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 31, 2014

Lk 1:39-56 The Broken Beautiful

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Click here for readings)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant...

Let's be honest.  Let's face it.  We all like to give not just a nice "first impression," but a nice "first impression" all the time, especially when we have a particular person or target or goal in mind. 

We love to dress up and look our very best in front of important company, while enjoying the comfort of looking grubby when left alone or in the presence of insignificant others.  Hair stylists and fashion gurus are a must when parties and celebrations are on the books.  But if we are sitting alone or in the midst of strangers, then baseball caps will do just fine and are exactly what the doctor ordered.  If you don't believe me, then check out "People" Magazine.
We enjoy giving ourselves a pat on the back, even if it means slapping others across the face.  And thinking highly of oneself is not too difficult of a thing to do.  It's as easy as crushing those around us when their backs are towards us.

What do you do when you make a visitation? What is your take on it? 

Visitation.  A visitation is more than just a simple get together or chat with your neighbor.  It is a moment full of meaning, and at the heart of it is service. 

Visitations serve a purpose. 

In the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, the purpose of her visit is to share the Good News.  And what exactly is the Good News?  Our life, in general.  Our life in Christ, to be a little bit more specific.   

The incarnation of the Son of God.  Life was never meant to be locked up, hidden and taken from us.  It was meant to be given, shared and received.   The Blessed Virgin Mary set off to visit her cousin Elizabeth to give and share her story and her Son with others.  This is the Good News.  Give it!  Share it!  Receive it!

What is your story?  What is your story in Christ?  I wonder which is more beautiful and heartwarming?

Our Life.  Believe it or not, on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lord is inviting us to "show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred" (Chapter 24, Scarlett Letter).

Mary does just that.  And just in time, too.  "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord..."

Wow!  Talk about giving all the credit to God.  Talk about not pumping oneself up.  How strange of anyone to do such a thing.

I have learned that there are two ways to look good:  crush those around you or elevate those around you.  Mary chose the later.  Mary always seems to choose the "better part."
 Think about it.  She could have easily been swept off her feet at the prospect of fame and fortune.  She could have easily taken center stage and become the object of worship, adoration, and, of course, idolatry.  After all, she had all the right stuff!  Young.  Beautiful.  Immaculate.  And all people around her would have gladly placed her upon their shoulders...and then sold their story for millions to Hollywood. 

Mary chose Christ.  She chose God's Will rather than her own.  "Let it be done to me according to your word." 

When examining Elizabeth's reaction to Mary's visit, I find it somewhat similar to that of millions of teenagers in the presence of an "American Idol."  Apparently, Elizabeth was on a roll and was already falling head-over-heals in the sight of the new "Israeli Idol." 
"Blessed are you among women...And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
It wasn't Mary's fault.  She wasn't visiting her cousin to create a sensation.  It's just the way we are.  We take people and elevate them all the time. 

Yep!  If people do not worship God, then they'll end up worshiping something or someone else, period!  We are always worshiping something or someone else. 

Mary put an end to it almost immediately: "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant."     

Mary's visitation to her cousin Elizabeth is an important day because it marks the first time the Good News was shared with others by others

Share your story with others.  Share your life in Christ with others.

Here's a great song to go with this meditation.

Lk 1:39-56 Mother Mary Comes to Me

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Click here for readings)

