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!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mt 16:21-27 You Make Us Brave

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you."

You duped me, O Lord.  You duped me, Lord.  I thought that if I followed you and your commandments with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength; attended Mass every Sunday and said my prayers every day and night, then I would live a happy life. 

You duped me, God.  You duped me.

You duped me, O Lord.  You duped me.  I never imagined in a million years that you would be crucified by us and for us.  You duped me.  I thought that you would have insisted on being treated like a King, or President or religious leader.  Instead, you came into the world just like one of us - actually, worse than one of us - like a peasant, a common man, a no-body, a poor man. 

You fooled me God.  You fooled all of us. 

God forbid, Lord.  Can any of us blame Peter?  Really. Who would not have responded in the way Peter did to Christ's insane and dark prediction.  Who would not have recoiled to Christ's ghastly prophecy?  Like all of us, Peter suffers from original sin; that is, preconceived notions. We all believe that God should do what we want Him to do and be like we want Him to be.  Is there any wonder why Jesus reacted in way He did:  "Get behind me, Satan!" 

God will not be duped.

A few Saturdays ago I officiated at a wedding.  I did what I almost never do:  I arrived early to set things up.  Some guests of the bride and groom were already in the chapel, mingling with friends and family.  As I walked in, I noticed a young girl sharing some pictures with her grandmother.  I walked up to them and said hello.  Immediately, the young girl's facial expression changed from one of joy to (I don't know what to call it) "indifference."  I got the impression she was judging me, and judging me harshly.  When her grandmother asked me to give her a blessing, I eagerly agreed.  I didn't know why the request was made, but I was more than happy to do it.  Unfortunately, her reaction remained the same:  indifferent. 

Before I left them, I noticed a picture of two small kids on her cell phone.  At first, I didn't think much about it, but later on an idea came to my head.  When she was alone, I asked her who those babies were.  Without looking at me, she said "They're my twins."  Without hesitation, I told her, "Congratulations!"  Her head popped up.  She was surprised, almost baffled, at what I said.  I continued, "It takes a brave woman to have twins.  Thank you.  You help us all to be braver."

I duped her, Lord.  I duped her!  And I was more than happy to dupe her!  When she thought she knew me, I duped her.  I surprised her.  And she allowed herself to be surprised.

Because I'm happy.  What will make us happy in this life?  When my will corresponds to the Father's Will.  This is what Christ did, and by doing so, He helped us all to be a little braver. 

"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"

Far too many of us only read the Headlines in the Newspapers or on the Internet.  Very few of us dig deeper and read the articles.  Far too many of us only scrape the surface in our numerous relationships.  We must learn to dig deeper, for it is there that we find a wealth of meaning.  Peter's refusal to accept God's Will was a good example of someone scraping the surface in a relationship.  He could only understand Christ's pain and suffering, not His sacrifice and love. 

Let's not rob the Lord of His glory.  Let's not remove from our lives the profundity of His words and actions, especially His unconditional love for us. 

Remove all preconceived notions of God and allow Him to teach the meaning of true love.

And so now we know why we go to Church every Sunday, and pray every day and live by every word that comes forth from the Savior's mouth?  It isn't to be more relaxed in our lives!  It's to be more like Him:  to love as He loves and be as brave as He is. 

He makes us all what to be brave, really brave. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mt:25:14-30 Share Your Master's Joy

Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time


Jesus told his disciples this parable:“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability...."

In my high school Physics class, a major part of our grade included completing an egg drop assignment.  The premise involved designing a protective barrier between an egg and the ground so when dropped from a two story roof the egg remained intact.  We were given a few weeks to create a suitable design fulfilling dimension and size requirements.  A prize went to the successful student who's egg didn't break.  I remember driving over to Michaels craft store to look for materials.  I decided on a fairly simple design:  Wrap the egg inside a round Styrofoam container used for fake flowers. The day of the egg drop I was terribly nervous.  It was my senior year and my top-ten GPA meant everything.  I simply could not afford a bad grade in Physics because of a broken egg.

What a cold February morning when our Physics class walked up to the school's roof to start the egg drop challenge.  I remember seeing splat after splat.  Everybody's egg broke.  When it came my turn, I carefully dropped my Styrofoam ball from the roof.  After the egg fell we inspected it  to find not one crack!  In fact, my egg was the only one in the class that didn't break.  I won a movie gift certificate as the prize.  Everybody was surprised, including the teacher, that a simple Styrofoam ball was insulating enough to protect the egg.

Just think:  Simply trusting in Jesus and following his Way, Truth and Life protects our souls from breakage.  The Lord acts as a protective shell around our fragile and vulnerable hearts.  We can entrust our darkest secrets, intimate desires, and worries with Him.  He will not allow us to completely crack and fall apart.  In fact, God blesses us with gifts each and every day.  It's up to us to use them wisely.

Five, Two, One....According to Ability  Instead of three, two, one like a typical countdown  it's five, two, one;  the number of talents the Master gives to his servants.  I find it interesting  the wicked servant is only given the one talent according to his ability. The Master must have not expected a whole lot from him to begin with. Why does the master get so upset then? Why bother giving the third servant any talents?

