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!


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jn 13:21-33,36-38 That "Duh DUN Duh DUN" moment

Tuesday of Holy Week
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, "Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."  ...Simon Peter said to him, "...I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times."

The demon of acedia. Acedia is defined as "a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray."  It is an awful combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness.  It robs a person of his/her joy.  This condition was sometimes found among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life.

Is this what Jesus experienced on the night He was betrayed?  Not at all.  But I suspect Peter did, somewhat, specifically when he could not keep watch - keep his eyes open - for an hour.

The disciples appeared to be in a daze after the Lord explained to them the brutal fact that one of their own would betray Him.  How can this be?  Surely it isn't I, Lord?  What is He talking about?  Judas must have left to buy some food. 

They became lifeless, speechless, and listless, as if life had been sucked (or punched) out of them.  They may even have been walking and pacing up and down.  Can we blame them?  After all, their lives were about to be turned upside down and emptied of all they knew; that is the meaning and purpose they had acquired through Jesus Christ. 

What would the world think of them?  Would they be considered disciples or simple buffoons?  We know what the Pharisees, the pillars of Judaism, thought of them as they were actively hunting them down to destroy them.  No longer would they be considered friends or fishermen, but criminals and enemies of the state.

They went numb.

Do I feel blah? Do I feel lost? Like nobody cares?  Have I lost the joy and excitement of living? 

The Duh DUN Duh DUN moment!  I love the movies!  I really do.  I love to go watch an exciting movie with an awesome middle part.  I can watch a movie and enjoy one with a fair beginning and ending, but I can't enjoy a movie with a lousy middle part, for middle part is where things or people come together to shatter; where the music switches from C major to C minor; and where the lights have been turned off! 

I need to be reminded of these exciting and scary times when I am going through troubling and terrifying times!  How will this turn out?  What will happen next?  Will anything good come from this?  Will I make it out of here?  Will my pain go away?  Will I ever be loved again?  Will I get my faith back?

Tough times - wild times - horrifying times - are an essential ingredient for grace filled endings, just like truth is an essential ingredient for great relationships and love is an essential ingredient for happiness.  Although none of us want to experience these awful times, they are what they were cut out to be: opportunities to cut out, prune, dig, sharpen, narrow, distinguish  - DEFINE - who we are. 

The remedy.  Acedia is a temptation, and the great danger of this temptation lies in the giving in to it.  Don't give in.  Don't rewrite God's ending by sinning.  When you feel gloomy, rebel!  When you feel worthless, revolt!  When you feel lonely or abandoned or forgotten, then reach out!  Life was never meant to be forsaken.  It was always meant to be grasped by the hand of God.  Peter did the opposite of what he felt and asked for forgiveness.  Judas did exactly what he felt and hung himself.  Faith is what saved Peter.  Feelings are what killed Judas.

Do the opposite of what you feel like doing - as long as what you do is right, good and holy - then, and only then, will you have a hand to hold on to.

Jn 12:1-11 Believe Now?

Monday of Holy Week
 
By KATIE GROSS
 
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

While it is very true that it is difficult to be a Christian today, we must remember that followers of Jesus have always been subject to ridicule, even during Christ’s earthly ministry. There is just something about the true expression of Christianity that people have always misunderstood, and thus mocked. However, even when we feel as though nobody around us understands us, we can take courage from this Gospel reading in knowing that being persecuted and misunderstood is not at all a new phenomenon for Christians.
 
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” This sounds like a familiar battle cry of those who mock Catholics: “Why does the Church have so many palaces when that money could go to the poor?”  People who ask this question usually stand very smugly and wait for us to stumble in our response, all so they can win whatever petty argument they were looking to get into. However, we can look to the Bible and see that nothing has changed about these peoplevery rarely is their concern actually for the poor. They overlook the thousands of charitable institutions that the Church has founded, and do not bother to look at the specifics of their claims. Instead, their primary concern is usually for their own pride, or to appear superior to believers in some way.
I was absolutely appalled by a viral video that circulated a few years ago called “Sell the Vatican, Feed the World.” In it, a popular American comedienne sits and gives a two-minute pitch for why the Vatican should be sold and the money given to solve world hunger. A philanthropic intention, one might ask? Not even close—the comedienne then goes on to make horribly inappropriate remarks about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and claim that the Church was somehow the driving force behind the Holocaust. In fact, she even says at one point that she only wants to feed the poor to “get them off of the commercials on her 42 inch plasma screen TV.” Just as Jesus said, we can tell the goodness of a ‘prophet’ by his/her fruits, and the only fruits of this woman’s claim are bitterness and contempt. The point is that we must be wary of those who claim to be charitable, but really only want to attack and undermine what is holy. These people are just the same and just as wrong as those in ancient Jerusalem who were shocked by Mary’s actions. “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.  Unfortunately, as we know, the buildings of the Church are not under fire as much as the Christians themselves, who are the body of Christ. Every day in the Middle East, churches are getting burned to the ground and people are being killed for refusing to renounce their face in Christ. Right now, refugees are pouring into our own city of Dallas toflee communist and dictatorial governments that do nottolerate their faith. These leaders kill Christians because they cannot stand not being the highest power in the land. Even so, persecution should not cause us to lose heart as Christians. One of the strangely beautiful things about our faith is the more that it is torn down by others, the more it is validated. Jesus promised that those who radiated faith and love would have trouble in this life. Thus, those who persecute us are only proving our point. Those who make insulting comments or videos about our faith are only proving our point.
 
