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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jn 3:16-21 Caught in the Twilight of Belief and Nonbelief

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter
By Benedict Augustine

“Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light,because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

Normally when people consider the gospels, they immediately like think about John 3:16 and recall that one beautiful statement, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In this one verse, it seems like the whole faith of Christianity is summed up in a simple formula that promises salvation: believe in Jesus, and you go to heaven. People have made this verse a bumper sticker, and some churches have gone so far as to make this one verse the bulk of their theology. Next to this great declaration made by Jesus himself, no other piece of scripture seems necessary. Indeed, if belief is all that one needs to have, even the idea of a church seems rather superfluous—unless one wants to socialize with other believers from time to time. Without the church, without the rest of the Bible, without all those rigorous spiritual rigorous like constant prayer and fasting, one can make a leap of faith, in a verbal confession or checking a box on a spiritual questionnaire, and he will have a place in heaven, end of story.

Unfortunately, things cannot be so simple. Jesus does not say this as a summary of the faith, nor should anyone take it as such. Rather than leading someone to put his inquiries aside, Jesus' promise of eternal life as a reward for one's belief in Him should invite that person to go deeper. Common sense will prompt even the most impatient person to first ask some very fundamental questions: What is belief? Who is Jesus, that a person may believe in Him? What exactly is eternal life? And, how exactly does one believe in Jesus? None of these questions have a short answer, and many skeptics would doubt that they have an answer at all. Furthermore, no one except Jesus Himself can answer them, and His answer requires the whole span of the Bible to provide an adequate response. Finally, the Church, the institution that Christ establishes with Peter must work to preserve, interpret, and defends Jesus' answers to the questions of belief and what it entails.

Fortunately, one does not have to read every book in the Bible, all the commentary on those books, and study all of Church history, to believe in Jesus. After all, the early Christians did not have access  to such resources, but they believed and often died for their belief. They did not base their belief on various words in Scripture, but allowed themselves to experience the Word Himself. They allowed themselves to go deeper in their faith and opened their hearts to Jesus. They experienced Him; they walked with Him; they loved Him. Catholics have the same opportunity to experience Jesus this way in the sacraments and following Jesus' teachings. Once the disciples believed, both then and now, they stopped thinking of the reasons that started their belief, but started thinking of the goal of belief: eternal life.

This goal inspires Peter and the John to go and preach yet again in the face of certain punishment. Their belief puts them at odds with nonbelievers. However, the prospect of eternal life of Jesus dwarfs the petty wrath of the Sadducees. Belief in Jesus and His reward consumes Peter, yet it makes him whole. The eternal life already starts to manifest itself in him as he performs miracles and establishes the Church in face of such adversity.

Knowing quite well the dangers that will come from the Sadducees and the Romans, Jesus does not fail to elaborate on the perils on nonbelief as well as rewards of belief. In stark terms, He says that the one who believes in Him will live in the light, but the one who does not believe will live in darkness. Either a person will love the goodness of God and his light, or prefer the wickedness of the evil one and his darkness, depending on his belief. Sin will creep in the life of a skeptic, paralyzing his progress toward God and blinding him to the truth, as with the Sadducees who put their hopes in politics rather than God. Hope and Love will fill the life of a believer, propelling him toward God and empowering them with wisdom, as with Peter and John. Thus, as the apostles win more souls for Christ, the Sadducees sulk in the darkness, hesitating because of the crowds.

As he hears this, Nicodemus, the original audience for this teaching of Jesus, stands at this crossroad that many Christians face. He may step into the light of Christ and believe, or stay in the dark—he has this conversation at night, in both a literal and metaphorical sense—and keep finding reasons not to believe. The passing twilight, like a human lifetime, does not last forever, so he must choose soon. Once he see this choice set out so plainly, it is no wonder that he, and all true believers, make the choice for life and leave death behind him forever.

This meditation was written by Benedict Augustine, an English teacher who works in the DFW area.  He has taken on the pseudonym, Benedict Augustine, to honor his two favorite Catholic thinkers:  St. Augustine and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jn 3:7b-15 Think Outside the Box

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

Jesus said to Nicodemus:  "If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?"

Earthly Things.  Not too long ago, I was eating lunch with a family of five.  As we were enjoying our food, a woman came up to my friend and said, "Oh you remember me?"  After some time together, the woman turned and looked at my friend's children.  She couldn't believe how much they had grown.  She walked over to the eldest child, a girl in sixth grade, and said to her,

"Aw...[big sigh] you look so beautiful.  Stand up and turn around...  You know [pause] one day [pause] you could be in a sorority [grand pause with the head going up and down] and maybe even be homecoming queen.  But if you don't make it [pause], it's okay.  You'll be a beautiful girl, anyways."

Can you believe this?  Talk about unimportant.

While this woman was speaking, I began to think of a college girl I once knew, a girl I once dated.  When I asked what religion she belonged to, she said:  "My religion is my sorority."  That was the last date we ever had.  [I wasn't very religious or patient back then, but I knew there was no future with her]. 

Many "earthly things" are important; some are not.  Defeating world poverty is important.  Defending marriage and family are important.  Preventing world wars are important.  Attacking domestic violence, crime rates and dropout rates are important.  Sharing the faith with friends and enemies is important.  There are many earthly things that are very important.  As for the unimportant things, I will leave it up to you to decide.

Heavenly Things.  The Lord is inviting Nicodemus to think outside the box; that is, outside earthly things.  It's not easy.  It requires faith, hope and love, which requires prayer and contemplation of earthly things as well as heavenly things.

