Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 30, 2018)

As always, the Scriptures challenge us in several ways.

The disciples in the Gospel, as well as Joshua in the Old Testament, are concerned that others outside their group are exercising God’s power. Jesus, and Moses before him, remind them (and us) that God can use anyone he wishes to work his wonders among his people. It’s very easy for us to become like the disciples and forget to rejoice that the Spirit of God works in many unexpected ways. Do I, do you, keep our eyes and hearts open each day in expectation that the Spirit of God may visit us in unexpected ways and through unexpected people?

The words of St. James offer us a challenge. The Oblate community has worked hard to provide us with all we have here. We have much more than many of our brothers and sisters. How do we live our vow of poverty when we have our needs taken care of so well? We can identify with our poor brothers and sisters by being grateful often each day. We can share our sufficiency through our hospitality to guests. And we can remember our brothers and sisters who have much less than we do, and cut short our complaints when we don’t have everything we may think we need.

When we take the time each day to be aware of God’s abundant providence, we also continue to be aware of our own ingratitude. We are aware that there are things about us that draw our attention away from God’s graciousness. Jesus challenges us to total concentration on the God who loves us. If something causes us to sin, cut it off. Jesus is not calling us to mutilation, but he is calling us to decision-making. If we are serious about responding to the great love God has for us, then we will make serious efforts to accept God’s grace throughout the day and choose to move beyond those things in us that lead us to be self-centered.

We have all lived long enough to know the things about us that tend to distract us from God’s loving providence. De Sales reminds us that these tendencies ought to become the subject of our morning preparation of the day. Together with God, we can develop a graced plan which will help us to become more dependent on God’s grace during our day. In this way, we learn to make practical decisions that “cut short” our tendencies toward selfishness and self-centeredness and refocus our attention on God who is providing for us.

Let us not overlook the challenges of today’s Scripture readings. They call us to grace.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2018)

At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, the Father had identified Jesus as his Son, the beloved one in whom he is well pleased. This is a reference to the “suffering servant” in the prophet Isaiah. The servant must suffer and die in order to fully actualize his identity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for what is to come. He identifies himself with the “just one’ in the Book of Wisdom which we heard in today’s first reading. He will be put to the test so as to give proof of his gentleness and patience. He will be condemned to a shameful death – and God will take care of him.

Mark comments that the disciples did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him. Apparently they distracted themselves by arguing about who was the greatest among them.

Jesus was not distracted and continued to teach them about himself and how they were to live. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Jesus is among them as servant – the “suffering servant.”

The child Jesus places in their midst and embraces is how they are to receive him: peaceably, gently, without inconstancy or insincerity, open to wisdom from above.

Jesus comes to us as the “suffering servant” – Savior and Lord. He invites us to embrace him as he did the child. May we not allow ourselves to become distracted by petty, personal concerns. Let us accept Jesus as the First and Only in our lives, for he has shown us how to be the last and the servant of all.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Today’s Gospel passage is the turning point in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus asks his disciples an innocent-enough question: “Who do people say that I am?” And we hear the various ways that people are seeing Jesus. Then Jesus asks the crucial question: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds: “You are the Christ – the Messiah.”

We heard Jesus begin to tell them that he, the Messiah, is going to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise after three days. Peter is shocked and begins to argue with Jesus. Imagine his surprise when Jesus calls him “Satan.” “You’re not thinking as God does, but rather as human beings do.” And Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that, in order to follow him, they will have to take up their cross. They will have to lose their life in order to save it.

If they weren’t confused at first, they must be very confused now. Do I want to follow someone who offers me suffering and self-denial? That’s not a very appealing invitation.How is this “good news”?

What is “God’s thinking” that Jesus is talking about? We need to look at the larger picture of Jesus’ message. St. John tells us: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we might have life.” Jesus has come to show us how much God loves the world. He reveals God’s great desire for us – that we share in divine life and love. Jesus loves us so much that he is willing to give his own life for us – to suffer and die – so that we can be reconciled to God and share God’s life.

The Father’s love for Jesus is so great that Jesus’ willing death for us is transformed into new life in the resurrection. Self-denial and suffering are not ends in themselves. They are the inevitable consequences of unconditional love. When love is patterned on divine love, no cost is too great for the one who loves.

Divine love is always life-giving – eternal life-giving. Jesus’ love was so focused on us that self-denial and suffering, even death on the cross, became the means of salvation and reconciliation. You and I now share in God’s life and love because Jesus’ love for us was unconditional.

