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Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle, January 25
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17
Saint Paul (who in Hebrew was known as Saul of Tarsus) was a devout Jewish Pharisee who vigorously defended the law. After Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, the newfound Christian faith began to grow rapidly. As a result, Saul of Tarsus vigorously tried to end this new religion which he perceived as erroneous. He traveled about looking for followers of Jesus to arrest and imprison. Saul even gave his consent to the stoning of the deacon, Saint Stephen, the first martyr. However, on one of his journeys, Saul had a vision of the risen Christ Who spoke to him gently, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). It was in that encounter that Saul was left blinded for three days.
The line quoted above are the words of Ananias, a devout disciple of Jesus. Ananias had also received a vision from Jesus Who told him to go to Saul of Tarsus and to lay his hands on him so that he would be healed. Ananias was also told that Saul was “a chosen instrument” through which the Gospel would be preached to the “Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel.”
Though there are many fascinating aspects to the story of Saint Paul and his conversion, it is also inspiring to reflect upon the way in which God first converted him. Jesus was not harsh with Saul. He was not condemning. Instead, he saw the goodness and vigor of Saul and knew that he would respond if he were given the opportunity. Though Jesus used the powerful action of striking him blind, He did so because He saw so much potential for good within Saul.
This same truth applies to our lives. Each one of us has incredible potential for good, and God does see this. God is aware of all that He can do with us and is seeking to draw us into His mission of sharing the Gospel with those in need. The question to ponder is whether or not you have responded to the ways that God has spoken to you and invited you to serve Him with your life. Saul’s encounter with Jesus was powerful and transforming not only because he was blinded by this vision—it was powerful and transforming, first and foremost, because Saul wanted to serve God but was trying to do so in an erroneous way. And once that error was corrected, Saul responded in an immediate and complete way. As a result, Saul became one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the Church.
Reflect, today, upon the desire in the heart of Jesus to invite you into His mission. Though you may be unaware of the many ways God can use you, Jesus is fully aware. He sees all of your gifts and knows who He wants to draw to Himself through you. Say “Yes” to Him this day and do so with every fiber of your soul. Doing so will allow God to do great things through you.
Lord, I do love You and desire to be used by You in the way that You choose. Help me to convert my heart more fully to You so that I can be led by Your gentle and powerful hand. I accept whatever mission You give to me and pray that my life will give You true glory and further Your glorious Kingdom on earth. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Culmination of a Life of Faith
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:29–32
At the time of Jesus’ birth, there was a man named Simeon who had spent his whole life preparing for one significant moment. Like all faithful Jews at the time, Simeon was waiting for the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would indeed see the Messiah before his death—and so this happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple to offer Him to the Lord as an infant.
Try to imagine the scene. Simeon had lived a holy and devout life. And deep within his conscience, he knew that his life on earth would not come to an end until he was privileged to see the Savior of the World with his own eyes. He knew this by a special gift of faith, an interior revelation of the Holy Spirit, and he believed.
It’s helpful to think about this unique gift of knowledge that Simeon had throughout his life. Normally we gain knowledge through our five senses. We see something, hear something, taste, smell, or feel something, and as a result come to know it to be true. Physical knowledge is very reliable and is the normal way we come to know things. But this gift of knowledge Simeon had was different. It was deeper and was spiritual in nature. He knew he would see the Messiah before he died, not because of some external sensory perception he had received but because of an interior revelation from the Holy Spirit.
This truth begs the question, which type of knowledge is more certain? Something you see with your eyes, touch, smell, hear or taste? Or something that God speaks to you in the depths of your soul by a revelation of grace? Though these types of knowledge are different, it’s important to understand that the spiritual knowledge that is given by the Holy Spirit is far more certain than anything perceived through the five senses alone. This spiritual knowledge has the power to change your life and direct all your actions toward that revelation.
For Simeon, this interior knowledge of a spiritual nature suddenly united with his five senses when Jesus was brought into the Temple. Simeon suddenly saw, heard and felt this Child Whom he knew he would one day see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands. For Simeon, that moment was the culminating moment of his life.
Reflect, today, upon anything that our Lord has spoken to you in the depths of your soul. Too often we ignore His gentle voice as it speaks, preferring instead to live only in the sensory world. But the spiritual reality within us must become the center and foundation of our lives. It is there where God speaks, and it is there where we, too, will discover the central purpose and meaning of our lives.
My spiritual Lord, I thank You for the countless ways in which You speak to me day and night in the depths of my own soul. Help me to be always attentive to You and to Your gentle voice as You speak to me. May Your voice and Your voice alone become the guiding direction of my life. May I trust in Your Word and never waver from the mission You have given to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Church Shall Always Prevail
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19
There are several foundational truths taught to us by this passage above. One of those truths is that “the gates of the netherworld” shall never prevail against the Church. There is much to rejoice over by that fact.
Think of the many human institutions that have existed throughout the centuries. The most powerful governments have come and gone. Various movements have come and gone. Countless organizations have come and gone. But the Catholic Church still remains and will remain until the end of time. That is one of the promises of our Lord that we celebrate today.
