Feasts and Solemnities in Ordinary Time: Weeks 1-17

The Cross, the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church – Monday after Pentecost

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 19:26-27

On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis announced that a new memorial would be celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday, entitled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Henceforth, this memorial is added to the General Roman Calendar and is to be universally celebrated throughout the Church.

In instituting this memorial, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said:

This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.

“Anchored” to the Cross, the Eucharist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary who is both “Mother of the Redeemer” and “Mother of the Redeemed.” What beautiful insights and inspiring words from this holy Cardinal of the Church.

The Gospel chosen for this memorial presents to us the holy image of the Blessed Mother standing before the Cross of her Son. While standing there, she heard Jesus say the words, “I thirst.” He was given some wine on a sponge and then declared, “It is finished.” Jesus’ Blessed Mother, the Mother of the Redeemer, stood as a witness as the Cross of her Son became the source of the redemption of the World. As He took that last drink of wine, He completed the institution of the New and Eternal Passover Meal, the Holy Eucharist.

Additionally, just prior to Jesus expiring, Jesus declared to His mother that she would now be the “Mother of the Redeemed,” that is, the mother of each member of the Church. This gift of Jesus’ mother to the Church was symbolized by Him saying, “Behold, your son…Behold, your mother.”

As we celebrate this new and beautiful universal memorial within the Church, ponder your relationship to the Cross, to the Eucharist and to your heavenly mother. If you are willing to stand by the Cross, gaze at it with our Blessed Mother, and witness Jesus pour forth His precious blood for the salvation of the world, then you are also privileged to hear Him say to you, “Behold, your mother.” Stay close to your heavenly mother. Seek her maternal care and protection and allow her prayers to daily draw you closer to her Son.

Dearest Mother Mary, Mother of God, my mother, and Mother of the Church, pray for me and for all your children who are so deeply in need of the mercy of your Son as it was poured out from the Cross for the redemption of the world. May all your children draw ever closer to you and to your Son, as we gaze upon the glory of the Cross, and as we consume the Most Holy Eucharist. Mother Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You!

The Inner Life of God!

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 28:18-20 (Year B Gospel)

The Trinity!  The inner life of God!  The Greatest Mystery of our Faith!

We all are used to the idea that there is one God.  And we fully accept that this one God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  On the surface, this seems like a contradiction.  How can God be one and three at the same time?  It’s a mystery that is worth penetrating and contemplating.

First, we need to understand that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three divine Persons.  Each one distinct from the other.  Each Person has a perfect intellect and free will.  Each one is capable of knowing and loving to a perfect degree.

But it is this “perfection” of their ability to know and love that makes them one.  They each share in the one divine nature and, within that divine nature, are perfectly united.  This means that each one knows and loves the other perfectly.  And that knowledge (an act of their perfect intellect) and love (an act of their perfect will) brings about a unity so profound and deep that they live and act as one God.

What’s also inspiring to know and understand is that the unity they share by their mutual knowledge and love also offers each one of them perfect fulfillment as a Person.  This shows that “personhood” is fulfilled by unity.  What a wonderful lesson this is for each of us.

We are not God, but we are made in God’s image and likeness.  Therefore, we find fulfillment in the same way that God does.  Specifically, we find fulfillment in life by our love of others and our free-will choice to enter into a knowledge of each person, forming a communion with them.  This will take on different forms depending upon our relationships.  Of course, husband and wife are called to share in the deepest unity in imitation of the life of God.  But all relationships are called to share in God’s life in their own unique way.

Reflect, today, as we celebrate this Trinity Sunday, on the relationships to which God has called you.  How completely do you imitate the love of the Trinity in your relationships?  Certainly we will all find areas in which to grow.  Make a commitment to take another step deeper and, in that step of love, allow God to give you a greater fulfillment as a result.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help me to know You and to love You.  Help me to discover the love You share within Your own divine life.  In that discovery, help me to also love others with Your heart.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I trust in You.

Corpus Christi

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

“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 14:22a-24 (Year B Gospel)

Happy Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God!  What a Gift we celebrate today!

The Eucharist is everything.  It’s all things, the fullness of life, eternal salvation, mercy, grace, happiness, etc.  Why is the Eucharist all this and so much more?  Simply put, the Eucharist IS God.  Period.  Therefore, the Eucharist is all that God is.

