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!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mt 7:7-12 PRAYING: What Are You Asking For?

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


Jesus said to his disciples: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

As we all know, the goal of Lent is to become a new person, and that person is JESUS CHRIST.  And I want it to stick for good!

Yes, I want to be as loving, as noble, as honorable, as wonderful and as brave as the Lord.  This is my lifetime goal.  Unfortunately, my sins are getting in the way of my goal.  I need to work harder at it.  I need to practice more.  Practice makes perfect. 

And what exactly is it that I - we - have to make perfect?  Our prayer life! 

We need to practice how to pray, and the best way to practice how to pray is to learn from the experts, the saints.

One of the most beautiful prayers I have ever read, studied, reflected, dissected and prayed comes from St. Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916):

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

And because He knew how to pray, St. Charles de Foucauld knew how to live...and how to die.  Not long after writing (and praying) this, he was martyred in the Sahara desert. 

"Pray as if everything depended on God!"  - this is only part of the old adage.  The rest of it..."Work as if everything depended on you" is necessary, absolutely necessary, at least for a healthy psychology and faith.  Otherwise, we could easily become like so many spoiled and lazy kids, completely dependent on our parents.  I know.  I have seen it with my own eyes.

Kid:  "Hey Mom!  Can you get me some milk?" 
Mom: "Sure, honey.  Of course, baby."

Kid:  "Hey Mom!  Can you find me my brain?"
Mom: "Sure, honey.  Where did you think you left it?"

No wonder why God prefers to go by "Father", and not so much "Mother" or even "Grandfather." 

Kid: "Hey Dad!  Can you get me some milk?"
Dad:  "You have two hands, get it yourself."

Is this any different from those who pray for an end to war and hunger? 

Kid:  "God, please put an end to terrorism."
God:  "I did! But some people refuse to believe in me and obey my commandment:  'Love your enemies.'"

Kid:  "Hey God!  When will you put an end to poverty?
God: "You have two hands, two feet, two eyes and two ears.  What are you doing about it?"   

Of course, there is no denying the obvious; that is, those things in life that are apparently out of our control, such as illness, accidents and natural disasters.  But I still believe there is more we can do than we are doing, at least in terms of minimizing the pain, suffering and damage.  No one in their right mind can deny that greed plays a big role in the lack of public safety, and that insurance costs and medical bills scare families away from proper medical care and primary care physicians. 

There is more we can do, without a doubt.  And we can argue that there is more God can do.  But what is God's goal for us, for me? 

A long life?  A happy life? 

I don't think so.  Based on the evidence taken from His Son and from His saints, I think God wants us to be HOLY.

HOLY???  Hmmm...

Look, I don't think it is possible to be truly "happy" without being holy, and I don't think it is possible to be truly "healthy" (physically, emotionally, psychologically) without being holy.

Hence, I think that holiness holds the key to unlocking and ending the pursuit of happiness and healthiness.  I also think that holiness is much better defined than happiness or healthiness!

So what are you going to be asking for this Lent?  What are you seeking?  What doors will you be knocking on?  

Maybe it should be what the psalmist asked for centuries ago:  "A clean heart create for me, O God; give me back the joy of your salvation" (Ps. 51:12a,14a).

Jesus wasn't setting his disciples up for failure and to become spoiled rotten kids when He told them, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." 

He had prepared them well.  He knew what they would be asking for before they even asked, for He had just taught them how to pray, and pray well.

Mt 6:7-15 FASTING: Prayer Does A Body Good

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


Jesus said to his disciples:  "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them.  Your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

We often think of prayer as the healer for broken hearts.  We rarely ever consider it as a first aid for cuts and bruises. 

This week has been a very quiet week so far.  Due to bad weather, school was cancelled on Monday and Tuesday, and the parish offices were closed for business.  Also, our Lenten mission was first postponed due to the bad weather and then permanently cancelled due to scheduling issues.  With all these things not happening, I wasn't shocked when I saw smaller than average crowds for morning Mass. 

And yet, I was still surprised that there were people arriving for morning Mass.

They got themselves out of bed and braved the cold weather and horrible driving conditions and made it to Mass.  Those few brave souls that maneuvered through ice, cold and rain, did so because they have an iron will. 

I'll be perfectly honest with you, if I had been a layperson and had made a Lenten resolution to attend Mass every morning and woke up to what I saw Monday and Tuesday, I think (I'm sure) I would have justified staying in bed and saying to myself, "God knows it is not safe to travel in this bad weather!"  But where there is a will there is a way.  Actually, I believe another ancient proverb sums it up best:  "Mind over matter."  And maybe in our particular case of Lent, it would be best to say "Mind over body." 