The Church has not remained simply because of good leadership all of these years. In fact, corruption and serious internal conflict have been evident within the Church from the beginning. Popes have lived immoral lives. Cardinals and bishops have lived as princes. Some priests have gravely sinned. And many religious orders have struggled with serious internal divisions. But the Church itself, this shining Bride of Christ, this infallible institution still remains and will continue to remain because Jesus guaranteed it.
With today’s modern media by which every sin of every member of the Church is able to be instantly and universally broadcast to the world, there can be a temptation to look down on the Church. Scandal, division, controversy and the like can shake us to the core, at times, and cause some to question their ongoing participation in the Roman Catholic Church. But the truth is that every weakness within Her members should actually be cause for us to renew and deepen our faith in the Church itself. Jesus did not promise that every Church leader would be a saint, but He did promise that “the gates of the netherworld” would not prevail against Her.
Reflect, today, upon your own view of the Church today. If scandals and divisions have weakened your faith, then turn your eyes to our Lord and to His holy and divine promise. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the Church. That is a fact promised by our Lord Himself. Believe it and rejoice in that glorious truth.
My glorious Bridegroom, You have instituted the Church upon the rock foundation of Peter’s faith. Peter and all of his successors are Your precious gift to us all. Help me to see beyond the sins of others, the scandals and divisions, and to see You, my Lord, leading all people to salvation through Your bride the Church. I renew my faith, this day, in the gift of this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Jesus, I trust in You.
Bearing Fruit for the Kingdom
Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle, May 14
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. John 15:16
After Judas betrayed our Lord, the Apostles gathered together to pick someone to succeed him. They decided it should be someone who had been with them from the beginning. They prayed for guidance and cast lots “and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles” (Acts 1:26).
Little is known about the ministry of Saint Matthias. Being chosen as one of the Twelve makes him a bishop of the early Church. Various traditions state that he preached in the territory of either modern-day Ethiopia, Turkey or Georgia—perhaps all of these territories. He is thought to have been killed for his faith, either by stoning or by beheading or both, which is why he is today honored as a martyr.
As we honor Saint Matthias, we honor more than just a man who became an Apostle and preached the Gospel with His life; we also honor the divine plan by which God has chosen to use weak and humble instruments to further His Kingdom. The Gospel passage above certainly applies to Saint Matthias, as well as to all of us to one extent or another. It was God who “chose” Saint Matthias, as well as each and every one of us, for the purpose of going forth to “bear fruit that will remain.” But this form of good fruit, the fruit that has eternal consequences, can only be produced when we ask for it from the Father in the name of His Son Jesus.
Asking the Father to produce good fruit through us in the name of Jesus His Son does not mean that we get to choose what we ask of the Father. Rather, asking “in Jesus’ name” must be understood to mean that we ask the Father only what the Son has asked. We choose to share in the one eternal prayer of the Son that the will of the Father be fulfilled. And in praying this way, we commit ourselves to unity with His holy will.
Sometimes we can all find ourselves asking God for this favor or that. We can place before Him our preference and our will. But if we want to be used by God, to become an instrument of His grace so as to bear an abundance of good fruit, then we must humbly set aside our own will and allow God to be the one Who chooses our mission and appoints us to His holy task. Detachment from our own will and humble submission to the will of God is the only way to bring forth God’s Kingdom.
Reflect, today, upon God’s choice to call you to share in His divine mission. How He calls is up to God, but you can be certain that He does call you and invites you to share in His mission. Be open to any way that God appoints you to bear good fruit and humbly seek to conform your will to the Father’s plan as you pray in Jesus’ holy name.
Lord Jesus, You have perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father in all things, and You have chosen me and appointed me to share in Your divine mission. Help me to open my mind and will to all that You call me to do, so that I, too, may be an instrument of the Kingdom of Your Father in Heaven. I make this prayer in Your most holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.
Joy at the Presence of the Lord
Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:39–42
The beautiful feast we celebrate today depicts two miraculous pregnancies. One came about by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. The other was the miraculous conception in the womb of a woman who was advanced in years. The Scripture passage quoted above presents us with the initial encounter of Mary and Elizabeth as they greeted each other upon Mary’s arrival. Mary had traveled a long distance to be with her cousin for the last few months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And upon greeting Elizabeth, another miraculous event occurred. The baby in the womb of Elizabeth, Saint John the Baptist, “leaped for joy.” Thus, even prior to his birth, John began to fulfill his unique mission of preparing the way for the Lord. He did so at that moment by inspiring his own mother, Elizabeth, with a knowledge of the divine presence of the Savior within the womb of Mary.
Consider, especially, the conversations that these two holy women would have shared during their months together. Though we are given only a small insight into their initial conversation from the Scriptures, we can be certain that this was but a small sampling of what they would have discussed in much prayerful detail. In particular, their conversations would have contained a mutual sharing of the spiritual gift of joy.
Joy is much more than an emotion. It is spiritual in nature. It is not only an experience of something fun, it’s the experience of realizing the action of God in your life. Seeing God at work in wonderful ways leads to gratitude and rejoicing. This joy produces a strength and energy that is contagious and uplifting.