In his beautiful traditional hymn, Adoro te Devote, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “I devoutly adore You, O hidden Deity, truly hidden beneath these appearances.  My whole heart submits to You, and in contemplating You, it surrenders itself completely.  Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of You, but hearing suffices firmly to believe…”  What a glorious statement of faith in this wondrous gift.

This statement of faith reveals that when we worship before the Eucharist, we worship God Himself hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.  Our senses are deceived.  What we see, taste and feel do not reveal the reality before us.  The Eucharist is God.

Throughout our lives, if we were raised Catholic, we were taught reverence for the Eucharist.  But “reverence” is not enough.  Most Catholics revere the Eucharist, meaning, we genuflect, kneel, and treat the Sacred Host with respect.  But it’s important to ponder a question in your heart.  Do you believe the Eucharist is God Almighty, the Savior of the world, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity?  Do you believe deeply enough to have your heart moved with love and profound devotion every time you are before our divine Lord present before us under the veil of the Eucharist?  When you kneel do you fall down prostrate in your heart, loving God with your whole being?

Perhaps this sounds like it’s a bit excessive.  Perhaps simple reverence and respect is enough for you.  But it’s not.  Since the Eucharist is God Almighty, we must see Him there with the eyes of faith in our soul.  We must profoundly adore Him as the angels do in Heaven.  We must cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”  We must be moved to the deepest of worship as we enter into His divine presence.

Ponder the depth of your faith in the Eucharist today and strive to renew it, worshiping God as one who believes with your whole being.

I devoutly adore You, O hidden Deity, truly hidden beneath these appearances.  My whole heart submits to You, and in contemplating You, it surrenders itself completely.  Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of You, but hearing suffices firmly to believe.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Heart of Perfect Love and Self-Giving

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. Matthew 11:29 (Year A Gospel)

Happy Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

To some, this can seem like an old and outdated celebration in the Church.  It can be seen as one of those ancient feasts that have little meaning in our lives today.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is exactly what we need to know, experience and receive in our lives today.  His heart, that heart which was pierced by the lance and from which flowed blood and water, is the sign, symbol and source of the burning love of His very soul.  The blood is an image of the Most Holy Eucharist and the water is an image of the cleansing waters of Baptism.  

This celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a celebration of Jesus pouring out on us His whole life and all of His love.  He held nothing back which is symbolized by the pouring forth of the last drop of this blood and water from His Heart as He lay there dead on the Cross.  Though it’s a very graphic image, it’s graphic to make a point.  The point, again, is that He held nothing back.  We need to realize that Jesus continues to give us everything if we are willing to receive it.  

If you are finding that you need to know His love more deeply in your life this day, try spending time reflecting on this Scripture: “…but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:33-34).  Spend time reflecting upon that last self gift, the gift of that water and blood flowing from His wounded Heart.  It is a sign of His infinite love for you.  Reflect upon it being poured out especially for you.  See it, be immersed in it, and be open to it.  Let His love transform and fill you.  

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.  I thank You, dear Lord, for giving all to me.  You held nothing back from me and You continue to pour out Your life for my good and for the good of the whole world.  May I receive all You give to me and hold nothing back from You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Heart of the Mother of God

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

…his mother kept all these things in her heart.  Luke 2:51b

Today we honor our Blessed Mother.  In particular, we honor her Immaculate Heart just as we honored Jesus’ Sacred Heart yesterday.  The two go hand in hand.

The Heart of our Blessed Mother is a sign of her perfect love for us.  It is “Immaculate” in that it is spotless and perfect in love.  

When reflecting upon the perfection of love, we also acknowledge that her love is the perfection of a mother’s love.  This is a unique love of the highest order.  A mother’s love is not just love of neighbor or a friendship.  Rather, a mother’s love is such that it is completely invested, nurturing, sacrificial and total.  This is the love our Blessed Mother has for us.

Today is a good day to reflect upon whether or not you have allowed her to love you with this perfect motherly love.  Have you consecrated yourself to her, choosing her as your queen and mother?

