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!


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sir 51:12cd-20 Waters of Wisdom

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

By JENNIFER BURGIN

I thank the LORD and I praise him; I bless the name of the LORD. When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer I prayed for her before the temple, and I will seek her until the end, and she flourished as a grape soon ripe…. My hand opened her gate and I came to know her secrets. I directed my soul to her, and in cleanness I attained to her.

Tuesday night I couldn't sleep very well as thunder boomed and lightning flashed through my bedroom windows. I tossed and turned thinking:  Please Lord, no more rain!  Can you let us dry out for a few weeks?  Save the showers until July and August. We're floating away around here!   I never remain sleepless for long, especially during an extended holiday weekend.  Obviously, my mind was worried about the week lying ahead.

When I need to clear my head, my favorite place to visit is the Dallas Arboretum.  It's my mini oasis away from work woes, problem people, and blinding boredom.  While laying in bed, I pictured myself walking the gardens with my rosary in hand, citing the Joyful Mysteries.  I observed rabbits scurrying along the grass and bees pollinating the Saint Pope John Paul II hybrid tea roses.  I felt droplets of morning dew on my skin.  I smelled the crisp clean air while listening to the birds sing.   Just imagining the botanical wonderland brought me comfort. From my lips I continued to whisper "Hail Mary, Full of Grace..." as I finally drifted off to sleep.

Our Lord created such an artistic array of flowers, trees, animals, and insects. The kaleidoscope of nature is awe-inspiring because it allows us to appreciate life in all of its forms. Undeniably, our beautiful earth would not be so spectacular if it wasn't for God's wisdom. He designed from the very beginning of creation water to sustain life, not only our physical bodies but also our spiritual ones.  The waters of baptism transformed us into Christians just as the Holy Spirit's gift of wisdom helps us carry out our baptismal promises.

The horticultural term "water-wiserefers to a plant's ability to stay alive with limited water.  An entire section of the Dallas Arboretum is devoted to water-wise flora. One of the secrets to survival under drought conditions involves genetic and cellular compositionalong with native landscape adaptability.

Plants can be classified as "water-wise" just as followers of Jesus can be considered "Christ-wise".  That is, we use the Holy Spirit's gift of wisdom in our day to day interactions.  Wisdom is something that develops over time. It's achieved through prayer, scripture, the sacraments, observation and sometimes trial and error.  We all remember some of our foolish teenage years.  We thought we were wise "Know-It-Alls" when on the contrary we knew very little.  One thing great about getting older is getting wiser!  The old saying is very true. 

When I think of a water-wise plant, I think of its amazing ability to conserve water in ways to enhance its growth. When drought hits, it doesn't droop but remains alive. The "Christ-wise" believer uses wisdom to grow in holiness. He or she is more resilient in adversity, enthusiastic about spreading the good news, and more devoted to the faith.

Let us all become more "Christ-wise" in our relationships with friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, and our parish family.  Learn to walk the way of Christ through the garden springs of life!

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”  - Confucius

This meditation was written by Jennifer Burgin, a Lay Dominican.  Please follow her blog:  Jennifer's Spectrum of Spirituality

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mk 10:46-52 Holy Distractions

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

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.  But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me."  Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."

I tend to walk very quickly wherever I go, especially when I am walking out of my office or to my car.  People make fun of me because I tend to keep my eyes focused on my primary target.  In other words, I don't look around.  I stay focused.

Hence, I don't like distractions.

Jesus was a man who was always on a mission.  He went from town to town for a purpose.  He spoke with high officials for a reason.  He spent time with sinners to show them the Way, the Truth and the Life.

But He allowed himself to get distracted.  He saw in them His Father's Will.

Holy Distractions.  We spend a lot of time and energy avoiding distractions.  We'll cross to the other side, when we see someone coming.  We'll get up and leave, when we see someone come in.  We'll do a ton of things JUST TO AVOID SOMEONE.  Why?  Because we don't want to get distracted. 

And as difficult as this may sound (even to me), I have come to believe that most "distractions" are more like "holy pushes".  

Think about it. 

Jesus was leaving Jericho and heading to another town when a man named Bartimaeus began calling out his name.  How often has something like this happened to you? 

People began to tell him to be quiet, to not disturb or disrupt him.  How often have you felt like telling someone to be quiet?

But Bartimaeus doesn't quit.  He keeps calling out His name, "Son of David, have pity on me!!!"

The Lord was clearly on a mission.  Do I really have time for this?  There was a sizeable crowd around him and He was ready to work some more of his "magic." Don't these people know how important and busy I amI don't have time for this!   

For all practical purposes, it would seem foolish (a waste of time) for Jesus to stop for him, an elderly and blind man.

But He did.

And this story made it in the Holy Bible.  

Holy Distractions!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mk 10:32-45 Selling the Gospel

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)
 
By Benedict Augustine

Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”

For a messiah Who hoped to inspire faith in his disciples and redeem the world, Jesus seems to falter on his sales pitch. He informs His disciples of his coming torture, death, and humiliation which He will suffer at the promptings of His Own chosen people. Sure, the resurrection awaits Him, but does He really have to suffer first? On that point, should anyone really have to suffer?