Prayer does a body good.  It's very important to exercise and eat well if you want to take care of your body.  But if you think you will solve all your physical problems by just concentrating on your physical needs, then please think again, for many of the scrapes and bruises we have received on our body are due to the decisions we made.  And I'm convinced that some of those decisions we made determined what we ate or drank...and to our detriment.

Fasting isn't about weight loss and looking - even feeling - good.  It's about mind over body.  It's about taming our instincts and taking back the controls in our physical cravings and desires.  It's about handing the reigns over.  This is a start. But it is only a start. The ultimate goal of our lives is to allow our Lord - through the virtues of faith, hope and love - to be at the helm of our lives.

Eating is important, but praying is even more important since the soul is more important than the body.  The soul lasts forever!

...And let's not forget that without prayer, we end up being not what we eat, but what we ate.  Ugh!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19 Denying Sin Means Denying Christ

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
(Click here for readings)

By Benedict Augustine

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.”

Before people stop believing in God, they usually stop believing in sin. They confuse the issue of right and wrong, make it all subjective or relative, and soon stop believing in morality altogether. In its early days, the Church had to address this tendency that arose with the Pelagianist heresy, which denied the existence of Original Sin. Many doctors, including St. Augustine, quickly saw that this belief would have a dangerous domino effect: a denial of original sin would do away with the need for the sacrament of Confession or any of the other sacraments uniting men to Jesus, which would then make redundant the intercession of the Church, which would finally question the need for faith in God.

After so many tracts and writings, the Catholic successfully refuted this heresy, recognizing the important truth that all men and women need Jesus’ saving power to live truly moral lives. No matter which rung of the social ladder one occupies, no matter which era he lives in, he cannot effect his own redemption. Even if, like many deists during the Enlightenment, people acknowledge the wisdom of Christ the Teacher (as opposed to Christ the Savior) and try to live out these teachings in a practical manner, they will do nothing to improve their souls. In fact, taking Christ’s teachings without having faith, hope, or love would only make a person proud and further separated from God.

Since the Reformation in the 16th century, and the religious wars that followed, the concepts of sin and redemption have suffered from increasing confusion. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli affirmed that one need only have faith to be saved; the Church’s sacraments had not power or meaning, so the believer did not really need them, except baptism since Jesus explicitly tells His disciples to baptize and even undergoes baptism Himself. This change in theology immediately transformed the church from a sacramental body through which Christ entered people’s lives into a teaching institution that instructed members in faith and morals—simply put,the church would only “instruct and console.”

What followed from this fundamental change merely validated the fears of the Early Church Fathers: sin and repentance became personal concerns, which then rendered both entirely relative and subjective, which finally took away its reality. The current situation of Christianity, especially modernized Christianity, reflects this last stage. Many Christians deny Hell, justify most sinful behaviors, and think their benign regard for Christ and themselves will surely land them in heaven. In other words, one can hardly distinguish a Christian from an atheist or adeist; they function and act identically with only a few modifications in reasoning. Barack Obamaillustrated this perfectly when he responded to the question on what he thought qualified as sin, responding, “Being out of alignment with my values.”

Therefore, Christians must return to recognizing sin as a reality, not as something out of alignment with personal preferences. Otherwise, Christ would have come for nothing and His divinity would mean nothing. More than His power over nature, which He demonstrates in His miracles, Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Besides healing the body, which even humans can often accomplish on their own, He can heal the soul, which humans cannot do at all.

When discussing signs and miracles, Jesus does not compare Himself to the famous prophet Elijah who performed so many, but to Jonah, the reluctant prophet whose claim to fame was being swallowed by a whale. Jesus tells the crowd, “Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation,” explaining His missions precisely as one of repentance and forgiveness. Jonah warned the Ninevites of God’s impending wrath, causing them to repent and fast; God, in turn, repents of His former decision and forgives them.

Jesus has come to do the same as Jonah, not only for one city, but for the whole world. He has come to offer God’s forgiveness. However, forgiveness only works for people who repent. If one forgives an unrepentant sinner, he only enables and affirmsinstead of corrects and heals. Jesus may share the company of sinners, yet He does not simply tolerate their behavior, but instead corrects it. Jesus has His greatest difficulty in converting people who do not see their behavior as sinful. They saw no need for a savior and even felt insulted by the idea. Aware of this insanity, this direct offspring of Original Sin, having taken root in His audience, Jesus simply warns them that they are making a colossal mistake,and all those who have repented in past willeventually condemn them for their pride and stupidity.