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
The Annunciation is the first joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. It was also the first Holy Communion. It was the first time Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity entered into another human body.  And just as He is in the Eucharist, He was hidden when he entered into Mary’s body. But by faith she knew that He was there, and His presence moved her. Literally. His presence in her body caused her to move with haste and joy.
The Visitation is the second joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. Here we see that Mary’s humble “fiat” - her simple but resounding “yes” to the Lord - became The Magnificat. By the grace of God, this poor girl from Galilee was destined to become the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and like the Child in her womb, Mary chose to serve rather than to be served. Mary’s decision to go help Elizabeth is an immediate reaction to the great Divine Love that was poured into her soul when Christ came into her body. How do we react when Christ comes into our bodies after receiving Him in Holy Communion? Are we any different? Are we more charitable? More loving? More patient? More compassionate?  More forgiving? We should be. If not it’s to reevaluate some things.
In her book, The Habit of Being, Flannery O'Connor writes, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” I could not agree more. This is exactly what happens to so many of us after we receive communion. We resist the grace infused in our souls because we do not want to change our habits, behaviors, or attitudes. We’re not willing to trade our vices for virtues so we ignore His grace and hold on to our pride. Yet The Eucharist demands that we change. The physical presence of Jesus within our bodies grants us the graces we need to live and love like saints – to rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer (cf. Rom 12:12) – if we so chose. But even if our human nature is resisting the path to sainthood, the more we frequent the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Holy Communion, the more unavoidable this path will become, for His grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in our weaknesses (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). And where sin increases, grace abounds all the more (cf. Romans 5:20).
"Listen: there are two things the devil is deadly afraid of: fervent Communions and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament." - St. John Bosco
The New Evangelization In Fr. Robert Barron’s series on The New Evangelization he reports that it takes one generation of inadequate adult catechesis to go from weekly church attendance to non-church attendance and then it only takes one more generation to go from non-church attendance to non-belief. This is the frightening possibility to think about, especially when you also consider the fact that of the one million teens confirmed each year in the U.S., approximately 85% will stop practicing their faith within seven years. However, in spite of all that, the Church still retains almost 70% of its members from adolescence to adulthood - this is the highest retention rate of all Christian denominations. 
Being a former fallen away Catholic myself, I believe our high retention rate is because we love Christ crucified and Christ in the Eucharist. Therefore we understand why bad things happen to good people and why sacrificial love is the only true love. We do not promote the “Prosperity Gospel” that some Christian denominations preach, but instead encourage each other to live the beatitudes with joy, charity, and laughter. We are the Church of the saints and the sinners, but the saints know how to suffer well. Through praying the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, and Divine Mercy Chaplet, we meditate on the passion of Jesus and come to beauty in such a terrible sacrifice. This appreciation and the consolation of Mother Mary in times of trouble sustain our faith. The “Prosperity Gospel” gives no value or meaning to suffering, and thus causes non-Catholic Christians to lose their faith when faced with the sorrowful mysteries.
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Love in action is harsh, but it is pure joy – it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Love goes out from itself and gives itself totally to another. Love is meant to grow and to be shared - that is why we evangelize. But truth be told, the New Evangelization is hard work. It forces us to reach out as far as we can to seek out all the lost and the lonely, the sick and the suffering, the cold hearted and the brokenhearted, the persecutors and the persecuted, and all the prodigal sons and daughters.  
Sub Tumm Praesidium is one of the oldest earliest Marian prayers in Church history; it dates back to at least the third century. In English it translates to:
“We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God: despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.”
Unlike the Hail Mary, the words to this prayer are not found directly in The Bible yet it has been passed down from generation to generation for the past seventeen hundred years. Why? Because the early Church Fathers and the great saints throughout Church history have all had a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother. They all looked up to her as a model of unwavering faith, constant hope, and authentic love. They also saw her as a refuge for sinners and sought her intercession in times of temptation. We too should seek to imitate her virtues and take refugee under her protection.
My devotion to her increased greatly while after I read the book “33 Days to Morning Glory” in preparation for my Marian consecration a couple of months ago. Three of the four saints that the book uses to explain Marian consecration were priests: St. Louis De Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. John Paul II. All of these holy priests had an extremely strong Marian devotion that helped them love and serve Jesus to the best of their abilities. Mother Mary walked with each of them throughout their lives as she walked with St. John the Apostle all the way up to the foot of the Cross. She is the mother of all Christians, but especially of priests.
So let us pray for the four men that are being ordained today in the Diocese of Dallas, that they may always seek Our Blessed Mother’s intercession in their ministries and always turn to her in times of distress. “For  you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
This mediation was written by Stephanie Juarez. She is a confirmation teacher and a member of the youth ministry core team at St. Monica Catholic Church in Dallas, TX. For more of her writings please visit her blog Lover of the Light.  


Friday, May 30, 2014

Jn 16:20-23 Some Thoughts

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy...I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you."

Weep and mourn.  First thought.  This is transitory.  Weeping and mourning are a part of life, just like clouds and raindrops are a part of the week (or month, if you live in Texas).  But as awful as they make the day, they are essential for sunny days.  We need to weep and mourn, otherwise we would take everything and everyone for granted.  It's awful, but it's true.  It's awful to see someone suffer, but it is good to see those who suffer.  I, for one, have learned so much from those who have suffered.  I have also learned a lot from those who have avoided any type of suffering.  It is scary what happens to them.

Second thought.  Is Christ inviting His disciples to weep and mourn?  I believe He is.  But why?  Does the Lord want us to feel bad about His impending doom?  I don't think so.  Does He want us to be sympathetic to His pain?  I doubt it.  Then why is He inviting His men to cry? 

Weeping and mourning are an essential part of reconciliation.  Christ invites His followers - all of us - to acknowledge the truth tragedy reveals about the human condition:  we are imperfect and limited beings, and if we try to deny this fact or hide it from others, we ruin ourselves. 

Prior to His arrest, the Apostles wept.  After His arrest, they ran and hid, just like our ancestors of long ago: after their fall, after their first sin.  But once the Apostles had a chance to reflect on their loss and their sins, then their mourning turned into a prelude to bold action and remarkable evangelization.

The rest of their story is God's amazing grace:  "I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you."

Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.  Final thought.   Be careful in what you ask for.  Otherwise, you may find yourself at odds with God's plans. 

"I do not want to suffer like the Saints."  Then be prepared to suffer and not be a saint! 

Do not ask the Lord to take away your sorrow.  Rather, ask for the grace to grow from it.  Do not ask for the Lord to remove all obstacles from your life.  Instead, ask Him for the courage of patience and guidance. 

Do not ask the Lord to take the life of your enemy.  Come now!  Rather, ask for their conversion.  Finally, do not ask the Lord to take away your life.  Instead, ask for the grace to be a lighthouse for others. 

Only once did the Lord ask His Heavenly Father to remove the cup that was placed in front of Him, and immediately He repented, saying "Yet not my will, but yours be done" (cf. Lk 22:42). 

Weeping and mourning are nothing but tell-tale signs of maturity and growth.  Do not run away from them, but embrace them and get to work.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jn 16:12-15 The Joy That Comes After Grief

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter
By Benedict Augustine

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

For much of his career, Oscar Wilde stood proudly among writers, creating literary masterpieces that flaunted his prodigious confidence and insight—key qualities for a satirist and critic. A brilliant man of letters, he could clearly express a big idea in a few words while most writers would wrestle with that same idea for so many pages unsuccessfully; moreover, he could bring a smile to reader as he wrote about these things. Few English writers of any age could ever muster the wit and grace that Wilde produced consistently, and few people knew this so well as Wilde himself. Eventually, his overconfidence and vanity precipitated in one of the most embarrassing scandals in literature, tragically reducing this genius to a caricature—a caricature most people still have of him. Few people defended him at his trial, and few people would defend him now; more than a few people rejoiced while he wept in shame.