In Holy Week, we must commit to praying for those who do not yet know that Christ died for them, or cannot bring themselves to believe it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jn 12:1-11 No Good Deed Goes Unnoticed

Monday of Holy Week
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Six days before Passover where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.  Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair...

Flashback.  A Pharisee invited [Jesus] to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table.  Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.  Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."  Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you." ...Do you see this woman?  When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.  So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love... (cf Lk 7:36-50).

Mary and the sinful woman.  Although these two stories sound very similar, it is a mystery whether or not Mary and this sinful woman are one and the same.  They may very well be.  I'm not sure, only God knows.  After all, the composition of places are quit different:  one takes place in the house of a Pharisee around the city of Nain, the other in the home of Lazarus in the town of Bethany.  Regardless of the differences, we cannot deny the similarities:  a woman takes costly aromatic nard and anoints the feet of Jesus and dries them with her hair. 

It's easy to get distracted by questions we cannot answer.  Let's focus on the one fact that is obvious in both stories: great love was expressed and showered upon Jesus, and it will never be forgotten.

Hospitality.  It was customary for dignified hosts to have water, a towel and oil ready for their guests upon their arrival, for the roads were dusty and walking was brutal.  The guest would first wash his feet, then dry them, and then anoint them with oil.  When the Lord arrived at Simon's home, nothing was prepared for him.  Nothing.  This was not forgotten by the Lord.  And it apparently wasn't forgotten on the part of Mary. 

As soon as her Lord came into their house, Mary anointed His feet with oil and dried them with her hair.  She didn't use any sort of oil.  She used the best - the finest, the most expensive.

Mary's Love.   Love knows no limits.  The oil Mary used cost a lot of money - weeks, months, maybe even a year's worth of wages.  It didn't matter to her or to anyone else.  It was worth it.  Mary had discovered Christ's worth, and He was worth more than all their possessions.

Christ's Love.  There's an old saying:  "No good deed goes unpunished!"  This may be true when it comes to human beings, but it not true when it comes to God.  God never forgets a good deed.  NEVER!  No act of love is too small for Him or too insignificant for Him, for love runs deep in His veins.  It is who He is!  

Hence, when the Lord witnesses Love, He never forgets it.  In fact, He takes note of it and even imitates it, like when He washed His disciples feet! 

And it was recorded in the minds of His followers for all eternity.  

What a difference between God and humans.  Humans tends to take note of their brothers and sisters weaknesses and failings.  We tend to remember the bad, not the good; the sins of others, not their good deeds.

God forgives sins and never forgets love. 

During this first day of Holy Week, let us never forget the value of a good deed, an act of love, for no good deed goes unnoticed or forgotten.

Mk 14:1-15:47 Preparing For Our Passion

Palm Sunday
(Click here for readings)

By FR. ALFONSE NAZZARO

Today is Palm Sunday, the day our Lord entered the city of Jerusalem with pomp and circumstance.  Today's passages relive that glorious moment...and so much more.  We don't just stop there.  We go all the way to His Passion.  Why?  Why on earth relive His betrayal, torture and death?  Why don't we just relive the good times and leave to history the bad times? 

Would you like people to relive the worst day of your life??? Then why do this to Him?

We need to prepare ourselves.  "Remember what I told you:  'A servant is not greater than his master.'  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also."

We need to relive what the Lord relived because we will relive it ourselves.  We will all go through our passion, and not just at the end of our lives but even now.  

Every year we go through little Gethsemanes.  Every month we have struggles.  Every week we have doubts and fears.  

How do I handle these moments?  

Do I put the Lord on trial?  Do I quit and throw in the towel?  Am I constantly changing course; that is, turning my back and taking the path very well traveled?  Or do I carry my cross grudgingly, cursing and swearing and losing every drop of grace (as well as blood) along the way?  Or do I remain steadfast, courageous and humble - faithful till the very end?