The Immaculate Heart, and therefore, the Immaculate love of our Blessed Mother is a glorious gift from God.  She is the instrument through which Salvation Himself came into our world.  She is also, therefore, the continuing instrument through which all the grace given by Christ comes into the world.  She is the Mediatrix of Grace.  Why does she have this role?  Because God destined it to be so.  God could have saved us any way He chose, but we must humbly and honestly acknowledge that the way He chose to save us is through the mediation of the Blessed Mother.  

God does not change His mind today.  He chose her as the instrument of salvation over 2,000 years ago and He continues to choose her today.  He continues to pour forth His grace on the world through her and she continues to distribute His love and mercy through her Immaculate and motherly Heart.  

Reflect, today, upon the beauty and perfection of the love radiating from her life for you.  Run to her and make an act of faith in her motherly care.  Consecrate yourself to her and let her be the instrument God wants her to be.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.  Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Persecution and Discord Transformed

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle, January 25

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I replied, “Who are you, sir?”  And he said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.”  Acts 22:7-8

We celebrate, today, one of the greatest conversions ever known.  The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is so significant that it is given the glorious status of a Feast within our Church.  Why?  We could certainly come up with many reasons.  Let’s look at two of them.

First, Saul’s conversion resulted in one of the greatest evangelists our Church has ever known. Saul, who later goes by the name Paul, was a man of incredible zeal and wholehearted commitment to the faith. He was zealous before becoming a follower of Christ Jesus and he carried that zeal into his conversion giving his all to the proclamation of the Gospel.

His ministry as an Apostle of Christ resulted not only in the foundation of numerous Christian communities, it also resulted in fourteen letters attributed to him or his followers becoming part of our Sacred Scripture.  His writings are deep, profound and very personal.  His love, zeal and care for the Christian communities he founded shone forth as he was revealed as a true shepherd of God.

Secondly, his conversion comes after a fierce persecution of the newly founded Christian Church.  Saul goes forth from town to town, rounding up new Christians and persecuting them.  The most well-known account of this persecution is when he consents to the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, earlier in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Scripture passage quoted above, which comes from the First Reading of the Mass for today, reveals Jesus appearing to Saul asking him why he is persecuting Him.  Saul, in a confused manner, does not understand that his persecution of the Church is actually a persecution of Jesus Himself.  This revelation Saul receives sets him on a powerful path of conversion.

One truth this reveals is that, at times, we encounter division and even persecution within the Church from one person to another.  This should not shock us or undermine our faith.  Jesus was quite aware of this fact with St. Paul and chose to use him despite his horrible persecution of Christians.  This passage should call us to look at all persecution and discord more as an opportunity than anything.  It’s an opportunity for Jesus to bring great good out of something that is deeply painful.

Reflect, today, upon your own experience of discord and division within the Church or even within your own family.  Though it is important to acknowledge the pain and hurt this produces, do not lose hope that God can turn all things into good and use everything for His glory.

Lord, I see the hurt, confusion and division within Your Church and even within my own family.  I see conflict and discord within the whole of society.  As I see and encounter these hardships, give me hope so that I can trust in Your divine plan as You permit all things for Your glory.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Fulfilling Our Mission

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

We celebrate, today, the glorious event of Jesus being presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph.  Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man, had been waiting for this moment throughout his life.  The passage above is what he spoke when the moment finally arrived.

This is a profound statement that came from a humble and faith-filled heart.  Simeon was saying something like this: “Lord of Heaven and earth, my life is now complete.  I’ve seen Him.  I’ve held Him.  He is the one.  He is the Messiah.  There is nothing more I need in life.  My life is fulfilled.  I am now ready to die.  My life has reached its purpose and culmination.”

Simeon, like any other ordinary human being, would have had many experiences in life.  He would have had many ambitions and goals.  Many things he worked hard for.  So for him to say that he was now ready to “go in peace” simply means that the purpose of his life was fulfilled and that all he has worked for and striven for has come to culmination in this moment.

That’s saying a lot!  But it’s really a great witness for us in our daily lives and gives us an example of what we should strive for.  We see in this experience of Simeon that life must be about encountering Christ and fulfilling our purpose in accord with God’s plan.  For Simeon, that purpose, revealed to him through the gift of his faith, was to receive the Christ Child in the temple at His presentation and to then consecrate this Child to the Father in accordance with the law.  