Today, the sacraments, particularly that of Penance (spoken of today as “Reconciliation”), work as the sign that Jesus speaks about. The Christian regularlyprofesses his need for Jesus’ forgiveness, healing, and ongoing assistance. He recognizes that only Jesus can forgive, and that, contrary to popular morals, the individual cannot forgive himself and live free of guilt. The season of Lent offers a chance for the Christians to imitate the Ninevites to repent and fast in order to recognize the plague of sin and the consequent need for Jesus. In this way, they can recognize that the spiritual virtues truly take place in soul, not in the body.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mt 25:31-46 My God, I Love You Here

Monday of the First Week of Lent


‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
When I read this reading, I had nothing to say that hasn’t already been said a million times. However, I do know a woman who is a professional at these kind of things—Mother Teresa. From volunteer experience with the Missionaries of Charity, I can say that Mother Teresa is the most powerful woman I have ever heard of. She was powerful not in the worldly sense—in factshe was as poor as could be—but in the spiritual sense, this woman was obviously a saint. This woman gave her Nobel Peace Prize speech without any notes or preparation!!! The written speech that she submitted beforehand doesn’t match what she said at all—she decided to speak from the heart! And pray. About abortion! To a crowd who was most certainly secular! Talk about courage.

Mother Teresa lived her whole life around this Gospel readingI really encourage you to watch her Nobel Prize speech. It is eighteen minutes long (she has a lot to talk about), but you could add it into your nightly prayer. To hear the voice of a modern-day saint is worth the time. It makes the Gospel come alive.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from her speech, all of which embody today’s Gospel:

[Jesus] makes Himself that hungry one, that naked one, that homeless one—and not only hungry for a piece of bread, but hungry for love. Not only naked for a piece of cloth, but naked of human dignity. Not only homeless for a room to live, but homeless for have being forgotten, unloved, uncared for—being nobody to nobody. Having forgotten what is human love, what is human touch, what it is to be loved by somebody. And he says: ‘Whatever you did to the least of these my brethren, you did unto me.’ It is so beautiful for us to become holy through this love.

“We must tell the poor… that they are somebody to us… they too have been created by the same loving hand of God, to love and to be loved. Our poor people are great people—are very loveable people. They don’t need our pity and sympathy. They need our loving understanding. They need our respect.

I never forget when I brought a man from the street. He was covered with maggots. His face was the only place that was clean. And yet than man—when we brought him to our home for the dying—he said just one sentence: ‘I have lived like an animal in the street. But I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’ And he died beautifully. He went home to God, for death is nothing but going home to God. And he, having enjoyed that love—that being wanted—that being loved-- that being somebody to somebody in the last moment—brought true joy.”

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent unborn child. For if a mother can kill her own child in her own room, what is it for you and me to kill each other? In the Scripture it is written: ‘Even if a mother could forget her child, I could not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand.’”

“A love, to be true, has to hurt. I never forget a little child who taught me a very beautiful lesson. They heard in Calcutta—the children—that Mother Teresa has no sugar for her children. And this little one—Hindu boy, four years old—he went home and he told his parents, ‘I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa’… He loved with great love. He loved until it hurt. And this is what I ask of you: to love one another until it hurts.”

I brought a girl child in from the street, and I could see in the face of the child that the child was hungry. God knows how many days she had not eaten. So I gave her a piece of bread, and the little one started eating the bread crumb by crumb. And I said—I said to the child, ‘Eat the bread, eat the bread.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘I am afraid to eat the bread, because I am afraid that when it is finished, I will be hungry again.’”

One evening, a gentleman came to our house and said, ‘There is a Hindu family with eight children. They have not eaten in a long time. Do something for them. And I took rice and I went immediately, and there was this mother. And those little onesfaces—shining eyes from sheer hunger. She took the rice from my hands, she divided it into two, and she went out. When she came back, I asked her, ‘Where did you go?’ ‘What did you do?’ And the answer she gave me? ‘They are hungry also.’ She knew that the next door neighbor, a Muslim family, was hungry. What surprised me most wasn’t that she gave the rice, but that in her suffering, in her hunger, she knew that somebody else was hungry, and she had the courage—she had the love to share. And this is what I want you to do: to love the poor. And never turn your back on the poor, for when you do, you turn it to Christ. For He has made himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the hungry one, so that you and I have the opportunity to love Him.

Where is God? How can we love God? It’s not enough to say, ‘My God, I love you,’ but ‘My God, I love you here. ’I can enjoy this, but I give it. I can eat that sugar, but I give that sugar. You would be surprised at the things people do to share the joy of giving.

Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for us!

Psalm 1:3 I have Always wanted to be A Tree

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
(Click here for readings)


Such a one is like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season and its leaves never wither, and every project succeeds.

