propaganda, George Orwell captured nicely the painful consequence of telling the truth in a corrupted society when he said, ““The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” During his own day, in which the propaganda machines of Soviet Russia and Communist China sought to win world approval while the Democratic West counteracted that with its own propaganda, discerning the truth became particularly difficult for the average person. Historians would feverishly rewrite the past, reporters and journalists would rewrite the present, and politicians and community leaders would rewrite the future. In a world where everyone perpetuated fantasy, many serious thinkers simply gave up on reality and truth; they indulged in the solipsistic approach of defining their own realities and their own truths, much to the applause of everyone around them. They wrote novels without plots, created paintings and sculptures without a subject, composed music without structures, developed ideologies without humanity, and thought up religions without God. Their world has become our world, but now we have the technology to successfully multiply the levels of unreality and confuse matters further.

As Orwell predicted, those who hold fast to the truth suffer. Living much earlier than Orwell and the modern world, Jeremiah had to contend with the delusions of his day. The Jews in Israel lost faith in God because of the threats facing them from Egypt and then Babylon. God appointed Jeremiah to restore some sanity to the Israelites who had nothing but their faith in the one true God to keep them afloat. Jeremiah tried to appeal to thereligious sensibilities of his people, but the people preferred to place their hopes on politics. In worshipping pagan deities, the Israelites hoped to find the gods that could put them in the good graces of the superpowers surrounding them. They detested Jeremiah’s prophecies and abused him repeatedly before finally killing him. Only after living in exile, after seeing their capital utterly destroyed, and after realizing that they killed God’s prophet did they finally take Jeremiah’s words seriously.

Jeremiah rightly complained of this kind of suffering. He did the right thing, followed the right course, had the right attitude, and spoke the truth for all to hear, but only suffered. His charge against God sounds similar to Job’s who also suffered for doing the right thing.  As with Job, God recompensed Jeremiah with something better than material prosperity; He actually responds to Jeremiah and encouraged him: “For I am with you, to deliver and rescue you, says the LORD. All people desire to hear this whether they know it or not. To hear God say “I am with you” means that that person is speaking and acting in Truth; and in a world riddled with lies and death, acting in Truth has more value than anything.

Curiously, those prophets who speak the Truth suffer most from their own countrymen. One the biggest mistakes when trying to understand history is thinking that people can claim solidarity with one another without sharing a love for God. Despite common ancestry, common land, common history, and all the other components that make up one’s culture, those who strive to do God’s will immediately find themselves separated from those who do not. Tradition holds that it was not Babylon or Egypt who killed Jeremiah, but fellow Israelites. Perhaps they killed him to stop his prophecies from coming true – because the exile they experienced was somehow not enough to repent and turn away from idols and political movements.

The killing of Christians in Iraq and Syria reminds us that the dangers accompanying the Truth never go away. Like Pontius Pilate, most people in the West, including many Christians, simply wash their hands of the matter. They mutter that these poor people should have left when they had the chance, that there is nothing that can be done, that religion has led them to this point. Those that feel a small twinge of guilt blame Bush for intervening in the area, or Obama for not intervening, and think that blaming in itself settles the issue. Most people thought democracy and pluralism were self-evidentrealities, but we now know that these things are tied to religion and culture after all. All the while, the beheadings and crucifixions continue. 

These Christians should not die in vain. Their suffering and death for the sake of Truth should not go unremarked. Their persecutors and their accomplices should be ousted and their cruelties exposed and condemned. If Islam is a religion of peace, then Muslims have something very serious to account for.  Nothing excuses the terror against innocents, particularly against Christians; as Christians, we should refute any corrupted person who would say otherwise, fight their propaganda with our Truth. These people need our support, whether that be through aid, through prayers, through spreading awareness, and promoting policies that will not leave them at the mercy of cold-hearted savages who revel in their own bloodshed.

In the end, God will reward these martyrs because He is the Christian’s “refuge on the day of distress.” These people have truly made the sacrifice of the man who finds treasure in the field, or the merchant buys the pearl of great price. They have given up their lives to practice their faith while their murderers take their lives to create a terrorist utopia. In their sacrifice, those Christians have gained Truth; in their violence, those Islamists have proven just how false their claims to Truth really are. For our part, while we still can, we should not be fooled, and we should not tolerate it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jn 11:19-27 Separation Anxiety

Memorial of St. Martha
(Click here for readings)

Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him...Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died..."

A few lessons learned.  St. Martha learned a lot of lessons that day, especially lessons on control, serenity and peace. 