We must all strive to see the hand of God at work in our own lives so that our focus upon His divine actions will produce joy also. We need joy. We need to be strengthened by this gift so that we will be encouraged and strengthened as we daily strive to fulfill His will.
Reflect, today, upon the witness of joy that these two holy women give us. Know that you are called to share in the same joy as you humbly turn your attention to the ways in which God has blessed you. If you find that you lack joy in life, then consider where you allow your mind to wander throughout the day. Do you dwell on the past, on hurts, on problems and the like? If so, these thoughts will undoubtedly lead to depression and possibly even despair. Try to turn your mind to the action of God in your life. See the many blessings you have been given and savor those divine actions. Doing so will lead you to rejoice with Saint Elizabeth and our Blessed Mother.
My holy infant Jesus, as You dwelt in the sacred womb of Your own dear mother, Your presence caused much rejoicing in her heart and in the hearts of Elizabeth and John. Help me to see Your presence in our world and in my life, so that I, too, will be filled with the joy of You constantly coming to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Formed by the Hand of the Lord
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, June 24
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. Luke 1:65–66
John the Baptist was formed by the hand of the Lord. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes so far as to say that John was sanctified in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, as is written: “He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). From the moment that the Blessed Virgin Mary greeted Elizabeth and John leaped for joy, the hand of the Lord was upon John, making him holy and leading him to the fulfillment of God’s holy will.
John’s early life is not recorded for us, other than in the passage quoted above. We are told that he “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” We should see in this passage the truth that John was not only sanctified within the womb of his mother but that, throughout his childhood and on into adulthood, he remained deeply united to God and was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Today we honor one particular aspect of John’s life—his birth. We know that he was blessed to not only be born into the blessed family of Elizabeth and Zechariah but that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, was also his relative and was present at his birth. Zechariah, his father, gave him the name “John” even though it would have been the custom to call him Zechariah after his father. Zechariah did this in obedience to the Archangel Gabriel, who appeared to him prior to John’s birth and instructed him to do so.
Great mystery and excitement surrounded the birth of John, and there is little doubt that those who were present at his birth would have been caught up in the intrigue and hope of who he would become. And John didn’t disappoint. It was of him that Jesus one day would say, “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John…” (Luke 7:28).
Though you may not have had the privilege of being sanctified in the womb of your mother, or to have had your father receive a revelation from the Archangel Gabriel prior to your birth, you are, nonetheless, called to be guided by the hand of the Lord each and every day. God wants you to become “strong in spirit” so that you can fulfill the unique will given to you. We honor the great saints, in part, because they give us an example of how to live. For that reason, we must see in each of their lives the model to which we must conform. The primary witness set by Saint John the Baptist is that he was unwaveringly obedient to God and to being formed by His hand. The result was the glorious fulfillment of his unique mission in life, all the way to giving his life as a martyr.
Reflect, today, upon the very real fact that, though you were not sanctified in the womb, you were sanctified by Baptism. From there, you were strengthened by the Spirit through Confirmation and are regularly fed by the Most Holy Eucharist. In many ways, you are just as blessed as John. Reflect upon the simple yet profound fact that God wants to use you for His holy mission. He gives to you some particular mission He has not entrusted to another. Say “Yes” to that mission today so that you, too, will be seen as “great” in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord of all greatness, You sanctified Saint John the Baptist in the womb, and You continued to pour forth Your grace upon him throughout his life. He responded to You and fulfilled his glorious mission. I thank You for the sanctification given to me by my Baptism and strengthened through Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Help me to be open to all the graces You wish to bestow so that I may fulfill the unique mission given to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Pillars of the Church
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:17–19
Saints Peter and Paul are often referred to as two of the great “Pillars of the Church.” They each played an incredibly essential role in the establishment of the early Church. And though each of their roles was essential and foundational, their roles were as different as they were different as persons.
Peter was a family man, a local fisherman, uneducated and quite ordinary. From what we know about him prior to being called by Jesus, there was nothing that made him uniquely qualified to become one of the pillars of the new Church to be established by the Son of God. Jesus simply called him, and he responded. Jesus got into Peter’s boat, ordered him to lower the nets, and produced a huge catch of fish. When Peter saw this miracle, he fell down at Jesus’ feet and acknowledged that he was “a sinful man” who was unworthy of being in Jesus’ presence (See Luke 5:8). But Jesus informed Peter that he would from now on be catching men. Peter immediately left everything behind and followed Jesus.
Paul describes himself as “a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cili′cia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gama′li-el, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day” (Acts 22:3). Paul was well educated in the strictest interpretation of the Jewish law, understood philosophy and was quite zealous as a young man. Recall, also, that prior to becoming a convert to Christianity, he “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). In many ways, Paul would have been seen as the most unlikely person to be chosen to be a pillar of the Church, because he so vigorously opposed it at first. He even supported the killing of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Though each of these men would have been considered by many as very unlikely founders of the Christian Church, this is exactly what they became. Paul, after his conversion, traveled far and wide to preach the Gospel, founding several new Churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe. Eventually he was arrested in Jerusalem, brought to Rome for trial and was beheaded. Over half of the New Testament books are attributed to Paul and half of the Acts of the Apostles detail Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul is especially known for his missionary activity to the Gentiles, those who were not Jews.