Let's review some important moments in the passion of our Lord.

+ A woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil and poured it on his head.  This incredible gesture of love from this unknown and unnamed woman was so precious in the eyes of the Lord that He said: "Amen I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."  Yes, a single act of charity goes a very long way in God's memory, longer than we could ever imagine.  Charity runs long and deep.  A simple act of love produces more positive results than what eye can see and ear can hear and mind can even imagine.  Don't let an opportunity to show kindness pass you by. 

+ Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.  And they all spoke similarly. Poor Peter.  His heart and mind are in the right place.  The problem is his will.  It's weak.  It always seeks what is most comfortable and painless.  It prefers rest to pain and peace to conflict.  What he hasn't understood is what the Lord will soon tell him, "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." 

Am I overly confident in myself?  Do I trust my feelings more than my faith?  Is my conscious constantly overruling the teachings of the Church?  

Peter thought he could do it alone.  He thought he was strong, stronger than a human being.  Do I think this too?  If so, then watch and pray, and learn from your past. 

+ They all left him and fled.  I fear loneliness.  I fear it.  I do not want to die alone.  Am I preparing myself for this possibility?  Do I know my Act of Contrition?  As a priest, I know what it means to be alone.  Every time I visit someone in the hospital or nursing home, I am stunned at how lonely they are.  Dying is a very lonely affair.  Someone could be actively dying in their bedroom while others are laughing in the hall way or behind the curtain.  It's not a sin.  It is what it is.  Dying is something we do alone.

+ They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.  Jesus witnessed his closest friends running away from Him.  He even saw one young man run off naked!  He must have thought to himself:  They left everything behind to follow me.  Now, they're leaving everything behind to get away from me! 

How do I handle those who are in trouble or are dying.  Do I run away from them?  Do I avoid them?  Am I afraid of them?  Or do I reach out to them and give them my love - not the love they deserve, but my unconditional love?

+ At that the high priest tore his garments... The entire Sanhedrin kept trying to get Jesus to confess and finally he did.  When he told them the truth - "I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven" - the high priest tore his garments. 

When we were kids we were told to tell the truth, otherwise we would get in trouble.  As adults, we now know the truth:  if you tell the truth you may get into big trouble!  This is what happened to Christ.

Am I ready to tell the truth?  Am I ready to accept the truth?  This is the divine life, for the Lord said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."

+ Holy, Holy, Holy Lord! Crucify Him!  From hero to villain in less than twenty-four hours.  How things (reactions) change so quickly.  We are so fickle, especially when it comes to others.  Am I quick to judge?  Do I enjoy placing others on a pedestal, only to see them fall?  There's nothing wrong with Jesus.  The problem is with me!  The Lord valued humility and discretion.  Have I always valued infatuation?  Is this my way of getting "second hand" attention and love?

+ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.  Here is the biblical form of the secular scream for help so familiar to us:  Why me, God?  Why me?  Why are you doing this to me?  What have I ever done to deserve this?  Doubt is perfectly normal, as well as fear, but these two things were never meant to push us away from God.  On the contrary, they were meant to bring us to reflection and contemplation, humility and conversion.  Christ had no need of conversion.  What He did, He did for us and out of love for us.  These words that came forth from the mouth of God come from Psalm 22.  Christ began the recitation.  He expects us to finish it. 

And with this, he breathed His last.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jn 8: 52-55 Thank You, God