Control.  I can't control everything.  I can't even control everything in my life.  And I especially cannot control the Lord!  That's a lot of lessons in one day!

"Lord, if you had only been there..." is like saying, "Lord, if you had only listened to me or done what I asked you to do..." Then what?  Then what would happen?  Thy Will or My Will would be done?

This hunger for power and control originates from original sin, not from human nature; and it is firmly attached to our DNA.  Thank God the Lord spliced His grace into our race by the waters of baptism and tears of reconciliation. 

I can't control everything is not a sign of defeat, but the sign of peace.

Peace.  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."  Christ's peace is different from that of the world: "Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (cf. Jn 14:27).    

And what exactly is this (His) peace?  That "all things work for good for those who love God" (cf. Rom 8:28)

At the end of every weekday Mass, I invite everyone in the pews to have "a great day."  But what exactly constitutes a great day?  Is it when everything goes according to my plan, or is it when I get everything I ever wanted?  Hardly.  In both cases, we would be far from God's idea of a great day.

"Thy Will be Done on earth as it is in heaven."  This is a great day!  Good Friday was a great day!  Holy Sunday is a great day!  Whenever my heart and mind are aligned to Christ's heart and mind; well, it could be the most painful day ever in my life and still be the greatest day ever in my life!

A great day is a blessed day, regardless of the outcome.

Martha learned this lesson the hard way.  Through the death of her beloved brother, she verbalized a secret she had held close to her heart: the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.  "I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God."

Even if Lazarus had never come back to life, Martha understood what mattered most: that her Savior lived. 

This is a peace that only Christ can give.

Serenity.  I like the Serenity prayer, but I don't love it.  I am not a big fan of it because it reads too much like a golden parachute; a sweet agreement between God and man (employee) specifying what benefits and graces the employee (man) will receive. 

Did Martha accept the death of her brother with "serenity" and "reasonable happiness"? I think she did, especially when she told the Lord, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." 

But then look what happened.  She saw him rise from the dead! 

So much for accepting the inevitable. 

Martha's serenity did not come from her knowledge of what she could and could not change, but from her knowledge of who could and could not work miracles.

Another lesson well learned.

St. Martha pray for us! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mt 13:31-35 From Smallest To Largest

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

I recently went on a mission trip to Belize with 15 other girls from my high school. Looking back, my fondest memories are of eating meals with the community. Every afternoon after classes at the local Catholic school let out, we would go to a family’s home for lunch. On the first home visit we made, most of us were expecting nothing out of the ordinary. At the monastery we stayed at, we ate about just as much as we did at home and didn’t question it. Imagine our surprise then, when the mother of the house served us our first lunch—multiple plates filled at least six inches high with rice and beans and fruit! Believe me when I tell you that it was an inhumanly possible amount to eat. Some girls even hid the leftover food in their backpacks and water bottles out of fear of being rude.  After lunch, we all staggered out of the house in near agony from walking in the tropical heat with a stomach full of starch. “Get used to it, ladies,” our campus minister told us, “they think that American girls need three times as much food to be full as they do.”  To me, that was a stunning example of how the rest of the world views the excesses of American life.  In America, more is better. We all know at least one person who blindly chases after happiness in wealth or other excess to no avail.  No wonder they are dissatisfied—they chase after excess when, really, the language of the human heart and the Christian faith is simplicity.

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants…  Take a sharp pencil and make a dot on a piece of paper. That is how small a mustard seed actually is. Why on earth, then, would Jesus Christ tell us that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be compared to something so seemingly insignificant?

Think back to the last time you went to Mass. You sat down, entered into prayer, and kept your entire being fixed on the miracle happening before you.  But from a strictly superficial level, what made that Mass any different from any other gathering of people… say, a business meeting? Was it the priest? Certainly not—behind the vestments and the fact that he could probably school you ten times over in philosophy and theology, he is just another person born of a woman like you. Was it the space? No—the church was built like any other building.  But despite this apparent simplicity, did you ever really think that the Mass was just a meeting of people, planned by human beings for human beings and under the control of human beings? Of course not!  Even Catholics who haven’t yet come to particularly enjoy the Mass wouldn’t think in such a way. It is hard-wired into our hearts that God is working through the regular guy who we call Father, and that the bread on the altar is not just bread.

Even more, think about the Sacrament of Confession. What makes the confessional any fundamentally different from your office space or classroom, and the priest any fundamentally different from some man on the street? But yet, our hearts know that in the simple humanity of the Sacraments lies an encounter with the divine.

Or Baptism! Why on earth can something as simple as pouring water over the head of an infant make us so stolen of breath?