The disciples seem to gloss over this nasty fate and inquire about the glory that follows. Although John and James are criticized for trying to angle their way into Jesus’ divine inner-circle, they likely voice what most of the apostles must be thinking: if torture and death await the messiah as well as His disciples, the ones who suffer most must at least have some place of privilege in the next life. Jesus cannot even promise this; He can only assure them that they will suffer as He will and that they should really stop thinking about what they stand to gain in following Him. Here they stood ready, with cash in hand, to buy His product, and He essentially tells them that He will take their money but might not give them the product they want, if He gives them a product at all.

Jesus’ utter failure to sell His gospel should caution other would-be evangelizers from trying the same. Salesmanship works with merchandise, but it does not work with truth. One can sell a car and appeal to the buyer’s self-interest, but he cannot do the same with a gospel that directly opposes self-interest. One can update the packaging or change the marketing of a certain piece of technology, but he cannot do this with a religion that stands in strict contradiction with facades and superficial status symbols. True Christianity defies the salesmanship tactics: it is free; it is spiritual; and it usually makes life more difficult.

Nevertheless, many Catholics will try to sell their friends on the Church by highlighting the faith’s beneficial effects on mental health and emotional stability. In so many words, they claim that Church will make a person happier in all aspects of life: in marriage, in parenthood, in friendships, and with personal habits. In a way, faith assumes the quality of a mere self-help program—something far more pedestrian than the glory that Jesus and His disciples discuss.

While the Church does indeed have volumes to offer in the way of  relationships and self-improvement, such practical wisdom only exists because of something much larger: Jesus’s suffering and resurrection. Faith in the gospel will not so much help a person become happy as it will help a person suffer and handle sadness.  The Catholic experiences pleasure after mortifying himself and understanding privation and pain. He can only experience wisdom after admitting to so much foolishness. He can only gain the love of another when he loses himself. He becomes strong and self-sufficient when he confesses his inadequacy and begs for God’s help. The drivers of consumption, ego and appetite, find no place in this paradoxical spiritual landscape.

Salvation and endless joy do await the disciples, but they must not work for it like some kind of payment for services rendered. They must learn what salvation truly is and that they can never really earn it, but only accept it as a precious gift from God. This lesson can only come through suffering. Suffering does not earn a place in the kingdom of heaven; it instead emboldens the disciple to pursue heaven all the more through a greater devotion to Jesus. A quote from St. Bernard of Clairveiux captures this reality well: “Hunger is the best seasoning.” Jesus will feed all men from His own Being, but He must make them hungry first.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jn 20:19-23 Pentecost and Graduation

Pentecost
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."  ...And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Graduation.  Once a year I have the incredible honor and privilege to celebrate Ursuline Academy's Baccalaureate Mass for their graduating seniors.  This year the ceremony fell on Pentecost Sunday.  What a special grace!

As I looked out at my audience, I was filled with joy and love.  The sight was more breathtaking and more beautiful than even the seven wonders of the world!  I guess that's because I have known these young souls for four years and have fallen in love with them. 

I am also filled with admiration for their parents.  These dear people are so close to my heart because most of them have played second fiddle to their children.  Yes!  They've had to endure teenage drama for four - maybe even more - years!  They've had to endure insult upon insult when people - good people - gave them little to no credit for their children's successes! 

Your daughter is so beautiful! It must be genetic.  
Your daughter is so amazing!  Some folks are just lucky. 
Your daughter is so intelligent.  That science fair project she finished all by herself is remarkable! 

We know better.  When it comes to raising kids, there is no cherry-picking and no accidents.  What makes all the difference in the world is COMMITMENT! 

What made the Apostles successful in life and in death was their Savior's unconditional and undivided commitment to them. 

The doors were locked.  What does this mean?  Where the Apostles waiting for the cover of darkness to escape from Jerusalem, go into hiding (or back to Galilee) and wait for the best moment to return to their former way of life?  At first, we may think so, because we are told the doors were locked out of fear of the Jews.  But the reality is quite different:  the Apostles had locked the doors  because they were not going anywhere.  They were staying put!  Why?  Because they had committed themselves with all their heart and soul to the Lord.  They were one with the Lord. 

All for one and one for all.

Recent trends.  We've all heard the recent news about the downfall of Christianity in America.  We've all read the reports that marriage rates are falling to all time lows.  We've all heard that SAT Math scores are at their lowest since 2000. 

Our baby boomers appear to be having a lot of difficulties these days.  Of course there are those who would love to put a positive spin on a head wound and attribute these losses to so-called "new found freedoms!," but the truth of the matter is much darker and bleaker, and those who work with them on a daily basis know just how much they suffer. 

FOMO.  What's the root cause of a loss in Christian identity, in marriage rates, in divorce rates, in single-parents, in job hunting, in college drop outs, etc.?

Boomers have a fear that keeps them up late at night and that haunts them on a daily basis.  This fear is what they call FOMO:  The FEAR OF MISSING OUT.