What is your mission and purpose in life?  It will not be the same as Simeon but it will have similarities.  God has a perfect plan for you that He will reveal to you in faith.  This calling and purpose will ultimately be about you receiving Christ in the temple of your heart and then praising and worshiping Him for all to see.  It will take on a unique form in accord with the will of God for your life.  But it will be as significant and important as Simeon’s calling, and will be integral to the entire divine plan of salvation for the world.  

Reflect, today, upon your own calling and mission in life.  Don’t miss your call.  Don’t miss your mission.  Continue to listen, anticipate, and act in faith as that plan unfolds so that you, too, may one day rejoice and “go in peace” confident that this calling has been fulfilled.

Lord, I am Your servant.  I seek Your will.  Help me to respond to You in faith and openness and help me to say “Yes” to You so that my life will achieve the purpose for which I was made.  I thank You for the witness of Simeon and pray that I, too, will one day rejoice that my life has been fulfilled.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Infallible Gift from Jesus

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

This passage should give us great comfort.  Why?  Because in this passage Jesus lays the foundation of His Church.  He gives to Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  And, in so doing, He establishes what has come to be known as the gift of “infallibility.”

Think about it.  What does it mean to be given “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?”  This is quite a statement.  But by speaking it clearly and definitively, Jesus entrusted an incredible spiritual power to Peter.  Peter may not have understood what this exactly meant at the time, but he would have been changed as he was entrusted with such authority.

By “infallibility” we mean that Peter was guaranteed to teach only that which was true in the areas of faith and morality.  Faith and morality are what live on forever in the Kingdom of Heaven and so it is with authority in these areas that Peter is entrusted.

Furthermore, we know that the Apostles had successors.  Peter went to Rome and became the Bishop of Rome.  He was succeeded by Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, and so forth until the Bishop of Rome today.  This is important to note because this spiritual authority that Jesus gave to Peter did not end with his death.  Rather, it continued with his successors and will continue on until the end of the world.

Today, in celebrating the great Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we not only honor the Pope, we also rejoice in the spiritual authority that the Holy Father has been entrusted with.  And knowing that Jesus is alive in such a way, through the certain teaching authority of the Keys of Heaven, we should be comforted and at peace knowing that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.  Popes are sinners, but they are also visible and infallible instruments of Christ Himself every time they exercise their sacred role.

Reflect, today, upon your faith in the Church.  We do not put our faith in persons, we put our faith in Christ, His Church and in the spiritual authority entrusted to the Church.  Reflect upon your own faith in this regard and if it is lacking in any way, renew it in honor of this great Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Lord Jesus, You entrusted Your power and authority to St. Peter and to all of his successors.  I thank You for the gift of our Pope.  I pray for him and offer him to You for Your guidance and protection.  I renew my faith in the gift of the Holy Father and in Your promise to lead us always through him.  May my faith in Your Church bring me consolation and hope as we all move forward to the goal of our salvation, the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Apostolic Ministry

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle, May 14

(Peter said) “Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.”  So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”  Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles. Acts 1:21-26

And with that we have the first new bishop! 

The Feast of St. Matthias is a celebration of the continuation of the apostolic ministry.  By honoring St. Matthias we honor the fact that Jesus enabled His first Apostles to pass on the sacred power of their ordination to others as their successors.  St. Matthias took the place of Judas.  And as the Church continued to grow, there were others picked and given the grace of ordination as bishops.  Today, every one of our bishops has a direct line of succession to one or more of the Apostles.  This unbroken succession is our direct connection to the priestly ministry of Jesus as it is passed on to the Church.

What a gift this is!  It’s true that not every bishop or priest is a saint.  We are all quite aware of that.  But it is also true that every bishop and priest shares in the wonderful gift of Christ’s priestly ministry.  And this ministry is not for them, it’s for you. 

Jesus desired that He continue His ministry in a concrete, personal and human way.  He desired that He would be present at every Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.  He desired to personally be there administering these graces to His people.  And He is there, through the ministry of the bishop or priest. 