Or consider the Rosary! It’s only a twenty minute prayer, give or take. Many people pray it silently. There is nothing flashy about it whatsoever. But then, wow!  You can look back after a year or so of devotion, only to discover how much conversion has taken place in your heart-- just like Our Lady told us!

Now, try imagining the Mass from an “American” perspective. Why not put strobe lights and smoke machines on the altar?  If a miracle is happening, why shouldn’t we treat it like the greatest drama known to man? Why not make every priest do a dance and sing a song in the confessional to illustrate the intensity of God’s forgiveness? Or why not shout the Rosary on the street corner, or make it into a hit song? Again, something in us knows the error of that thinking. Dramatic displays like that seem so manufactured, whereas the simplicity of the Sacraments and prayer seems so natural. Just as the mustard seed is simple, so is the Kingdom of God.

“… and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” Simplicity attracts. Humility attracts. Why do they attract? Because they are the language of the human heart the way God created it. Jesus uses this incredible image in His parable of birds coming to rest in a tree. Nobody has to convince the birds to sit in the tree. They do not sit and question whether the tree is a good quality tree or not. It is their simple instinct to take shelter in it. That is precisely the way the human heart is attracted to the simplicity of the Sacraments—we instinctually know that by walking into Mass or into the confessional that we will encounter our God. Even though as Americans we are tempted to think that drama and excess are the indications of greatness, it is not even a question to us that God dwells in simplicity. It is attractive because it is clearly divine.

It is very telling that the human heart can still unwaveringly know this truth, countercultural as it may be. Recently, I went to adoration with a friend who is about to leave for college. I spent at least 3o minutes marveling at the fact that although we both have our own cars and could have been anywhere teenage girls like to go, there was no place we would have rather been  than in the presence of Our Lord together. It is incredible how these seemingly simple words of Jesus Christ are packed with so much truth.

Katie G. is a Junior at a local Catholic High School in Dallas, Texas. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mt 13:44-52 Out of Joy

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

Deja vu.  Christ is the master of life, death and even parables.  Today's Gospel passage reminds us an encounter he had with a rich young man:  "Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, then come follow me."   It also reminds us of an interesting conversation He had with His Heavenly Father:  You have hidden [the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven] from the wise and prudent and revealed them to the child-like (cf Mt 11:25).

So what is my treasure?  What am I looking for in life? 

Recently, I came across this saying:  "The meaning of life is to give life meaning."  Oh, there is nothing more sentimental and useless than a circular argument.  How can I give meaning to life if I don't know the meaning of life?  Today, the Lord is challenging His followers to dig deeper.  To not simply scratch the surface (I don't hurt anyone) but to take a shovel and seriously start digging.   

But let's not forget.  It's not only important to start digging but to dig in the right place.  Otherwise, I could spend my entire life searching and searching and only coming up empty and filthy!

Is it possible that no one has discovered or revealed the meaning of life?

Christ.  He is the treasure.  He is the meaning of life.  He is the treasure that is worth digging for, sacrificing for and even dying for.  He is the God that hides behind the man; or better, the God that reveals man.  Today's parable was directed towards Himself and His Apostles.  In me you will find yourselves and God.   

It's totally understandable that, at first, this Truth was not easily accepted.  But with time, and plenty of digging, the Apostles came upon this treasure and it changed their lives and the course of human history. 

Faith.  Faith is a treasure that is often found in barren lands, like silence, loneliness and sickness.  I have always found it amazing where faith can grow! 

Faith in Christ can change everything about us: our focus, our goals, our character, our habits, our lives.  Without a doubt, it is the greatest treasure we could ever possess on earth.  With it, I can get through the toughest moments in my life.  Without it, I can easily find myself in a vicious circle of violence, resentment, anger and revenge.  With it, it can direct my life in service towards others.  Without it, it can easily turn all my attention towards myself. 

Faith in God is a treasure buried deep within us.  To go deeper into it is not limited to studying it more, but experimenting with it more and, hence, experiencing it more.  To do so requires losing oneself and searching for someone else; that is, living like Christ in order to discover Christ.

The fact that faith is buried deep within us simply means it can only be found through prayer and work.  It's time to get rid of the rake and take a sledgehammer and break through the stones and other obstacles that separate me from God.  One such sledgehammer is known as Baptism; another, as Confession.

Let's all start digging.

Soul.   The soul is another treasure just waiting to be found buried underneath a tough layer of skin!  It might not look like it from the surface, but we were all made to love and be loved. We know it, but do others?  We can see it, but can others? 