How can I commit to something or to someone when there are so many options?  Why in the world would I ever commit to something (or to someone) when there might be something (or someone) better?

So they live life on the edge or on the surface, or in the corner.  In other words, they can't seem to make up their minds on anything (or anyone).    They are always looking for happiness.  They are always sniffing around looking for something (or someone) more exciting.

And by doing so, they are missing out on everything!

Because of this "fear of missing out", baby-boomers fear commitment - which translated into reality means - the fear of wedding vows, religious vows, having children, and saving for retirement.

Because of the FOMO, they keep their parents out of their lives, God at a distance, and their morals and values hidden.

Because of the FOMO, they avoid or cover-up at all cost  tears, sadness, and sickness.

Ironically, the fear of missing out causes them to miss out on one of the greatest pleasures of life:  discovering joy in the midst of hardships, challenges, difficulties and trials.

In essence, they are missing out on a big part of life!

It's time we try what the Apostles experienced and learned from Jesus Christ:  Commitment to God and to others allows us to live life to the full.  It allows us to experience not only happiness (an expected smile and an expected sense of fulfillment), but also joy (an unexpected smile, an unexpected sense of contentment and a very surprising sense of fulfillment).  In other words, a huge surprise!

Commitment produces surprises, and surprises are what makes life exciting and worth living.

The Apostles were filled with happiness and joy the moment the Lord appeared to them in their midst and through locked doors.  Now they were ready to walk out and begin the greatest adventure of their lives.  It was as if they had just graduated!

Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your blessings, especially upon all our 2015 Graduates who commit their lives to you and to the great adventure and tremendous challenge to serve others.  May your love for them continue to embolden them; may your Son continue to inspire them; and may your Holy Spirit continue to guide them.  We ask this through your Son, our Lord.  AMEN!

Mk 10:17-27 Bucket-List

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

By KATIE GROSS

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth. The man in today’s Gospel reading would be the equivalent of today’s “checklist Christian.” That’s not a theological term or anything—in fact, I just made it up. However, I think that among those people who are devoted to their faith, far too many fall into the “checklist Christian” category—in other words, the category of people who measure their own faith strictly by the amount of devotions they pray or the amount of good deeds they do for others.
 
The man in today’s Gospel reading and I have a lot in common. I, like many other students nowadays, have a type Apersonality. I have never once gotten a uniform infraction. I rarely am late. micromanage every second of my day. Too often, this mentality spills over into my faith. For example, I remember one week of school this past year where I was just absolutely swamped. It was the middle of my sports season and the final week of the academic quarter all at once, and I was barely getting enough sleep to function. On top of that, I was beating myself up for letting my schoolwork get in the way of prayer. Earlier in high school, I had prayed the Rosary a few times a week and even gone to daily Mass some mornings. I had gone to my high school youth group every week. Mid-way through this year, I had all but given those things up in favor of sleep, school, and family—and I was completely beating myself up for it. I often worried that I was losing my faith, and confessed multiple times that I was “not trying hard enough.” Until one priest said something that really stuck with me—“are you making your faith into a checklist?”
 
You see, being a Christian is not about being type A. It isn’t about how many devotions you can pray or how many Masses you can attend. In fact, it isn’t about what you can do at all. C.S. Lewis puts this very well: “As long as a man is thinking of God as an Examiner who has set him a sort of paper to do, or as the opposite party in a sort of bargain—as long as he is thinking of claims and counterclaims between himself and God—he is not yet in the right relation to Him… We must change from being confident about our own efforts to the state which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.” The man in the Gospel was striving his hardest to keep the commandments. He thought that doing so would make him the perfect Christian, that it would make him perfect in the eyes of God. He did not know that by making his faith into a limited checklist to be accomplished, he was in fact limiting the amount of his life that he could give over to God.
 
You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. Now, following the commandments is something that we should all strive for. However, the commandments are not the be all and end all of our faith; in fact, they are the bare minimum requirements. The commandments, or the Old Law, simply define what most human beings already know from natural law; do not kill, do not steal, do not covet, etc. The New Law given to us by Jesus Christ is the fullness of the law, and the truth is, unless you are God (which you aren’t), it is nearly impossible to “check off.” We are going to fail in loving our enemies. We are going to fail in praying for those who persecute us. It is in our human nature to fall short of this New Law. So, what kind of cruel God would give us a law the He knew we wouldn’t be able to accomplish?
 
This is how the “checklist mentality” can poison our faith. We tell ourselves that we have a set number of tasks to accomplish or rules to follow, and then we are done. What Jesus asks of us is to keep pushing past the checklist, even though it may mean failure. He asks us to do something radical. Now, not all of us are meant to sell all of our things and give to the poor—that’s not what He asks of us. He simply asks that we don’t get too self-satisfied with how well we follow the rules. There is always room for improvement; there is always room to give more to God.
 
If your faith is currently a “checklist” variety of faith, I would challenge you to stop what you are doing and try something new. Push yourself, not to pray more devotions or do more things on your own effort, but to let God be a part of your day to day. Open up your life to whatever work He wants to do, and stop defining for yourself what you must do.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Acts 28:16-20, 30-31 A World in Virtual Chains

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter
 
By JENNIFER BURGIN
 
When they had gathered he said to them, “My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty....This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.” 