 The Master of the talents desires to entrust his possessions with all of his servants equally and according to their individual abilities.  He hoped his servants would listen to his request, protecting and properly investing the talents.  However, the wicked servant allowed fear to take over. Burying his one solid gift  is like burying his head in the sand.  He doesn't have to think about it or realize it's value.  He can simply walk away - out of sight and out of mind.  It's not his money anyway.  Why take the risk of possibly upsetting the demanding Master if he loses the one talent?  It's easier just to bury it away than to trade it up for something more profitable.

God does not want us to bury our gifts in the sand!  He wants us to use them to the fullest, evangelizing and spreading the good news . Desire to share in His eternal joy!

Share Your Master's Joy  We may not realize this, but God gives us gifts on a daily basis.  They may appear small and insubstantial; however, all we need to do is take the time to notice and cherish them.  For me, a smile is one such beautiful gift.  I think of the smile of a child playing with a toy, the smile of someone laughing, or the smile when a friend greets another friend.  When I'm having a rough day, a smile brings warmth back into my heart.  When I'm feeling down, a smile brings happiness back to mind.  Some people are blessed with a positive attitude and a habitual smile that's infectious!  It's almost as if God sends such persons to continuously spread joy to others. Joy is what makes life worth living. Sharing our joy keeps fear at bay and helps us recognize our gifts and talents, using them for the benefit of all of God's Kingdom.

‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mk 6:17-29 St. John's Heart

Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist
(Click here for readings)

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. ...Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him...She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet... Herodias' own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod...The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish..." She replied, "The head of John the Baptist."

This was today's Gospel passage for our 1st K-5th grade Mass at All Saints.  I couldn't believe it!  I felt horrible for the kids.  What would they think?  What could I say?  How could make this true story relevant for our kids?  Well, here is my homily from today's elementary school Mass. I share it with you because many parents (adults) came up to me after Mass and told me how much they needed to hear this.

John's Head.  St. John the Baptist was beheaded by some very mean people.  Are you a mean person? 

I think the best definition of a mean person is someone who only thinks of themselves or who will do whatever it takes to get what they want.  Are you mean to others?  Do you think only of yourself?  Will you do whatever it takes to get what you want?  I hope not.  But I am worried because all of you have had an entire summer to perfect your fake cries and temper tantrums.  So, the question is:  Have you become a mean person to the people who love you the most? 

Herodias was a very mean person, and she didn't care a nickel about it.  Why would she?  After all, she had lots of power, lots of "friends" and lots of money.  No one, no one in their right mind would even dare to get in her way...except for one brave person:  John the Baptist.  You see, to make a difference in the world, all it takes is for one good person to stand up to tyranny.  And although St. John lost his head.  He never lost his heart.  And his heart inspired countless men and women to rise up and follow Jesus Christ.

Mean people think they can get away with just about anything, including murder!  But they can't, for they too will be judged by God and by their neighbor.

Are you a mean person?  I hope not.

How do you know someone loves you?  One child responded by saying, "If they hug you,"  while another said, "If they put you to sleep at night."  Although I thought these answers were absolutely adorable and true, I continued to play the devil's advocate and told them, "Well, sometimes mean people give you hugs and kisses when they want something from you.  Also, sometimes our parents put us to sleep just to get rid of us (or because they want some peace and quiet). [Lots of laughter!] So...I'm not yet convinced."

Finally, a teacher gave the answer I was looking for:  "By the way they sacrifice for you."  BINGO!  We know someone loves us by the way they sacrifice for us.  Our parents, even our grandparents, would die for us.  I hope you all know this!  And this is what John the Baptist did, and what so many have done after him.  He was willing to lay down his life for his friends and the Lord.

So, how do you know someone loves you?  By the way they sacrifice for you. 

There's a lot of love in our homes, in our school and in our society.  There are a lot of people here who love you.  Now it's your turn to share your love with others.  So make a sacrifice and live your life like Jesus Christ, who showed us just how much he loved us when he laid down his life for us.

This is why you go to All Saints:  to learn how to love and be loved. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mt 23:27-32 The Allure of Hypocrisy

Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary time


Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”

Oscar Wilde once said, among many other things, “In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.” He left this epigram for young people entering adulthood in his day, stating the unpleasant truth about respectability in Victorian England. In our own day, this statement rings just as true, if not more so. In a world where people adore exterior beauty, material wealth, and physical pleasure, hypocrisy is necessarily rampant. Why cultivate an inner life, when people only observe and respond to the outer life?

Modern people of all ages feel the strong temptation of hypocrisy; like the Pharisees and scribes, they desire to “appear beautiful on the outside” while “filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Students want to attain a high score they never earned and then brag about it to their family and friends. Young activists want to change the world and help those in need while they indulge in every kind of luxury themselves and live off their parents. People who work in offices or in the fields proclaim their efficiency and intelligence to anyone who can hear, and harangue those whom they deem lazy, while they themselves fail miserably at their duties. Even the elderly love to criticize the younger generations, excoriating their choices and decadence, despite their pivotal role as parents in forming these young people into who they are today. 
The Pharisees and scribes receive the worst kind of criticism from Jesus because of their hypocrisy. We should hesitate to join in the condemnation before searching our own hearts. After all, the Pharisees and the scribes only did what every politician, celebrity, intellectual, and businessmen does today: they assume their roles as moral and cultural authorities and proceed to tell others how to live. Has their behavior warranted this authority? Not at all. They sin like anyone else, often much more so. Does their power, fame, knowledge, or money really give them the authority to preach? Quite the opposite. It actually makes them less credible as moral teachers since they sought worldly goods in place of heavenly ones and frequently have a much hazier perception of reality. The Pharisees and scribes, having more power, fame, knowledge, and money than most commoners, only did what was normal by most people's standards.