Peter’s role was truly a unique one. His name was changed from “Simon” to “Peter” by Jesus. Recall Jesus saying, “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church…(Matthew 16:18). “Peter” in Greek is Petros, meaning a single stone that is movable. However, the Greek word petra means a rock as a solid formation that is fixed, immovable, and enduring. Therefore, Jesus chose to make Peter, this single stone, into a solid foundation of immovable rock on which the Church was to be built.
You, too, have been called by our Lord to a unique mission within the Church that has not been entrusted to another. In your own way, God wants to use you to reach certain people with the Gospel as He did with Saint Paul. And like Saint Peter, God wants to continue to establish His Church upon you and your faith.
Reflect, today, upon these two holy and unique pillars of our Church. As you do, ponder how God may want to use you to continue their mission in this world. Though Saints Peter and Paul are among the greatest and most consequential Christians within our world, their mission must continue, and you are among the instruments that God wants to use. Commit yourself to this mission so that the preaching of the Gospel and the rock foundation of our Church will remain strong within our day and age just as it was of old.
Saint Peter, you were uniquely chosen to be a rock foundation of faith upon which the Church was established. Saint Paul, you went forth to preach this faith far and wide, establishing many new communities of faith. Please use me, dear Lord, to continue the mission of Your Church so that the faith may be firmly planted in the minds and hearts of all Your people throughout the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
Rejoicing in the Blessings Given to Others
Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, July 3
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:27–29
Thomas the Apostle, in many ways, represents each and every one of us in this exchange with Jesus. We’d like to believe that we always believe and are not unbelieving. But it’s important to admit the humble truth that we may not believe as deeply as we should. And it’s important to reflect upon our own reaction to the blessings that others receive that we do not.
Recall that Thomas was not among the other Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. Therefore, when Thomas returned and heard that Jesus had appeared and that he missed His appearance, he clearly felt bad. Unfortunately, the sorrow Thomas felt at not being present when the Lord appeared to the others left him with a certain bitterness rather than joy. This is the sin of envy. Envy is a certain sorrow over the blessings others receive that we do not. Ideally, Thomas would have rejoiced at the blessing that the other Apostles received by encountering the risen Lord. But, instead, his sorrow at missing this even left him sad. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Why was Thomas absent from this encounter with our Lord? Perhaps it was by divine providence, in that God wanted Thomas to set an example for us. If so, then one example Thomas set was that we must humbly rejoice in the blessings others receive when we are not also the recipient. Of course, if Thomas were there, then it would have been easier for him to share in the joy. But, in many ways, Thomas’ absence provided him an even greater opportunity. An opportunity that he failed to embrace.
When you see others receive blessings from God, how do you respond? Many people respond by immediately looking at themselves, wishing they were blessed in the same way. They struggle with envy. They think, “I wish I had received that blessing.” This form of envy is not always easy to see. For that reason, Thomas is given to us as a witness of what not to do in this situation.
Of course, Thomas is not a horrible person, which is why Jesus does later appear to him. That time, Thomas spoke words that are traditionally spoken as a devotion by the faithful at Mass when the Consecration occurs. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then gently rebukes Thomas by saying, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” But this gentle rebuke was an act of love, in that Jesus wanted Thomas to ponder the reason for his unbelief. Jesus clearly wanted Thomas to examine the unbelief caused by envy, which appears to have led to an intentional lack of faith.
Reflect, today, upon this holy Apostle. Today, Saint Thomas the Apostle is among the great saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. God used him to teach us these important lessons about envy, humility and faith. Let his weakness, from which he fully recovered, help you examine your own struggle with envy over the blessings that others receive that you do not. Learn to rejoice always in the ways that God is at work in our world and learn to grow in humility, so that when others are blessed in ways that you are not, you react as Saint Thomas ultimately did: “My Lord and my God!”
My most generous Lord, You pour forth Your blessings upon others, day and night. As I see those blessings, help me to overcome all temptations toward envy so that I may rejoice in Your grace given to all. You are my Lord and my God, and I thank You for every way that You bless my life and the lives of those around me. Fill me with a deeper gratitude, dear Lord, for every grace and blessing I see every day, especially those graces not given directly to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, July 22
Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. John 20:11–12
Early in His ministry, Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary of Magdala. As a result, she became an exceptionally faithful follower of Jesus. She was most likely one of His followers who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of her own resources as they traveled. She listened to His teachings, witnessed His miracles, was present when He was condemned, stood at the foot of the Cross with Jesus’ mother, helped to prepare His body for burial and was the first person recorded in Scripture to whom Jesus appeared after His Resurrection.
The Gospel for today’s Mass tells the story of Mary going to the tomb early Sunday morning to complete the anointing of Jesus’ dead body as He laid in the tomb. But much to her surprise, the tomb was empty. Therefore, she ran to tell the Apostles, which makes Mary Magdalene the first of His followers to witness to the Resurrection. After telling the Apostles, she returned to the tomb with Peter and John; and, after Peter and John left, she remained outside the tomb weeping, as is mentioned in the Gospel passage quoted above.