On Netflix, I discovered a bizarre British mini-series, similar to Twilight Zone, called Black Mirror. I was shocked off my sofa as I watched one disturbing episode after the next.  Definitely for mature audiences,  the second episode takes place in a futuristic  "prison" where men and women ride exercise bikes as retribution for crimes committed.  While cycling away, they watch 24/7 video images or play games with avatars. Digital currency accrues as the prisoners engage in virtual activities.  The ultimate prize is affording a singing competition entry ticket; the best singer is "released" from prison but with alternative arrangements in exchange.  True freedom is only a figment of the imagination. The episode left me thinking:  Are we slaves to Technology? Are we literally chained to the Internet, electronic devices, video games, and social media?   

Sadly, I think Technology is transforming into a pseudo-God.  How many Americans worship the idols of Apple and Google?!  People are addicted to their cell phones,Facebook and Twitter.  Whole communities are formed around the virtual instead of reality.  No wonder the Church sees a decline in Mass attendance.  Some people are more "enlightened" by the virtual world's non-stop stimulation, entertainment, and self-promotion.   They can buy, earn, see and believe anything without conforming to a set of moral standards. They don't have to listen to boring homilies while sitting around yawning people reciting the same mass responses each Sunday.  In the virtual world, they can meet like minded people who may share a mutual disgust for God and then troll around cyberspace spreading cyber venom.  Or, they can become lazy and indifferent toward religious practice.

Always keep in mind that not all technology is bad.  The Internet is a wonderful resource for the New Evangelization.  Pope Francis has had tremendous success with his Twitter feed. The Vatican News Agency can quickly spread accurate information about the Church. Catholic conversions and reversions do still happen!  We just have to be careful to use Technology wisely and diligently.  It's easy for us to get sucked into the wows and whims of our electronic gadgets, but then forget about the poor, the hungry, the abused, the imprisoned, and the elderly.  We can lose one-on-one connections, both emotionally, mentally and physically.  Yes, we can read online about those suffering in the world, and make a donation with the swipe of a finger, but nothing is more humane and loving than to minister in person. Technology can keep us socially isolated if we allow it.  We should discover innovative ways to use technology to build up the Church.

As Christians we are called to physical communion as well as Holy Communion. Here we can shake hands, hug one another, or shed a tear or two without using Skype.  We can share a laugh and a smile without using emoticons.  We can pray together, worship together, and interact together without the need for Wi-Fi.  We can keep that human bond alive without allowing artificial intelligence to destroy it.

I wonder what Saint Paul would think about Technology.  Imagine a live broadcast from the Roman prison via satellite with a recording posted on Jew-Tube! Imagine all of the people re-tweeting quotes from Saint Paul's speech.  Wow, what a different world it would have been.  Yet, I'm satisfied with the real biblical story.

“That’s sad. How plastic and artificial life has become. It gets harder and harder to find something…real.” Nin interlocked his fingers, and stretched out his arms. “Real love, real friends, real body parts…” ― Jess C. Scott, "The Other Side of Life"


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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jn 17: 11B-19 The Lord of the World and the Lord of Heaven

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
(Click here for readings)
 
By Benedict Augustine

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.

If I were making a religion, I would…” so says the worldly man. He lists many different desirable qualities to improve society as we know it. His religion would be more tolerant, more enlightened, more progressive, more exciting, more empowering, or more flexible. He and many others have come to the conclusion that some clever shamans in the ancient world invented religion to perpetuate their own superiority. They came up with a story, attached some rules to it, and made sure to pass it on to posterity. Not for a moment does the worldly man even wonder if any of these religions may be true.

In his novel, Lord of the World, Fr. Robert Benson depicts a future world not so far off from today. The people of that world believe in the spirit of man, the possible unity of the world, a heaven on earth. They disregard Christianity as so much myth while they greedily swallow the myth of progress. None of this is reached rationally, but simply results from the overwhelmingly materialistic atmosphere. Any defense that these “humanists” may have had against the forces evil has gone away. They have no faith and no reason; they follow the demagogues, the spectacles, and their own animalistic impulses.

As the anti-Christ, the Lord of the World, comes into power, he finds the work of harvesting souls already half-way done. He revels in the culture of death that solves problems by eliminating them – curiously, the doctors more often euthanize than cure those in pain. In this sordid setting, his mere words and presence take possession of his listeners who succumb to his power. They belong to the world, and the world belongs to him. Only the small cadre of Catholics withstands this man’s power by clinging to their faith in Christ.

Unfortunately, as more unwitting people align with the anti-Christ, the less safe it becomes for the remaining Catholics. Benson’s scenes of Christian persecution resonate prophetically for 21st century readers witnessing the crucifixion and torture of Christians today. He describes the pressure of the mob, the absence of conscience, the lustful gratification of hate. They commit abominations for a false god; they do not experience the freedom of faith, but the slavery of spiritual absence.