For the sake of His people, Jesus had to condemn them with supreme righteous anger. No behavior does greater damage to the Church, to people's relationship with God, than hypocrisy. Many believers fall away from the Church because of the hypocrisy of clergy and laity, who make lofty proclamations only to act like every other sinner outside the Church. The hypocrite, more than the terrorist or serial killer, will convince people that there is no God, no reason to pray, and that morality is simply a tool of the crafty to oppress the naïve. Moreover, the hypocrite will create a whole new generation of hypocrites. If a person can preach one thing, practice something else, and gain everyone's admiration, saint and sinner alike, then everyone will want to be a hypocrite. Why be a priest or teacher and suffer poverty and disrespect for taking care of people's souls, like Paul, when a person can be a doctor or financial consultant and earn a high salary and the enjoy the greatest respect for caring for people's bodies and possessions?

Perhaps the only thing more tempting than hypocrisy is tolerating others' hypocrisy. We listen and praise hypocrites because we would have a much easier time following their example than the example of a virtuous person. Quite often, those who earn their reputation for goodness through actual virtue seem more like chumps fighting a futile battle than heroes improving society. At the time of her death, Princess Diana, a glamorous divorcee aristocrat, had many more mourners, and television specials, than Blessed Mother Theresa though they both died in the same week. The death of any celebrity who overindulges easily overshadow the death of a good person who sacrifices. Instead of jumping on this superficial bandwagon, we should acknowledge people's merits as well as their faults, and give praise to the good man or woman instead of the powerful man or attractive woman. Let us honor the saints and imitate their example.

Today would be a great day to start since it is the Feast Day of St. Monica. Unlike most parents who desire world success from their children, Monica desired spiritual success for her son Augustine, only to see him ardently pursue worldly success for the first three decades of his life. Seeing past Augustine's facade of happiness and wisdom, she encouraged him to put away his heresies and concubines and live a true life in Christ. Her prayers, her patience, her tears, effected the conversion and sanctity of one the greatest spiritual minds in history. Only her saintliness, her sincere love for God and her son, could have inspired such a miracle. Had she relied on style, our Church, and our world, would be much poorer as a result.

Let us ask for her intercession and give thank for God's work in her and her son. We could certainly use more mothers like her.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mt 23:23-26 We Are All Cups

Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)


“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

We are all cups. This analogy is what strikes me most in today’s Gospel reading. It seems like a fitting comparison, since we so often “fill ourselves up” with both the good and the bad. Similarly, we take what we have filled ourselves up with and pour it out, leaving a legacy that impacts all around us.

Isaiah 64:8 says, “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” We are God’s personally crafted clay cups.

But, like us, a clay cup is fragile. It can’t get through life unscathed. It undoubtedly picks up chips and cracks along the way.

The Pharisees were chipped and cracked like the rest of us, but their problem was that they tried to hide it. They boasted perfection and righteousness, but all the while, they were falling apart under their masks.

Despite their best attempts to fill themselves up with God’s Word, their cracks—and their pride—were so immense that anything of God that filled their cup quickly seeped out.

So preoccupied with achieving the most and being the best, they failed to attend to the state of their cups. Inside, theywere dirty and scarred.

Nobody is perfect. The insides of our cups are all dirty and scarred. Why, then, do we feel so much pressure to cleanse the outside? Why do we paint over the chips and fill in the cracks? Are we trying to act like we don’t struggle? Are we all just pretending?

Christ didn’t pretend. The ONLY perfect person to walk this earth let His wounds show. So why don’t we?

Christ’s resurrected body bore the marks of His nails. He didn’t erase them when He rose from the dead. Rather, they served as a reminder of the trial He faced—and overcame.He boasted in His wounds, inviting the nonbelievers to see and touch the proof of His suffering.

Cracks don’t have to be a bad thing. Christ’s cup was cracked by sin and death, but with His ultimate victory, He allowed light to pierce through this darkness. This is, after all, why we should boast not in our perfection, but in our cracks. There is something holy and profound about admitting we are cracked.

In fact, cracks in a clay cup are beautifu.When your soul is illuminated, it’s the cracks that allow your light to shine through.

Those that shine the most often possess the most cracked cups. Despite their battle scars, they emanate God’s luminous joy. This is what it means to clean the inside ofthe cup: to admit imperfection…and shine anyway.

Being clean inside and out does not mean being without fault. Rather, it necessitates inviting God into these faults.

It’s okay not to be okay. We shouldn’t spend so much time attempting to achieve perfection on the outside while our cups falls apart inside. Rather, we should model Christ, being both broken and beautiful.
We don’t have to be perfect to clean our inner cups. All we have to do is accept these cracks, and let God turn them into passages through which His light can shine.