The Responsorial Psalm doesn’t get enough credit. It’s usually murmured or sung weakly by the Congregation while everyone’s a bit sleepy after the First Reading. Sometimes, if sung particularly loudly, it shocks people into complete wakefulness, but by the homily, everyone’s back in that same sleeplike state again. Today, I will be reflecting on a verse in the Responsorial Psalm, a verse that, if you go to Daily Mass today, you might not treasure nearly enough.

I have always wanted to be a tree. Looking outside the windows of JPII HS, one can see the beautiful live oaks, towering above the courtyards, and on my usually busy school days, it’s so refreshing to look outside and see the sunlit Senior or Prayer Courtyard, green everywhere.

I have imagined what it is like to be a tree. Calm, silent, leaves occasionally moving in the wind, water rushing up and down the bark, roots reaching into the earth. Very calm, very silent.
But how different when a tree is in the storm. The rain rushing everywhere, lightning sizzling, thunder scaring all the dogs in the city as the storm throws the tree’s branches from side to side and leaves fall.

One of the trees at JPII bears evidence of this; an entire bough is completely brown, bending down, surrounded by a courtyard, the effect of some brutal summer storm. Sometimes, looking out, I see the bough, and I feel like it; weighed down by its own self, just wanting to fall into an abyss.

Don’t be this bough. It’s really easy to become one, just thinking about your schedule: the kids, the classes, the spouse, the grocery shopping, the bills,the grades, whatever you have. It’s easy to see the entire todo list stretching into the abyss, with no hope and no time of ever beginning to start it.
But just as the bough is hunched in the courtyard, and its leaves are brown, it is still held up by the breadth of the tree, preventing the bough from falling onto the ground. In my life, the breadth of the tree is God’s wide hand, always there to pull me up again if Ifall, to nudge you along, to lift your chin up when you’re a little sad.

Even when you are totally worn out by everything, so tired that you begin dreaming about all the things you have yet to do, God is still holding you up. He knows that there are a ton of things that you have to do, but if you just ask for His help, he can provide you with the strength to get what you need to get done. Sometimes he gives you the strength and the ability to think through the list of things, determine which you can do if you get up earlier the next morning and which have to be done right this second, and then settle in to sleep for a little bit.

And above all, He always gives you the opportunity to be in silence for a little, if that silence is in a quietclassroom, outside, or even the silent few seconds when one takes the garbage out in the cool morning air (even if that air is a little too cool for Texas). You don’t even have to pray—God knows that you’re finding the peace you need. You can just close your eyes, breathe five times, then look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you can conquer this day!

So be the tree in the courtyard. Remember that if you’re going through a storm, God will hold you up. He will always give you the strength to complete your most necessary items on your To Do list or give you the ability to think creatively about completing them. Try calling your To Do list your “Conquer List” or “Things to be Conquered.” You’ll feel more empowered, trust me. And take some time to look outside the window and think about being a tree. Then close your eyes and take five deep breaths.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lk 9:22-25 Fake Suffering For Our Sake

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
(Click here for readings)


Jesus said to his disciples:  "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised."

The Boldness of Deuteronomy.  Right before the Chosen People of God stepped foot on Holy Ground (aka The Promised Land), the leader of God's people, Moses, turned to them and said: 

Today, I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statues and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

If however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish...

What Moses told his people was brilliant.  The "Promised Land," - the land that God had given them - could easily become another Egypt - a land of broken dreams and broken hearts - if they were not careful.  They needed to keep God's commandments alive and relevant in their day-to-day comings and goings.  In other words, they needed to maintain responsible freedom.  And what exactly is responsible freedom?  Believe and respect the Word of God.

If this did not happen, then the dream would be shattered and the Promised Land would end up being just another living nightmare.  What's so special about the Promised Land?  Nothing.  What makes it so beautiful and worthwhile?  One nation, under God, indivisible.  Does this sound familiar?

I invite all my readers of this blog to make a photocopy of Moses' speech.  It's even worth laminating!  Every morning I plan on reading these words and reminding myself of the great task that lies before me, and of the grave responsibility there is of sharing the faith with others. 

Lent.  It took the Jews forty years to get to their final destination.  Forty years of quail and manna.  Forty years of freezing nights and scorching days.  Forty years of walking, hiking and maybe even crawling to get to their final destination. 

We only have forty days to break the shackles of our sins and reach the land of peace and harmony.   Are we up to the task?

Suffering for God's Sake.  Why do we give up things for Lent?  Why do we put ourselves through so such misery every year?  What's wrong with us!? 