Jesus offers us the challenge: love one another as I have loved you. Loving others as Jesus loved will have its costs. Jesus has shown us that the costs are life-giving. When we embrace self-denial, suffering, and even death, because we love, they will always lead us to resurrection – new life – eternal life.

May we know Jesus’ great love for us and learn to love generously as Jesus did.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 9, 2018)

We have just heard that curious command of Jesus: “Don’t tell anyone about the miracle you’ve just witnessed.” And Mark tells us that the people went about telling of Jesus’ power to heal. Why would Jesus make such a strange command?

Jesus knew human nature all too well. He knew how easily we are attracted by power, by the miraculous. He also knew that power can distract us from examining reality.

Today’s Scripture readings call us to look beyond the miraculous, the powerful and seek to understand reality. Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak clearly in order to point to the reality that God is present among his people. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise made through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is trying to tell the people whose hearts of frightened: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; … he comes to save you.” Jesus’ power to heal reveals the compassionate faithfulness of God.

But he’s concerned that the people will be distracted by the miraculous and never come to understand who he really is and why he has come. And we all know that his concern was justified. Many found it difficult to identify the miracle worker with the crucified Savior.

The words of St. James remind us that we are part of the human race, and we’re susceptible to the distraction of power. The attractiveness of power can blind us to reality in everyday living. How easily we are attracted by wealth, power and position. How often we choose to pay attention to people who have and ignore those who don’t have. Power distracts us from the reality that all of us are equally made in the image and likeness of our God. And Jesus reverenced the needy as well as the well-off as deserving of God’s compassionate love.

The Scriptures seem to call us to look more deeply within ourselves. What has my God told me about reality? Does power distract me from that reality? Jesus desires to live in each of us as crucified savior, as well as miracle worker. Each person desires to be reverenced for who he or she is by creation, as well as for what he or she says or does.

May we ask for the grace each day to discipline ourselves to see through power and love the reality of our God and our brothers and sisters.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 2, 2015)

Today, the Scriptures focus our attention on two basic attitudes that are to characterize us as a community. The first: the law of God (the word of God) is meant to change our hearts, and then our actions. The second: God’s word is meant to be lived, not just heard.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees in today’s Gospel that good and evil come from what is in our hearts, not from some outside law. Jesus keeps calling us to a change of heart. That’s the only way that our actions can truly be holy actions. When we allow ourselves to be open and receive the immense love that God has for us and understand how passionately God desires us to live in his love, then our hearts will truly change. As a result, we are better able to hear God’s word for what it is – a word spoken to us because he loves us and desires us to be one with him.

We all know what happens in our life when someone truly loves us: how free we feel to be our self, how openly and generously we act, how much we seek to do what pleases the one who loves us. The same is true when we open ourselves to the love God has for us. God’s love for us is unconditional and everlasting; God loves us just because he made us in his image. I know we have all heard those words many times. But do you, do I, really believe them?

Have we spent time with God alone and asked God to open us to experience the depths of his love for us? God desires to do just that if we are willing to spend quiet time with him.

When we do begin to understand and accept God’s great love for us, then we are drawn to love in return. Loving God with our whole being is the gift we receive, and that love overflows to touch the lives of all around us, especially those who are in need of experiencing God’s love.

Today’s Scriptures call us to look more carefully to our God who loves us, and then look inside ourselves, at our heart. Am I hearing God’s word as a word of love for me? Am I letting God’s word of love change my heart? Do I spend enough time with God so that I am renewed by his love?

God’s love is what makes us the Body of Christ, a community of faith. May we be wise in choosing to live by God’s love.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26, 2018)

During the past few Sundays, we have listened to Jesus speak of himself as the living bread come down from heaven. He has made it very clear that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood or we won’t have life within us.

Today we have heard the disciples respond to all that Jesus has said. Some find his words hard to believe and walk away from him. With a note of sadness, Jesus asks the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” We heard Peter speak for himself and the Twelve: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” What a profound act of faith!

Peter responds from his experience of God in Jesus, as Joshua had done before him. It may have been difficult to understand what Jesus was saying to them, but Peter and the Twelve were convinced by what they had seen and heard that Jesus was the Holy One of God. They would put their faith and trust in him, knowing that they would eventually come to a better understanding of all that Jesus was telling them.

Like the Israelites of old, they chose to serve the Lord who is our God. They have seen all that God has done in the person of Jesus. They put themselves at the service of Jesus.