Christ is inviting us to think big, bigger than we have ever thought and bigger than we have ever dared to think.  And sometimes to think big requires an awesome role model, someone who has been where no other has been before.

"No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jn 3:1-8 Beyond The Obvious

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

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."  Jesus answered him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."

As Christians, we are blessed to have St. John's written account of a private conversation the Lord had with a Pharisee.  In some ways, it resembles the conversations Christians often have with skeptics.

Beyond the obvious.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man once grown old be born again?"   

I'm not sure I would have asked that question.  I find it a bit childish.  But then again, I find many questions from skeptics to be childish.  For example, the hilarious comparison between God and, say, Batman; or Jesus and Zeus; or the Trinity with pagan deities.  The comparisons are superficial at their best and insulting at their worst.

Nicodemus' mind is no different than that of the contemporary skeptic.  His mind has settled on the obvious, nothing less - because there is nothing less than the obvious - and nothing more - as if there were nothing more than what enters through the eye.

Recently, I was in the company of a woman who had a dog on her lap.  I observed how she struggled to get her dog's attention and to get it to do what she wanted it to do.  At a certain moment, I said to her:  "I find it amazing - intriguing - how humans cannot have an in-depth conversation with any creature other than themselves."  The woman told me, "Well, the reason for that is pretty obvious.  It's because they do not have highly developed vocal cords." 

I just looked at her.  She missed the point, entirely. 

A while back, while studying physics, I was amazed at the possibility of life existing on other planets.  I asked the professor why, if aliens existed, they had to exist so far away from us?  He said, "Well, it's because it's hard for a planet to meet all the necessary conditions for intelligent life to exist."

I just looked at him.  He missed the point, entirely.

So what is the point?  Go deeper.  Don't be content with the mechanics of things; that is, the superficial and obvious, but rather cast your net into the deeper realms of existence and see what you will find. 

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit."

Our Lord was constantly casting His net into ever deeper waters when He told his disciples and followers to "love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you" (cf. Mt 5:33). "Forgive your brother seven times seventy-times" (cf. Mt. 18:22).  "Ask and you shall receive.  Seek and you shall find.  Knock and the door shall be opened." (cf. Mt 7:7).

What surfaced was unimaginable?  Fishers of men!

Let us ask our Lord on this solemn day to fish us out of shallow waters and throw us into the depths of His most sacred heart and mind -  a heart of unimaginable beauty and a mind of incredible ingenuity. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Jn 20:19-31 More Than Experience: Empathy

Divine Mercy Sunday
(Click here for readings)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked...

So much of our time is lived at the very superficial or obvious level.  We don't take time to go deep into meaning and reflect on why things are the way they are. 

The doors were locked.  This morning, while I was reflecting on today's Gospel passage, I focused on one particular verse:  "The doors were locked."  In a spiritual conversation with myself and the Lord, I asked what this verse meant; that is, why the doors were locked.  Of course they didn't want anyone to come in.  They were afraid of the Jews, especially one Jew:  Jesus.  What would he think of them?  What would He say to them?  What would they say to him?

May I speak to you? Do you crave empathy?  Are you searching for someone you can open your heart to?  I am.  We all are.  I crave for someone I can speak to; someone who will not judge me harshly.  I crave the empathy of a friend, a real friend, someone I can truly - honestly - talk to and who will understand me.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Big deal, right?  But what is it?  What does God's Divine Mercy mean and how does it manifest itself in our lives? Please don't tell me the obvious, to go to confession within a certain limited time frame in order to get all my sins completely forgiven.  That's not it.  That's too superficial; in fact, it's too mechanical, artificial and legalistic, which is unlike Christ.

The depth of Christ's Divine Mercy is immediately manifested when the resurrected Christ "came and stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'"  This closeness, His empathy, especially after all that happened to Him, is His Divine Mercy, and it opens locked doors.  

The Good News just got better! 

Opening Doors.  Technology has made communication so easy,  but it hasn't made us more trusting or open to one another.  Prayer, on the other hand, allows us easy access to the Lord, and Christ just invited His Eleven to an open conversation. 

Is there anyone in this world you can speak to with great ease?  Do you feel like you have easy access to your immediate supervisor or boss or superintendent?  Do you trust them enough to say anything to him/her?  Are you confident you will be understood? 

I wonder how many teens feel as though they can speak to their parents, freely and without reservations?  I think it's very few. 

The Lord has an unfathomable desire to speak and listen to us. 

Are you looking for someone you can open up to and not have to pay a lot of money to?  If so, then know the Lord desires such a relationship with you. 

St. John Paul II and John XXIII.  There is no place on earth right now I wish I could be than in Rome.  Can you believe it?  Two Popes and two Saints! 

How did they do it?  Why was their canonization today?  Is there a connection between God's Divine Mercy and their lives?  Yes. 

I don't know about you, but I find it interesting how insanely popular these two Shepherds were in their lifetime and yet how different they were in their approach to guiding the Church.  But when it came to what matters most - God and neighbor - they shared a common trait:  they made everyone feel as if they were important, welcomed and loved.  

They made everyone feel like they could talk and be listened to. 

Can we not say the same for Pope Francis? 

Divine Mercy is Divine Love.  Divine Mercy begins with Divine Love, that great adventure of God leaving Heaven and becoming man.  The great romantic, St. Paul, understood this when he wrote:  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. Christ's mercy comes from His love.  Love opens doors.  Mercy opens locked doors. Christ's love brought life to His Apostles.  His mercy brought forgiveness to His Apostles.  Life and forgiveness are exactly the same thing.