Mary’s tears are beautiful. They are an expression of her deep devotion to her Lord. She did not yet understand that He had risen, but her fidelity to Jesus is a testimony to her love. Jesus had restored her dignity. He freed her from the seven demons who tormented her. She most likely had been a sinful woman in the past, but now she was singly devoted to the Savior of the World.
The witness of Mary of Magdala is one that should inspire us all. Though few people are possessed by seven demons, we are all tormented in one way or another. We all sin. We all are weak. We all have a past we regret. And we all are invited to do better. Mary’s “better” was a life that was given to Jesus with the utmost fidelity. She didn’t care if the authorities saw her at the foot of the Cross. If they were to persecute her as a result, it did not matter. She was faithful. She didn’t care if the soldiers would have harassed her when she went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus—she only thought of that last act of love she could offer Him. And when she saw Jesus risen and thought He was the gardener, she didn’t care if He saw her heartbroken and in tears—she only wanted to see the body of her Lord.
As a result of her unwavering fidelity, Jesus gave her a gift beyond imagination. He appeared to her, after being resurrected from the dead, and sent her to be an apostle to the Apostles. He sent her to go to the Apostles to tell them that Jesus had risen and that He was preparing to go to His Father in Heaven.
Reflect, today, upon the holy soul of this woman. She was a repentant sinner who turned her whole life around. She devoted everything to Jesus and, in return, received even more. In Heaven, Mary Magdalene will forever cling to Jesus and adore His Sacred Heart. May we all strive to imitate her by turning from our own life of sin and becoming unwaveringly faithful to our Lord.
My resurrected Lord, You appeared first to Mary of Magdala after Your Resurrection. You now invite her to share in Your glorious life in Heaven. Help me to learn from her by turning away from all sin and becoming deeply devoted to You. May my fidelity to You, dear Lord, be absolute and unwavering, so that I, too, will one day share in the glory of Your Resurrection. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Path to the Kingdom
Feast of Saint James, Apostle, July 25
“You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Matthew 20:22–23
Saint James was the brother of the beloved disciple John and the son of Zebedee and Salome. Jesus called both James and John while they were working with their father, mending their fishing nets in their boat. Their response to Jesus’ call was immediate: “…they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:20). James was present at the raising of Jarius’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and is mentioned a few other times in the Gospels. In the Acts of the Apostles, James is identified as the first of the Apostles to give his life as a martyr, being beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem in the year 44 AD (See Acts 12:2).
Among the other references to Saint James in the Gospels is the passage quoted above in which Salome, the mother of James and John, asks Jesus for the unique favor of allowing her two sons to sit at His left and right in His Kingdom. Upon her request on behalf of her two sons, Jesus turns to them and asks if they can drink the chalice that He is going to drink, to which they respond, “We can.” And though this is a bold request on their parts and that of their mother, there is also something courageous and holy about their request.
Just prior to this passage, as Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem with the Twelve, He explained to them the fate that awaited Him. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18–19). This was the third time that Jesus explained this to the Twelve and, therefore, it must have started to truly sink in. It is within this context that James and John ask to remain close to Jesus in His mission of establishing His Kingdom, even though Jesus explained that the path to that Kingdom was His suffering and death.
Each of us should learn from James and John. Though their request might have had some selfishness mixed in with it, it was also courageous. It showed they did not fear Jesus’ prediction of His passion. Instead, they wanted to be part of it and were willing to endure whatever was necessary so as to share in the glory of the Kingdom to come.
Reflect, today, upon making a similar request to our Lord. Say to Him that you desire to be close to Him in His Kingdom, and do so with the full knowledge that the path to this glory is by drinking the chalice of selfless sacrifice that Christ drank. It is obtained by courageously following Him, no matter what that requires of you. If that means suffering and persecution, so be it. If that means great sacrifice, so be it. If that means abandoning certain hopes and dreams, so be it. See yourself walking with these disciples and Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where our Lord would offer His life in sacrifice. Saint James would soon follow, dying by the sword of Herod. Say “Yes” to whatever our Lord asks of you and commit yourself to the drinking of the chalice of selfless sacrificial love. Doing so will enable you to share in the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.
My glorious King, You invite all people to share in Your glorious Kingdom to come. May I enter that Kingdom with all the saints and fully share in its glory. I choose that path that leads to that Kingdom and willingly offer my life in sacrifice to You and for others. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Holy and Imperfect Family
Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, July 29
Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died]. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” John 11:19–22
Today’s memorial is relatively new within our Church. In the year 2021, Pope Francis replaced the Memorial of Saint Martha with this memorial in honor of all three siblings: Martha, Mary and Lazarus. In commenting on the reason for this new memorial, the Congregation for Divine Worship stated: “Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words, and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the One who humiliated death.” Furthermore, these three siblings gave an evangelical witness to us all. They model for us how to be Christians within our imperfections. They did this by welcoming Jesus into their home, by listening to Him attentively, and by believing that He is the Resurrection and the Life.