During the period of his imprisonment, Wilde produced two works revealing the humbling yet enlightening experience he had in prison: De Profundis, an epistle to the man who accused him, and “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a poem capturing the abject degradation of prison life. In both works, Wilde’s wit continues to flicker, but his aims delve much deeper. From the clever moral allegory of Dorian Gray, a novel in which a man keeps his physical beauty by relegating his sins to a painting containing his soul, Wilde plunges into the meaning of suffering, a condition he truly experiences for the first time. In De Profundis and “Reading Gaol” Wilde finds the real Christ, and realizes the beauty of His life, a beauty that made his essays on art seem frivolous and superficial. Finally recognizing the heavy reality of sin, his works reveal a man ready to repent. After a lengthy and doleful lament and that spans many pages, Wilde finds a way to rejoice in the final section of his ballad:

“Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?”

Wilde declares beautifully, and with surprisingly humility, that sadness and suffering must have a place in the heart of a Christian.

Anticipating his future departure from this earth, Jesus prepares His disciples to mourn for him because they will soon experience the pain of His absence. The reason for this upcoming period of sadness remains unclear until he utters his concluding statement, “you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” The disciples must remember why they are mourning: true grief will lead to true joy, as Jesus’s death will lead to His resurrection.

Christ does not go through His passion for the sake of a dramatic effect that dazzles us with its contrasts; He does so to atone for our sins and to open up the meaning of our suffering and grief. If Jesus merely ascended after putting in a few years as a minister, His gospel would ring hollow and superficial like a story with no conflict or internal character development. Rather, Jesus takes on the gruesome reality of His passion to demonstrate just how sinful the world is and much we need to change so that we rise above it like He did. We need to experience the reality of grief to experience the reality of joy. The suffering that accompanied Jesus’ absence brought clarity, depth, and strength to the disciples, and continues to so for us. When we accept the pain of his absence, we can then receive his ultimate Presence when He returns: “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”

After “a little while,” Christ returns to the disciples, first in His resurrected form, and then through the Holy Spirit. After experiencing a life without Christ, disciples, like Paul and Timothy knew of the difference that Christ makes in a person’s life. The scoffers in the synagogues, who rejected the gospel, elicited Paul’s pity and frustration; they preferred to wallow in the darkness and live out empty lives, sacrificing an eternal joy for a worldly joy that lasts only “a little while.” We should not make the same mistake as they did. At times, especially during times of persecution, this will prove difficult, since it separates us from the majority who live in the moment; however, enduring this difficulty will eventually enable us to unite with blessed who live in eternity.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Acts 17:15, 22-18:1 Paul and the Athenians

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

“Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:
“You Athenians, I see that in every respect
you are very religious.
For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,
I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.”

The monotheism of Judaism and Christianity finally encounters the enlightened paganism of Greece as Paul confronts the people of Athens. Many great men, rulers like Pericles and Themistocles, mathematicians like Pythagoras and Euclid, scientists like Democritus and Anaxagoras, writers like Homer and Sophocles, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, all hailed from this very place. Even the proud Romans, though the conquerors of the Mediterranean, submitted to Greece's superior culture, adopting their religion, housing their texts, imitating their models for every academic discipline, and even learning and using their language. In a setting of such sophistication, of so many virtues, of so many world-famous men, Paul, a former tent-maker untrained in rhetoric, hopes to challenge their way of life in the Areopagus, the Athenian equivalent for the courtroom.

Without the grace of knowing Christ and believing in Him, one might wonder what this strange man from Israel could possibly suggest to these people who had invented nearly every known academic discipline in the civilized world. However, Paul immediately identifies their key weakness along with the one thing he could offer them: true religion. In their successes as a civilization, and in this one key failure, the Greeks demonstrate the fate of a culture that does not receive true revelation, a personal knowledge of God. Paul does not merely flatter the Athenians when he tells them, “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.” He knows that most members of his gentile audience likely ascribe to mystery cults, belong to Hellenistic philosophy schools, or have followed the superstitious traditions associated with the extensive panoply of Greek gods. Contrary to the atheistic notion that sensible people would forsake religion once they reached a certain degree of worldly enlightenment, the Greeks seemed to adopt a multitude of religions—one could say they were poly-religious as well as polytheistic. Furthermore, their variety of religions curiously did not lead them to adopt relativism, which rendered all faiths equally subjective and irrelevant by the sheer fact of their multiplicity, but made them ever more hungry for the true religion, one which came from God Himself.

Paul sees this hunger right away when he notices an altar erected for “an Unknown God.” Apparently, the Greeks liked to keep their spiritual options open so they keep an altar free in case Hesiod, a poet who tediously charted the confusing family trees of the whole Greek pantheon, might have missed a deity or two. Even more than understanding what they had in knowledge, the Greeks understood painfully what they lacked in wisdom. A deep admirer of Greek philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas over a millennium later defined the two differing sources of thought present in Paul and his Greek audience: a knowledge that could come from reason, which he termed philosophy, and a knowledge that came from revelation, which he termed theology. Philosophy applied to a knowledge of the world, including the fact that God existed; theology applied to knowledge of God, what God has said and what God has done. The Greeks, especially Socrates who famously died because of this very issue, came to believe in the existence of a supreme yet hidden God, and Paul provided the missing component of God's Word, Jesus Christ.