Jesus continues to ask his question. You and I have opportunities to respond. Each of us has experienced difficult moments in life that make Jesus’ words hard to accept. Jesus repeats his question: “Do you also want to leave?”

Just staying here because that’s where I am does not answer Jesus’ question. I can be here and not be open to Jesus’ words of everlasting life for me. I can be here and not accept the graces offered to me to draw me closer to Jesus.

Are we, willing to respond whole-heartedly to Jesus? Let us ask for the grace to respond with open heart to the present moment to all that Jesus wants to do in us and through us to one another. Let us make our Oblate response with sincere faith and trust: “Live, Jesus, whom I love! Live in me today!”

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 19, 2018)

What a wonderful gift the Eucharist is! Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. And he commands us to eat and drink that we might have life – His life, eternal life.

Like Wisdom in today’s first reading, Jesus invites us to the meal he has prepared for us – a meal that enables us to unite ourselves to his saving death and resurrection. On the Cross, Jesus’ flesh was pierced and his blood shed for others,for you and me. As we eat and drink, we are called to “forsake foolishness that (we) might live; advance in the way of understanding.”

The words of Wisdom remind us that this is a sacred meal, a meal of covenant. God has given Jesus for our sake. In Jesus, God’s great love and mercy become visible, tangible. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, we are expressing our willingness to be one with Jesus in his saving mission to the world. We become his “good news” to today’s world.

Each day we seek to understand better how we are to live as members of this covenant community. In this meal, we become one with Jesus and one with the community – one in the Body of Christ. As we leave this sacred meal, we are challenged to live the daily reality of our oneness.

St. Francis de Sales offers us some practical advice on how to make this happen more effectively. He writes: “After Communion, consider Jesus seated in your heart and bring before him each of your faculties and senses in order to hear his commands and promise him fidelity.” This exercise can become our thanksgiving and our commitment to living out what we have celebrated and received. Jesus will offer us a way of using our intellect, our will, our memory, our hearing, our touching, our speaking today so that we can witness to God’s loving presence in the world.

We heard St. Paul encourage us: “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” Our eating and drinking at the table of the Lord makes all of us one. May the wise way we live today and everyday make visible the oneness we experience here in Eucharist.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 12, 2018)

Jesus explained to them: “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.”

Today is week 3 of the 5 weeks dedicated to john’s sixth chapter on the bread of life.

The first reading from 1 Kings tells of Elijah’s eating bread, a hearth cake. It also tells us that this was quite the “power bar.” After eating two of them, we read that he walked for 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb where he re-examined his fear-ridden life, accepted once more the word of God and renews his trust in God.

The Hebrew bible has a tradition of knowledge being called the bread of the spirit. In Deuteronomy, we read a famous and familiar quote: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the Lord. [8:3]

In John 6 we read of two different senses of Jesus’ speaking of himself as the bread of life. John follows a clear outline. He first quotes Jesus claim: “I am the bread of life.” Next, there is murmuring from the Jews. Finally, there is Jesus’ explanation of his saying, “I am the bread of life.” Today’s Gospel addresses the first sense in which Jesus uses the phrase: “I am the bread of life.”

Key to understanding the two parallel passages are the verbs that Jesus uses when he speaks about the “bread.” Let’s review today’s reading:

“No one comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.” It is written in the prophets: God shall teach them all. Everyone who listens to my father and learns from him comes to me…this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.

Do you see how these verses correspond to the quote from Deuteronomy? “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the lord? We heard the verb - phrases: believes – taught by God – listens to my father – learns from him - eat[s] [this bread].

Jesus is proclaiming in today’s passage that he is “the bread of life” in the sense that he is food for the mind / heart. He gives us “something to chew on.” He is sapiential food. He is wisdom for those who listen to him, to those who accept him as the center of their lives. This food provides the one who accepts him with a life that is not at mere subsistence level, not simple existing. Bread is seen as something that is necessary for living a life that is fully alive. This bread of life provides an answer to the question of what living is for.

We can never underestimate the intelligence and the ingenuity of John the author. It is well accepted that this section of john 6 was calculated to express what we call “the liturgy of the word” in the celebration of Eucharist. It is at this time of our celebration that we turn our attention to a theme that is present in each Sunday celebration of Eucharist.