These three siblings each had their own unique personality and loved Jesus in their own way. Though not much is said about Lazarus’ personal interactions with Jesus, we do have some helpful insights into both Martha and Mary. In one Gospel story, Martha complained to Jesus that her sister left her to do all the cooking. Jesus gently corrected her. Mary, on the other hand, gave a witness of deep prayer and love of Jesus by sitting at His feet listening to Him. However, in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, there is a reversal of roles. Martha is the one who runs out to meet Jesus and expresses her deep faith in Him. Mary, on the other hand, heard that Jesus was coming and appeared to stay at home because she was upset.
Perhaps the most helpful way to ponder these siblings is to acknowledge two things. First, they are now saints in Heaven enjoying eternal beatitude and glory. Second, on earth they were people of faith and love, but they were also very clearly imperfect. Therefore, the witness they give to us should be twofold. We hope to share in the glory in which they now share, and we trust this will happen if we also befriend our Lord and welcome Him into our homes, imperfect though we may be.
Reflect, today, upon this holy but imperfect family. The imperfections and manifest weaknesses of these three siblings should encourage us to press on in our practice of the faith when things are not perfect in our lives either. There are many reasons why we might get discouraged or feel like doubting or giving up at times. Perhaps things are not perfect within the Church—or at the particular church you attend. Perhaps you are struggling with loving someone in your family. Perhaps you are struggling with an emotional issue. Perhaps there is some sin you seem to be incapable of overcoming. Perhaps you struggle with a physical ailment and wonder why God permitted it to happen. If you are able to relate to any of these, or any other forms of imperfection, then take inspiration from this family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Invite Jesus into the home of your heart, your family home and everywhere you go. He will come, gently correct you when needed, and give you the gift of new life, raising you up from your sins and weaknesses.
Lord, You befriended this ordinary family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. You visited their home, received their hospitality, gently corrected them when needed and eventually raised them to the new life of eternal glory. May I also welcome You into the home of my soul, within my family and into every aspect of my life. Please come to me and raise me to the newness of the life of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Your Heavenly Mother
Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church—Monday after Pentecost
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. John 19:25–27
The memorial we celebrate today, which was added to the Roman Liturgical Calendar in 2018 by Pope Francis, highlights the truth that the Blessed Virgin Mary is not only the Mother of the Person of Christ, and, therefore, the Mother of God, she is also the Mother of the Church, that is, the Mother of all the faithful. The Blessed Virgin Mary is your mother. And as your mother, she is truly tender, compassionate, caring and merciful, bestowing upon you everything that a perfect mother desires to bestow. She is the fiercest of mothers who will stop at nothing to protect her children. She is a mother wholly devoted to you, her dear child.
The Gospel passage chosen for this memorial depicts our Blessed Mother standing at the foot of the Cross. She would have been no other place than directly beneath her Son as He endured His last agony. She did not flee in fear. She was not overwhelmed by grief. She did not sulk in self-pity. No, she stood by her Son with the perfect love and strength of a devoted, caring, compassionate and faithful mother.
As she stood by her Son in His hour of suffering and death, Jesus turned to her and entrusted the Apostle John to her maternal care. From the early Church Fathers until the most recent teachings of the Church today, this act of entrusting John to Mary and Mary to John by Jesus has been understood as an entrustment of all the faithful to the maternal care of Mother Mary. Mother Mary is, therefore, not only the Mother of the Redeemer, Christ Himself, she also becomes the Mother of all the redeemed, the mother of us all, the Mother of the Church.
Consider the spiritual mother you have in Heaven. A mother is one who gives life. Your mother in Heaven is entrusted with the task of bestowing upon you the new life of grace won by the Cross. And as your mother, she will not withhold anything from you that is to your benefit. A mother is also one who is tender with her children. The Immaculate Heart of our mother in Heaven is one that is filled with the greatest tenderness toward you. Though her caresses are not physical, they are much deeper. She caresses with the tenderness of grace which she imparts to you as you pray and turn to her in your need. She gives you the grace of her Son, poured out upon the Cross as the blood and water sprung forth as a font of mercy. Mother Mary pours that mercy upon you as a tender and devoted mother would. She holds nothing back.
If you are unaware of the love in the heart of our Blessed Mother for you, use this memorial as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of her role in your life. Many children take their mothers for granted, not fully understanding the depth of their love. So it is with our Mother in Heaven. We will never fully comprehend her love and her constant motherly workings in our life until we join her in Heaven face to face.
Reflect, today, upon Mother Mary standing by you in every moment of your life. See her there in your joys and in your sorrows, during your moments of temptation and struggles, in your moments of confusion and clarity. See her there by your side, bestowing every good spiritual gift upon you when you need it the most. She is a true mother, and she is worthy of your love and gratitude.