The key is to see Christ in that ministry.  Every priest or bishop is a unique representation of Christ in his own way.  They each reflect Christ in their human personality and holiness.  But, more importantly, they represent Christ by acting in His very person.  Jesus speaks His words of absolution and consecration through them.  So we need to see beyond the surface and see Christ Jesus.  This is entirely possible if we approach God’s ministers in faith.

Reflect, today, upon the way you approach God’s priests and bishops.  How do you speak about them?  Do you seek Christ in them?  Are you open to Christ ministering through them?  The apostolic ministry in which they share is a true gift from Christ and must be loved and accepted as if we were accepting Christ Himself…because that’s exactly what we are doing.

Lord, thank You for the gift of Your ordained ministers.  Thank You for the bishop and for all the priests who have ministered Your Word and Sacraments to me.  I pray for them today that they may continue to be holy instruments of Your love.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Most Blessed Are You Among Women!

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:41b-43

What an honor it would be to have our Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus, come to us for a visit.  Elizabeth was keenly aware of this honor and, as a result, she cried out in an inspired way acknowledging that fact.  

Though this was a unique gift given to Elizabeth, to have the mother of her Lord come to her, we must understand that we are all equally blessed by the opportunity to daily invite the presence of the Mother of God into our lives.

Mother Mary is the Queen of all Saints, but she is also the Queen of all sinners and Queen of those striving for holiness.  She is the Mother of All the Living and the Mother of the Church.  In God’s providence, she continues to carry out her unique role of visiting those in need on a daily basis.  She does so in a way that is far more profound and transformative than in the case of Elizabeth.  Mother Mary’s visits to us, her children, now take place in the order of grace.

What does it mean when we say that our Blessed Mother visits us in the order of grace?  It means that our relationship with her is based on the divine will and plan of God.  It means we are able to have a relationship with her by which she communicates to us countless mercies from her Son.  It means that she becomes the most powerful mediatrix of grace for us that the world has ever known.  It means that the effect she has in our lives is deep, profound, transformative and intimately personal.

The difficult part about a relationship with our Blessed Mother is that it must take place on a spiritual and interior level rather than on a physical and exterior one.  However, even though this is the case, we should not think that this means we are less capable of knowing her and loving her.  In fact, the relationship we are now able to have with our Blessed Mother by grace is far deeper and more profound than the relationship Elizabeth was able to have with her on account of the Visitation.  

Reflect, today, upon your relationship with the Mother of God.  She visited Elizabeth long ago and now desires to visit your soul so as to bring you the grace and mercy of her Son.  Seek to establish this beautiful relationship with her in the order of grace.  Invite her in, listen to her, be open to the grace she brings to you and rejoice with Elizabeth that the mother of your Lord would come to you.

Dearest Mother Mary, I love you and consecrate my life to you, trusting in your motherly care and mediation.  Help me, dear Mother, to be open to all that you desire to bring to me from your Son, Jesus.  I am honored and humbled that you would care for me and desire to bring to me the mercy of the Heart of your Son Jesus.  Mother Mary, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Fidelity to God After a Fall

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, June 24

He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  Luke 1:63-64

Zechariah provides a great witness to all of us of one who sinned by lacking faith in God, but after suffering the humiliation of his sin, he became truly faithful and ended up “blessing God.”

We are familiar with his story.  His wife became pregnant with John the Baptist by a miracle in her old age.  When it was revealed to Zechariah by an angel that this would take place, he failed to have faith in this promise and doubted.  The result was that he was struck mute until the moment that John was born.  It was at that moment when Zechariah acted in fidelity to the revelation of God by naming his baby “John” as the angel had requested.  This act of fidelity on Zechariah’s part loosened his tongue and he began to speak the praises of God.

This witness of Zechariah should be an inspiration to all who seek to follow the will of God in their lives but have failed.  There are many times when God speaks to us, we hear Him, but we fail to believe in what He says.  We fail in fidelity to His promises.  The result is that we suffer the effects of that sin.

At first, the effects of sin in our lives can seem like a punishment.  Indeed, in many ways they are.  It’s not a punishment from God; rather, it’s a punishment of sin.  Sin has devastating consequences in our lives.  But the good news is that those consequences of sin are permitted by God as a way of drawing us back to fidelity to Him.  And if we allow them to humble us and change us like Zechariah did, we will be able to turn from a life of infidelity to the will of God to a life of fidelity.  And a life of fidelity will enable us to ultimately sing the praises of our God.