Faith Noah graduated from Ursuline Academy way back in 2014 and was valedictorian of her class.  She is currently a student at Vanderbilt University and contributes to this blog whenever she can.  She is an outstanding young lady with amazing grace and faith.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mt 16:13-20 Who Do You Say That I Am?

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

The answer to this question makes all the difference in your life.

You are Peter.  Apparently, Simon Peter knew the right answer:  "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  With these words, Jesus said to him, "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

This morning I had breakfast with a wonderful soul and a beautiful person who happens to be a bit of a fallen away Catholic.  Although she has had many problems and struggles throughout her young life, this angel always manages to have a smile on her face.  Every time she comes to town she calls me and invites me out for breakfast.  During our morning conversation, I asked her what she thought of Pope Francis.  She told me she didn't know anything about him.  I couldn't believe it.  Regardless of what faith or no faith you have, it's hard not to hear his name mentioned in the national media.  Pope Francis is important.  Who and What He represents is important.  After all, if someone were to ask you the question "How do you know the Catholic church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ?" and you only had a minute to answer it, how would you do it?  What would you say?  ANSWER:  Because the Catholic Church is the only Church that can trace itself all the way back to St. Peter, the rock of the Church.

That's it...especially if you only had one minute to answer their question.    

Of course, how we see Jesus will determine how we see His Church.  So, who do you say Jesus is?

Who do people say that I am?  Forget about what other people think; what do you think about Jesus?  Who is Jesus to you?  Is He the Lord, the Savior of the world?  Is He the Son of the Living God?  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this question, for what you think of Him will say a lot about what you think of others. 

Who do people say that I am?  This question is often applied to others, especially the disadvantaged.  A lot of children may be struggling with your answer.

Who do people say that...

A fetus or a Down Syndrome baby is?  Am I a mistake to you?  

"Pope" Richard Dawkins recently came out of his lab, the zoo, to announce to the whole world that it was a moral imperative to abort children conceived with Down Syndrome.  That's right!  The amateur zoologist and premiere atheist went way out of his field of expertise to tweet:  "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."   

Read slowly his message.  Abort "it"...  Try again...  [If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.]  It would be "immoral" to bring "it" into the world.

Richard Dawkins believes that if a woman had the choice to abort a Down Syndrome baby, and failed to do so, she would be acting immorally.  Now, it's one thing for a scientist to advocate terminating a pregnancy.  It's an entirely different thing for him to claim it's a universal moral imperative.

How you see Jesus Christ will determine how you see others, especially the most defenseless.

Dawkins tweet has more to do with his entrenched atheism (ideology) than with his knowledge of Down syndrome babies.  No reputable scientist would come out with such a dehumanizing statement.  In fact, not too long ago, Dawkins actually took a neutral stance on the morality surrounding abortions.  But now he has come out of his limited box to say and do what few would have imagined:  make a dogmatic declaration!  How unbecoming of someone who hates dogma!

Immoral?  Based on who's morals?  His own, of course, which is as far as most non-believers can get.

J.D. Flynn, for First Things, wrote a beautiful open letter to Richard Dawkins.  He wrote:

"You've often said that people who disagree with you should "go away, and learn how to think."  I've tried to learn to think, over the years, but perhaps I am naïve in some says.  But one of things I've concluded is that ethical philosophy can't be done in a sterile environment - that our humanity, our intuition, our empathy, in fact, must be recognized as a source of ethical insight if we want to think well.  Perhaps you believe that your position on abortion and down syndrome is logically valid.  But I wonder if you're kept awake at night by the revulsion that  comes with being the champion of killing.

I have two children with Down syndrome.  They're adopted.  Their birth parents faced the choice to abort them, and didn't.  Instead the children came to live with us.  They're delightful children.  They're beautiful.  They're happy.  One is a cancer survivor, twice over.  I found that in the hospital, as she underwent chemotherapy and we suffered through agony and exhaustion, our daughter Pia was more focused on befriending nurses and stealing stethoscopes.  They suffer, my children, but in the context of irrepressible joy. 

I wonder, if you spent some time with them, whether you'd feel the same way about suffering, about happiness, about personal dignity.  I wonder, if you danced with them in the kitchen, whether you'd think abortion was in their best interest.  I wonder, if you played games with them, or shared a joke with them, whether you'd find some worth in their existence.

And so, Dr. Dawkins, I'd like to invite you to dinner.  Come spend time with my children.  Share a meal with them.  Before you advocate their deaths, come find out what's worthwhile in their lives. 

I don't want you to come over for a debate.  I don't want to condemn you.  I want you to experience the joy of children with Down syndrome.  I want your heart to be moved to joy as well.

Any day next week is good for us except for Wednesday."

Good Luck J.D.  I will keep your intention in my prayers.  But I must say I doubt Dawkins will ever step foot in your home, and it won't be because you live in Nebraska.  I just think he feels more comfortable in a classroom and sterile lab.

Bringing everyone together.  Jesus said to his disciples:  "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  This is not a threat.  It isn't even a warning.  It is a concern.  The Church is on earth to bring all people together:  Africans, Asians, Europeans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, rich, poor, big, small, powerful, defenseless, strong, weak, etc...