There is a child of God in us that is just waiting to come out of us!  Poor Solomon.  He asked for wisdom instead of holiness.  What a mistake.  What an unwise decision.  He should have asked for holiness.  Ask for holiness!  What a mistake.  Whereas one could go wrong with wisdom, how can anyone go wrong with holiness?  Wisdom can easily be self-serving, whereas holiness can only be self-giving. 

Out of Joy.  How can I find joy in my life?  Start digging.  Faith is the tool that get's us digging and Christ is the key that unlocks the treasure that is my soul. 

Mt 13:24-30 Raising Saints


Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Click here for readings)

 
Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds.  “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.”

The preview to the forthcoming 50 Shades of Grey movie premiered on the Today Show Thursday morning at 8AM. This movie, based on a book of the same title, glamorizes sexual domination and sadomasochism while romanticizing abusive relationships and sociopathic behavior. Ironically, the preview debuted during National NFP Awareness Week, a week that the Church sets aside each year to “celebrate and reverence God's vision of human sexuality." The actual movie is set to be released in theaters in February 2015, just in time for another Catholic celebration, St. Valentine’s Day.
 
The Devil in Grey I would sooner have The Lord take my vision than to willingly subject myself to such a pathetic degradation of love and intimacy. Yet my social media pages have been flooded with links to the movie trailer and excited status updates from friends who are completely mesmerized by “Mr. Grey”. The enemy is obviously trying to sow lust in the hearts of many with this movie. He wants nothing more than to move us away from the light of God and into the grey area where just about anything goes, especially our hearts. Moral relativism lives in the grey area – so do most lukewarm Christians. When you don’t pick a side, the enemy will pick one for you. If you are not firmly rooted in Christ the enemy will destroy you, little by little, from the inside out. This is what is happening to Christians who say they are against porn but see no problem with books and movies like 50 Shades.
 
Feminism v. the Feminine Genius I have long struggled to define what it means to be a feminist. I am very weary to identity myself as one. Far too many feminists believe that it is degrading for a woman to submit to the authority of her husband, to want a lot of kids (like, more than 2.5), or to be "just" a stay at home mom. Religious sisters and nuns are also often mocked by feminists who do not understand the freedom that is bestowed upon those who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are blind to the beauty of a life given totally to Christ.

Rather, these women believe that they have found their independence in being used as an object for sexual gratification and using others as such. They cannot see the truth that Saint John Paul II speaks of in his Letter to Women which identifies our Blessed Mother Mary as the “highest expression of the feminine genius”. She was made Queen of Heaven and earth because of her obedience and desire to do the will of God. For her, “to reign is to serve”. This is what true feminine strength is rooted in – sacrificial love.

Total Gift of Self A vocation to religious, consecrated, or married life is the total, irrevocable gift of self to another. Love invites us to come out of ourselves but unlike lust, does not force or coerce. We have to choose to respond to the Lord’s invitation out of our own free will. If we do not, we will only be cheating ourselves out of authentic love. St. Therese of Lisieux put it this way, “Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.” Through prayer and discernment we must learn to hear God’s voice and answer out of love.

The Holy Spirit guides us in all these things, yet I think parents also have a much deeper impact on discernment and vocations than they realize. Saint Joachim and St. Anne, whom we honor today, are a beautiful example of how parents can nurture a vocation. They must have been very prayerful and devout people for they are often shown in paintings reading scripture with Mary. They always pointed her towards the Lord just as she always points us toward her Son. Mary’s fiat and her loyalty to God in her vocation as a wife and mother were surely impacted by the faith she learned from her parents.

Saint John Paul II also had wonderful parents who instructed him in the faith. In the book Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, he recalls attending daily Mass, reading scripture, and praying the liturgy of the hours with his father, but also said that he never dreamed of becoming a priest much less a pope. It wasn’t until many years later that John Paul realized he had been greatly affected by simply witnessing the devoutness of his father’s prayer life.

Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church. We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary.” – St. John Paul II

On another occasion, the day after his mother’s funeral, John Paul’s father took him and his older brother on a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine and reminded them that the Blessed Virgin Mary would always look after them and protect them until they could be reunited with their mother in Heaven. This one act of faith planted a seed of Marian devotion in John Paul’s heart that would eventually change the whole world when he became pope and declared “Totus Tuus” as his motto.

Good seed and bad seed are being planted every day, especially in the hearts of young people whom St. John Paul II greatly loved. The enemy continues to try to sow weeds to entangle their souls and suffocate their faith. But parents have a huge role to play in this battle between good and evil. Homes should be sanctuaries – domestic churches – places where kids can learn the faith not just from a book but by the witness of their parents’ lives. Movies and the media would have you believe that parents don’t have much of an impact on their children’s lives or that the only impact they can have is a negative one, but that is simply a lie from the pit of hell.