Reflect, today, upon the ways that you have not been faithful to God in your life.  But think of it in the context of hope.  Hope that God will receive you back and transform your life if you return to Him.  God is waiting and His mercy is abundant.  Allow His mercy to fill you with a heart that blesses the goodness of God.

Lord, help me to see my past sins not so much in despair, but as reasons to return to You in greater fidelity.  No matter how many times I have fallen, help me to get back up and to faithfully sing Your praises.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Proclaiming the Gospel

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.”  Matthew 16:18 

The Church, throughout the ages, has been hated, misunderstood, slandered, ridiculed, and even attacked. Though sometimes ridicule and rebuke come as a result of the personal faults of Her members, most often the Church has been and continues to be persecuted because we have been given the mission of clearly, compassionately, firmly, and authoritatively proclaiming, with the voice of Christ Himself, the truth which liberates and sets all people free to live in unity as children of God. 

Ironically, and sadly, there are many in this world who refuse to accept the Truth. There are many who instead grow in anger and bitterness as the Church lives out Her divine mission. 

What is this divine mission of the Church? Her mission is to teach with clarity and authority, to pour forth God’s grace and mercy in the Sacraments, and to shepherd God’s people so as to lead them to Heaven. It is God who gave the Church this mission and God who enables the Church and Her ministers to carry it out with courage, boldness and fidelity. 

Today’s Solemnity is a very appropriate occasion to reflect on this sacred mission.  Saints Peter and Paul are not only two of the greatest examples of the Church’s mission, but they are also the actual foundation upon which Christ established this mission. 

First, Jesus Himself in today’s Gospel said to Peter, “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; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” 

In this Gospel passage, “the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” are given to the first pope of the Church. St. Peter, the one entrusted with the divine headship of the Church on Earth, is given the authority to teach us all we need to know in order to attain Heaven.  It’s clear from the earliest days of the Church, that Peter passed these “Keys to the Kingdom,” this “ability to authoritatively bind and loose,” this divine gift that today is called infallibility, on to his successor, and he on to his successor and so forth until today. 

There are many who get angry at the Church for clearly, confidently and authoritatively proclaiming the liberating truth of the Gospel. This is especially true in the area of morality. Often, when these truths are proclaimed, the Church is attacked and called every sort of slanderous name in the book. 

The primary reason that this is so sad is not so much that the Church is attacked, Christ will always give us the grace we need to endure persecution.  The primary reason this is so sad is that most often those who are the angriest are, in fact, those who need to know the liberating truth the most. Everyone needs the freedom that comes only in Christ Jesus and the full and unaltered Gospel truth that He has already entrusted to us in Scripture and that He continues to make clear to us through Peter in the person of the Pope. Furthermore, the Gospel does not ever change, the only thing that changes is our ever deeper and clearer understanding of this Gospel. Thanks be to God for Peter and for all of his successors who serve the Church in this essential role. 

St. Paul, the other Apostle we honor today, was not himself entrusted with the keys of Peter, but was called by Christ and strengthened by his ordination to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul, with much courage, traveled throughout the Mediterranean to bring the message to all he met. In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul said of his journeys, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear” the Gospel. And though he suffered, was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, misunderstood and hated by many, he was also an instrument of true freedom to many. Many people responded to his words and example, radically giving their lives over to Christ. We owe the establishment of many new Christian communities to St. Paul’s tireless efforts. When facing the opposition of the world, Paul said in today’s epistle, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.” 

Both St. Paul and St. Peter paid for their faithfulness to their missions with their lives. The First Reading spoke of Peter’s imprisonment; the epistles reveal Paul’s hardships. In the end, both became martyrs. Martyrdom is not a bad thing if it is the Gospel for which you are martyred. 

Jesus says in the Gospel, “Fear not the one who can bind your hand and foot, rather fear him who can throw you into Gehenna.” And the only one who can throw you into Gehenna is yourself because of the free choices you make. All we ultimately need to fear is wavering from the truth of the Gospel in our words and deeds. 

The truth must be proclaimed in love and compassion; but love is not loving nor is compassion compassionate if the truth of the life of faith and morals is not present. 