The Lord is reminding His disciples of the seriousness of their mission, a mission that is extremely delicate and important for the well being of the world.  He wants His followers to go throughout the world and bring everyone together.  Everyone is welcomed.  Everyone.  No one is excluded from God's love or family.  All are invited.  All are welcomed.  Hence, no one should be advocating the death of others, especially the defenseless and those who are genetically disabled. 

The human race is not an exclusive club.  All are welcomed:  fetuses, the elderly, the mentally ill and challenged, the physically disadvantaged. All are welcomed.  This is the Church's message.  This is our mission.  This is why the Church exists on earth. 

Mt 23:13-22 Getting Through By Being Tough

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)


"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.

You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

When I first read this Gospel, I was struck by its similarity to a novel I am currently reading for school called Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is an American classic that fueled the anti-slavery movement and is thought to be a catalyst for the Civil War.

First, though—who were the Pharisees? Why did Jesus seem to be so bitter towards them? In the time of the New Testament, the Pharisees were the most active and outspoken of the political groups. They became so caught up in small teachings that their ideology became extremism. In fact, their name in Hebrew means “separatists.” They chased after very strict ideals and allowed very few to become a part of their group—not that many wanted to.

In the same way, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a slave owner named St. Clare argues that his actions are not much worse than those of northern abolitionists: “I know the feeling among some of you northerners well enough … you would not have [slaves] abused; but you don’t want to have anything to do with them yourselves. You would send them to Africa, out of your sight and smell, and then send a missionary or two to do up all the self-denial of elevating them compendiously.”

How very Pharisee-like! From Jesus’ time, to the Civil War era, to today, there are always groups of people that are all talk and no walk. All rhetoric and no substance. All catchy-Twitter-hashtag and no real action.If we want to be Christians, we have to steer clear of such things.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” Are we hypocrites? That is to ask: are we all talk and no walk? Do we really mean what we say? The Pharisees loved to act holy but in truth were concerned about wealth and external appearances. They were so concerned about appearing to be righteous that they entirely forgot what righteousness was. Abolitionists were so concerned about seeming upright that many forgot to actually aid the people they fought for, opting to throw money and political nonsense at the situation instead. Like them, we can be tempted as Christians to want to appear holy. We want to be known as the most moral, the most dignified, the most caring. But at what consequence?
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. How many times has our own self-righteousness prevented us from reaching out to someone who was really striving after holiness? I am so guilty. After all, if we spend all of our time trying to appear holy, what time is left over to actually build the Kingdom?  How many times have we shut ourselves out from the outside world because it frustrated us? How many people have we not ministered to as a consequence?

Self-righteousness is a plague. It is the master of false appearances. It is like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. The horse really wants to get to that carrot, but the farther it runs, the farther away the carrot gets. In the same way, by chasing after self-righteousness, real righteousness only gets farther out of reach. We lock the Kingdom of heaven before ourselves and before others.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert…” It is a blessing, then, that empty rhetoric attracts very few people. There is a song that always plays on my way to cross country in the morning that says it better than I could: “I’ve never seen a soul set free from an argument, and I’ve never seen a hurt get healed from a protest.” Pharisees and empty preachers traversed sea and land and only a few people were actually converted to their ways. I could listen to a million pompous State of the Union addresses from both parties and still not have my mind be changed. And news flash, radical feminists: when #YesAllWomen or #NotMyBossBusiness clog my Twitter feed, I gain nothing but a tad of irritation and a few cents back on my cell phone bill from avoiding Twitter.  “…and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. Yikes!
How then, are we supposed to break our hypocritical tendencies? How do we not make “children of Gehenna”? For starters, we actually have to start caring about what we talk about. We have to start putting a little walk to our talk. It is great to preach about issues we are passionate about, but if we cannot back up our words with actions, we are no more credible than the next guy on the street. In no way is this as true as when we preach the Gospel. We cannot tell others to love their enemies if we do not love our own. We cannot ask people to defend every human life if we do not take care of the vulnerable that are already born. Defending truth is a hard but necessary task! As St. Clare says around the time of his conversion, “My view of Christianity is such… that I think no man can consistently profess it without throwing the whole weight of his being against this monstrous system of injustice that lies at the foundation of all our society; and, if need be, sacrificing himself in the battle.”

Wow! That is what we need to aspire to.

As a side note, please pray that I finish Uncle Tom’s Cabin by 9 tomorrow morning…. Yikes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mt 23:1-12 Rock Star Status

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe al things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example."
They loved being popular.   After his very successful trip to South Korea, a reporter asked Pope Francis what he thought of his immense popularity.  The Pope responded by saying, "I keep in mind all my sins and mistakes.  This helps me to stay humble."

That's something to think about.

Let's not think too badly of those poor Pharisees and scribes.  Hey, who wouldn't want to be put in a position of honor or greeted by adoring fans, especially if undeserved?  What's wrong with having flowers thrown at your feet or knees bent to kiss your feet?  Nothing...unless it goes to your head and you actually begin to believe it and don't do anything to stop it. 