Now let's talk (pray).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mk 16:9-15 Go into the whole world!

Saturday within the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)

by Stephanie Juarez.

But later, as the Eleven were at table, He appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

For some reason I thought about the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” when I read this Gospel passage. If you’ve never seen it, it’s basically about a con artist named Danny Ocean who hires eleven other criminals to help him simultaneously rob three of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. In a way our Lord Jesus did something very similar. Of course He is not a con artist, but He is an artist. He sees beauty in the brokenhearted and the poor. For this exact reason He too commissioned sinful men to carry out His mission – a mission of redemption and mercy.

Looking back at salvation history we can see that most of the greatest prophets and disciples - from Abraham to King David to Saints Peter and Paul - were just as broken as you and I. We are all sinners yet God can still work in us, with us, and through us to build His Kingdom. No one who has had an encounter with the Living God is excused or disqualified from the great commission to make disciples of all nations (cf. Matthew 28:19).

It was to a virgin woman that the birth of the Son of God was announced. It was to a fallen woman that His Resurrection was announced.” ― Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

I thank God daily that even though I am a sinful person, He still allows me to serve Him and His bride the Church. I thank Him that even though I am still learning things I ought to know by now, He has called me to teach the faith through catechesis and youth ministry. Sure the kids drive me to the edge of insanity most of the time, but it truly is an honor to teach them the faith that Jesus Christ Himself founded upon the rock of Saint Peter.

Set a fire Community is what God is all about. The Holy Trinity is irrefutable evidence of that: three persons, one God. During the Easter Vigil Mass last weekend while we were lighting one another’s candles I realized how that single act represents both evangelization and community. Evangelization is about spreading the fire in your heart for Jesus. Community is about being on a journey together – going through the highs and lows of life together as God’s family.    

All vocations are communal in nature. God said from the beginning that “it is not good for man to be alone” (cf. Genesis 2:18). Therefore each vocation whether to single, married, or religious life contains some aspect of community. None of us are an island. None of us were created for isolation. We need to be careful not to let hurt, shame, or fear drive us away from the Church. The enemy works to isolate you. The Lord works to bring you into fruitful relationships.

Relationships are essential for disciples of Christ as we should all be striving to love one another as Christ first loved us (cf. John 13:34). But we cannot give what we do not have. Therefore if our hearts become hardened or we become lukewarm in our faith then we cannot set others on fire for Jesus. This is why being in close relationships with other strong believers is so important – they can help refuel you when you are weak. 

Holy hours and happy hours When I first came back into the Church a couple of years ago I didn’t really have any Catholic friends. I mean, I had friends who were Catholic but only in name not in their hearts or actions. I felt a strong yearning for community and comradery. I knew if I was going to keep growing in my faith and not turn back to everything I hated then I needed to build relationships with others who were also seeking The Lord.

"In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together." G.K. Chesterton

Pints and pipes, saints and sinners, crosses and crowns - our one holy Catholic and apostolic church embraces it all! We are the true religion for sinners. Thanks be to God! And thank God that He has finally “answered me” by granting my request for faithful Catholic friends. I am so humbled and amazed at how the Lord not only provided but provided in abundance.

I thank The Lord for every moment I get to spend with these holy and hilarious people. From going out for drinks after work to worshipping together in the adoration chapel to flying around the world together, we are a family just like the Apostles were a family. We’re all broken but we are all fighting the good fight together (cf. 1 Timothy 6:12).

Lift High the Cross An object in motion stays in motion; an object at rest stays at rest. Those are the law of physics. They are scientifically proven, but the problem is that people are not objects. We start and stop all the time. We all fall but not everyone will get back up again. When Christ was carrying His cross on the way to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry it when He was too weak to go on.

I had a beautifully similar experience last week during the Good Friday pilgrimage I went on. Of course none of the suffering I experienced could ever compare with our Lord’s pain and suffering, but after nine hours and twenty miles of carrying my cross I literally thought I could not go on any longer. I had never put my body through so much physical stress before. With every step I took I prayed I could make it just a little farther. Then suddenly as I was approaching the last 5 mile stretch of the journey a friend who had just gotten off work came and offered to carry my cross for me so that I could leave to go to a Good Friday service at a local parish.

Not only did my friend make a sacrifice for me by carrying my cross but I saw others making sacrifices as well. At one point I saw that two of the men in our group were carrying two crosses each– their own and those of other others who could not continue the journey.

Tell them all Christ wants every creature to know that love is a sacrifice, humility is strength, and forgiveness is freedom. He desires that all nations become His disciples and rest in His peace knowing that He has defeated sin and death through His resurrection. The honor and privilege of telling them this Good News is ours! As daunting a task as it may seem, we can draw strength from one of the greatest evangelists of our time- soon to be Saint John Paul II who began his papacy (1978-2005) with the words: "Be not afraid!

This mediation was written by Stephanie Juarez. She is a pro-life advocate in Dallas, TX and serves on the Core team at St. Monica’s Catholic Church. For more of her writings please visit her blog Lover of the Light.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Jn 21:1-14 More Than Just Lunch: Experience

Friday within the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)

Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed himself in this way.

"I am going fishing."  Well, not exactly.  I actually went to Boston Market a couple of days ago to have lunch with a very close friend.  I got there a little early and my friend got there a little late.  This was the perfect set up for an encounter with a homeless man.

As I approached the door, I heard someone shout, "Sir? Sir?"  I turned around and saw a filthy old man walking towards me.  "Yes.  What can I do for you?"   

"I was wondering if you could get me something to eat." 