Paul himself came to know God through a vision of Jesus, asking him why he continued to persecute His Church. Afterward, Paul converted to Christianity and continued learned about Jesus through the other Christian disciples, who revealed the Truth, the Way, and the Life spoken of since the beginning of world. As he learned, the “Spirit of truth,” took of hold of him, sent from Christ Himself. This Holy Spirit drove Paul to share the gospel with great zeal, and It spread among his listeners, like a flame spreading through parched vegetation. Paul knows firsthand of the God of Whom he spoke, and, far from being unknown and unknowable, this God had a name which in itself constituted all existence, I AM WHO AM, and His Son Who revealed Him to His people, and His Holy Spirit Who guided His people back to Him.

This inspiration of the Holy Spirit separates Paul from other religious leaders who wanted to grow their cults. This spirit inspires him and, in Pope Emeritus Benedict's XVI's words, “abides in him,”  transforming him completely. Paul does not resemble the possessed priestesses of Delphi, nor does he resemble the scholars of the academies, nor does he resemble traditional officials trying to return to the old Roman or Greek ideals. He himself possesses a faith much deeper than Bacchic frenzy; he knows a truth much more vital than the subtle logic of Zeno; and he has more virtue and fortitude than the great legions of Rome or phalanxes of Athens. In addition to all of these qualities, Paul shows his humility in giving no credit to himself but to Jesus Christ Who had mercy on Him and sent His Holy Spirit to empower him on his mission. Along with the unknown god, Paul stands before the Athenians as the unknown disciple who communicates to their hitherto unknown hearts. 

At times, people today, both Christians and non-Christians, act much like the Athenians did towards Paul. They make themselves restless following the many religions—though they may prefer a different label than “religion”—that abound in the absence of true religion. As modern people put their faith in materialism, hedonism, or statism, they forget the God Who continue to calls to him, and continues to send His disciples to remind them of the god they marginalized into obscurity, the unknown god. Some people will scoff, and likely do so with great violence, but others will want to hear more; for just as the Holy Spirit works through the those speakers, so too will It work through the listeners, and thus bring about Christ's salvation of humanity.

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, May 27, 2014

John 16:5-11 Taking Sides

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  "...If I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation..."

In her book, "Something Other Than God", Jennifer Fulwiler, a convert from atheism, recounts an interesting story from her childhood. 

Her dad, an avid atheist, would often come into her room at night and read to her a story.  One night he told her a story about Christopher Columbus, and how "the natives [in Jamaica], had grown tired of the Europeans' constant demands for supplies and had stopped sharing their resources. Columbus saw in an almanac that a lunar eclipse was coming up, and dramatically announced to the natives that his God was so enraged with them that he'd cover the moon with blood and snatch it from the sky.  A few nights later, at the exact moment Columbus had predicted, the moon turned red; unbeknownst to the natives, the earth had moved in front of the sun and its atmosphere tinted its rays.  Then the earth moved into position to block out the sun's light altogether, and the moon disappeared.  Pandemonium ensued, and the panic-stricken natives offered Columbus whatever he wanted if he would please ask his God to forgive them and give the moon back."

Jennifer's dad ended his story by telling her that "What happened with Columbus is a nutshell of the whole history of religion.  People realized early on that if you fill in the gaps of other people's ignorance by saying it's the work of some god, and then claim that you're in tight with that particular god, you have almost unlimited power as long as people believe it."

I beg to disagree. 

What happened with Columbus is a nutshell of the whole history of science, not religion, and how scientists throughout the centuries have used their knowledge to manipulate an entire people, race and nation.  Let's not forget: Columbus was more of a scientist, than a religious man, and if this story is true, then what he lacked was not knowledge, but a conscience that went along with his science. 

Unfortunately, what Columbus did was not an isolated incident.  It continues even to this day, especially among military scientists, doomsday climate control environmentalists and over-population control fanatics.

The Spirit of Truth.  The Spirit of Truth is what it claims to be:  the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. 

God is True.  He is also the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We know who is the Holy Spirit because we know who is Jesus:  God. 

This Spirit "thinks" and "speaks" and "acts" just like the Father and the Son because it proceeds from the Father and the Son. 

The Spirit of God liberates those enslaved by sin just like it liberated Jesus from the tomb and Paul from prison (cf. Acts 16:22-34).  It frees man from the corruption of sin and restores him to the image and likeness of his creator. 

The Spirit of Truth is not a manipulator of Truth.  On the contrary, it reveals sin, restores righteousness and condemns evil.

The Holy Spirit did not come into the world to manipulate it but to save it.

Now whose side are you on?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mt 5:13 Class of 2014

Ursuline Academy's Baccalaureate Homily for the Class of 2014

Jesus said to his disciples:  "You are the salt of the earth."

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote about an experience he had while attending a function honoring the emperor.  As each guest got up and said a few words of praise, he understood the foolishness of the event.  Everyone knew that everyone was lying:  the guests knew the speakers were lying.  The speakers knew they were lying.  Even the emperor himself knew they were all lying.  

Well, what I am about to tell you is no lie.  Only once a year do I find myself surrounded by a spectacular show of elegance and intelligence, and it is right here, right now and on this very special occasion. 

You are the best of the best, but only if you allow yourself to be the salt of the earth.

Difference Maker.  Our Lord is a romantic and a poet.  He said so much in so few words. "You are the salt of the earth" means "You are a difference maker", which means Christians make life surprising, enjoyable, exciting, thrilling, challenging, tangy, etc...

Of course we all know that Jesus is the true "salt of the earth," that He took our lives and added a little bit of himself to it, not to smother us or overwhelm us, but to enhance us.  He added just the right amount of himself to us and in all the right places - not on our wounds, but in all our thoughts, words and actions. 