We all love to be thought of as being more than we are.  We all love to be loved more than we love and adored more than we adore.  Even the Lord was loved and thought of and adored like a rock star. So what's His beef?

Christ didn't mind that the Pharisees and scribes sat in seats of honor; they deserved it.  What disturbed Him was the fact that they rarely ever lifted a finger to help those who could use their help. 

The beauty of Christ's popularity is that it never went to His head.  If anything, it all went straight to his heart, eyes, feet and hands.  Christ saw the needs, met the needs and encouraged others to follow in His footsteps.  He dared himself and others to sacrifice themselves for others.  He first challenged himself and then others through His works of mercy and love.  The honors and titles bestowed upon the Lord did not only come from above but from below, from the simple and unassuming people of the world that fell head over heels in love with Him and showered him with tears, sweat and blood. 

The sin of the Pharisees and scribes was the following:  they preached but did not practice what they preached.  They tied up heavy burdens that were hard to carry (penances) and laid them on people's shoulders (crosses?).  They did not lift a finger to help.

They thought they were better than the rest of humanity.  Something we all think, especially when push comes to shove. 

Although the Lord spoke to vast crowds and to his disciples, His words spoke directly to each one, like "one having authority"; that is, like someone who knew each person personally and by heart.  That's a sermon that doesn't come from a text book but from contact!  That's a good pastor who lives with His sheep.  To this day, I find it amazing how I can read a passage from Scripture and relate to it.  No wonder why Scripture is considered inspired.

Famous people work hard to make it to the top.  Unfortunately, some of them forget to bring their humble beginnings with them. 
As we all work towards being rock stars, let's not forget who we are: sinners.  That's a great place to start and finish, since it keeps us mindful of who our savior is.

Without God I am worse than nothing (cf. Jn 15:5).  I am a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mt 22:34-40 Love of God

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Click here for readings)

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

The Two Great Commandments.  If you only had one minute to explain to someone what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?  How would you explain it?  Would your reply be similar to that of Christ's?  "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.  Like a pen in someone's hand, Love and God go hand-in-hand.  It is His marvelous way of getting His message across. 

Love is God's unique way to reach out to others and bridge the gap between heaven and earth. 

Love is a rare and special name for God.  In the Muslim faith there are ninety-nine names for God, but not one of them is Love or Father.  God is Love, not just the loving one.  He is Love.  He is also our Father.

"The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."  Why? Because Love (God) as well as Truth are the basis of all relationships, human and divine.

The revelation of God as Love has shaped our hearts, minds and souls.  It has inspired world leaders to embrace universal principles such as All Men Are Created Equal. Love is the Rock of our foundation when dealing with our neighbors, including our enemies.  It has fashioned virtues such as respect, dignity, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Love has molded our society and psyche so much so that we have taken God's presence for granted.  Regardless, cosmic Love continues to inspire us in our songs, poems, plays and musicals.  It continues to dominate our lives, conversations, relationships and friendships.  To love and be loved continues to be our greatest desire and goal. 

Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting (Ps 107:1).   

Love is what drives us to reach new heights towards unity, while the lack of it drives a metal knife through one's neck. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mt 22:1-14 Binding their Hands and Feet

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

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables saying, "The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests...  Some ignored the invitation and went away...The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them."

James Foley.  On Tuesday, August 19th, 2014, the Roman Catholic photojournalist James Foley was savagely executed by Islamic State barbarians.  He was only forty-years-old.  His parents, both devout Roman Catholics, paid tribute to her son.

"We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us.  He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person... "We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people... 

"We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."     

The Foleys' pastor, Father Paul Gousse, was at the family's house the evening of the 19th.  He left without speaking to reporters.  The parish posted a notice that the church would be open to all who wished to pray for Jim, his family, friends and colleagues.
This wasn't James' first run in with militants.  Back in 2011, he and two other reporters were kidnapped in Libya.  After his release, he wrote an article for Marquette magazine on how prayer, especially the rosary, got him through his captivity. 

"It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused,” he wrote. “Clare [another reporter kidnapped] and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.”

Foley was educated and trained at Marquette University, a Jesuit school.  He said Marquette “has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.”

A few decades ago, it was popular for people to say something along the lines like "all religions are the same."  Not only is this as ridiculous and practically useless as saying all armies are alike or all people are alike, but it discloses ignorance.  All religions are as much alike as all fingerprints and DNA, enough alike to be able to identify one from the other.

Let's keep James, his family, and all hostages in the hands of terrorists in our prayers.  These innocent men and women will need them, for ISIS is an organization that has little to no regard for human life, especially non-Sunni Muslim life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mt 20:1-16 The Joy of Work

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

By Benedict Augustine

“’My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As the saying goes, “the Devil will find work for idle hands.” When a person does not have work, actual constructive activity with a greater purpose in mind, temptation and sinwill descend on the poor idler. People without jobs or any serious responsibilities must experience the stress of not working, a stress that working people rarely understand.  Unemployed people do not have fun, as some overly busy people might believe, but they must contend with feelings of uselessness, boredom, inadequacy, humiliation, guilt, and, if they have serious expenses to pay, debt and poverty.  Thus, we may complain about work, but very few of us want to lose our jobs.