"Of course.  You came to the right place."  I opened the door to the restaurant and invited him to come in.

"No!" He said, "They won't let me in."

"Yes they will.  You're my guest."  

"Come, have breakfast."  Well, it wasn't breakfast; it was more like lunch.  And we made a scene the moment we walked in.  The people working there appeared a bit shocked but not surprised.  I believe they had seen the poor man before, but they had never seen me.  The young lady who took the man's order wasn't sure if we were "together," so I discretely told her, "He's with me."  At that moment she put a smile on her face.

I told the hopeless man to order whatever he wanted.  I said to him, "It's on me."  And he did.  I thought he was about to order the entire kitchen.

"I'll have a whole chicken, with sweet corn and spinach.  I'll also take a slice of pecan pie."

I sat down with the man while I waited for my lunch date.  We talked (Actually, he talked).  He asked me if I was a pastor.  I told him that I was a Roman Catholic priest.  I asked him what his name was and after a bit of prodding, he opened up to me his life story.  Was it true?  Who knows.  But what I heard was disturbing.

He ate everything, except the pie.  I believe he was saving it for later.  He ate quickly, with fork and fingers.  It didn't take him long to eat, perhaps 15 minutes.  When he was finished, he got up and thanked me.  I told him I would pray for him if he prayed for me.  He agreed to the deal and left.

For a brief moment, I sat in my seat reflecting on our conversation.  As I got up, I noticed a woman at a booth waving to me to come over to her.  I thought to myself, "What in the world is going on here?"  I walked over and she had tears in her eyes.  She wanted to talk.  I sat down and we talked.  This finely dressed woman was going through some tough times in her life.  I asked her for her number and I promised her I would contact her.  She was thrilled.  In fact, she had been looking for Church home for a while.

By the time I finished speaking to her, my friend arrived and we had our lunch together.  Everything was perfectly timed.   

I was early.  My dear friend was late.  What a day!  What an experience.

"They realized it was the Lord."  I got into my car and reflected on my various "lunch" encounters.  I asked myself why this woman wanted to speak with me.  I knew the answer.  It wasn't the obvious.  It was deeper than it appeared to be.  It wasn't because she had seen a priest. It was because she had seen a priest with a homeless man.  She saw me because she saw the homeless man.

Jesus reveals Himself in the most mysterious ways:  through the unlikeliest of people.   In fact, if it weren't for the people He hung around with, His identity would never have been revealed. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lk 24:35-48 More Than A Feeling: Experience

Thursday within the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way, and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

A while back I was asked to give a talk to our 8th graders about Confirmation.  When the time came for questions, I was pleasantly surprised.  The kids bombarded me with lots of questions, and the questions were fantastic.  I was so proud of them.  I felt like they had paid attention to what I had said and it caused them to reflect and react.  One question in particular stood out among the rest:  "What do you do when you don't feel God?"

More than a feeling.   "Excellent question!" I said. "You all know the song, 'Feelings,' right?"  Well, they didn't.  I was wrong.  I was way off on my timeline, and the kids just starred at me as if I had two heads on my shoulders. 

"Whoops!  I guess that was a little before your time.  What I meant to say is that you all know the song 'More than a feeling,' right?"   Now their heads shot up in agreement. 

This is what I told them.

Well, feelings are fine, but they are not as essential to our faith as the facts of our faith.  And so if we want to get to know the Lord better, then we better get our facts (and faith) straight. 

What are some of the facts.

Fact: The Lord came into the world for us.  Fact: He preached for us.  Fact: He even lived and died for us. Fact: He rose from the dead. Fact: He forgave our sins and now insists that we forgive those who trespass against us. Fact: He gave us a new commandment:  'love one another as I have loved you.'  Fact: He gave us his body and blood to eat and drink. Fact: He insists we give more of our selves to others. Fact: He put Peter in charge of His Church.

The Creed (along with religion classes) are an excellent resource to get to know the facts of our faith.  But facts will only take us so far.  We all know that if you want to learn how to drive, then you have to get behind the wheel.  Reading a driver's manual is simply not enough.  You need to have a driving experience. 

The same goes for the Lord.  If you want to get to know the Lord better in your life, then you need to experience His presence in your life; that is, you need to have a personal encounter with the Lord.  

Personal experience is more than a feeling.  It means witnessing firsthand what the Lord has done, and done for you.

Our Lord (and our faith) demands such experience, and this experience goes well beyond feelings.  In fact, it may actually contradict our feelings.

With regards to faith experiences, St. Paul put it best when he wrote: 'It is no longer I who live in me, but Christ who lives in me' (cf. Gal 2:20). 

How do we get an experience of the Lord?  Simple:  Take His Life and live it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jn 20:11-18 After Lent

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to Mary, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"  She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him..." Jesus said to her, "Mary!"  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher.  Jesus said to her, "...Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  Mary went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord..."

Now what?  I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, so I will say it now:  I have always found Lent to be a more productive or enriching time of year than Easter.  I know.  I know what you are thinking.  But think about it for a moment.  During Lent we have specific tasks to accomplish:  we have to eat fish on Fridays, go to confession and try to keep promises we made for forty days.  So now what?  What do we do after Lent and during Easter?  Do we relax and enjoy the show?  Do we go back to what we were doing before?   

I don't know about you, but I could sure use another forty days to work on myself.  Don't get me wrong.  I had a pretty good Lent, but I could sure use some extra time to keep working on a few personal items.   

So is Lent ever really over?  Not at all.  We will always need to keep working hard to be the person God created us to be.  This quest will not be accomplished in just forty days, and maybe not even in forty years!  Lent takes a lifetime because it is my true self I keep chasing after. 