Now the Lord is telling His disciples: "You are the salt of the earth."

You are the salt of the earth.  My dear graduates:  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the difference maker.  And today - especially today - to be a difference maker means to show honest-to-God gratitude.  Please show your gratitude to the people who have done so much for you.  Dear Class of 2014, please stand up right now and add some of your salt to those around you.  Give a round of applause to your loved ones! 

Do you know what you just did?  You added flavor to their lives.  You made their life worth living and their blood, sweat and tears worth shedding.  You put a smile on their faces.  You just changed their appearance.   

Do you realize the power of gratitude?  How it can bring people back to life?  There is nothing more thrilling or exciting than someone coming up to you and saying:  "I can't tell you enough how important you are in my life" or "I can't thank you enough for all that you have done for me.  You've made a huge difference in my life" or "I just want you to know that everything I am is because of you."

Gratitude is the salt that brings out the best in us and in others. 

Your family deserves a round of applause and so much more.  It's about time.  For the past twelve years it's been all about you, and for the past four years they have put up with all your phobias (I will never accomplish anything in my life!), dramas (I just made the biggest mistake of my life!), meltdowns (My life is ruined!), arrogance (You don't know anything!), threats (I'll never speak to you again!) and sassy attitudes (When I am rich and famous you'll wish you encouraged me!).

Now there is a lot to be said about grateful people.  By default they are humble and honest and through reflection they are understanding and responsible.  They know who they are and what they have received, and they don't take it any of it for granted.

This year, the Class of 2014 received over 25 million dollars in scholarships!  Do you know how many poor people could have been fed with this money?  A lot!  But people - honest working people - were willing to give it to you.  Why?  Because they trust you.  They see hope in the future because of you.  Don't let them down.

Which brings me to my next point.

Salt Serves.    Just like a number, graduation is meaningless unless it is attached to something.  For example, the number "1" means nothing unless it refers to something, like "First Place" or "Lone Survivor."  Likewise, the number "3" means nothing unless it is attached to something, like "Third Place" or "The Holy Trinity."

Again, just like salt, graduation is useless unless it is attached to something.  Salt is used over food; otherwise, it simply collects moisture.  The same holds true for graduation.  It must be attached to something, and that something is SERVICE.

Graduation without service would be like graduating without an education:  a disappointment for oneself and totally useless for others.

As you are well aware, from the scholarships collected this year, people and institutions are more than willing to give you everything they have.  Don't let them down.  Serve.  Serve others. 

Service is the secret to health, happiness and holiness - a healthy mind, a happy state of being, a holy life.

Now attach yourself to a worthy cause, a cause that Christ would choose for you! 

This is the year of the woman!  Can't you tell?  I don't know about you, but I read a lot of articles regarding women this year. 

Not too long ago, I read a story about Deborah Peter's, a brave 15-year-old young lady from Chibok, Nigeria, who witnessed the killing of her father and brother at the hands of the Islamic inspired terrorist organization "Boko Haram," which translated means "Western education is sinful."

On May 21st, she testified before a special House committee and told them why she was in Washington.  She said, "I want the world to understand what happened to me.  I hope the kidnapped Chibok girls will take courage from my story, and know more of what God says, and know what it means to stand strong in the face of bad people."

Graduation is the fruit of an education and the root to a lifelong commitment to meaningful service. 

Congratulations to the outstanding Class of 2014.  May God bless you now and forever.  May He continue to inspire you in all your thoughts, words and actions.  Count on our prayers.  Please pray for us.  Stay attached to the Lord.  Do not forget the Lord, for He never forgets us.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jn 15:9-11 Simply Beautiful!

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  "As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete."

As the Father loves me, so I love you.  This is one of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture.  It gives me so much peace.  It blows my mind!  It also brings me comfort.  To know that Jesus loves me just as much as the Father loves him is, well, reassuring!  Thank God for some warm mushy guarantees in life!  Thank you Jesus!

If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.  We spend far too much time worrying about individual rights and not enough time talking about individual obligations.  Also, we seem to be focused on expanding individual rights and not individual obligations.  No wonder why there is a lack of love in our hearts and in our dealings with others.  Love, like numbers, has meaning only if attached to someone or something. The same holds true of Christianity.  It only becomes meaningful if attached to Someone and Something; that is, Jesus Christ and His Commandments.    

Jesus once said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (Jn 13:35).

And now that we are in graduation season, we might as well say graduation becomes truly meaningful and exciting only if it is attached to service towards others.     

Complete joy.   Why does the Lord speak to us?  Why does He admonish us?  Why does He insist that we have faith in Him, obey Him and follow Him?  For one simple reason:  so that His joy might be in us and our joy might be complete.

This sounds like a good enough reason for me to follow Him.

If we let the Lord down, what we are really doing is letting ourselves down. 

Let's go out today and "proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations" (Ps. 96:3).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jn 15:1-8 True Fruitfulness

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Meditation by Benedict Augustine
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.”

After explaining His analogy of the Good Shepherd, Jesus now discusses another one: the True Vine. God the Father has planted the vine and now tends to it; Jesus himself acts as the vine itself; and all Christian disciples function as branches of the vine. The Father desires that the vine produces fruit, so He makes sure to prune the branches to increase its produce while He cuts away altogether those branches that do not produce at all. Those branches that undergo pruning likely represent those Christians who cultivate a strict spiritual discipline so that they can better spread the gospel and bring more glory to God, thus bearing spiritual fruit. The unproductive branches probably symbolize the undisciplined disciples who worship mechanically, if they worship at all, and do almost nothing to share the gospel, whether by word or by deed, with anyone. After he removes those lifeless branches from the vine, God allows random people (false prophets, false teachers, and other minions of the devil) to collect those branches and “throw them into a fire” where “they will be burned,” which indicates that Hell awaits those who shun their duty as Christians.