On this feast of Saints Peter and Paul, may Christ give all of us, and the entire Church, the courage, charity, and wisdom we need to continue to be the instruments that set the world free.

Lord, I thank You for the gift of Your Church and the liberating Gospel it preaches.  Help me to always be faithful to the truths You proclaim through Your Church.  And help me to be an instrument of that truth to all in need of it.  Jesus, I trust in You.

“My Lord and My God!”

Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, July 3

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

It’s easy to be critical of St. Thomas for his lack of belief reflected in his statement above. But before you allow yourself to think poorly of him, think about how you would have responded. This is a difficult exercise to do since we know clearly the end of the story. We know Jesus did rise from the dead and that Thomas ultimately came to believe, crying out “My Lord and my God!” But try to put yourself in his situation.

First, Thomas probably doubted, in part, out of extreme sadness and despair. He had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, he had dedicated the last three years of his life to following Him, and now Jesus was dead…so he thought. This is an important point because very often in life when we encounter some difficulty, disappointment or painful situation, our faith is tested. We are tempted to allow despair to draw us into doubt and when this happens we make decisions based more upon our hurt than upon our faith.

Second, Thomas was also called to deny the physical reality that he witnessed with his own eyes and believe something that was completely “impossible” from an earthly perspective. People simply do not rise from the dead! This simply doesn’t happen, at least from an earthly perspective alone. And even though Thomas had seen Jesus perform such miracles before, it took much faith to believe without seeing with his own eyes. So despair and an apparent impossibility went to the heart of Thomas’ faith and extinguished it.

Reflect, today, upon two lessons we can take from this passage: 1) Do not ever allow despair, disappointment or hurt to be the guide of your decisions or beliefs in life. They are never a good guide. 2) Do not doubt the power of God to be able to do anything and everything He chooses. In this case, God chose to rise from the dead and so He did. In our own lives, God can do anything He wills. We must believe that and know that what He reveals to us in faith will come to be if we but trust in His provident care.

Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief. When I am tempted to give in to despair or to doubt Your almighty power over all things in life, help me to turn to You and to trust in You with all my heart. May I cry out, with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” and may I do so even when I see only with the faith You put into my soul. Jesus, I trust in You.

Clinging to Jesus

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, July 22

“Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  John 20:15b-17b

What a privilege!  Mary Magdalene was the first person recorded in Scripture to see the risen Lord, and there is no doubt that many would have concluded that she was the most unworthy person to receive such a blessing.

Scripture states that Mary Magdalene was the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. Clearly, one who was possessed by seven demons had lived a sinful life. But after encountering our Lord, Mary became His faithful follower, being one of the holy women to daily serve and care for His needs.  For that reason, we now call her “saint.”  But this passage above tells us even more about Jesus and His mercy.

This passage is taken from the account of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Mary had gone to the tomb only to find it empty.  She sat there weeping thinking that someone took Jesus’ body away.  But suddenly, before her eyes, Jesus was there and alive.  His words were piercing and profound.  He said, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  There are two things to say about this passage.

First, it was indeed a wonderful blessing that Jesus appeared to her first.  This sinful woman was now the first witness and first messenger to the Resurrection.  This tells us that Jesus does not discriminate against us because of our past sins.  He does not have a long memory holding us forever accountable for what we’ve done in the past.  His forgiveness is absolute when given and it completely restores us to grace if we are open.  This is what happened with Mary.  Jesus chose her, this formerly sinful woman, to be His first witness of His Resurrection.

Secondly, this passage reveals that Jesus does want us to cling to Him, just not in a purely human way.  Mary had come to know Jesus on Earth and now Jesus wanted to deepen His bond with her once He ascended into Heaven.  At that time, He wanted to be more than just physically present, He wanted to dwell within her soul and unite Himself to her, and to us, in the most intimate and profound way.  

Reflect, today, upon the desire in the Heart of our Lord that we cling to Him in Heaven.  Hear Him say to you, “I have now ascended to my Father and I invite you to cling to me with your whole heart.  Let me in and allow me to dwell within you in all intimacy.  I love you and want to be one with you.  Will you let me into your heart?”