As in the novel, a Catholic in today’s world must counteract these pressures with the truth. His religion must come from God, not from man. How can one tell? If man made a religion, it would resemble the religion that takes hold of the people in Benson’s novel. It would glorify man, escape reality, and resort to violence to establish supremacy. The pagan religions did this; secular religions (like communism and fascism) still do this; Islam and Hinduism continue to do this. While many liberal-minded believers might try, Catholics cannot overturn the truth of their faith. Jesus’ resurrection happened, this is historical fact. The disciples of the early Church was willing to suffer martyrdom by the thousands, another fact. Catholics cannot overturn truth of Christ’s teachings, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of Heaven without losing themselves. Those who reside outside of Truth, outside of Christ, expose themselves to the temptations of cruelty, slavery, and delusion—observations made by Hillaire Belloc when discussing the Modernist heresy of the early 20thcentury.

In a word, a soul lost to Christ will find himself with the Devil, the Lord of the World. Thus, Jesus prays with His disciples that they may be one and kept from the Evil One. Paul shares the same fears with the disciples of Ephesus. The Lord of the World lurks in and out of the Church always. All Catholics, both then and now, must look to the Lord of Heaven to keep them safe. Their faith will be tested.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Jn 17:1-11a I Am Going To You

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you...I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours in mine, and I have been glorified in them.  And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."

Yesterday I celebrated a funeral Mass for a young man who took his own life.  For many years he suffered from mental illness.  He also struggled with faith in God.  I knew this young man fairly well.  I know his family very well.  They are exceptional people! 

I can honestly say that throughout this young man's trials and tribulations, that brought the family to tears and to their knees, the family never left his side.  They prayed for him.  They hoped so much for Him.  They loved him unconditionally. 

His death was heartbreaking to family and friends.
 
I am coming to you.  I'm not sure - I haven't done a thorough job researching this - but I think the Lord never said to His disciples that He was going to Heaven.  Instead, He always insisted that He was going back to His Father.  This tells us that Heaven is not so much a place as it is a person.

THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Why?  Because it brings us to a more intimate relationship with God. 

In other words, wherever Jesus is, that's where Heaven is.

So where is Jesus?  Has he abandoned us?  Has He gotten rid of us?  Has He given up on us?  No, not at all.  If anything, the Lord has united Himself to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that unites the Son to the Father.

I want to be with Jesus.  Where Jesus is, there Heaven is. So...

+ If Jesus is on the top of some mountain, then that mountain is worth climbing.  If holiness is something the Lord demands from His followers, then holiness it is.  If it is unconditional Love, then unconditional Love it is.  If it is Mercy and Compassion, then Mercy and Compassion.  If it means standing up for Him and for our beliefs and dying for those beliefs, then consider it done, for it is worth doing whatever it takes to get to the top of that mountain.  I don't care how tiring it may be, or how painful it can get, or how difficult it can be.  I don't even care if I find myself falling down often.  Whatever struggles I have to overcome to get there, I will, for He is worth everything.

+If Jesus is walking on water, then, like St. Peter, I want to be there.  If stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something risky or challenging or daring is something the Lord is inviting me to do, then so be it.  For wherever the Lord is, there too I want to be.  If I am successful in life by doing what no one has done before, then I must give my Lord the credit for leading me to do the impossible.  I can't forget what He said:  For nothing is impossible with God.

+If the Lord surrounds himself with lepers and losers and criminals, then I want to be next to Him, for He himself said about himself: "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick,. and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me."  The Lord not only cares about those nobody cares about, He even identifies Himself as one of them! 

Heaven is not just Jesus.  It is our neighbor as well.

+Last but not least, Heaven is also found on the wood of the Cross.  Jesus nailed to the cross is the last place in the world we would ever think to find Heaven.  But there He is, right before our eyes.  And right next to Him is His Father, His mother and His best friend.  When we stay close to those who suffer, we stay close to Christ.  When we show unconditional love to those who have difficulty accepting it, we are uniting ourselves to Christ on the Cross.  Father, forgive them...

As I was preparing my homily for yesterday's funeral mass, my thoughts fell upon the crucifix.  This young man's unexpected and tragic death reminded me of Christ's passion and death. It also reminded me of how our loved ones never leave our side.  NEVER. 

Unfortunately, this young man may have taken his life because he considered himself a "burden" to his family.  But the truth is:  he always struggled with forgiveness, grace and faith, which in this specific case meant believing and accepting unconditional love. 

He loved to play the guitar.  I don't know if he ever got around to playing that old song from the Hollies, "He ain't heavy, He's my brother." 