When juxtaposed with the last analogy of the Good Shepherd, most Christians usually prefer thinking of that former image than this image of the True Vine. The Good Shepherd offers hope for those lost souls, emphasizing the good that awaits the believer. Jesus, the shepherd, does all the heavy lifting, even to the point of sacrificing His life, while believers, the sheep, simply answer His call and follow Him into the gate. More specifically, within this image of a shepherd and his sheep, a person who identifies himself as the sheep can imagine having a sufficient amount of autonomy. The sheep do their own walking, their own grazing, and little is expected of them except their ultimate obedience to the shepherd.

As opposed to what the Good Shepherd asks of His sheep, the Vine Grower and His True Vine ask  much more of the branches: they must produce fruit or be cut off. Not only does God want obedience from his disciples, He also wants a spiritual excellence that will lead to the conversion of others. Unlike the sheep passively grazing, the disciple must now consider possibly dieting from so much grass and asking God's help to trim off the fatty excesses of sin and vice. Finally, that personal space that existed between the shepherd guiding and the sheep following disappears with the branch directly attached to the vine. Christ does not only guide His disciples, but completely sustains them; without Him, they wither and die.

Rather than grow discouraged at this analogy, Christians should draw inspiration and wisdom in its universal truth: all men must work and produce if they hope to live and prosper. This applies the workplace, to education, to relationships, to happiness, as well as Christian discipleship. Most people acknowledge this truth and push themselves to learn all they can so that they can maximize their output and avoid a life of mediocrity. They will endure severe trials and hardship to make certain purchases, to succeed in certain careers, or to befriend certain people. Thriving and producing fruit of some kind constitutes the greater part of most people's lives. Jesus makes the point that if men and women can exert this much effort and make such a change in the world, they should do at least as much for the salvation of their souls, and they should at least recognize from Whom their effort and success necessarily derive. Individuals do not necessarily need to change the fact of their fruitfulness; they simply need to change their orientation, the direction and nature of their fruitfulness, away from the world toward the Holy Trinity.

St. Augustine speaks frequently on this need of properly orienting oneself, lest one should forsake salvation and wither along with the other spiritually barren branches.  Particularly, in one of his major works, On Christian Doctrine, to encourage a fruitful spiritual life, he uses the example of a sinful man who loves a famous actor and urges all his friends to love that actor too, making this his primary mission in life. The more his friends love that actor, the more he loves them; and if they detest that actor, he will try to convince them otherwise. Seeing that this man has oriented his love towards this actor, the Christian in possession of the Way, the Truth, and the Life can at least do the same for the people around him and bring them to One Who can save their souls. Naturally, he should do much more, encouraging fellow believers, and urging the complete conversion of nonbelievers, especially those close to him. God, the Vine Grower, and Christ, the Vine, will help in this effort; the Christian must simply accept Their care, and Their discipline.

Paul was the prime example of a man suffering from disorientation: he had zeal, but he lacked the care of Jesus and His Father, so he did not produce fruit. Rather, the spiritual work before his conversion produced mostly death and darkness, a kind of parasite plaguing the True Vine. Afterward, he allowed Jesus to guide his zeal, and God to trim his vices, so that he could bear abundant spiritual fruit, converting many gentiles. Ironically, Paul had to confront his former self in the men who wanted to continue to impose Mosaic Law and limit the fruitfulness of the apostles' mission. Since the Jesus is the Vine, He must save the branches, and God Himself must prune them, not the traditions of man. The sacraments of the Catholic Church therefore signify God's grace, the new law, whereas the ritual of circumcision signified Jewish tradition, the old law. New life had to come from Jesus, nothing less.

Once the disciple is properly attached to the True Vine, zealous to act as the extension of God's fruitfulness, and humble before God's discipline, he will soon witness the abundance of God's charity. St. Theresa of Avila offers simple but timeless advice for all Christians on how achieve such fruitfulness while retaining the necessary humility required for it: “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Jn 14:27-31a Let's Be Real

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

Peace I leave with you.  It's no secret.  Much like the Church today, the early Church faced stiff opposition from all sectors of society.  But rather than being discouraged, like so many in the Church today, the followers of Jesus continued to preach the Word by word and example, and to continued to give testimony of the Word by their blood, sweat and tears.  

As Romans crucified them and Jews expelled them, Christians around the world took comfort in the words their Savior gave to them:

"As the Father loves me, so I love you..." (cf. Jn 15:9)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Have faith in God; have faith in me..." (cf. Jn 14:1)
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you..." (Jn 14:27)

And the Christian communities continued to thrive and grow.

Not as the world gives do I give to you.  So what is the difference between Christ's peace and the world's peace?  The Lord's peace is real.  It's honesty.  He backs it up with His life. 

A while back I read a news article about a Dallas woman who was reluctant to go on a roller coaster at Six Flags.  Her family and friends assured her that everything would be just fine.  Well, the woman got on it and tragically fell off it.  She died instantly.

Who are we to tell anyone that everything will be okay?  Am I God?  Now we all know this was a freak accident, but that's not the point.  The point is:  How often do we give people a false sense of security in the things we cannot change and even in the things we can change!