Do you remember what your goal was during Lent?  Yes, myself forty days from now.  Was that it?  No.  I want to be a better person, the person God created me to be since the beginning of time.  Well then, you know what it takes, right?  Yes.  It takes a lot of prayers and perseverance.

I have seen the Lord.  So if Lent is a lifelong process, then what's the purpose of Easter? 

Easter is about sharing to all the world the Good News of the risen Lord and what the Lord has done for us. 

He is Risen...and so have we, to a certain extent.  During Lent we changed, and changed for the better.  Now it's time to tell the world all about it.  Go, and tell the world what the Lord has done for you.

This morning I met with a young lady who will soon be a mommy.  During Lent, her husband decided to make her breakfast every morning and bring it to her.  I asked her what he plans do now that Lent is over.  "He said he wants to continue doing it,"  I said, "Bravo! A new man has risen from Lent."  I then asked her what she did for him.  She said, "To pick up after myself and not leave anything in the kitchen sink."  I asked her what she was going to do now that Lent was over.  "Keep doing it?"  Bingo!   Sounds simple, right?  Yes and no.

Lent is all about making small changes that make huge differences in our lives.

After Lent.  Mary Magdalene was the first person ever to witness the greatest miracle ever and live to tell about it.  She was filled with great joy.  But her day didn't begin this way.  The Lord found her outside the tomb, in sorrow and weeping.  But after her encounter with the risen Lord, she ran to the Apostles, fearful yet overjoyed, and said to them, "I have seen the Lord." 

He rose and so did she. 

Where do we encounter the Risen Lord?  On our way through life's many blessings and challenges: on the mountain tops and in the valleys; through tears of joy and tears of sadness; on rough waters and calm seas.  Mary Magdalene encountered the Lord in the worst moment of her life and in the greatest moment of His life.

What does it mean to evangelize?  It means to share what the Lord has done for us, even in forty days.

Do not be afraid!  If Mary Magdalene could evangelize the Evangelists, then we can do the same. 

Let's report to the world what the Lord has done for us.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mt 28:8-15 Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Monday within the Octave of Easter
(Click here for readings)

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples.

Announcing the Good News.   "Fearful yet overjoyed" is how every disciple of the Lord feels.  Fearful, because we're never quite sure how the Lord will be received.  Overjoyed, because we know we're not wasting our time.

Every day the Pope sends out a very simple, yet heartfelt message through Twitter.  Every day he receives hundreds of replies that are hateful, insulting and grotesque.  The individuals who often send these types of messages are atheists, not at all people of other faiths.  I fear for the Pope's life.  If they can express such cruel thoughts to a man like Pope Francis, imagine what they would do to him if they could get their hands on him. 

Keep him safe, O God; you are our hope (cf. Ps 16).

Announcer and Announcement.  Do you consider yourself unworthy to announce anything Christian?  Well then consider Mary Magdalene. 

Of all the people the Lord could have chosen, He chose a woman; and not just any woman, but a woman with a troubled past.  This must have been a bit disturbing for the Eleven. 

And that's not all.  Not only did Christ choose a woman with a troubled past, but he chose her to announce something very hard to believe in:  His Resurrection!  Who in their right mind would have picked such a person?  Only Jesus would do such a thing.  Thank God!  This is just another example of Christ being confusing, but not confused.

If the Lord picked Mary to make the greatest announcement ever, then the Lord could pick us to make a pitch for Him. 

We should be overjoyed yet fearful. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jn 20:1-9 Get Out Of Here

The Mass of Easter Sunday
(Click here for readings)

Simon Peter...arrived at the tomb...and entered. The other disciple also went in...[H]e saw and believed.

Do you believe it???  Do you know what this means??? 

It means it's true.  It's all true.  Jesus is not a liar or a lunatic.  He's the Lord!  He is Truth.  Everything He said and did is the truth!  He really is the Son of God.  He really is the Savior of the world.  He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"  (cf. Jn 1:1).

It's true!  His resurrection is His Father's stamp of approval.  Christ is the beloved Son of the Father.  He is the Word made flesh.  He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep.  He is all He claimed to be.  His forgiveness isn't just beautiful, it's true.  His mercy isn't just incomprehensible, it's true. 

Life does not end with death.  It's simply a new beginning.  Do not be afraid.  We have nothing to fear. 

The Resurrection of our Lord is physical evidence that love is truly more powerful than death.  And that love not only bears all things, believes all things, endures all things and hopes all things, but that love conquers all things, even death on a Cross.

It's true: what goes up must come down.  But it is equally true that what goes down can bounce back up.  Christ went down and came right back up. The conditions of our Lord's resurrection were met: He loved unconditionally!  The Lord was true to himself. He loved.  He forgave.  He gave.  He rose. 
It's worth it.  It's all worth it.  Everything Jesus said and did is worth it!  All the sacrifices.  All the prayers.  All the tears.  All the pain.  All the suffering.  It's worth it.  It's all good.  It's all very pleasing in the sight of the Father. 

The resurrection is not a prize.  It's the obvious conclusion to loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you.  It's confirmation that it is better to give than to receive and the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

It's worth forgiving one's enemies.  It's not worth holding grudges.  It's worth doing good to those who hurt you.  It's not worth seeking revenge.  It's worth every once of strength to forgive seven times seventy times and seek forgiveness.  It's not crazy at all to lay down your life for a friend and even an enemy.  

"Blessed are the meek..."  "Blessed are the peacemakers..."  "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."  I'm not a dreamer. I'm a Christian.