We first hear a connection to the Hebrew bible; we then usually hear a passage from the apostle, Paul; the final reading is from one of the four gospels. When we listen carefully each week, we hear the great themes from scripture in carefully chosen seasons of the year. These give us the history of salvation, the interventions of our god in the lives of those who have gone before us. During the season of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles that tells us the formative experiences of the early Christian church.

This is bread that thoroughly nourishes us. We realize that our concerns, our worries, our burdens, our joys are not unique to us. We hear of others who walked before us and experienced similar times. In a sense, these people are brought into ours lives in our day. We digest the bread of life and are eternally nourished on our journey.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 5, 2018)

The Scriptures today invite us to open our minds and hearts to the lavish love of our God.

When the Israelites asked for food in the desert, God gave them exactly what they needed. Their grumbling didn’t put him off; he fed them with manna and quail. God only asked them to trust in his loving care for them.

When crowds of people gathered around Jesus, he not only fed them; he gave them more than they could eat. God’s only desire in both instances was to show his lavish love in such a way that it would move people to trust him with their lives.

When the people asked Jesus what they were to do to accomplish the works of God, he gave them a simple answer: believe in the one sent by God – believe in me. Then Jesus identifies himself: I am the bread of life, come down from heaven to give life to the world. All who come to him will never hunger or thirst.

All of us believe that Jesus is the bread of life for us. We desire to place our trust and confidence in God’s loving care for us. We have also found that there is a challenge involved in this trusting. The challenge comes in our willingness to embrace God as he is, and not as we might like him to be. Confidence in God’s loving Providence means accepting with our whole being that God will provide for us, but not always as we might want or expect. Hoarfrost on the ground in the early morning was not what the Israelites expected, but it was bread from heaven as God had promised.

Are we courageous enough in our faith to say to God: “Give us this bread always” and then meet the challenges of letting Jesus, the bread of life, live in us as each day unfolds?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 29, 2018)

Throughout history, God has fed his people generously.

We just heard how he fed one hundred from the twenty barley loaves given to the prophet Elisha – and there was some left over as God had said. The Gospel recounts Jesus feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish – and leftovers filled twelve baskets. God truly visits his people and feeds them generously.

But these signs were only hints of God’s generous care. At the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples, He takes bread and a cup of wine and gives thanks, and tells them to eat. He tells them that the bread they are eating is his body soon to be given for them, and the wine is now his blood soon to be poured out on the cross for the sins of all. Then he instructs them to continue this sacred rite in remembrance of him.

You and I are here today to continue to fulfill that command of Jesus. Each time we celebrate Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. Our God comes to be one with us. St. Peter Chrysologus, an early writer of the Church, asks us to open our minds and hearts to the wonder of this gift: “God always gives greater gifts than he is asked for. …He gives himself as food to be eaten. …(And God promises) ‘You who have continued with me will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.’ He who prepares such great provisions to sustain you on your journey, what has he not prepared for you in that ever-lasting abode? So do not be anxious about the quality of this banquet.”

If our God has provided the body and blood of Jesus as food for our journey, then his promise for the future will be just as surprising and generous. What, then, are we to do as we journey? St. Paul tells us: “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” Live humbly, gently, patiently, bearing with one another through love. Strive to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.

He is reminding us to remember the food we have eaten and allow Jesus to fill us with himself. As we remember, we are called to live as Jesus did, to love as Jesus loved, to be humble and gentle and patient as Jesus was, to be transformed more and more in the image of Jesus so that we can be Jesus’ presence in our world. The gifts of God are generous; the Gift-giver calls us to be generous in turn.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 22, 2018)

We know that the prophecy we heard from Isaiah today is ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

He is the righteous shoot of David, the just and wise king, the shepherd who gathers and cares for the remnant of God’s flock. Through his death and rising, Jesus has established peace and reconciliation. Through him, everyone has access in one Spirit to the Father. Through our Baptism, you and I are the Body of Christ. We carry on the mission of Jesus to bring peace and reconciliation to our world.

Our mission will not always be easy. There will be times when we may want to find some time alone – like Jesus and his disciples in today’s gospel. We may want to talk to Jesus alone about all that’s happening in our lives.

The Gospel today reminds us that Jesus came to care for all God’s people, not just his disciples. Jesus caught sight of the people who had followed them. Rather than becoming annoyed that they were interrupting his precious time with his disciples, his heart is moved with pity by their need and he cares for them.Right then, these people needed to know God’s loving care.He would find time later to be alone with his disciples and listen to them.