If anything, we can all take a lesson from St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She too led a devout and prayerful life in spite of many difficulties, and eventually her troubled son underwent a deep and profound conversion because of her prayers. She may have been discouraged more times than not, but she never ceased to pray. It’s hard to pray with a broken heart, but it is the surest way to become a saint and to raise one!

Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, pray for us!!

This mediation was written by Stephanie Juarez. For more of her writings please visit her blog Lover of the Light. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mt 20:20-28 Helicopter Moms

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.  He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She answered him, "Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom."

As I was preparing for morning Mass, I took a quick glance at a reflection on today's Gospel passage.  It read:  "We can give this story a contemporary feel by taking it out of the ancient world and setting it in a high school basketball game.  Jesus is the coach; his twelve disciples are the players.  Just as the second half is about to begin, the mother of James and John comes up to Jesus and says, "You're going to play my boys for the rest of the game, right?  And when we win, I want to see them on TV holding the trophy, okay?"

I'm not sure what moms like this were called in the ancient world, but in the modern world they are called "Helicopter Moms."

A daring command. A chilling response"Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom." Pretty daring request, to say the least.  "Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?"   Pretty chilling response.

What does it take for an Apostle of the Lord to enter into Heaven?  To live and die like the Lord.   There are no special privileges for Apostles and disciples. In fact, the rules of engagement are entirely lopsided against them!

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to sere and to give his life as a ransom for many."

If you wish to sit at my right and at my left, then you must suffer like I do. This is how lives are changed and saved.  This isn't a death wish, it is a ransom being paid.   

Of course, all of this goes against our human nature!  Even to this day, I cringe at the thought of it.  But, to give the Lord's words another "contemporary" feel, let's set it in New York City and on Wall Street. When stocks fall, our human nature tells us to sell, SELL!!!!  But the experts tell us to buy, BUY!!!  "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful" (Warren Buffett). 

Easier said then done, right?  Well, now you have an idea of what the Lord meant when He said, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first" (cf. Mt 20:16).

Tough times are not the time to doubt God's love for me or question His mercy upon me.  On the contrary, they are an indication of His burning desire to forge me into Alter Christus.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mt 13:10-17 Why Parables?

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

By JENNIFER BURGIN

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted..... they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand."

During my 2nd year of the University of Dallas Catholic Biblical School, one of our assignments involved writing a parable.  With pen in hand ready to compose, I imagined standing on the mountain top next to Jesus as he preached.  I observed his hand movements and gestures.  From his viewpoint I noticed the look of amazement in the eyes of the crowds. Also, the disciples in the scene wondered why Jesus spoke to the people in such a different way.  

Why parables?  Christ was a master at parables.  He presented divine truths in the form of symbolically rich stories easy to remember.  He knew heavenly mysteries were not easily understood.  The possibility of confusion and disbelief existed.  By masking the meaning in the form of a parable, the crowds adapted the message to their own life experiences. This still rings true for Christians today. Every time we read a familiar parable in scripture, we apply its meaning in a new and fresh way.  

Christ passed along the parable "answer key" to the disciples exclusively.  He knew his chosen ones would listen and understand the message. His disciples needed strong knowledge of the faith so they could proclaim it with fervor. With this "answer key" they spread the good news of the gospels to the masses.  

Look but do not see  Many times we are blinded by superficial and physical beauty.  We become mesmerized by attractive men driving their fancy cars or gorgeous women dressed up in the latest couture fashion.   We want to date them, be around them or even become them!  Unfortunately, looks deceive.  The most beautiful person may be filled with hate and prejudice whereas the ugliest person is filled with love and compassion.  

It's human nature to gravitate toward the sensual.  It feels good, looks nice, and brings about pleasure.  But do we pay attention to the subliminal messages? Is there more to the sensual than meets the eye? I think of popular Hollywood celebrities who are gorgeous physically but on the inside they are filled with pride and vanity. These popular stars cast aside the idea of God because their world revolves around fame and fortune.

Christians are called to "see" the inner goodness and beauty in others.  We should adopt an attitude of gratitude in God-fulfilling ways.  Turn away from filth and turn our eyes in the direction of holy pursuits.  Look at Christ's work of salvation and see his greatness!