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

By SOPHIE DRUFFNER

So the Jews said to him,
“Now we are sure that you are possessed.
Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say,
‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?
Or the prophets, who died?
Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
I sat back and stared at the words on the screen. A giddy feeling was spreading quickly from my heart as I jumped up and down. I had done it! Finally, I had achieved something. I was something. A college admissions counselor had said “Yes, we want her.”
Writing the essays which forced me to stay up for hours, editing those same essays under the watchful eyes of my English teacher, watching people read them with fear in my heart, studying for the SATs and then the SAT IIs, producing videos for various interviews and flying up for other events, was exhausting. I began the process last May and I am still not quite finished, not quite decided on where I will be attending next year. After applications to eleven colleges, two SAT tests, two SAT II tests, additional applications for scholarships, phone interviews, interviews I initiatied with members of different colleges, exhausting scholarship weekends and other such things, it’s understandable that I began screaming “I did it! I did it!!” when the voice on the phone said “We would like to extend our scholarship to you” or the email appeared in my inbox.
But it’s really easy to “glorify yourself.” We all want to claim credit for the work that we do and the long hours that we have spent at a lonely desk typing, calling, studying. When a boss gives us a good review or we finally break 2000 on the SAT, it’s really easy to sit back and say “Yep, that was all me. Go me!!!” I can just imagine God sitting up there and rolling his eyes at our naivete. Of course we did it, but he helped us a lot. It was He who gave us the intelligence, the grit, and the faith to believe that we could accomplish an arduous task. It was He who inspired us to keep working in the face of a clock who just keeped ticking, when our eyes began to blur from the glow of the computer screen. It was He who helped us reach success.
In the Gospel, Jesus says that if you glorify yourself, it’s temporary. But if you wait, God will glorify you, which will be better than any amount of “Congratulations” you can receive on Earth. Because He helped you, He’s proud of you too, and he wants to be the happiest you can be, because he created you to be happy.
So whenever you’re tempted to take all the credit, give God a little credit too. Thank God when you receive that promotion. Don’t just say the words “Thank God,” instead, say “Thank you, God.” Editing the phrase that has become nearly meaningless by adding a simple “you” is so much more personal, and because God is the Father of us all, he knows you more personally than anyone, including yourself, on Earth. He can see into the depths of your heart and all he wants is the best for you, which He alone knows.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jn 8:51-59 I AM...?

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

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus said to the Jews: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death."  So the Jews said to him, "Now we are sure that you are possessed.  Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.'  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?" ...Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM."

Abraham.  Abraham is considered the father of Jews, Christians and even Muslims.  He is truly the father of many nations, and his descendants are as numerous as the stars. 

This didn't happen over night.  Well, unless you think of it in terms of how long our solar system has existed, then, well, it did, sort of. 

The realization - the fulfillment of God's promise - took centuries to happen...and it is still happening. 

One of the many reasons why things take so long to happen (or change) is because people don't change over night, and more specifically, WE DON'T CHANGE OVERNIGHT! 

We are stubborn.  We are stiff-necked people.  We don't like to be told what to do.  Instead, we thoroughly enjoy telling others what they should do.

FLASHBACK:  "The Lord God then took man and settled him the in the garden of Eden... The Lord God gave man this order:  "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." 

FLASHBACK:  Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord!  This shall never happen to You.  But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me..."

Not much has changed since then.  We still like to tell God what He should do and how He should appear. 

Conversion takes time...even a life time.

I AM.  God's name is His greatest revelation.  "I AM" and "He Is Who Is" says it all, for His very essence is LIFE.

And here lies the problem.

In one corner we have God, who is the same today, yesterday and forever.  In the other corner we have everything else that are constantly changing.  Do you see the problem?

We are unsteady.  We can't even be who we claim to be for very long!  In fact, we can't even claim a certain attitude for long!  I am friendly and skeptical.  I am honest and considerate.  I work hard.  I enjoy what I do.  Etc...

Let's face it, we are as steady as our foot on the gas pedal.  Eventually we need to hit the breaks, and hit them hard.  We are constantly stopping and going or pushing and retracting, pushing and retreating, pushing and repairing, pushing and reconciling.

But some things come easier than others, like stepping on the pedal.  Most of us prefer to go fast rather than slow. This is all due to original sin.  We want to keep up with the Big Guy, or at least pretend to be like Him.  For this reason we tend to rush to judgment rather than to confession, and find it easier to give out orders rather than obey them, and find it harder to listen than to speak.

In less than twenty-four hours, the Pharisees and scribes arrested, judged and executed Jesus.  

"I AM" comes to God as easily as picking up stones and throwing them comes to us, even to the best of us who say "I am spiritual" or "I am religious."

We need Lent!, for change is not a bad thing and Lent ensures that change occurs in the right direction...towards humility, which means towards honesty.   

Don't be surprised or depressed if it takes more than forty days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Heb 10:4-10 World’s Greatest Mother

Wednesday if the Fifth Week of Lent
 
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE

“First he says, ‘Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.’
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

In choosing Mary to mother His child, God proved once more that He certainly does not see as man sees. He could have chosen the empress Livia, orprincess Herodias, or some other woman who had a better means of caring for the messiah. A woman endowed with good looks, with a sharp intellect, with political connections, or at least one with husband would have merited such a honor, but God instead selects Mary—even having prepared her for the role since her birth.

For all her kindness and humility that wins the hearts of millions, Mary’s greatness still lies deeper. Mary does not simply take on the responsibility of being God’s mother, casting away all cares and taking the plunge into holy motherhood. If people imagine her as some foolish simpleton with as much sense as any other teenage girl with no real prospects or formal education but still quite humble and kind, they still do not see what God sees. The Annunciation should not encourage woman, or their men, to take on parenthood, blithely ignoring the consequences and trusting in their own good carefree nature.