Lord, I do want to cling to You.  I do choose to be one with You in every way.  Come live in my heart and make me one with You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Christ’s Chalice

Feast of Saint James, Apostle, July 25

“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 20:22b-23

This was a very gentle rebuke by Jesus.  The mother of James and John asked Jesus for a favor.  She wanted her sons to sit at His right and left in His Kingdom.  Jesus gently said, “You do not know what you are asking” and then went on to speak the passage above.

“You do not know what you are asking.”  Why did Jesus say this?  In part, it’s because the path to glory, that is, the path to sitting at His right and left in the Kingdom, is the path of the Cross.  It’s the path of freely embracing the sufferings of the Cross with Jesus.  It’s not possible to enter into His glory without first walking with Him through His death.

So He asks these Apostles, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”  In other words, can you embrace my Cross?  Can you embrace my suffering?  Can you walk with me through my ultimate sacrifice and participate in that sacrifice by also offering your lives?

The Apostles affirm that they can and, indeed, they eventually do follow Jesus in His sacrifice by giving themselves completely to others. 

Can you drink that chalice?  Can you willingly accept the Cross in your life?  Can you endure hardship, sacrifice and, perhaps, even persecution for being a follower of Jesus?  Can you walk with Him through His suffering?  If the answer is “Yes,” then you will share in His glory.  Perhaps that glory will not be to sit at His right and left, but it will be a glory beyond your wildest imagination.  It’s worth it and it’s an invitation that you will never regret accepting.

Lord, I do desire to drink the chalice You drank.  I desire to receive Your Precious Body and Blood and in that reception to receive the strength and grace I need to follow You in Your sufferings.  As I follow You in Your sufferings, help me also to share in Your glory.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Familial Friendship with Jesus

Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, July 29

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:41–42

Today’s memorial was formerly a memorial only in honor of Saint Martha. However, on February 2, 2021, Pope Francis expanded this memorial to include Martha’s sister and brother, Mary and Lazarus. Thus, today we celebrate these three siblings together.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus. They lived in Bethany, which was only a short distance from Jerusalem. Martha is remembered especially for the story in which she had been preparing a meal for Jesus, while her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him, leaving all the work to Martha. Martha complained to Jesus, urging Him to “Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ gentle rebuke of her request is quoted above.

Mary is also known for the above story in which she sat at Jesus’ feet. This has traditionally been seen as a symbol of contemplative prayer. She is also presented in John’s Gospel as the one who poured an entire jar of expensive perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair just six days before Jesus’ death. Though medieval tradition has at times associated Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala and with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36–50), most scholars agree today that these are three different Marys. In fact, one of the reasons Pope Francis added Mary of Bethany to this memorial today was so that she was honored with a liturgical memorial that did not confuse her with Mary of Magdala.

Lazarus is, of course, well known for the fact that Jesus brought him back to life after being dead and in the tomb for four days. Little else is mentioned about Lazarus in the Gospels except for the fact that the Pharisees wanted to arrest Lazarus at the time they were also seeking to arrest Jesus and that he was the sibling of Martha and Mary.

Why do we have this memorial honoring all three of these siblings together? When this memorial was established, the Congregation for Divine Worship said, “In the household of Bethany the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them.” By honoring these siblings together, we are especially reminded of the importance of remaining close to family and inviting Jesus into our family. Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived together and shared a common life of love. They invited Jesus into their family life, and He accepted their offer. Jesus’ choice to befriend this family is an indication of His desire to unite each family and to befriend each member of every family so as to be the central source of their shared love and unity. Family love is central to our human lives. And though not every family enjoys unity and mutual love, we must never forget that God wants to enter every family just as He did with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Reflect, today, upon your own family. In which ways does Jesus desire to befriend you more? How does He desire to enter your family life and strengthen it with His love? And how does He want to use you to help? Even if your family struggles in various ways, know that God wants to love you and your family in the same way He did the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Though they were not perfect, He loved them nonetheless. And He desires to do the same to you and your family. 

My loving Jesus, You chose to love the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. In doing so, You also reveal to us Your desire to love all families with a holy love. I invite You into my life and into my family, dear Lord. Please strengthen our bonds, bring unity and mutual respect. Please remove any past hurt and division and enable every family to share more fully in Your friendship and love. Jesus, I love You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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