Ears but do not hear   Have you talked to someone you knew wasn't listening? You can tell from the way the eyes shift or how glued the person is to an electronic device.  The ears are present but the hearing switched to "off."  Perhaps the person is uninterested in the topic of conversation, or they are too consumed with their own concerns.  Such rudeness and insensitivity is quite a common everyday occurrence.  Relationships can dramatically improve if we only stopped and truly listened to someone else. We miss out on a lot of good when we fail to listen.

Our Lord told many parables where people refused to listen.  Their lack of understanding automatically tuned out anything they could possible learn from Christ.  The same goes for us in modern day.  We may not like what we hear, especially if it's politically or religiously charged, so we turn a deaf ear.  Furthermore, we may like only part of the story but ignore the rest.  I've listened to a few boring homilies over the years where I thought "Wow, this is not very good."  Then when I reflected back on those exact same words I get an "Ah Ha!" moment.  The Holy Spirit directly spoke to me but not in a way that I felt was engaging or entertaining.  Sometimes Our Lord talks to us in subtle, ordinary ways.  It's up to us to keep our ears open and listen to those quiet, hidden words.  The Prophet Jeremiah looked for God to speak to him in a loud  commanding way but instead Our Lord communicated through a faint whisper.

Let us always keep our eyes and ears open so Christ can convert our minds and hearts! Next time we read an all-too-familiar parable, let us prayerfully meditate on it and see what new spiritual fruit we will receive from the story's message.

"Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.  Alleluia!"


This meditation was written by Jennifer Burgin.  Please visit her blog:  Jennifer's Spectrum of Spirituality.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mt 13.1-9 The Sower in the Modern World

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
 
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The parable of sower discourages three qualities in the Christian disciple: pride, vanity, and sensuality.(Fr. Alfonse wrote a great post on these three qualities a few months ago.) The proud person cannot accept anything outside himself; he refuses to accept others’ words because he feels better than others and their words. Nothing can reach his heart; hence, Holy Scripture describes him as “hard hearted.” The vain person accepts all things indiscriminately without the intention of commitment or understanding more deeply. The vain person cares about others’ opinions more than the truth, so he will agree with everything at least superficially to receive others’ praise. The sensual person accepts certain ideas, but these ideas will never grow since vices and addictions will easily crowd them out.

Common sense should easily discourage these qualities in anyone, let alone a Christian. Pride, vanity, and sensuality would hamper any human being fromreaching his or her potential. However, only the outsider can observe this. The person enslaved to their own opinion, others’ opinion, or their own appetites truly believes that fulfillment will come through satisfying their master. The proud person really thinks his stubbornness and ignorance are noble and brave since he has truly asserted hisindividuality and rejected the deluded masses. The vain person earnestly thinks that his popularityreflects a rich and rewarding inner life. The sensual person never doubts that he can refill his happiness with another meal, another fling, or another episode,much like a driver refilling his car with fuel. Help for these poor souls has to come from outside from people who can see the harm. Unfortunately, most people on the outside struggle with the same problems, and they feel unqualified to judge. Furthermore, informing a person of their pride or sensuality only invites and conflict, so most people will not bother.

In this way, common sense degenerates into common senselessness. Modern convention has in fact formalized this senselessness into a program recommended for all modern people. Starting from a young age, children quickly learn to be proud, vain, and sensual. Schools teach it; media endorses it; and governments and businesses thrive off of it. Even churches compromise and adopt the same strategies to “enhance” their message. Obviously, due to their negative connotations no one will support these three qualities as pride, vanity, and sensuality; they simply give these things vaguer less recognizable names: skepticism (for pride), relativism (for vanity), and materialism (for sensuality).

The proud souls of today can rebuff any unfamiliar or unwelcome idea with a hefty sense of doubt. As conventional wisdom dictates: “Science teaches one to doubt”; “Experience teaches one to doubt”; “The only thing in life that is certain is uncertainly, “etc.Originally, adopting this kind of doubt meant questioning things in life in order to better understand them. Socrates doubted, but that did not stop him from seeking answers. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas always used the doubtful position to better develop their philosophical and theological arguments. Descartes doubted, but he used this as the thrust for modern experimentation and inquiry. Recently, doubt has led to the reverse of seeking the answer; doubt now means questioning things in life in order to avoid answers. Stubborn atheists like Bertrand Russell or Stephen Hawking use doubt as a way to mask their pride. Brilliant men like them struggle the most with accepting a truth that renders them human like the rest of the world. They, and many other atheists, think they lose themselves when they admit their status as God’s creation. Sadly, this makes them easy prey for forces of despair, delusion, and cruelty.