The answer rests in the goal for Lent.  What is our goal this Lent?  To become as strong as Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is not only the most loving person who ever lived, and the most forgiving person who ever lived, and the most generous person who ever lived.  Jesus Christ is the bravest and toughest person who ever lived.  What He went through...I cannot even imagine.  And maybe I'm too scared to imagine. 

How did He do it?  Just like our soldiers do it.  He went through basic the desert...for forty days and forty nights.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

How did St. Paul do it?  How could he write what he wrote:  "Who will separate me from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"  His answer was quick and to the point:  "Nothing!"

The Christians of old did not need to "give up something during Lent."  They didn't have anything before, during and after Lent!  We, on the other hand, must create scenarios and situations in order to toughen us up.  Otherwise, we become the marshmallows we love! 

Giving up things and going beyond our comfort zone and creating scenarios that are challenging or difficult during Lent isn't "faking"; It's training.  It's a reminder that Heaven will never be found on earth.  On the contrary, life on earth is a battle, a battle of choices:  death and doom or life and prosperity.  It is a reminder that my home can easily become my castle or my prison.  It is a reminder that my life can easily be lived for the Holy Trinity or for the secular trinity (me, myself and I). 

Life on earth is where we define who we are, which is absolutely essential if we wish to make it to our home, the Promised Land.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 Ashtag

Ash Wednesday
(Click here for readings)


Jesus said to his disciples:  "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father."

Ashtag.  Before there was Facebook and Likes, before there was Twitter and Hashtags, there was Lent and Ashtag. 

Ash Wednesday is one of the greatest gatherings of people from around world that come together once a year to acknowledge their sinfulness and desire for penance.

What are ashes?  Burned Palms.  Dust.  Why do we put them on our forehead?  Are they magical or something?  No!  Are they a Sacrament or something spooky?  Of course not!  Then what are they? 

They are a reminder of how worthless sins are!  

Putting ashes on our forehead are as meaningless, worthless and useless as the sins we commit. 

Just like ashes, sins do nothing for us; that is, nothing positive, good or holy.  And if we are not doing something positive, good or holy, then we are wasting our time, our energy and our lives!

And this is the best case scenario, my friend. 

The worst case scenario is much scarier. 

Is it possible that your sins are trapping you, consuming you, overcoming you and downright killing you -  sucking life and all that is good out from under you?  

Ashes on our forehead are as ugly as the jealousy, revenge, hatred and bigotry that can rage inside of us.  And just like ashes, these vile sins should never be a part of us.  Thanks, but no thanks.    

Oh, and when it comes to the ugliness of ashes, well, ashes on our forehead distract us from that dignity and beauty that is our birthright, which makes it so easy to label someone by what they have done, not for who they are.   

The purpose of Ash Wednesday is to line us all up to the same starting point.

Goal of Lent.  Our goal during Lent is not so much to be faithful to some resolution we made to ourselves and for ourselves, and it's clearly not to make a good impression on others.  Like the Lord said, "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them."   No!  We're not going to live our Lent like we live our life year round.  We're going to do something different this time, for forty days and forty nights.  We're going to try to make a great impression on a one person audience:  The Father.

Lent isn't a time to try to impress our friends, boy/girl friend, boss, parents, peers or neighbors.  The goal during Lent is to please our Heavenly Father.

But there is something else, maybe even more important than what I just said.  Can you imagine that?

Where is your God?  In today's first reading, we heard a challenging question posed by those who despised the Jews:  Where is your God?  (cf. Jl 2:17)

Has anything changed?  Do not the critics of today ask the same question to Christians?

So?  Where is He?  Where is your God?

Have you hid Him under your bed or locked Him in your closet?  Have you relegated Him to the heavens and made Him entirely irrelevant?  Or have you allowed Him to become a part of your daily activities and life? 

Where is your God??? 

What answer would Jesus love for you to give?  Maybe He's already given it: 

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Mt 25:37-40).

Maybe the goal during Lent is to see Christ in our neighbor.

Or maybe it is for our neighbor to see Christ in us.  As St. Paul once wrote: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (cf. Gal 2:20).  I know he was on to something grand!

Christ lives in me.  The goal of Lent is definitely to start something new and to be someone new.  But the hope of Lent is that it will be something and someone that lasts well after the forty days and forty nights are over. 

This is the hope of the Church as well as of the world, and we have received all that it takes to complete this mission. 

Best of Luck!  Pray for me and I will pray for you.

Mt: 6:1-6, 16-18 Acknowledging My Wretchedness, and Feeling Fabulous

Ash Wednesday
(Click here for readings)


“But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Ash Wednesday sets off the Lenten season with a call to acknowledge our wretchedness. With a good measure of honesty and humility, Catholics approach the altar to receive their ashes, remembering that, in many regards, they are failures and need help. Although this day seems to dampen the joy and exuberance that we like to feel and show to others, it effectively brings some perspective and clarity to what Catholicism is all about.