Christ's resurrection means it's all worth it.  But that's not all.  It also means we are worth it. We are worth every single drop of his blood, every thorn in his crown, every stripe on his back, every valley he descended and every mountain he clombed, every fall he took, every nail through his flesh, every bit of ridicule, scorn and disgust he endured.  We are worth it.

Oh my Lord!  I'm more important than I think.  Why? Because Christ's death and resurrection happened for me.  My life is worth living even when racked in pain and cut short.

"O death, where is thy victory?  O death, where is thy sting?" (1Cor 15:55).  Death is not the worst thing that could happen to us; dying on the wrong side is.  That is the worst thing that could ever happen to us! 

Christ's victory over death is the victory of a certain way of life.  The two go together.  I need to get it together, with Him.

I need to follow Him.  I need to imitate Him.  Come what may,"the Lord is my rock and my salvation."  He is the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan.  He is what is Good. 

"He is the Way, the Truth and the Life."  "He is the Resurrection and the Life." 

I need to sell what I have.  I need to go out and purchase the land with the hidden pearl.  I need to proclaim the Good News to all those who are prisoners to sin. 

I owe the Lord BIG TIME.

I have something to share with others; something that is worth more than anything else.  It's a simple message.  It originated with Christ and travels to us through countless personal experiences:  No one is lost in Christ.  No one.

See for yourself.  Enter the tomb.  All is not lost.  Life has been found!  The empty tomb gives meaning to all life.  It turns it right side up.  It gives a twist to life and even death.  Life is not square.  It is an adventure.  Just when we think it is over, it's not.  The empty tomb should drive our every decision, twist our hands and feet and define our lives.  The empty tomb is our compass to life.

When we were lost and could not find our way, you gave us your empty tomb.

After Christ's death and before his resurrection, the Apostles were scattered.  They were lost.  They didn't know what to think or do.  Their faith in Christ was nearly shattered.  They were like sheep without a Shepherd, and so they returned to where it all began:  Galilee. 

"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (cf. 1Cor 15:14).

The resurrection has given me a faith, a hope and a love that must be shared with others:  neighbors, friends and enemies.  It is a faith, hope and love they have not experienced and that we have barely scratched the surface in comprehending.  We must share it, because we can easily forget it, especially during trials and sin.  

Christ has risen.  What does this mean?  It means my life has been turned upside down, which really means right side up.

It's time to start flipping some lives around.

Happy Easter!

P.S.  If you're having a hard time believing in the resurrection, then try this: try living what Christ preached.  I am sure you will end up seeing what the disciples saw:  an empty tomb. 

There are many ways to the Son of God.  You don't have to start with his greatest miracle, the resurrection.  Start with His Words. 

Christians are known for being very bouncy.  We all know that what goes up must come down, right?  But Christians also know that what went down a few days ago just came back to life.  You don't have to start with the loftiness of the resurrection.  Start with His Way of Life. 

If you start with Christ's humanity, I am sure you will bounce to His divinity.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jn 18:1-19:42 The Passion Of Our Lord

Good Friday
(Click here for readings)

O God, give me the grace to accept my share in your Son's passion.  Help me to acknowledge the harm I have done to my Savior and to my brothers and sisters.  I beg of you, give me the grace of authentic sorrow and tears.  I ask this through the sorrowful passion of your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For meditation:

+ Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?" 

Am I standing in front of the Lord?  Have I come out with lantern and weapon in hand?  When did I do this?  Every time I was quick to judge someone and condemn them.  My weapon is my tongue.  It is swift and cunning.  It knows what to blurt out and where to strike.  When was the last time I cut someone down - and not because they did something to me, but because I was jealous or envious of them?

+ Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.  And they said to him, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?"  He denied it and said, "I am not."

Peter had to deny the Lord three times.  He absolutely had to do it.  He was in a bad situation.  Imagine what would have happened to the early Church if Peter had died before the Lord?  Would it have even gotten off the ground? 

This is what I kept telling myself for years.  I'm pretty good at finding excuses for just about anything, even denying the Lord.  

Peter felt bad because he denied the Lord three times.  When was the last time I felt bad after denying the Lord?  Oh my goodness.  How many times have I denied the Lord?  I can't even count.  But of course I had to.  Otherwise, I would have lost my job or never earned that raise or never been promoted or considered CEO material.  Hey, it's a tough world out there.  And someone has to bend.  I'm pretty flexible.

I know someone who isn't:  a young lady who just graduated from law school and at the top of her class.  She was invited by a very prestigious law journal to write an article for them.  She did.  It was against abortion.  Guess what?  The article never got published.  Did she ruin her career before it even got off the ground?  Not at all. In fact, she earned the respect of a very prestigious lawyers guild.  This young lady will be a tremendous asset against the abortion-industrial-political complex.  She will be amazing.  Why?  Because she loves the Lord above all things and wants to serve Him before others.

I need to remember this the next time I feel embarrassed by Christ.

+ Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 

Why did he ask?  Why do we even wonder? 

+ ...Jesus said to him, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"

We all cherish the truth, right?  Not so fast.  I don't think so.  I think we cherish being right more than being in the truth; in being found innocent when guilty, than guilty when guilty.  I also think we would do whatever it takes to hide the truth from others. 

I've gotten into enough debates to know when people are not at all interested in the truth; that is, when they argue only for the sake of arguing or to better their debating skills.  No wonder the Lord remained silent before Pontius Pilate.  He knew he was wasting his breath. 

"What is truth?"  What a question!  It's an interesting question given the fact the Romans and Greeks knew better than anyone else what truth is: That which corresponds to reality. 