My dearest Mother, you stood by your Son with unwavering fidelity and love. You cared for Him, nurtured Him, and never left His side. I also am your dear child. I thank you for your loving fidelity toward me and open my heart to the grace of your Son that you bestow upon me throughout life. Help me to be more attentive to your motherly care and to daily grow in gratitude for your presence in my life. Mother Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Essence of the Most Holy Trinity
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20 (Year B Gospel)
Of all the great feasts we celebrate within the Church throughout the year, today’s Solemnity presents us with a Mystery that is so deep and transcendent that our eternity will be spent in perpetual contemplation. The Trinity, the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will never get old, never be fully understood, and will be the cause of our everlasting adoration and joy. Though the Church has used philosophical concepts to explain the Trinity, no human concept or description will ever fully explain Who God is. Though we can point to some general truths about God, we will never be able to fully depict the inner essence, depth, beauty and omnipotence of the Trinity.
As we consider that fact, it’s important to understand that the Trinity is not first a theological mystery we try to define. Rather, the Trinity is first a communion of Persons we are invited to know. We do not primarily come to know God through intellectual deduction. We come to know God through prayerful union with Him. Though theology is exceptionally useful and important, the essence of God is beyond any and every philosophical concept we can define.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Persons. And as Persons, they want to be known. And they want to be known primarily through a life of deep and intimate prayer. Praying to One Person, of course, is praying to all, since they are One God. But we are, nonetheless, called to a relationship of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And though our feeble minds may not be able to fully comprehend the essence of God, He will draw us deeper and deeper into a knowledge of Him if we let Him.
Prayer often begins by saying prayers, by meditating upon Scripture, and by listening. But true prayer is something much deeper. True prayer is contemplative prayer that ultimately leads to divine union. Only God can initiate this form of prayer in our lives, and only God, through this deep form of prayer, can communicate Himself to us as He is. Some of the greatest mystics of our Church, such as Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Ávila, explain in their mystical theology that the deepest knowledge of God does not come through concepts or images. In fact, if we wish to obtain a knowledge of God in His essence, we must allow Him to purge every concept of Who He is so that the pure light of His essence can be poured forth upon our minds. This knowledge, they say, is beyond knowing “about” God. It’s the beginning of a knowledge “of” God.
Reflect, today, upon the Most Holy Trinity. As you do, say a prayer to God asking for a deeper and more intimate knowledge of Him. Ask Him to communicate to you His divine love and to open your mind and heart to a deeper understanding of Who He is. Try to humble yourself before the great Mystery of the inner life of God. Humility before the Mystery of God means that we know how little we know about Him and how little we know of Him. But that humble truth will help you move closer to the deeper relationship of love to which you are called.
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, please draw me into a relationship of love with You Who are one God and three divine Persons. May the mystery and beauty of Your life become more known and loved by me each day through the gift of transforming mystical prayer. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wonder and Awe Before the Eucharist
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Mark 14:22–24 (Year B Gospel)
At the holy Mass, as soon as the priest pronounces the words of the consecration, transforming the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ our Lord, he genuflects, rises, and then says, “The mystery of faith.” What is “the mystery of faith?” Oftentimes, when we say that something is a mystery, we mean that the conclusion is hidden but that there are certain clues to help solve the mystery. And once the mystery is solved, everything is clear and it is no longer a mystery.
“The mystery of faith” is much different. Those words are spoken at Mass immediately after the consecration as a way of drawing the faithful into a holy awe and amazement of what just took place. But this mystery can only produce wonder and awe if the reality of what just took place is understood through the gift of faith. Faith is knowing and believing without perceiving the reality before us with our five senses or through logical deduction. In other words, faith produces true knowledge of a spiritual reality that can only be known, understood and believed through spiritual insight. Therefore, if we attend the Mass and have been gifted with the knowledge of faith, then as soon as the consecration of the bread and wine takes place, we will cry out interiorly, “My Lord and my God!” We will know that God the Son is present before us in a veiled way. Our eyes do not perceive, nor do any of our senses reveal to us the great reality before us. We cannot rationally deduce what just took place. Instead, we come to know and believe that the Son of God, the Savior of the World, is now present before us in His fullness, under the veil of mere bread and wine.
In addition to the divine presence of our Lord and our God, the entire Mystery of our Redemption is made present. Saint Pope John Paul II tells us that in this moment there is a “oneness in time” that links the Paschal Mystery, that is, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, to every moment that the Eucharist is celebrated and made present through the words of consecration. And that unity between each Mass and the Paschal Mystery “leads us to profound amazement and gratitude” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #5). Do you sense and experience this profound amazement and gratitude each time you attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Do you realize as you attend the Mass and as the words of consecration are spoken that the entire Mystery of your redemption is made present before you, hidden from your eyes but visible to your soul by faith? Do you understand that it is God the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity Who descends to us to dwell with us in that moment of time in this glorious Sacrament?
Reflect, today, upon the hidden but real Mystery of Faith. Allow yourself to be drawn into a wonder and awe at what you are privileged to attend. Let your faith in the Most Holy Eucharist grow by being open to a deepening of this gift of faith through spiritual insight and belief. Behold this great Gift of the Eucharist with the eyes of faith and you will be drawn into the wonder and awe that God wants to bestow upon you.