Mary, for all her innocence and youth, can see the difficulty before her. Some may like to think she takes a leap of blind faith and trusts that God will make things work for her, but that distorts Mary’s virtue in accepting God’s proposal. She takes a leap of faith with her eyes wide open. Neither fear, giddiness, nor resignation move her to make her choice; love does it. Mary loves God, loves her fellow man, and will love the child who comes to unite the two.

Although she lacks money, prestige, and an actualhusband, Mary has heart with the capacity to lovewith superhuman intensity. She can bear the messiah because she can provide the love needed as no other woman can.

All too often, people fall under the impression that Jesus becomes who He is through divine magic. Jesus’ faith, wisdom, endurance, and love just somehow manifest themselves because of His divine DNA. Rarely do people stop to consider that Jesus was fully human and thus received many of these wonderful attributes from His parents, particularly His mother. At the beginning, Mary taught her son to love, to pray, and to communicate with others. Joseph taught Jesus to work, to protect, and to humble Himself. God works through these two saints to raise His Son. This is not magic; this is simply extremely good parenting.

God chose Mary because of her strength, not her weakness. Mary is the best mother in the world, not some foolish adolescent who is in over her head. She knows herself as God does, and she accepts her destiny as the Mother of God. Some might imagine her deliberating over the question of Jesus’ motherhood, with the world staying still with anticipation, yet she likely responds quickly, relieved and happy to have finally received her calling.

In spiritual terms, such an annunciation awaits all Christian souls. God has a calling, and He seeks to right person to answer. The right person will not only make sacrifices of time and energy, but will also do the work as God desires. Men will desire people willing to give up pieces of themselves (time, talent, education, etc.) to show their loyalty; God desires people to willing to give up all of themselves by loving what He loves and doing it with joy.

There exists no better example of this sacrificial love and supreme competence than Mary.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jn 8:21-30 Adding To What Is Below

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus said to the Pharisees:  "I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. ...You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above.  You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world."

Belonging to this world.  There is a lot of good in this world.  There has to be, for it all comes from God.  There is more good than bad; more love than hate; more good people than bad people; more good times than bad times; more laughter than screaming.   

Our world comes from an artist, not so much from an architect.  Unlike most backyards, in nature there are very few straight lines and right angles, and trimmed trees, bushes and blades of grass.  We must admit our world is that of a wild artist, and He and it are remarkable, beautiful!

But we can forget.  We can easily forget that the light of the world is other than incandescent; and our world is not virtual but real; and that boundaries and nations do not really exist; and that all the world is a stage.

Yes, we must admit that our fallen human nature has the tendency to simplify or lower everything to its lowest common denominator.  "Five easy steps to success."  "Seven decisions that determine personal success."  "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens."  Etc....

Yep, catchy phrases, simple formulations, easy to remember rules to explain all life experiences.  Hence, it is easy for children to grow up thinking that our dogmas and doctrines are what we claim them to be:  all that you need to live life and live it to the full.
   
It's easy to think that life is all about being practical and efficient as a machine, and not magical or beautiful, and wild or variable as a body with a soul.

Belonging to what is above.  But even if we were to "get it;" that is, understand all that belongs to this world, we would still be a mess from missing those things that come from above. 

There is more to life than just picking it apart to understanding it, and understanding it and living it.  There is so much more to life than all of these things! There is what comes from above:  love - forgiving and giving; redemption and salvation; humility and beauty.

Now when what comes from above mixes with what comes from below; then we have something amazing:  Christ and the Cross.

Love and Sacrifice.
Salvation and Reconciliation.
Humility and Holiness.  
Heaven and Earth.

The Lord has transformed the Cross into something magical.  It is no longer to be feared but to be embraced out of love for God and neighbor.  

The Cross is more powerful than Harry Potters wand.  It has the power to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, move the toughest of mountains - the human heart and mind - and convert sinners into saints.