So the question now is:  Am I living in the truth?  Am I who I claim to be? Am I living in the image and likeness of Christ?

+ Dressed in a purple cloak and wearing a crown of thorns, Pilate went out and said to the [crowd]:  "Look, I am bringing him out to you."

The type of God we want is the one that we can dress and who will march to every one of our orders.  

There's no doubt.  Throughout the decades, the humanity and divinity of Jesus has been disfigured by countless numbers of ambitious men and women.  And just like His body, His life has become unrecognizable to many. 

So many want to own Jesus like their personal property:  communists and atheists, liberals and conservatives, environmentalists and industrialists, revolutionaries and pacifists, fundamentalists and reformists, even non-Christians, like Muslims, want to own him. 

But no one does. 

+ Pilate said:  "Behold the man!" 

What Pilate said was more meaningful than anyone could ever comprehend.  The Lord is too big and too small to be sized up by anyone. 

+ "...I find no guilt in him." 

And yet, he was punished as if guilty.  Why would God ever allow anyone to suffer from famine, war and disease?  I believe it is to remind us of our awful sins.  We cause famines, not the sky.  We cause war, not the gods.  We even cause plagues and superbugs!

By looking at how hideous He looks, we see the hideousness of our own sins.  Christ is the living icon of Dorian Gray - and not just of him - but of the whole world. 

Oh, how the innocent suffer at the hands of the unjust! Oh, how they are bruised by the sins of others!  We condemned others to a miserable existence when we should have been condemned by our just God.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote:

"It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured. while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.  We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all" (Is. 53:4-6). 

+ They cried out, "Take him away, take him away!  Crucify him!"

How we live our lack of faith screams to the world not only who we are, but who He is not.  

How do you hide an elephant?  Throw billions of mosquitos in front of it.  Christ is the elephant.  We are the mosquitos.  He is the gentle giant.  We are nasty little creatures. 

Again, human history has revealed that we tend to cut down gentle people and things.  This is by no means a criticism of God.  It is a criticism of ourselves.  Christ revealed to the world not only who He is, but who we are as well.   Maybe it is spoiled?

The Father should have done to us what He did to His only-begotten Son, Jesus.  He should have forced Abraham to endure what He himself endured. He should never have made any promises to Noah:  "Never again will I destroy all living creatures" (cf. Gen 9:11). 

+ Pilate said, "What I have written, I have written."

This is all our doing.  This is our script.  The Lord's passion was directed and produced by us.  But let's not forget:  the Lord always takes care of His part and of course the ending.  That's what makes life, and everyone and everything around it, so interesting and exciting. 

We wanted control and we got it.  What a mess!  What we wanted done got done.  What we wanted to happen finally happened.  We sang the song all people sing in hell:  "I Did It My Way."   

What I find most amazing is how the Lord can work with people like us.  It's truly amazing!  And I'm sure he has worked with people like me before.  I guess names change but people never really change.  We're still the same we were when the first "caveman" appeared on the scene:  frightened, ignorant and arrogant.   

It's okay.  The Lord has proven that He can work with just about anyone, including the devil (cf. Job 1:7).

+ "It is finished..."[And] bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

It is finished.  But is anything ever really finished in our life other than our life? 

What follows next is affirmation, of everything that just took place.  St. Paul understood this when he wrote his famous love poem:  "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails" (cf. 1Cor 13:7-8). 

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (cf. 1Cor. 13:6)Here we have all three things together for the first time:  Christ, Love and Truth.  God is Love and Truth, the only two things that can unite the world. 

This love and truth became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who emptied love and truth not on a cross but on us.  When all was said and done, there was nothing left for him to do.  It was time to be led to the slaughter and every word and deed be chewed and consumed.

What kept Christ alive was his passion for His Father and for us.  Ironically, they were also the ultimate reason for His death.

Life is not at all about surviving for as long as possible, but for living as long as is necessary.  Love makes life worth living.  God is love and God is what makes our lives worth living. 

Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.    

It is finished. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jn 13:1-15 Time For Some Symbolism

Holy Thursday
(Click here for readings)

...[F]ully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, [Jesus] rose from supper and took off his outer garments...and began to wash the disciples' feet.

Fully aware that His hour had arrived, the Lord did what He does best:  He surprised His apostles.  He washed their feet and managed to give them a new commandment (to be discussed at a later time).

He washed their feet.  Human life is entirely symbolic.  Everything we do that is good, holy and right is symbolic of everything God does for us.  Everything we do that is ugly, terrifying and disgusting is symbolic of everything the devil does to us.  Our suffering is symbolic of Christ's suffering.  Our sins are symbolic of the devil's sins.  Our humility is symbolic of Christ's humility.  Our pride is symbolic of the devil's.   "There is nothing new under the sun" (cf. Ecclesiastics 9:11).

Trees are props.  The air and sky are props.  The rocks and dirt are props.  Even our families are props. Night and day are special effects.  The stage has been set by the Father.  The hour has arrived.

What comes next are some of the most dramatic scenes of symbolism to ever take place on the world stage:  the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples' feet.  This story has it all: disobedience, disbelief, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, humiliation, remorse, despair, death, forgiveness and resurrection.  But before all this can happen, one thing must take place:  the washing of the disciples' feet. 

Fully aware that His hour had come, the Lord decided to wash the feet of His men.  This is truly remarkable.  It is absolutely over-the-top.  And it is entirely symbolic.  It simply reflects the intense love the Lord has for us.   All that is physical is symbolic of all that is.