The ashes and fasting of today help remind us of a crucial fact: we need Jesus. People might say this ironically—“Man, you need Jesus!”—which keeps us from fully internalizing this fact. Too many neglect this. Although some might say that a great many ex-Catholics often feel that they do not deserve God’s mercy and grace, that God hates them, I find the opposite: most ex-Catholics feel that they do not need God’s mercy, and that God loves them regardless. This is why it is often easier to approach the poor and indigent with the gospel than our neighbors living in the opulent West. A person who knows fasting, out of necessity, will find joy and wisdom in the gospel; a person who gorges regularly at Chilis or Pluckers will immediately refute the idea of fasting, and buckle under the demand set by the gospel. 

With those who live in error, as opposed to those who live in ignorance, the person entrusted to instruct him in truth has twice as much work: he must not only instruct, but also correct any mistakes that have arisen beforehand. I often find myself in an odd situation having to convince someone that they are actually quite sad and in horrible danger of going to Hell. Telling them that God has a plan for him and desires faith, hope, and love does not suffice. Enjoying the fruits of modern technology, secular amorality, and unbridled hedonism, the realities of sin and death do not seem all that important to the nonbeliever. They do not need Jesus. 

We never see how the story ends for that complacent soul who does not see any need to change. Most Catholics, myself included, tend to try and forget the very real possibility of that person smoldering in Hell for eternity—many, and I am not one of this group, believe that they will have a place in heaven in spite of themselves. Scripture suggests that Jesus desires more from his disciples, both the ones who believe and the ones who have fallen away. We should take in Christ’s words, understand our need for Him, and be honest with our friends and stop hiding our spirituality for the sake politeness and congeniality.

Receiving the ashes and fasting do not equate to “Catholic guilt” as dissenters like to say. They represent the “Catholic dependence on Christ,” not alliance, nor support, but dependence. Feeling light-headed after so much fasting, and looking like a fool from the black smudge on our foreheads, we should learn to derive our joy and livelihood from Christ Himself. Without His love, we truly are hardly more than dirt, hardly different from Adam; on our own, we are starved and we are foolish. While atheists stupidly embrace this materialist vision with enthusiasm, Catholics should recoil and come to their senses.

Ash Wednesday restores a sense of sanity. Early 20th century apologists, inundated with so much psychobabble and existentialist conundrums, used the word “sanity” frequently. They realized that they lived in an off-balanced insane world, smitten with socialism, fascism, and technological progress. Nice as these things sounded, with the order and ease they promised, Catholics had to remember any salvation outside of Christ was perdition—“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19). We live in such world today, although entertainment and media probably play a bigger role in promising the moon than government systems. 

Therefore, let us put aside this nonsense. As St. Paul says, “Now is the day of salvation.” Let’s pledge our lives to Christ since we know quite well what we are without Him. Then, after Lent, when Easter comes, we can rise with Him and find true peace and joy. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mk 1:40-45 It's All About The Touch

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)


A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it.  Be made clean."

If you ever get a chance to go to Rome, then you must visit the Sistine Chapel and see Michelangelo's famous "touch of God."  What a masterpiece and insightful reminder of the difference between letting go of someone, and stretching out and touching someone.

The dullness of Leviticus.  Of course the book of Leviticus is inspired!  I won't deny that.  But it is also a very boring book.  It's chapters are filled with practical guidelines and not much else.  The book is as exciting as a math book or a legal document!

Hence, we should not be shocked that today's reading from the book of Leviticus is cold as ice:  If someone has on his skin a scab...which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron...  If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean... The one who bears the sore of leprosy...shall cry out, "Unclean, unclean!"  As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.  He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.  

There it is!  A step-by-step and very realistic, rational and methodical, as well as practical and efficient solution for dealing with lepers.  The only things missing are the emotional upheaval (tears and fears) of the leper and the devastating impact on the family.

But what is really missing is what we call "the human touch."

Is this also not missing in far too many of our doctors, nurses and care givers?

Christ saw the problem and addressed it.

Christian care.  What I find most remarkable about today's Gospel passage is not so much the fact that Christ healed a leper, but the extraordinary step he took to do it:  He stretched out his hand and touched him.  Did He have to touch him?  Of course not...technically speaking!  After all, He's God.  He could have healed this poor man from thousands of miles away.  So why did He touch him?  Did Jesus want to show the world that He had no fear?  Was He trying to show off and tell the world that He has been "vaccinated" from all diseases or is above and beyond human diseases?  No.  Then why?