If only we would mix a little heaven with earth to die to our sins, and not in our sins.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jn 8:1-11 Humble of Heart

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

By KATIE GROSS

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Ever since Pope Francis made his now famous statement, “Who am I to judge?,” the concept of judgment has been a buzzword among Christians and the media. Some claim that the Holy Father is trying to move the Church in modern direction. Others fiercely disagree. However, what we as Catholics must realize is that Pope Francis isn’t saying anything that isn’t in accord with what we already know from the Bible. In today’s Mass readings, we get the full summation of what Scripture actually says about judgment: that we simply can’t do it.
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be…” In today’s first reading from the book of Daniel, we hear the story of Susanna, who was another Biblical woman “caught” in adultery. In actuality, Susanna was falsely accused by two wicked old men who were trying to cover up their own sin. However, as it usually is, the people immediately condemned Susanna based on the word of the elders—they did not permit her to explain the circumstances behind her alleged sin. Even today, we usually do not listen to the circumstances when a person is being publically shamedWe as Christians must remember that sin can be incredibly complex. Serious sin is often committed under pressure. Add this together with our inclination to sin and the general societal numbness to sin, and it becomes all too easy to make mistakes. When we see a person who is being publically shamed, we as Christians must resist joining in. We must look at the situation with compassion, understanding that there were probably many factors which led to that person’s poor decision. Jesus knows the heart of every person—we do not.  
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. One of my theology teachers once told the class an interesting theory: that in this scene, Jesus writing down the sins of the people in the crowd in the dust. I picture the entire crowd being shocked and embarrassed, appalled that anybody would call them out on their own sins.
One of the catechists that I volunteer with always tells the students that sin is a “failure to love.” Under this definition, there is no room for somebody to claim that they are “less sinful” than another, because that would be to say that they are “less of a failure.” Think of this analogy: two students are having a conversation. One says he got a 42 on his calculus test. The other boasts proudly that he got a 68. Of course, his would never happen. Failure, no matter to what degree, is never something to be proud of. In the same way, the Catechism defines sin as “spiritual death.” You wouldn’t boast that you were “less dead” than another.
So, in short, we must always remember two things: that there are circumstances behind every sin, and that we are no better than any other sinner. Remembering these things will not only make us more merciful people, but also help us to grow in humility.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jn 7:1-2,10,25-30 Secret to Success

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

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, "Is [Jesus] not the one they are trying to kill?  ...Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?  But we now where he is from. ...Jesus cried out...and said, "You know me and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true."

We know where he is from.  I love this quote!  It's so wrong!!!  The truth of the matter is this:  the inhabitants of Jerusalem knew nothing about the Lord, except for the simple fact that He lived in Nazareth and His mother was Mary.  That's it!  And yet, they were convinced they knew everything about Him, who He was and where He came from.

Now here's a good lesson for all those people who think they are experts in everything!  Think again, friends.  You shouldn't be so confident in your judgments.  Is it any wonder why the Lord told us to "Stop judging!?"

Buildings have their straight lines, right angles and shapes.  They fit perfectly in empty lots.  Physicists have their crisp and clean and polished formulas.  They use them to translate the Universe into theories and numbers and shrink it to fit inside our very creative minds.  Mathematicians have their neat equations and rounding off rules.  But I love Pi (3.141592654...) and it's resistance to being "confined." 

Positivists value the objective and despise the subjective.  They love the carved wood, not the sawdust.  Why? Because they prefer the clean to the dirty, the finished product, the measurable; not the raw, the unpolished, the natural, the emotional, the subjective.  Rate your pain on a scale of 1-to-10.  How foolish!  We need to give our souls a voice and a vote.  Why?  Because we are deeper than our atoms. 

We are atoms with a soul; that is, hardwired and variable; objective and subjective; human and divine.

Cinderella is more than just a beautiful maiden.  She is the handmaid of the Lord, giving voice to the soul.  Those people that are obnoxious can't stand her (cf. Wis 2:12).  Those who love her don't know her or where she comes from. 

Jesus is more than just a man. He is the Son of Man.  He was not just born in Bethlehem.  He existed before the world was made.  He was more than a Jew.  He is The Word made flesh.  For this reason, St. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).  Those people that are obnoxious can't stand him.  Those who love him want to know more about him.

He went to Jerusalem in secret.  What's it take to be successful?  Just yesterday, I asked a couple of hundred people what they thought.  I heard what I had heard before:  talent, hard work, risk taking, money, being in the right place at the right time, investment, perseverance, sacrifice, belief, failure, correction, etc.

Nothing new.  Nothing surprising.  Nothing very interesting.  Everything hardwired.  So is this it?  Hardwork + Talent + Risk Taking +... = Success?  I don't think so.  I think there are many more variables, and some not so easy to quantifiable, like humility, faith, hope and love, but most importantly, humility.

I think humility is the secret to success, to everyone's success, even to Christ's success.  Blessed are the meek and humble of heart.