The Lord be with you.  And with your spirit.
Rest in peace, my dear friend.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Jn 16:29-33 The Lord's Humility

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter
 
By KATIE GROSS

The disciples said to Jesus,
“Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech.
Now we realize that you know everything
and that you do not need to have anyone question you.
Because of this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

In today’s Gospel reading, we are reminded once again of just how human the disciples were, and subsequently how they mirror our own discipleship of Christ.  Now, upon first reading this Gospel, one might think that the disciples made a stunning profession of faith. After all, they told Jesus that he knew everything, had no need of being questioned, and came from God; how could this not be the most humble profession of faith? I would venture to say that it is the exact opposite—it is a perfect example of how pride can “smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life,” as C.S. Lewis once wrote.
C.S. Lewis wrote extensively on pride. As a Christian scholar, he knew all too well how pride could poison one’s spiritual life, turning conversations about God into competitions over who knew the most, who was the holiest, or who was the most eloquent. I think he would pinpoint a huge instance of pride in the declaration of the disciples. Notice that the disciples do not simply praise Jesus, but instead almost praise themselves by stating that “now we realize that you know everything” and “we believe you came from God.” It is as if they had just finished a complex math equation—they believed they got it right, and they were content to just stop there. They had it all figured out. Jesus scolded them for their pride.
 
This is a trap that is all too easy to fall into as Catholics.One time, I texted a good friend after I had made a questionable decision. I told her that I was ashamed, and that I had expected more of myself. She responded with one of the most profound things I have ever heard: “Expecting more of yourself is pride itself. Remember that you are a sinner. Assume that you will mess up.”
Furthermore, to be a faithful Catholic is to choose an inherently countercultural lifestyle. This is a good thing.However, when we choose this countercultural lifestyle, it becomes so easy to look to the other, perhaps-less-religious people around us and say, “Man, I feel sorry for them—I have it all figured out.” Just like the disciples. This could not be a more dangerous statement. C.S. Lewis sums this up perfectly: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.” It’s scary to think about, but it’s true: evil has a perfect way to fit right in the center of our relationship with God. Therefore, we must be vigilant. We must not forget that we by our very human nature are sinful. When we think we have it all figured out, we don’t have a clue.
 
Even so, I don’t suggest that everyone return to sackcloth and ashes and lament their sinful ways for the rest of their lives.Instead, the whole point of our Christian lives is to not onlyrecognize that we are sinful by nature, but also that Jesus took on our nature to save us. He understands and even expects thatwe will fail, even when the rest of the world holds us to a perfect standard. After all, right after Jesus scolds the disciples for abandoning him, he consoles them with some of the most touching words in all of Scripture: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  Even when we are proud—the very antithesis of what Jesus is and what He calls us to be—He still consoles us. He is patient beyond all patience.  
 
So just remember—you never have it all figured out. Be humble, just as the Lord is humble.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mk 16:15-20 Going, Going, Gone?

The Ascension
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus said to his disciples: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature."

After He had suffered.  In his first book, St. Luke explained all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up.  He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered."   

After he had suffered. 
This is a key to understanding the ascension.

Before we can ascend to heaven, we must descend on earth.  This is Christian physics 101. 

If someone wants to jump in the air, then they must first bend their knees and descend.  Similarly, if someone wants to get to heaven, then they must first get down and dirty and humble themselves.

The Ascension.  When I decided to become a priest, I found it very difficult to leave behind my family, my friends, the kids in Faith Formation. my work, my girlfriend, my money and my car (not necessarily in this order, okay?).  It was difficult to say goodbye to so many people.  But was I really leaving?  Was I really saying goodbye?  At first, I really believed I was, and so there were lots of tears and hugs and kisses.  But little by little, I realized that my life - my relationship - with them had not ended, it had just changed.  In fact, it had changed for the better.  I can honestly say that from that day on, I had a greater appreciation for all my loved ones.  They were now going to be in my daily prayers, whether or not they knew it or liked it!   

Christ never left His Apostles.  The Ascension is not a final farewell or going away party.  The Lord did not throw a big bash while His followers were weeping and wailing!  Sure, He was going to the Father, but by going to the Father, He was uniting our common humanity to the inner life of God in an unprecedented way.

His relationship with man was not coming to an end, it was only getting stronger!  His Spirit would now, and forever more, be a part of us, whether or not we knew it or liked it.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven - where heaven is not a place, but a person, for, as Pope Benedict states, "Jesus himself is what we call 'heaven.'"

Heaven as a person is another key to understanding the Lord's Ascension.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jn 16:23b-28 All You Have to Do is Ask

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
 
By JENNIFER BURGIN
 
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. “I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father."

Have you ever asked for a favor and the person never followed through?  On the flip side:  Has someone ever requested a favor from you and you blew it off like no big deal?

At the end of my sophomore year of college, we were in the process of vacating our dorm rooms.  I needed help removing a heavy carpet rug from underneath my bed, so I pre-arranged for my boyfriend to come by one evening. When he failed to show up, I called him.  I remember his rudeness and irritability as he yelled: "Jennifer, you're just going to have to find someone else to move that carpet!  I'm too tired and don't have the time!"  I slammed down the phone in anger and disgust. Since he refuses to help, I'm no longer his girlfriend! He can go where the sun don't shine!  

How was I going to move the bed and the ugly pink carpet?  (I cursed my roommate for leaving me stuck with her trash.)  In desperation, I called one of my girlfriends.  She agreed to come over very late that evening, and she removed the rug with all of her brawn and sweat.  I was grateful for her assistance but evidently the "favor" was too burdensome.  She never spoke to me again!  I wrote her letters that summer and even enclosed a small gift of thanks.  No response. To this day, I wonder if she'd remain a friend if I asked someone else to move the carpet? 