Because existence is more than just having what we need.  It's about knowing we are loved!

Christ (God) does not want to be known as the great Mechanic, or the great Organizer, or great Doctor or even the great Creator.  He wants to be known as...The Great LOVER!

God is a LOVER!  He loves to love!  And touching someone is as essential to human life as healing someone.

Are you known as a lover or as a fixer-picker-upper?

It's a matter of life and death.  Not too long ago, I celebrated a funeral Mass for a man.  As I was reading through what appeared to be a very well written and complete obituary, I was surprised by what I did not see.  There was no mention of him being a loving husband, father and friend.  I thought this may have been a simple oversight.  After all, the man had lived a very long life, received two college degrees, entered into military service and personally ran his own company.  Surely, this must have been a mess up. 

Well, it wasn't.  The obituary was complete. 

The man who had passed away was a good man, but he wasn't a very loving or affectionate man.  He had provided and protected his family, like many hard working husbands and fathers, but He didn't have the touch.   

God stretched out His hand and touched the leper.  He didn't have to, technically speaking, but He had to humanly and divinely speaking. 

Love touches.  It goes beyond the surface (skin deep) and penetrates the heart, mind, body and soul of our neighbor.  It heals the human condition: be it shame, guilt, stigma or whatever else the leper was experiencing at that time.  It relieves the damage caused by betrayal and abandonment.

Love (God) is neither mechanical nor chemical.  It follows no agreed upon formula; that is, when and where it should be applied.  We could love a song others hate and a man or woman others despise.  With love, it is possible to love the unlovable and forgive the unforgiveable.   

Love knows no boundaries other than one:  it must be authentic.  That is, of God.

The Word became flesh.  Most people enjoy reading the Gospels.  Very few people enjoy reading Leviticus.  Those who do are mostly scholars interested in ancient rituals and practices. 

Let's just come out and say it.  The difference between Leviticus and the Gospels is the touch, which is somewhat analogous to the difference between a documentary on the Titanic that is full of data, graphics and charts, and includes a step-by-step explanation on what happened and what went wrong; and the block buster hit movie "Titanic" - a love story about finding love and keeping it, even under the worst possible scenario.

Get the difference? 

But if we were to take it one step further, than we would have to say that the biggest difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is how the Old remains written on paper while the New remains written in the hearts, minds, bodies and souls of the followers of Jesus Christ.

That's the touch!  Get it? 

Here's a beautiful example of the Holy Father reaching out to modern day "lepers."

Mk 8:11-13 Overlooked Miracles

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.

Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation. I have to admit than when I first read this Gospel reading, it made no sense to me. First of all, Jesus did give many signs of His divinity—He cured the sick, raised the dead, miraculously created food and wine, etc. How, then, do the Pharisees claim that He has showed no sign?
The Pharisees were a group of scholars who trapped themselves behind the rulebook, so to speak. They could most likely recite their holy book word for word, but yet had very little interaction with reality. They had drawn God into their own box of what they expected Him to be. That being said, it is no wonder that they denied the miracles of Jesus—they wanted Him to be like a science experiment, performing a defined reaction on demand that would correspond with the law they already knew.  I would say that many people in the modern world are exactly like the Pharisees. Many times, we have a preconceived notion of what is true, and we want God to fit in that box. We want the world to abide by our rules so desperatelythat we miss a million miracles right before our eyes.
The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.” This verse stood out to me in the first reading simply because it illustrates how we have become numb as a culture to the greatest miracle of all: life. Eve really had her act together on this one—she knew that God was the one who had given her the gift of a child. It is painful to see the number of children today that are labeled as “bad circumstances” or “accidents” instead of being honored for what they truly are—gifts from God. Society wants God to fit in the boxes of “women’s’ rights” (whatever that means) and “convenience.” However, by putting God in these boxes, we miss out on so many miracles. To convince a woman that her child is not a gift is to rob that same woman of her own dignity. To convince a woman that her child is not a gift is to tell her that she is unworthy of a gift from God. Eve also had her act together in this aspect—she knew that even though she was the sinner of all sinners, God could still have mercy on her and she was worthy of great gifts. This is another miracle that we overlook on a daily basis: mercy.
Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear. Since you have now banished me from the soil, and I must avoid your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, anyone may kill me at sight.” “Not so!” the LORD said to him. “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.” So the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight. In the first reading, God protects Cainfor some incomprehensible reason, even though he is a murderer. God’s mercy is a miracle beyond our understanding.Sometimes I listen to a Christian radio station on my way to school. There is one person on the morning show that always comes on and tells listeners to “wake up and breathe in mercy.” I have to admit that the skeptic in me usually grumbles and writes it off as overly romantic. But is it not true? Every single time we breathe is another assurance that God is sustaining our lives, even when we think we are incredibly sinful and don’t deserve His help. Therein lies my blindness to the miracle of God’s mercy.
Sometimes, we forget that God became human, and we treat Him like some mystical force that doesn’t get His feelings hurt just like we do. Think of all the sadness God must have to endure on a daily basis, seeing His children turn away from Him and even cursing His name! It’s like being rejected by one you desperately love over and over again. But yet, He still would die for us. If that’s not a miracle, then I don’t know what is.  
The miracles of life and mercy are just two that we can easily overlook. We must reject the notion that miracles can only be burning bushes or cosmic events. We must not be Pharisees. It’s very timely that Lent is coming up—in Lent, we have the opportunity to cut back on luxuries, intensify our prayer, and start opening our eyes to the simple miracles of our daily life. Let’s pray that God will help us be more grateful and more aware.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gn 2:18-25 Trusting In God