Christ revealed His true identity through humility.    To recognize Him requires great humility. 
To believe in Him requires great humility.
Win-Win.
Success. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lk 2:44-47 Lost

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

By SOPHIE DRUFFNER
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
I get lost a lot. On my driving test, I missed a couple of turns because I was so focused on holding my hands in the ten and two-o’clock positions, focusing on the mirrors, the road, and the unreadable expression of my graders.  When I was little, I used to be so focused on following the bright red of my mum’s turtleneck through the crowd that I would look up ten minutes later and find that I was following another woman’s bright red turtleneck. And in the first few months after I bought my car, I would wander around the streets of Plano which I had driven for years, with no idea of where I was.
Humans get lost a lot too. We’re on the right path, being nice to everyone and being good Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Jew, and then suddenly, something happens and we have no idea of where we are or how we get back to what we were like before. An argument sprang up and we said something cruel. We were tired and we accidentally snapped. A sister or child was annoying us and we reacted with a slap.
Of course we can always go and confess, of course God is always the for forgiveness. BUt God has feelings too. Every time we get lost, he reaches out to try to guide us back on the path; sometimes we refuse the hand, and he is hurt. But in the Bible, he just keeps coming back.
Sometimes parents give up on their children. It’s not that they have unrealistic expectations that they drop, but sometimes, they just stop trying. A disobedient child is allowed to do whatever he wants. A spoiled child is given more things. A child who is depressed is ignored. But God never gives up on us. He offers us so many instances of beauty to lift us out of our days--the beauty of the trees outside, the amazing infinity of the sky, the smile of another human being, a particularly good meditation.
But God the Father never, ever gives up on us. When His Son was dying on the cross, his son said everyone’s name. Maybe not out loud, and maybe it wasn’t recorded. But he was dying for every single one of us, and because nothing is impossible for God, in every drop of blood and in every gasp was every name since the beginning of time and even the names of those who only He knows--those who never lived long enough to be named, those who died nameless.
God knows your name, and he knows that even if you may be lost, he will guide you back--all you have to do is ask.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mt 1:16, 18-21,24a Beautiful, not Glamorous

Feast of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention...

You just won the Lottery!  Imagine for a moment winning the Lottery!  What would you do with all that money?  Would you buy a brand new house - heck - a mansion?!  Would you buy a yacht and sail around the world?

Well, what happened to St. Joseph is somewhat similar to winning the lottery.  After all, he was chosen by God to be the father of His most beloved Son.  What prize could be greater than that?  (I know, being Immaculate and the mother of the Son of God!). 

What an honor, right?  Good old Joseph.  Would the world come to fear him?  Would he turn his humble home into a museum and gift shop?  Would he sign autographs, give tours to outsiders, and generate income for residents living in Bethlehem and Nazareth?  Would he turn his vocation into a business?

Even better...Would he ask his son to do some insider trading for him?

If St. Joseph ever entertained fantasies of "capitalizing" or "profiting" from God's beautiful design and plan for humanity, then I am confident the Lord's angel, who was always sent to him in the middle of the night to startle him and get him moving, did a phenomenal job in crushing them!

It's time to crush our dreams and reach for the heavens!

Beautiful, not glamorous.  There was nothing glamorous or fairy talish about being the husband of Mary and the adopted father of the King of Kings.  It was all hard work!  It was all very demanding work. 

It was a 24/7 responsibility.

Winning this "lottery ticket" meant getting up and fleeing for dear life! It meant moving from one country to another, and still providing for the family while on the run!  It meant keeping your mouth shut when being insulted by family, friends and strangers.  This "amazing" calling from God meant that only God could ever know.  No one else. 

Hence, this calling required an amazing amount of faith, hope and love.

Why do we honor Joseph today?  Because he was a saint!  And what does it mean to be a saint?  It means to live a beautiful, and not necessarily glamorous, life.

There is nothing very glamorous about changing diapers, washing clothes, preparing meals (including lunches), paying bills and driving all over the place...for your kids! 

But it is beautiful.

There is nothing glamorous about the crucifix. 

But it is beautiful.

St. Joseph did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do. What else could anyone ever ask for?

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Jn 5:17-30 Let it go

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE

“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”

For the sake of finding oneself, “seeking one’s own will,” people will spend amazing amounts of time and money. They will spend thousands on college, thousands on traveling, hundreds (sometimes thousands) for various school activities. Ostensibly, they do this for noble enough reasons: a good education, a knowledge of other cultures, or gaining honor in some competitive event. More often in reality, people invest of these things for more personal reasons. They do so for the sake of identity.