"Oh, don't worry about it.  Everything will be just fine." 
"I forgive you." 
"Nothing bad is going to happen.  Trust me."

Why do we do this?  I think it's because we like to play God rather than pray to God.  It's easier to play "Mr. Know-It-All" rather than pray to the All-Knowing God.

Jesus was being completely honest and frank to His disciples when He said to them:  "If you wish to come after me, then pick up your cross and follow me" (cf. Lk 9:23) and "If they hated me, then they will hate you.  If they persecuted me, then they will persecute you" (cf. Jn 15:18-20).   

He was also being honest with them when He said: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

He backed His words with His return.  And that is the only reason why He ever returned. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jn 14:21-26 Mindful of God

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.  Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."

God's Commandments.  Far too many of us take the ingeniousness of God's Ten Commandments for granted.   I think it's because we truly believe we would have come up with them on our own.  After all, they make perfect sense, right?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because they fit in well with our human nature.  No, because our human nature - even to this day - actively rebels against them. 

The World's Commandments.  Based on what I have seen and heard (from facebook, twitter, friends, family, kids and parents), if I had to replace the God's Commandments with something even more fashionable or "modern," I would have to start with the following: 

1st Commandment:  I'm Special.  Of course you're important, just like everyone else, right?  But unfortunately, "I'm Important" often means that others are not. 

Professor Jean Twenge, of San Diego State University, thinks "kids are self-centered enough" and don't need to hear (over and over again) how "special" they are.  His study found an alarming rise in narcissism and self-centeredness among college students.  They really think they're more special than others.  Hence, they're more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at greater risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.  In other words, a growing number of young adults tend to lack patience and empathy towards others, and react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

2nd Commandment:  It's more important to look good than to be good.  Of course no one will admit this, but we all believe it.  Let's face it.  We spend more time training our body than our soul; more time examining our face than our conscious; and more time selecting our clothes than selecting our choices.  This commandment leads to only one thing:  PTPLO (People Treating People Like Objects).

3rd Commandment:  Be Nice.  Be Tolerant.   Every time I hear people say that Christians or Americans need to be more tolerant of others, I think of a simmering pot, not a melting pot.  Let's not fool ourselves.  A tolerant society is a simmering society, and if we are not careful, then, given the right (or ripe) conditions, it will blow up in our faces. 

A revolution is in the making.  I can sense it.  To avoid it we must love our neighbor, not tolerate them, which means we must do what is right and always avoid evil.

I could go on and on, but I think I have made my point. 

Only One God and only His Commandments.  The temptation is strong to look for someone other than God, to be one's own god or to turn others into gods.  It all comes from our ancestors bad behavior and lack of understanding. 

In the city of Lystra, Barnabas and Paul preached the Good News and cured many of the ill (cf. Acts 14:5-18).  The folks there were so impressed by their words and actions that they began to call Barnabas "Zeus" and Paul "Hermes."  Shocked out of their minds, the Apostles tore their garments and brought the people back to their senses.  How fortunate of them.  Throughout history, many charismatic men would have risked death to get what Paul and Barnabas were handed. 

If you wish to be great, then be meek and humble of heart. 

Be mindful of the Lord and all His commandments. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jn 14:1-12 Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me."

This verse packs a powerful punch.  All the key words are here.  This is a golden day for contemplation.

Jesus.  So often I call out His name.  In my distress, I call out to Him.  Jesus!  Can you hear me?  I need you.  I need you now.  Reach for me.  Take hold of me.  Jesus, I love you.  Jesus, I need you.  Jesus, please help me. 

He answers me.  Do not let your heart be troubled.  Have faith in God; have faith also in me.      

Faith.    Have faith in God; have faith also in me.  I'm trying.  But it's so hard.  I wish it were easier.  It's so hard when it requires so much change.  Why can't I just do it?  Why does my body ache? Faith.  I need faith.  I need more faith.  I need the faith the size of a mustard seed.  How else do I expect to move the obstacles in my life?  

He answers me.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through me.     

Troubled hearts.  Thomas asked, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"  Philip said, "Master, show us the Father."  Thank God the Apostles asked tough questions.  But gosh!  Why are the best questions always asked at the worst moments? 

Difficulties make us think.  They make us question everything, including ourselves.  Think man, think!  How do you make God laugh?  Tell Him all your plans.  How does God make people cry?  By letting them follow their own pipedreams. 

Sure, difficulties help us grow.  But at a high price.  The price of sleepless and restless nights, and stressful and agonizing days. 

There is no doubt about it.  The most troubled hearts come from the most wayward lives. 

Jesus answers me:  Follow me...I am preparing a place for you. 

His Plan is my place.  His Will is my thrown. 

Jesus said to his disciples.  Every single word of His was always meant to calm our fears.  How incredible is that!  And even while under tremendous anguish, the Lord still found time to soothe our nerves.  His words, though spoken so long ago, still resonate in our lives and in our hearts, even today. 

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Have faith in God; have faith also in me. 

"Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you" (Ps 33:22).

Amen.  Amen.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Jn 14:1-6 Can We Now Talk About Hope?

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

"Jesus said to his disciples"  "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me."

Timing is everything.  Last night I gave a talk at the "Float On Annual Dinner for 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation."  Its founders, Carol and David Basso, lost their daughter Anna to Ewing Sarcoma, a devastating bone cancer that primarily affects children and adolescents.  I can honestly say I have always considered their daughter a saint.  So when they asked me to speak at their annual gathering, I could not have been more honored or thrilled.  Carol asked me to speak about HOPE. 