Skepticism, of this kind can often morph into relativism, an acceptance of all truths and falsehoods. While intellectuals like David Hume or Christopher Hitchens participate in debates and write books justifying themselves, most normal people would rather take the path of least resistance. They take utterly nondescript phrases and pattern their life around it: “It’s all good”; “There’s no black and white, just shades of grey”; “Everything is relative, or subjective” etc. They use Jesus’ command to “Judge not” and take that as a free pass to accept everything. Unfortunately, in accepting everything, they ironically reject everything.  They see both sides of an issue, so they have no answer. They see the merits of both politicians, so they don’t vote. They believe all religions are true, so they never practice. Underneath this veneer of tolerance, most relativists see onlythemselves as the paragon of goodness and ignore the rest. In not judging anyone, they often judge everyone for being judgmental in some way. As they wallow in indecision and self-admiration, they allow their souls, and whatever truth their souls contained,to stagnate and wither away.

Finally, when the soul has lost all its energy and has effectively emptied, materialism takes over. The only truth that matters becomes the truth that one can hold on one’s hands, not in his mind or heart. Unlike skepticism, which requires a person to actively reject something, and relativism, which requires a person to actively pretend to accept all things, materialism demands nothing but perpetual consumption. Materialists value money over meaning, feeling over thinking, and distraction over direction. Those who succeed in making money buy everything they can to make themselves happy: a big house, fancy toys, and often, an attractive lover or spouse. The vast majoritywho do not succeed in making so much money spend their lives envying those who do. In either case, pleasure soon dissipates into empty addiction, and what once brought pleasure now only brings a momentary relief from pain. Needless to say, these material concerns will easily marginalize the spiritual ones to the point where the soul lacks the sense orthe sensitivity to receive the Word and nourish it.

This leaves Christians in a strange place that exists outside what modern society can account for. Assuming they turn away from the ideologies of the day and towards Jesus, they will show humility, compassion, and piety.  They will accept the Word, share it with others, and open their hearts to God.Nourishing the Word, one can bear the fruit that contains the seeds that can give rise to more plants. Only in this way, this timeless way, can one find true happiness and bring that happiness to others who cannot even recognize it anymore.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jn 20:1-2, 11-18 Sister of the Lord

Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
(Click here for readings)

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.  Someone told him, "Your mother and you brothers are standing outside asking to speak to you."  Be he said in reply to the one who told him, "Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?"

The Jews.  In general, the Jewish people have a lot going for them.  Firstly, they are a very close knit community with Abraham has their ancestral father.  Secondly, they are one tough group of people.  Tough experiences have forged people as strong as nails.  No Jew would ever question who their mother or brothers were.  From an early age, the answer was beaten into them.

Then came Jesus, who shook the earth when He asked the questions "Who is my mother?" and "Who are my brothers?"  The crowds were appalled.  How could He ask such a silly question?  They should have known better, but they didn't, for they didn't know Christ or His way of thinking.  His answer stunned His audience and opened the floodgates of criticism, and also the gates of heaven.  Answer:  The one who does the will of the Father. 

And what exactly is the Will of the Father?  What is it that God demands from us?  Is it not what we demand from Him? 

"Lord, show us your mercy and love" (Ps 85:8a). 

Lord, show me that you love me.  Show me that you care about me.  This is all we want from God and from our neighbors.  All we want is to know that we are loved and cared about.  And thankfully, it is what the Lord demands from us:  that we show love for Him and for our neighbors.

St. Mary Magdalene.  Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene.  Scripture has it that seven demons came out of her.  What exactly does this mean?  Well, it can only mean one thing:  that she underwent a deep or profound spiritual conversion.  It can only mean that she radically changed her life. 

The number seven has only one meaning in Scripture.  In the Old and New Testament it represents the same thing:  perfection.  

Mary changed her life for good!

Pope Paul VI called Mary Magdalene "the apostle to the Apostles," and for good reason: she never left Christ's side.  From the moment of her conversion, she was present at every major event in the life of her savior, more so than the Apostles themselves!  The expulsion of seven demons meant her conversion was fierce and profound; and because of it, she remained faithful to the Lord even as He lay dying on a Cross.  She was His faithful follower to the end because Her will was united to His, unconditionally.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!    

Mt 12:38-42 Something Greater Here

Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."  He said to them in reply, "...At he judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here..."