In the past, people appealed to God, or to Nature, or to Reason; today, society appeals to Identity as the final good of all activity. People do not act because their action is right or just, but because it is part of their identity. Instead of seeking meaning, or seeking truth, people now seek themselves and create their own meaning by making themselves the measure of all things. For example, some African immigrants in Paris, in an interview with a reporter from NPR, explained why they insisted on wearing the burka despite laws prohibiting it. They did not appeal to sharia law, or logic, or even personal preference, but rather to their identity: the burka, a piece of clothing that covers everything except a woman’s eyes, apparently constituted a part of their identity as an African Muslim woman—despite the French law asserting that it does the very opposite by effectively hiding one’s identity. These women even declared that the efforts of cultural assimilation by the French provoked them to act even more radical in their expression as Muslims to preserve their identity.

Many progressives like to cite creating, maintaining, cultivating, preserving, embracing, or even celebrating identity as a motive for activism. What people think of themselves trumps what they actually do. Race, sexual orientation, and gender mean more than whether a person has a good heart, a good mind, or does good things. People think little of the good of marriage when they support same-sex marriage; they think of the good of the gay community. Likewise, those who advocate abortion hardly consider the grave immorality of killing an infant in the womb; they claim to empower the community of women. In most cases in which a group of people receive some kind of benefit, one can be sure that identity plays a much bigger than morality or values.

At its heart, the argument from and for identity is horribly self-centered. One explores his or her preferences in all facets of life, from fashion to sexuality, while the world could use some help. The naval-gazers debate what “feels right” for them in their values while neglecting traditional values, the principles that uphold civilized order, quickly evaporate. Post modern man has become such a meticulously customized individual that he cannot understand the fulfillment that comes from community, or sacrifice, or love.

Jesus makes a point that He does not seek to create a “Christian identity,” but simply does the will of the Father. By doing His Father’s will, and acknowledging God as His Father, He makes Truth and Love the final goal of human activity, not one’s own self. Ironically, one will find oneself as soon as they stop looking.People who strive to make themselves interesting often turn into horrible bores who name drop and show little interest in others. People who humble themselves and seek only to help win everyone’s respect and interest.

Jesus humbles himself infinitely, drawing humanity infinitely closer to His Father and one another. The proud, those with an identity to protect, lose themselves and those around them. Personal fulfillment quickly becomes personal emptiness. Once people decide to let go of themselves, they will find something much more substantial and meaningful than themselves: they will find God.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jn 4:43-54 Life and Death

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

By KATIE GROSS

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.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.

Most everyone knows the verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” We know, then, that God has saved us. The word ‘salvation,’ however, is used so frequently in the Church that we can become numb to it. We can take it for granted that God has saved us. In order to truly understand our salvation, we must realize the magnitude of our sin—then, we will come to know just how much of a gift it is to be saved. This is what today’s Mass readings can help us discover.

“Sir, come down before my child dies.” Throughout the Gospels, sin is often related to physical illness and death. This can be confusing at first.I remember the first time I ever heard the reading where Jesus commands the paralytic man to walk. All Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven, and then he walks? What does sin have to do with physical infirmity?While physical and spiritual infirmity may not be directly related, it often helps us to think of sin in physical terms in order to recognize its gravity.

Think: it is all too easy to forget the magnitude of our sin because sin is purely spiritual. We cannot see it or touch it, and because of this, we can begin to underestimate its destructive effects. It is much easier to see and understand physical infirmity. A person can cuss and be bitter all day long and not immediately recognize any harm. However, if a person were to get slapped for every sin he committed, he would certainly notice sin’s destructive effect through his physical nature. We must realize that we are a body and soul—just as our body can suffer harm, so can our soul suffer harm. This is how serious sin should be to us: we should realize that sin isthe “death of the soul" (CCC 403).
Furthermore, it is very difficult to admit that we are in need of salvation. Sure, one can say that he needs Jesus, but when you think of sin as spiritual death, that admittance becomes all the more serious. It would be like if someone approached you and said, “Hey, you’re wrecking your life. You don’t have any clue how to handle your business.” Now, if someone said that to me, I would probably lash out. But think! This is what it is to say we are sinners. To say I am a sinner is to admit that I do not know what is right for me—to admit that I am causing my own spiritual death. The truth is that we are all dying. We all need a Savior.

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” Today’s Psalm says it all. The last verse says, “Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me; O LORD, be my helper. You changed my mourning into dancing; O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.” The Lord is our helper. He changes our mourning-- notice the allusion to death again-- into dancing.

The first reading also gives a beautiful image of our salvation in terms of life and death:

“No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime…”

When our sin is reflected as physical death in the Bible, our salvation is reflected as a cure. We know what it is to physically be ill. We know what it is like to physically be cured. We must bring this analogy to the spiritual realm—not only will it help us recognize the magnitude of our sin, but the reality of our salvation.