Although some—like myself—may argue about the merits of her prose, or character development, or her atheism, Ayn Rand showed at least some insight in her novel Atlas Shrugged, when she describes in depth the kind of decline and decay that follows from a lack of work. In a large middle portion of the book, the protagonist of the story tries to find a man, John Galt, whom she believes might have some answers to her questions. During her journey, she encounters a small town that used to have a thriving factory providing many jobs to the town along with all the benefits derived from the revenue it produced and the economic activity it stimulated. Rand, though writing her book in 1957,accurately describes the condition of many industrial towns today, over fifty years later,which have suffered from the mass exodus of manufacturing work. Her description sounds eerily similar to cities like Detroit or Flint Michiganand probably quite a few other cities that are now doing all they can to keep the industries from leaving. In the novel, the town is covered with blight; the citizens loiter the streets, hungry and hopeless, and many of them have no access to government services like education, medical care, or public safety; even the streets have cracked beyond recognition and many of the stores and office buildings are empty or inhabited by squatters; in every part of the town, despair is palpable and pervasive. If anyone wants to know what comes of idleness, they can read the book—which is long and tedious at parts—or they can learn more about cities in the rustbelt. Whether fictional or real, these settings illustrate idleness in all its gloom and ugliness.

Most people tend to think that these desperate circumstances result from a lack of funds, not work. On an individual level as well as a collective level, less employment means less money, which then means less stuff. If communities and individuals had great stores of wealth, they would not need work; they could finally enjoy life. However, that would be over simplifying the issue. Yes, a lack of money creates stress and hardship, but a lack of productive activity can do the same. Many rich people who do not work but live off past successes or the successes of others, still have to face the demons of the unemployed. They still have to cope with addiction, feelings of uselessness, loneliness, and general depression. Many people know this through watching so many celebrities who seem to have it all but in fact wallow in despair and act with recklessness. Common sense—which, alas, is not so common—would allow most of us to see that a large quantity of money coupled with free time will mostly lead to something bad. Nevertheless, peopleblindly covet the fame, wealth, and recreation of the celebrity.

Does that mean that work, by contrast, confers so many virtues to a person? Should we all become workaholics to find happiness? While many politicians and economists would suggest this, simply working does not bring fulfillment. Honest work can stave off the misery of idleness, but it does not make a person better. Even work that compensates a worker handsomely does not make that person better, just richer. The work must have some kind of meaning or some noble purpose in order to improve the soul of a personand make him betterIn the Christian understanding, we would say that work must be subordinated to God’s will. We become better from out jobs when we do it for God’s sakeand the sake of others, not ourselves. My job as a teacher makes me better when I offer the work up to God with gratitude, with energy, and with thought. If I teach for God’s sake, I want to be the best teacher possible and make the greatest use of the gifts and talents He gave me. My job makes me better when I serve my students, a lovable yet frustrating group of adolescents, and help them develop their skills in reading and writing. I make their lives better, and that makes my life better. If I only worked for my own sake, to simply earn a living, have additional vacation, and do as little work as possible, I would actually become a worse person rather than a more virtuous one. My relationship with God as well my students and colleagues would suffer immensely from such selfishness.

Needless to say, teachers, or any employee with this self-centered attitude, do not last long at their job. They are the laborers who quarrel with the landowner for giving the same wages to the newly hired as to them. They found no joy in the work; they simply wanted the wage. Because they had a selfish mindset, their work did not improve them as people, but made them envious and petty. Would they have rather languished in the street, uncertain about making any money that day? Do they really think that those workers hired in the last hour had a better day than them because they waited like idiots on the street instead of working with purpose in the field? Do they think that such complaining entices their employer to hire them another day?

Naturally, some people have this idea when considering the Christian life. They think they assume only burdens and live a life of denial and guilt while their heathen friends and family have a party each and every day. Like the prodigal son’s older brother, they have a certain resentment against those elderly converts who, done with sinning and close to death, can now put that life behind them and be born again in the spirit. They envy the thief who had the amazing good luck to be crucified next to Christ. This is foolishness. By their faith, Christians receive Christ’s grace sustaining them; by their love, they have aspiritual family that will support them all their lives; and by their hope, they will persevere through any hardship and shortcoming because God’s heavenly kingdom awaits them. Christian life becomes drudgery if we lose sight of our blessings and obsess over our own interests. Instead resenting the prodigal son, the thief on the cross, or the newly hired laborers, we should have mercy on their sins and rejoice at their return home. Not only will this make us happier, but it will also make us holy. God expects this mercy of us; Jesus Christ models this mercy for us; and the Holy Spirit empowers us to act with this mercy. If we can accept this gift and command of the Holy Trinity, we can experience the joys of Heaven today as we prepare our souls for everlasting joy in Heaven tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mt 19:23-30 Good Morning God!

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven."  ...Then Peter said to him in reply, "We have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?"

Not too long ago, I met a woman who would every morning say to God, "Good morning, Lord.  Please help me today to get closer to you and to heaven."  I asked her how it was going.  She shook her head and said, "Not so good.  It seems like the harder I try the harder God is trying to distance himself from me."  Surprised, I asked her to elaborate.  She said, "The nicer I am to people the more they try to take advantage of me.  I'm trying to take care of my Father but no one is helping me.  I don't know what I am doing wrong?"