My ever-glorious Eucharistic Lord, I do believe that You are here, made present in our world under the form of bread and wine, every time the Holy Mass is celebrated. Fill me with a deeper faith in this Holy Gift, dear Lord, so that I may be drawn into wonder and awe every time I witness this holy Consecration. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Font of Mercy
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. John 19:33–34
John’s Gospel is filled with deep spiritual imagery and symbolism. It is clear that this imagery and symbolism was divinely inspired so as to give us spiritual food for reflection and meditation. One such image is given to us today as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
As Jesus and the two criminals on either side of Him hung upon their crosses, the soldiers came to hasten their deaths by breaking their legs to cause them to more quickly suffocate. But when they came to Jesus, He had already died. So one of the soldiers, traditionally known as Longinus, thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowed forth. Some traditions identify Longinus with the centurion who cried out after Jesus’ death, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (See Matthew 27:54.) Other traditions state that he converted at that moment, making him the first convert to Christianity. And still other traditions state that Longinus could not see well, and the blood and water from Jesus’ side poured upon his eyes, healing him. Regardless of whether these traditions are true, we know that Jesus’ side was pierced and blood and water flowed forth.
The symbolism of this act was more than a mere human symbol. It was an instrument of the profound spiritual reality that was taking place at that moment. As Jesus’ Sacred Heart was pierced, the blood and water that poured forth was the new sacramental life of the Church. The Blood was the Most Holy Eucharist and the Water was the gift of Baptism. And when Jesus had previously “breathed His last” and “handed over His Spirit,” the Sacrament of Confirmation was bestowed.
When we celebrate those Sacraments today, it is easy to see them as mere symbols of what we partake in. But in our Christian Tradition, the Sacraments are so much more. The symbol is also the reality. It is the instrument of what it symbolizes. Therefore, every time we witness a Baptism or partake in the Holy Eucharist, we are mystically present with Longinus, receiving the grace and mercy of our redemption, pouring forth from Jesus’ wounded side, so as to heal us and make us whole.
The human heart is, physically speaking, a bodily organ responsible for pumping blood throughout. But from a spiritual perspective, given that we are both body and soul, the human heart is also the source of our life. Without it, we physically and spiritually die. So it is with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was not only a physical heart that was physically pierced by the lance long ago. It is now also the source of our ongoing spiritual life, and, without Jesus’ Sacred Heart of Mercy, we will die in our sins.
Reflect, today, upon the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. See His Heart as the ongoing source of your new life in grace. Understand that His Heart is more than a symbol of His grace and mercy, it is the spiritual source and the font of that mercy. Prayerfully place yourself before His Cross, this day, and allow the blood and water, flowing from His wounded side, to cover you so that you, too, may believe.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, You poured out upon the world the love and mercy of Your transforming grace through the instrument of the blood and water pouring forth from Your wounded side. Help me to gaze upon this font of mercy and to be covered with it through the gift of the Sacraments. May I always be open to all that You wish to bestow upon me by these precious and transforming instruments of Your love. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Heart of Perfect Love
Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. Luke 2:51
Over and over, the Scriptures reveal to us that the Blessed Virgin Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” What things? She continually pondered the great mystery of the life of her Son as His sacred life unfolded before her eyes.
A mother’s love is strong. Many times, a mother is more aware of the details of her child’s life than even the child itself. She is attentive, consoling, present, tender and loving. This was who Mary was to her divine Son, Jesus.
Mother Mary did not have full knowledge of every divine reality. She did not gaze upon the Most Holy Trinity with her eyes as she walked the earth. She did not have the full knowledge of the plan of the Father. But she did walk through life with the perfection of faith. She also knew the many truths of Heaven and earth through her Immaculate Heart. Her heart was a heart filled with every virtue. She loved with a love that was indescribable. And what she especially pondered in her Immaculate Heart, over and over throughout life, was the pure and perfect love she had for her Son. To her, this love left her in amazement. She was continually in a state of holy awe as she interacted with her Son, gazed upon His sacred life, and watched Him advance in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (John 2:52). The love in her heart was a lesson to herself. She continually deepened her knowledge of God through the pondering of the perfect love placed in her heart by her God. And this God, her Savior, was her Son.
We celebrate today the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Though there are many feasts throughout the year in which we honor this holy daughter of God, this celebration is an opportunity for us all to ponder her pondering heart.
A human heart is not just physical, it is also spiritual. It is the spiritual source of our love of God and others. From our heart flows either virtue or vice, love or hate, generosity or selfishness. As we honor the Immaculate Heart today, we are called to look at the ideal of what should live within our own hearts and what should flow forth from them. The perfection of all virtue is what must ideally flow from every human heart throughout time. And it is the heart of our Blessed Mother that will teach us how to internalize those virtues so as to become an instrument of the love of God to others.
Reflect, today, upon the spiritual perfection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Perfection is difficult to comprehend in our fallen state. But the more we look to the ideal, the more we will desire that ideal. And the more we desire that ideal, the more we will obtain it. Allow yourself today to ponder the ideal heart as it resided in the Mother of God and ask for her to intercede for you so that you will more fully imitate her.
Most Immaculate Heart of Mother Mary, you reveal to us the perfect way to love your Son and to be devoted to Him. Fill me with the love you had for your Son by interceding for me. Thank you for the witness you gave to us all and help us to imitate the countless virtues that flowed from your heart. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
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