Ask and you will receive.....   In Adoration this week, I pondered these words further.   The Lord doesn't grant our wishes like a Genie in a bottle. Sometimes we ask and the Lord tells us, "Nope! That's not for you! You are not ready for this yet."  Maybe what we ask for is bad for our bodies. Maybe what we beg for is dangerous to our souls. Maybe what we cry out for will lead us away from grace. Our Lord desires our joy to be complete in Him and through Him. He wants to see our smiling faces in heaven someday! In the meantime, we should let go of our egos, hangups, pride, and selfishness.

The Holy Spirit whispers in our ears three simple words: patience, trust, hope.  Be patient, trust in God's will and remain hopeful!

Unanswered questions We ask God many questions. Why do good people die too soon? Why so much poverty and starvation in the world? Why so much hate, corruption, and persecution in our global society?  We wait to receive an answer; however, we hear silence. We don't understand God's plan, and we definitely don't know how Christ will judge us at the end of time. Despite the unanswered questions, we keep moving forward.  Hopefully we are enjoying life to the fullest, praising God for our blessings even if we are unclear of how the past, present and future will work out.

All you have to do is ask...  Sounds simple enough, right?  We don't have to worry about Our Lord playing a game of fickleness like people we know.  He remains constant, pouring out his unconditional love!   We ask for forgiveness, he gives us mercy.  When we ask for favor, he gives us grace.  Remember there is a clear distinction between asking for material goods versus asking for spiritual goods.  If it helps us grow in our faith, the Lord will provide.

"Let the water flow beneath the bridge; let men be men, that is to say, weak, vain, inconstant, unjust, false, and presumptuous; let the world be the world still; you cannot prevent it. Let every one follow his own inclination and habits; you cannot recast them, and the best course is, to let them be as they are and bear with them. Do not think it strange when you witness unreasonableness and injustice; rest in peace in the bosom of God; He sees it all more clearly than you do, and yet permits it." 

-Francois Fenelon


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

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jn 16:20-23 Home

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
(Click here for readings)

By FR ALFONSE NAZZARO

Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you."

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians declined by eight percentage points since the last religious landscape survey in 2007.  What I find most surprising is how gradual was the decline.  I had expected a drop off of fifteen to twenty percentage points.

Now, for the first time ever in the United States, the unaffiliated outnumber Catholics.

But what exactly does this mean?  Are we becoming more scientific? Are present generations much smarter than previous generations? Is this the demise of Catholicism and/or Christianity and the rise of atheism?  Hardly.  

What I think the results indicate is that the cultural war is finally beginning to take its toll; and the culture of death, negativity, rebellion, lies, anarchy and profanity are finally beginning to sink into our hearts, minds and wills.

Once upon a time people got married, and once in a while the marriage ended in divorce.  In recent past times, people got married and far too often it ended in divorce.  Now, our children skip getting married all together because they get stressed with the idea of commitment.

Lots of things have fallen through the roof over the past ten years, not just religion.

Are these tough times?  Yes.  Are they any tougher than what the Apostles went through?  No.  So, there is no excuse for any of us.  We have a lot of work to do.  

What I gather most from this recent survey is that young people are looking for a home, that's what "the unaffiliated" means to me.  They are searching for a home...or have run away from home.

Let's keep praying for our Church and Church community, and that we may be living witnesses to the word of God in our words and actions.  May those who have no home find a home with us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Acts 17:15, 22—18:1 Tough Crowd

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
 
By Benedict Augustine

God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent
because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world
with justice’ through a man he has appointed,
and he has provided confirmation for all
by raising him from the dead.”

Not in Corinth, a place saturated with vice and sailors; nor in Macedonia, a region containing pagan veterans and uneducated yokels; nor even in Rome, home to deranged emperors, emperor cults, and gladiator madness; but in Athens, home to great philosophers, artists, and leaders does Paul find his greatest challenge in evangelizing. Out of any group of people, Paul should have had the easiest time converting people already so close to the Truth, a people so well versed in the language of religion and spirituality.

Instead, Paul’s proselytizing falls on deaf ears. Out of anyone, the “tolerant” cosmopolitans of Athens dismiss Paul as another cultic kook, another magician, another inferior philosopher trying to create another school.

No place would resemble the modern Western world so closely as Athens. The Athenians had seen their share of triumph in all realms of life; they had endured so many changes of leadership; and, unlike the Jews, they had stopped thinking in tribal or ethnic terms. In their sophistication, they busied themselves with the work of culture, trade, and education. In their passivity and weakness, they rendered all these cultural assets to their brutish occupiers, the Romans.

At this point in history, the philosophic schools of Athens, who served as the arbiters of culture and morality, consisted of the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Academics (skeptics). These three schools debated one another on many points, many of them obscure and irrelevant, but they all curiously agreed on one point: man was the beginning and end of all things. At their core, these philosophies were self-centered, and as a result, self-contained. With impressive exactitude, they settled every questionable imaginable and laid out a set plan for any adherent. The Stoic would seek personal honor and fortitude; the Epicurean would pursue the perfect balance of work and pleasure; and the Academic would pursue Truth. Then, they would all die, and all this would end, for their teachings never went beyond the mortal perspective.
 