The call to be Jesus’ compassion to someone in need often asks us to attend to that person’s need first, then attend to our own.We are not asked to deny our own need; we are asked to attend to another’s first.

Our daily challenge as a disciple is to be Jesus’ loving compassion present to anyone in need. Our oneness with Jesus here in Eucharist gives us the experience and strength we need to open our heart each day and love as Jesus loved us.

As we eat his Body and drink his Blood today, let us resolve to be generous in our loving this week – as Jesus was.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 15, 2018)

We have just heard St. Paul remind us that we are an integral part of God’s mysterious plan of salvation. Think for a moment about the wonderful truths he tells us about ourselves. Like the prophet Amos and the Twelve in the gospel, we are ordinary people.

Yet Paul tells us, in the eyes of God who made us, we are special:

  • before the world came into being, God has chosen us in Christ to be holy
  • because God loves us, he has destined us to be his adopted children in Christ
  • in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing
  • in the blood of Jesus, our sins are forgiven; we are redeemed
  • the riches of God’s grace have been lavished upon us
  • God has revealed to us in Jesus his mysterious plan of salvation
  • we are chosen by God to praise his glory
  • we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit as God’s possession
  • the Spirit within us is the sure promise of our inheritance – life with our God forever.
No matter how ordinary we may appear in our own eyes or in the eyes of the world around us, our God has made us special – each of us, all of us. And God sends us into the world, as Jesus sent the Twelve, to announce that good news of God’s gracious love to everyone we meet.

God wants us to live in a way that shows that we have understood what God has done for us – that we treasure the work in grace in us. How we choose to live today and everyday reflects what we believe about ourselves. If I believe I’m ordinary, then I don’t have much to bring to others. If I believe that God’s grace makes me and others special, then I have something worthwhile to bring to others, and they to me.

God has given each of us a destiny – an inheritance. Our God made us to be holy as God is holy. How we choose to live our daily lives will give honor and praise to our God who has loved us and chosen us in Jesus. As we place our hope and trust in Jesus, and try to follow the inspirations of the Spirit within us each day, we are being led home to our Father’s house.

May the words we have heard from St. Paul today help us to remember who we really are. The mercy and grace of our loving God has made us so.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 8, 2018)

St. Paul has shared with us a very intimate detail of his life – a humbling detail – and an important lesson that he learned. Paul shared it because what he learnedis vital for all of us to hear and take to heart.

Most of us don’t care to dwell on our weaknesses. Usually, we spend lots of energy trying to overcome them. For most of us, weaknesses are liabilities. And, like Paul, we have asked the Lord to take them away from us.

Paul must have been surprised when he first heard the Lord’s words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” With some prayerful reflection, his “thorn in the flesh” was taking on a new meaning. It was no longer his weakness. It was now the place in him where the power of grace could dwell and transform him.

In the humble acceptance of his weakness, Paul found the power of Jesus which made him strong. This transforming experience would lead Paul to be content with weaknesses and hardships, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” as he would tell us.

In our Salesian tradition, Francis encourages us to learn to “love our abjections” not just put up with them, but embrace them. He writes this to us because he has understood Paul’s message. He knows from his own experience that the humble person acknowledges that grace alone has the power to make one strong.

What about us? We all have our weaknesses and hardships. Do we continue to spend lots of our energy trying to overcome them? How do we hear the Lord’s words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness?” We all have our abjections. Am I learning anything about loving them? Am I learning with St. Paul: “when I am weak, then I am strong?”

Each of us might benefit greatly by taking the Lord’s words to prayer. Let us be more eager to listen than to talk. May the Lord lead each of us to the humility that will open us to the transforming power of divine grace in our daily lives.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 1, 2018)

Today’s Gospel offers us two examples of Jesus reaching out to the poverty of human beings and giving them the richness of life.

Both Jairus and the woman sufferings from a blood-flow come to Jesus with great hope and faith and humble themselves before him on their knees. Jesus receives each of them with great gentleness. When he speaks to the woman, he calls her “daughter” and publicly recognizes her as cured by her faith and now restored to cleanness in the community.

Then, Jesus comes to the home of Jairus and takes him and his wife out of the din of the mourners into their daughter’s room. There, Jesus speaks gently to the young woman, takes her by the hand as she is restored to life, and instructs her parents to give her something to eat.

Both the unclean woman and the young girl now share in the richness of life that Jesus gives.