Through the washing of our feet and the carrying of our Cross, the Lord washed away our infirmities, cleansed us of all our iniquities, and loved us beyond all understanding.   He stooped down for us and did what we should have done for Him.  We didn't.  Maybe because we couldn't.  So He reminded us that greatness is obtained through meekness.  The Lord opened the kingdom of heaven to us through parables and symbols. 

Every time we stoop down and choose the more humble approach towards people, we become more like Him, another Christ, the invisible God made flesh, the servant God.  A Sacrament.

I find the washing of the disciples' feet and the carrying of the Cross attractive and powerful symbols of God's unconditional love for us.  His mercy endures forever.  What is forever?  Surprise.  Though eye may see the mind may never fully understand.

Now is the time for some symbolism!  

Stay strong and stay the course, for the end to all symbolism is fast approaching.   

Mt 26:14-25 Judas is me and I am Judas

Wednesday of Holy Week
(Click here for readings)

by Stephanie Juarez
And while they were eating, He said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.  The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”

Tonight as I was waiting in line for confession I read a quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who said, “Judas felt let down by Jesus and decided that he, in his turn, would betray Jesus. Judas was a zealot and he wanted a victorious Messiah who would lead a revolt against the Romans. Jesus had not measured up to these expectations.”

Wait…who was the Pope really talking about, me or Judas?

As much as I would like to say that I am more like Jesus and less like Judas, I know that would be a lie. Jesus gives without measuring. His love does not calculate anything, but endures all things. Jesus forgives and forgets. Judas and I- we like to calculate. We want to know the rate of exchange for everything. We measure exactly how much we are willing to give. And we definitely don’t forgive and forget as easily as the Lord. This is the reality of my sin. I don’t like it nor am I proud of it. But I know that I have to face the ugliness of it all if I am going to become another Christ.

I see now that the very thing that led Judas to betray Jesus is the very thing that has led me to betray Jesus. It’s that feeling of being let down. It’s the feeling you get when you pray and pray and pray but nothing happens…nothing seems to be changing…nothing seems to be getting any better.

You let me down, Jesus. So now I’m going to let you down!

As selfish, immature, and shallow as those words sound, I have to admit that I have thought them more times than I care to remember. Looking back though, I can see that my first mistake was thinking that the Lord owed me anything at all!

On Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist- the sacrament in which He constantly gives His whole self to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. There is nothing else apart from Him that we will ever need. And yet the Lord still wants to give us more! He wants to fulfill all the desires of our hearts! But most of all He wants us to be holy. He want us ALL to become great saints! That means He can’t always give us exactly what we ask for, at the moment we ask for it. And it is in those times that we have the opportunity to really grow in our faith. It is in those times of feeling let down like Judas that we have a choice to make. We can either choose to trust in Him and believe that “as the heavens are higher than the earth” so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Or we can choose to sell Him out and crucify Him with our sin. The latter is the easy way out. There is no risk there - no sacrifice, no leap of faith- only desperation.

I don’t know about you, but when feel desperate I start to grasp for control. Desperate times call for desperate measures. This is what happened to Judas and to Eve. They both felt like God was holding back on them in some way. Things were not going according to their plans so they tried to take control. But in the end they just ended up betraying God and hurting themselves. The irony of sinning in order to try to gain control of your life is that sin kills- physically, spiritually, emotionally- sin slowly destroys every part of you.

How many times have we sinned because we wanted to take control of our lives?

How many times have we sinned because we felt that God wasn’t measuring up…that He wasn’t holding up His end of the deal?

How many times have I chosen to sin in an effort to “get revenge” on God for letting me down?

If we are honest with ourselves, I think that we will find that we have all done those things way too many times.

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.” ― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Love always gives; it never seeks to take from the beloved. As we will see on Good Friday, love is a sacrifice. It is a total submission and a total gift of self. To be completely vulnerable and willfully bound to your beloved even through immense suffering- that is real love- that is the crucifix. The opposite of love, according to Blessed (soon to be saint) John Paul II, is not hate but use. Our Mother Mary knew what real love is- she gave herself fully to God knowing that one day her own soul would be pierced with a sword (cf. Luke 2:35). Even in her worst moments she did not think of abandoning her cross. She made it all the way to the foot of the cross, and that is what we should all be striving to do. We should all be carrying our crosses to the foot of Jesus’ cross. Judas ditched Christ and cross for thirty pieces of silver, but in the end he ended up paying a much heavier price.

My prayer for each and every one of us as we enter the Triduum is that we receive the graces to persevere with our crosses, especially in the moments when we feel that God has let us down in some way. I pray that we hold our crosses even tighter than ever before so that we have no hands free to grasp for silver- no hands with which to betray our Lord. But I also pray that if and when we do betray Him that we would run to seek His forgiveness and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I pray that we would all have humble and contrite hearts filled with the sorrow of Good Friday and the hope of Easter Sunday. I pray that we would not give in to the temptations of despair like Judas but that we would be like Peter the rock, always trusting in God’s infinite love and compassion.

Grace and peace be with you.

P.S. I humbly ask for your prayers as I will be going on a pilgrimage this Good Friday with a group of other young adults from the diocese. We are teaming up with some of our Protestant brothers and sisters from a local Evangelical church to literally carry our crosses from downtown Dallas to Plano. It is a 25 mile journey so we would very much appreciate your prayers for guidance, safety, and protection. Thank you!!

This mediation was written by Stephanie Juarez. She is a pro-life advocate in Dallas, TX and serves on the Core team at St. Monica’s Catholic Church. For more of her writings please visit her blog Lover of the Light.