Paul tries to grab the Athenians’ attention by referring to the “unknown God” that they keep in their temple. This unfortunately bears little fruit because his audience actually prefers to keep this god unknown. They would rather worship themselves and blather endlessly about the “journey” instead of the destination. They want to talk, not decide. Nothing is serious, nor is anything real. Everything is reduced to ideas, and Paul’s talk of resurrection makes more sense in their epics, not in their ego-centric ideologies.

Catholic apostles today find themselves in the same difficulties as St. Paul did in Athens since the modern audience looks at Christianity in the same way that the ancients did: they view it as another idea, not the truth. As a mere idea, the Resurrection does not conform to a person’s notions of life and death. A heavenly kingdom does not fall within the realm of senses. Jesus Himself, the Son of God Who sacrifices Himself for humanity, has a greater resemblance to myths than anything historical. For this reason, a modern enlightened audience will react very much like the Athenians, hearing the gospel only to reject it, deride it, and move on to another spiritual trend.

Fortunately, neither Paul nor any other apostle has to rely on the force of argument to make disciples of the nations. They have the Holy Spirit working through them and their listeners. Bursting the logical confines of man’s philosophies, the Holy Spirit reaches the true center of man, the heart. Even in a city where men have hardened their hearts for the sake of man-made orthodoxies, Paul at least finds a few souls willing to believe and be saved. This should give the modern apostle hope. If he can reach the heart and put his faith in the Holy Spirit, conversion may happen.

Life holds more than the mind can conceive. Only the heart can contain the Truth sent through the Holy Spirit. Believers and nonbelievers both must put away man-made ideologies, and embrace the reality of God. All must repent.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jn 15:26-16:4a There God is my God

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
(Click here for readings)

By KATIE GROSS

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning."
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus confirms what many of us already know: to be a Christian today is to face strong opposition. Professing the Christian faith throughout time has landed countless people into persecution, oppression, and humiliation. It is all too easy to turn on the news, see that ISIS has killed another ten Christians, and lose heart. How could we not? However, we must remember the flip side of today’s Gospel: God can always bring beauty out of tragedy. Just as Jesus died on the cross for the salvation of mankind, so too can our Christian brothers and sisters change hearts through their suffering.
 
A few months ago, an article appeared on Twitter following a round of beheadings by ISIS. Long story short, ISIS imprisoned twenty Coptic Christians in Egypt and then beheaded them on camera in an attempt to frighten their political enemies. However, ISIS made an error: one of the men was not actually a Christian, but instead had been indiscriminately rounded up with some Christians around him. The ISIS fighter came up to him and asked him to reject his faith in Jesus Christ—a task which should have been simple, given that he was not a Christian. Even so, the faith of his fellow Egyptians moved him to a final conversion. His last words were recorded as, “their God is my God.”  But, thanks be to God, these Christians are not the only ones who are changing hearts in the face of persecution.
 
Just yesterday, Pope Francis met with President Fidel Castro of Cuba. Pope Francis has been in the news lately for helping to negotiate a deal that would lift its long-standing trade embargo with the United States. But throughout history, Cuban leadership has been no friend of the Catholic Church—for the first thirty-three years of its existence as a communist nation, it sanctioned the persecution of Christians and all other people of faith. Marxist communism is a form of government that has proved to be hostile towards religion in all of its modern applications. However, Pope Francis was able to speak to Castro in his native Spanish, and it is reported that Castro said, “If the Pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic Church -- and I'm not saying this jokingly." Some might say that Castro is just playing politics by saying this, and they may be right to a degree. However, Castro risks ridicule and intense pressure from his party by associating himself with the Catholic Church; therefore, I find it highly unlikely that he would make such a supportive statement if he had not truly been moved by the virtue of Pope Francis.
 
Now, the vast majority of us are never going to face ISIS or communist leaders. We will probably never be called upon to defend our faith in such a radical way. However, we must not forget that there is a constant need to defend our faith in today’s society. That’s not to say that we should pick fights with everybody who disagrees with us in passing comments or day-to-day conversation—that would make us quite bitter. Instead, we should practice practical ways of showing the world what our faith is all about. Someone says something about the Church that you don’t like? Smile, and politely say that you believe in the Catholic faith. Someone is acting in a way that offends you? Pray for them. Someone makes you to feel inferior or unintelligent for being a Christian? Keep going about your business with joy. Practice virtue. Don’t be bitter. Smile. The witness that you will give through persevering in your faith is invaluable in changing the hearts of others.
 
At the heart of persecution, I believe, are the frustration, negativity, skepticism, and hatred that come from not knowing the Lord; Jesus even said, “They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.”  Most any convert from atheism will tell you that their period of denial was the unhappiest time of their life. Thus, as hard as it is to do, we must truly pray for those who persecute us. We must also give thanks that God has given us the grace to know Him, and have hope in our hearts that our response to negativity can achieve a good end.