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


The LORD God said: 
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;
whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs
and closed up its place with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman
the rib that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Recently, the AP English Literature class at JPII read Paradise Lost by John Milton. The story begins with Satan, the anti-hero, who wakes up on a fiery, burning lake in Hell, having been tossed from Heaven following his uprising. (Satan rioted because he was jealous of the Son of God, whom Satan thought that God loved most. Thus, he mutinied). Around him, his fellow devils are chained to the lake, and the only other devil awake is his lieutenant, Beelzebub. Satan is amazed to see Beelzebub looking so strange and comments about how his best friend used to be so beautiful!

The story continues. Satan goes on an expedition to Earth to check out the territory and instigate his plan of destroying Earth. Upon seeing Eve for the first time, however, Satan is amazed. She’s dazzling! When he sees Adam and Eve together, he’s awestruck by their heavenly beauty and how much they resemble their Maker. But in a few seconds, he decides to destroy their happiness anyway, for he is incredibly jealous of their being completely and wholly loved by God.

This is the part of the Gospel that reminds me so much of Paradise Lost—when God makes Adam and Eve. In Paradise Lost, Adam argues for God to make another like him. God offers various counterarguments, testing Adam’s faith, but Adam argues around him every time. Smiling, God puts Adam in a dreamlike sleep and takes out his rib, creating the woman.

When Eve is first created, she wakes up and makes her way over to a pool of water. Looking into the water, she is awestruck at the beauty of the figure in the pool. God gently tells her that the creature is her; one can almost see him laughing a little as he explains. When she turns around and sees Adam, she rushes back, horrified. He’s not as beautiful as her! But God, again, gently tells her that Adam is full of masculine grace and wisdom, and that she will be happy with him; they were literally made for each other.

Adam and Eve are really happy for a while, until Satan inevitably tempts Eve to eat the fruit and Eve and Adam fulfill the “fatal fall.” But in this story, I never understood why God placed the tree there in the first place. Why, if he loved them so much, would he give them the option of falling?
It was not until I read Paradise Lost that I finally understood. God had to give us the option, the choice. He loved us so much that he gave us free will. But our will couldn’t completely be free if there were no Tree, for then there would be no choice, no tree from which to freely choose the apple.
So he gave them the tree, and even though he knew what was going to happen. He knew what was going to happen, but he let them exercise their free will. Just like the woman in the Reading today. He loved them so much that he gave them a choice.

At the end of Paradise Lost, Eve and Adam talk about committing suicide and thus saving their yet unborn generations from sin. This is an understandable thought process. It almost seems kinder to these many billions who will come. But God, knowing their thoughts, sends down Michael to give Adam a vision about what will come. At first, there are many Biblical stories, showing Adam murder, lust, and betrayal. Adam grows more dispirited, but at the end, Michael tells Adam that Jesus, the Son of God, will come and save everyone. Adam is ecstatic.

I can understand Adam’s thoughts. Although Paradise Lost is not the Bible, Adam was a human, just like one of us. When he ate the apple, he gained knowledge as God has knowledge—knowledge about everything in life, the good and bad. He came to know death and lust, just as God had knowledge of such things. Sometimes when someone commits a horrible act, death seems the answer. But God makes everything come new again.

Trust in God. Trust in his ability to make good come out of evil; not justifying the evil, but giving hope for a better life. Trust in his ability to help you see the world just as beautiful as when he first created it, and for his ultimate love. Trust in his love, which made your body, heart, and soul just as beautiful as that of the first Adam and Eve on Earth. Trust in Him.