Something Greater.  Not too long ago, I went to the hospital to give a blessing to a wonderful couple who had suffered the loss of their newborn baby.  Their tragic loss did not come as a surprise to them.  During a routine exam, doctors noticed the child was motionless and that there was no heartbeat.  Regardless of all the advanced warnings, when the child was delivered the couple was devastated by their sudden loss.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, the mother had the child in her arms. I shook hands with her husband and reached over and gave her a big hug.  I opened up my prayer book and read from the book of Lamentations:
"My soul is deprived of peace,
I have forgotten what happiness is;
I tell myself my future is lost,
all that I hoped for from the Lord...
Remembering it over and over
leaves my soul downcast within me. 
But I will call this to mind,
as my reason to have hope:
The favors of the LORD are not exhausted,
his mercies are not spent..."
 
At the end of the ceremony, we prayed:
 
May God give us peace in our sorrow,
consolation in our grief,
and strength to accept his will in all things.
Amen.
 
After the ceremony, the couple spoke openly to me of their heartache and pain when first told of their child's condition, and of their determination to do what would be pleasing to the Lord.  Throughout their ordeal, the couple remained firm in the faith, accepting and doing only God's will. 
 
I found peace and strength in their incredible testimony of faith, hope and love.
 
Before I left, the husband wanted to take a picture.  He set his camera up, placed himself on the rightside of his wife and child and pressed the button on a remote control that was in his hand.  The camera's flash went off and a couple of pictures were taken. 

As I approached my car, I reflected on what I had seen and heard.  I was astonished at something, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Finally, it dawned on me what it was:  Never had I seen so much peace and joy in such a painful situation.  What was the tipping point?  Their smiles - my smile - our smiles - as the pictures were being taken! 

It was uplifting. 

They knew their child was a saint in heaven.

O, what faith can do to the heart, soul and mind.

"There is something greater here..."  Yes.  Someone and something greater than we could ever have imagined, but that only faith could ever have revealed.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mt 13:24-43 Wheat and Weeds

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:  "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

The sower of good seed is the Son of Man.  Every word that comes forth from the mouth of Christ is good seed, and what a blessing it must be for young souls to grew up with these seeds on their mind, on their lips and in their hearts.   O, to be educated in the ways of the Lord, and from an early age, must be a blessing!  If only it would happen more often!  This is the way to build up self-esteem and discover self-worth.  This is way to diminish fears and anxieties. 

What a pity it is that this good seed is constantly denied entry on grounds it is sectarian.  This is the work of the devil.

The sower of the evil seed is the devil.  This summer, I've been reading Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray."  What a masterpiece!  Talk about a book composed of good and bad seed! 

As I've been reading, I've been writing.  I wrote down the following quote a few days ago:  "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.  Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself..." 

Sounds true, doesn't it?  But the brutal facts speak for themselves.  The soul doesn't grow sicker with longing.  It grows stronger.  And the best way to get rid of a temptation is not to yield to it, but to replace it.

But like most sayings that are pure evil, at first glance they appear to be logical and true; that is, natural and normal.  It's not always easy to distinguish a good word from a bad word, or a good seed from a bad seed.  That's where our elders can be useful to all.  They are ingenious early warning signals for young sprouts, the flares that shine in the middle of the dark night of a young soul.  Unfortunately, they are being choked out by the entertainment industry.  In just a few decades, they have done a remarkable job at crushing and ridiculing their knowledge and wisdom.

Sure, the soul grows sick with longing for things that are forbidden, but it grows even sicker when it gobbles them all up.  How many tears must be shed before lessons are learned?  How many teens must grow sick or die before values and morals (and some abnegation) are once again respected and taught?

The world is the ground.  Life is give and take.  Living is all about giving and receiving.  Our world is a world of give and take.  It's not ruled so much by competition as it is by cooperation.  It's more about synergy and community than elimination and the individual.

Similarly, human beings are expected to give fairly and take fairly.  But Christians, on the other hand, are expected to give more than they receive, for they have received the seed that when they give more they receive more.  This practice has been cultivated by many of our elders. 

The weeds and the wheat.    We live in a world where the good and the bad live side by side.  There is only Heaven, and Heaven is Hell for those who do not wish to be there. 

Our God allows the good to grow next to the bad.  Why?  Because there is a lot that can be learned from what surrounds us. 

There are two ways to learn something:  the easy way and the hard way.  We can learn from others or we can learn by ourselves.  We can listen to the people who love us the most or we can choose to ignore them.  Regardless of what we choose, what is good will always triumph over evil and shine brighter and stand taller, even if it smacks right in the face of modern "progress."

Like the Lord, we too grow side by side with one another, just like wheat and weeds, for the Father knows there are principally two ways for us to get back to where we belong: either by forgiving and giving or by contrition and forgiveness.