I told her, "Nothing.  You're not doing anything wrong.  In fact, your prayer is being answered and you don't even realize it."

Nearer my God to thee.  If you wish to get closer to God, then you have to get closer to Christ; and if you wish to get closer to the Lord, then you must pick up your Cross and follow Him. 

When I decided to become a priest, it meant buying into a bitter three course meal:  poverty, chastity and obedience.  Only later on did I realize that this was just the appetizer.  I knew that becoming a priest meant making sacrifices.  What I didn't realize - until much later - was that these sacrifices actually brought me closer to the Lord and to others, and that they helped me to be a better man, better friend, better lover of all kinds of souls and better minister to souls.   

"Lord, we have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?"  Peter was still a work in progress. 

If you believe the Catholic Church has too many rules, then you're still a work in progress.  It means you still haven't made the transition from outsider to insider. 

Jesus and sacrifice go hand-in-hand and for good reason.  Where there is sacrifice, there is love; and where there is love, there is God.  For God is love.

Tomorrow morning, wake up to the lover that is beside you, behind you, above you and below you.  Say good morning to God!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mt 19:16-22 Is that All?

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
(click here for readings)

A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

This Gospel elicits a response that we know all too well as Christians: What did you just ask of me, Lord?!?!

This Gospel also elicits controversy. How, after all, can we take these words literally? My parents have three children to feed and four college degrees to be paid for. I can’t give up my car and walk from the suburbs to Dallas every morning for class. The question is then, how can we possibly live out this radical call? It is frightening to think that we are living in a manner inconsistent with the demand Jesus gives us. We shouldn’t be afraid, though. Instead, we should look at this Gospel as Jesus’ call to go outside of ourselves in the spiritual life.

Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness;honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is something to be said about the rule-followers of society. After all, rules are rules for a reason. The Church gives us certain guidelines and instructions for our own welfare-- not because the male-dominated hierarchy loves to micromanage every aspect of our lives, as popular opinion would have it. However, we cannot be so caught up in following rules that we become spiritually self-absorbed.

So many Catholics, especially among the youth, resist temptation and sin so vehemently that they become spiritual introverts. The faith becomes a constant examination of conscience. I have seen people refuse to receive Communion because they said a bad word when they stubbed their toe. It is great that some people strive for virtue. But is this introversion really heroic virtue—the cause for sainthood?

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.Then come, follow me.” The word ‘heroic’ comes from the same Greek word meaning “warrior, protector, or defender.” You probably didn’t need that explanation, but think—what is a warrior, protector, or defender? Do they fight battles that lie solely within themselves? What great Christian spends his entire life defending himself? Jesus Himself lived in a hostile time, much like we do. He was surrounded by temptation as well. But yet, his entire life was poured out in service for the poor—that is why we know that He is infinitely holy. And He demands the same of his followers.

There is a hospice near my house that I like to stop into on Saturdays. This past Saturday, I was running late getting there, so I worked a different job. I normally work in the kitchen, but the kitchen was closed at that point.Instead, my volunteer director gave me a list of rooms that I should go to for manicures. I don’t even do my own nails anymore, given that I go to school with girls and play sports and instruments and whatnot. Needless to say, it was interesting. I ended up spending at least a half hour in each room trying to fix the mess I made on each patient.

There was something that really struck me that one of the patients said. She wasn’t someone I normally work with, but she immediately caught sight of the Miraculous Medal that I wear, and began talking about religion. Many of the patients are very strong Christians. She told me about how that morning, her preacher lady (so I immediately knew she was not Catholic) came to visit her and pray with her. She said she had been a Baptist for eighteen years, having left the Catholic Church. She said that the preacher lady visited her every week, and all the members of her community loved to pray for her, call her, and visit her. She said she had never been able to find a Catholic community that was accessible and supportive to her.

Ouch!!! I didn’t know what to say. It seemed surreal that she had told me all of that, a complete stranger. I promised her I would “work on it.”

When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions. Are we working on it? Are we going to let more people leave the one true Church because we cannot step outside of ourselves in service and in love? I think I know why service is uncomfortable. Sometimes I do not want to go to the hospice because I am unable to face the depth that I find there. Faith becomes reality in the faces of suffering people. Their life is their faith that they will be saved. Seeing faith as reality forces you to change your ways and your perspective—and that is so uncomfortable. You can kill two birds with one stone—service brings about self-conversion while positively affecting the lives of our brothers and sisters.

Don’t go away sad and fearful from the call of God. Jesus is telling us this: it is great to be holy and follow the commandments to the letter, but we can do more. We can attain heroic virtue. Yes-- take time to make sure you are spiritually squared away, but after that, never neglect to go outside ofyourself in service. Push yourself.

Pope Francis recently said this: "The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things… Ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all." As Christians, let us live every day in service. Just as a side note, the Church has a nifty list of “works of mercy” that are awesome to reflect on and strive for. You can find them at this link:

Katie Gross is a junior at a Catholic high school in Dallas. She loves to sing, read, and run cross country.