As I prepared for my talk, my mind kept wandering back to something Jesus said:  "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me."  I used this verse as the central point of my talk.  Little did I know it was today's Gospel passage! 

God's timing is everything. 

Below are my reflections from last night.   

I hope to buy this car...I hope to get asked to the prom...I hope I get into this fraternity...I hope to get this job...

I hope to live.

We can cut our hopes short, just like we can our lives. 

Hope is an essential part of life...and death.  So we need to make sure we plant it everywhere we go and in everything we say and do.  Let's take care of it, and cultivate it, so that we can harvest it at the fullness of time.  Why?  Because without hope we would never grow or never change or never fully understand who and what we are.  Without hope we would remain trapped in our fears, regrets and/or resentments.  Without hope we would cut short our lives. 

So what exactly is hope?  Hope is the virtue that allows us to see beyond the present; that is, beyond the moment, the now.  It allows us to enter into the future, even if only for a brief moment, and dive into two profound realities:  ourselves and God. But it also does something else:  it places a halo around life problems.  Hope does not live in a fantasy world, where there is no pain or suffering.  It doesn't scoff at our tears or miseries.  If anything, it respects them and sheds light from above on them. 

Problems that are not.  Recently, I heard at the dinner table about a thread on twitter called #1stworldproblems.  Don't go there. It's not worth it.  It's a joke, a delusion.  The problems listed on this thread are not at all real problems.  They are just silly distractions.  It's bogus!  Actually, it's just a decoy to real 1st world problems: cutting, eating disorders, divorce, pornography, illness, drug addictions and teen suicides.  These are real problems.  The rest are gross understatements.

The tragedy is this:  if we cannot even identify real problems, then how will we be able to have real hope?  If hope becomes shortsighted or narrow minded or shallow, then so to will our lives be.  It's time we go deep.

Do not let your hearts be troubled?  How could Jesus say this, especially right before his betrayal and crucifixion?  How could He speak these words if He knew what was going to happen to him?  "Do not let your hearts be troubled?"  Are you kidding?  You're about to be arrested, beaten, whipped, mocked and humiliated, belittled and crucified.  And you say, "Do not let your hearts be troubled???"  Are you serious?

Before I gave my talk, a young girl got up and gave her testimony.  Staci Muckleroy is a survivor of Ewings Sarcoma.  She was diagnosed with it while in high school.  On May 5th, she celebrated five years of being cancer-free.  Every words she said kept my attention.  And what she said both scared me and surprised me.

She said:  The pain I felt in my hip was excruciating.  It brought me to tears.  It was the worst pain I ever felt in my life.  I was afraid.  I wanted to give up so many times.  But there were people in my life that fought for me and believed in me.  They gave me hope.  Today, I thank God for giving me this illness.  It has made me the person I am today.  It has made me a better person.

We need people like Staci in our lives.  I need people like Staci in my life.  I need people like Staci and Anna in my life.  In their own incredible ways, they make me want to be a better man and a better priest.  They make me want to live my life better.  Life's serious problems create tremendous opportunities for growth and hope, which brings out the best in us: gratitude and reassurance.  Gratitude to everyone.   Reassurance for everything. 

Do not let your hearts be troubled is a message of hope to His disciples.  It is a message they took with them to the four corners of the world and to me: 

My hope is that I can right a wrong, and be forgiven.  My hope is that my tears can one day turn to gladness.  My hope is that this present struggle can make me a better man.  My hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.  My hope is that we can turn evil on its head. My hope is that we can find a cure for cancer and still be as brave  as Anna and Staci.

My hope in life cannot be to just live longer.  It must be to live forever.  It has to be.  Our hope in life cannot be to just be healthy and/or successful.  It must be to be happy and holy.  Otherwise, when we find the cure for cancer, it will only be a temporary victory, quickly lost in the confusion of another great disappointment or serious problem, like pollution, abuse, war or terrorism.

God's message.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What am I supposed to do with my life?  These questions may seem a bit scary, but boy are they very important and worth investigating, for the answers we seek and find will determine how we live and how we die.

No wonder why the Lord kept repeating over and over and over again to His disciples:  "Do not be afraid."  

Yes, Do not be afraid to enter into God's presence.  After all, this is where we will find our Hope and our God, for God is present in our hope.

In the most terrifying of ways, Staci found God.  In the midst of her suffering and pain, she learned what was and wasn't important in life.  Did God not reveal His love for us in the same way:  in the midst of human suffering?  Did He not reveal what was and wasn't important while suffering on the Cross?  Having loved His own who were in the world.  He loved them to the end. 

Fight the fight!  Fight till the end.  Never give in and never give up!

Hope is a way of life best found in a person:  Jesus Christ.  "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Come follow me."

How can I nourish hope?  Hope is different from faith and love.  Faith can be intellectually nourished. I can come to understand that there is more to life than just what ear can hear and eye can see.  Faith gives depth and width, meaning and purpose, meat and potatoes to life and death.   

Love bears all things, endures all things and even believes all things.  It can quickly grow and appear out of nowhere.  Love gives us the reason to give and forgive; to smile and to sacrifice.  Love makes life worth living. 

But what about hope?  How can I nourish hope?  How can I make it grow?  I think there is only two ways:  (1) to closely examine the lives of those who have gone through hell and have come back to tell about it; and (2) to face our gravest problems by uniting ourselves on the Cross with Christ, the one who knows His way out of the grave. 

Hope is essential to make life worth living and suffering worth traversing.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me" (Jn 14:1).

Hope in Christ gives us a strength to keep going, and the courage to let go.  It is finished.