While you and I realize that our God has made us in his image, we also recognize our poverty when left on our own. We have come to know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ: though he was rich, he became poor like us, so that by his poverty we might become rich. By Baptism, we were washed clean and restored to the fullness of God’s life and love. By God’s favor, we have that richness within us.

Each day we share more fully in God’s life here in the Eucharist. Jesus takes us by the hand and walks with us as we journey with him to our Father’s home. He invites us to take the hand of others and share this richness of life together, as sisters and brothers.

Whenever we find ourselves tempted to dwell on our poverty as human beings, Jesus invites us to kneel before him and ask him to touch us with his mercy and love. Jesus will remind us of the riches of healing and redemption that are ours. Then he will take us by the hand and enable us to walk with him as his enriched brothers and sisters.

NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (June 24, 2018)

Francis de Sales wrote: "I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one of two days' journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother's womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ's presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John's spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have him so close and not enjoy his presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God's will and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur." (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

"How truly mortified was John the Baptist's spirit." What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as "to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation." John did, indeed, discipline himself: he denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of who God wanted him to be: a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus.

Think about it: John spends thirty years in the desert preparing to announce Christ's coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once - when he baptized him at the Jordan River - only to remain behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again before dying in prison at the hands of one of King Herod's executioners.

John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation: John played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: "I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11) "Yet," Jesus continues, "Anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." John shows us that being faithful to God's will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to "have it all" and to dedicate ourselves to discerning - and embracing - our unique roles in God's plan of salvation.

In ways unique to our states and stages of life, God calls us, too, to be "a light to the nations." Are we prepared to practice the discipline that being that light may require? Are we prepared to follow Christ by staying right where we are?

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17, 2018)

Today’s readings help us to keep things in perspective. Make no mistake – we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. While we are charged with a tremendous duty - advancing the kingdom of God - the most effective means to accomplishing this great calling is to pay attention to detail – that is, buy doing little things with great love.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and, in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget…those little, humble virtues that grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of your family, with all the responsibilities that accompany such things and with all the useful diligence which prompts you to not stand idle.”

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent…you will profit greatly in God’s sight by doing all these things because God wishes you to do the.” (III, 35, pp. 214 – 215)

God gives us a rich abundance of means proper for our salvation. By a wondrous infusion of God’s grace into our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions the Spirit makes our works become God’s work. Our good works - like planting miniscule mustard seeds here or like scattering small seeds there - have vigor and virtue enough to produce a great good because they proceed from the Spirit of Jesus.

As it turns out, little things do really mean a lot in the eyes of God. In fact, they mean everything!

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 10, 2018)

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales exclaimed:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience.

That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

Body and Blood Of Jesus Christ (June 3, 2018)

Today the Church celebrates the fulfillment of God’s great desire to be one with his people –to establish an everlasting covenant with us – a covenant which guarantees our forgiveness and reconciliation.

Jesus’ body is broken and his blood poured out for us on the Cross. Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice himself so that we can be reconciled to God and to one another completes his Father’s loving plan – a new covenant is made permanent.

Today’s Gospel account reminds us that Jesus gave us a continuing memorial of his loving sacrifice – a way for us today to share in his saving death and resurrection. Each time we come together to celebrate Eucharist, we break bread and share a cup that signifies the Body of Jesus broken and his Blood poured out for us.

The Blood of Christ reminds us of an earlier covenant between God and his people. Like Israel of old, Jesus’ Blood forms us into a new people of God – the Church. During each Eucharist we proclaim, as they did, “All that God has said, we will do.”

As we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, we enter into a deeper communion with Jesus and with one another. We become the Body of Christ present in our world. Like Jesus, we must become willing to do our Father’s will, opening ourselves to accepting a share of the sufferings that may entail.

We are never alone in our efforts, because sharing in Eucharist makes us a covenant community. Our oneness in Eucharist must lead us to oneness in daily living.

Today’s feast is a strong reminder of the realities of our Christian life:

  • Our God desires to be intimately one with us and the Eucharist is the place where that happens most clearly. As we eat Jesus’ Body and drink his Blood, he becomes one with us and we with him.
  • Our sharing in Eucharist also draws us into deeper communion with all the members of the Church. We become more fully the Body of Christ.
  • As the Body of Christ in our world, we continue the mission of Jesus to announce the good news of God’s love to all our brothers and sisters, especially those who need to hear that God loves them.
As we give thanks today for the great gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus in Eucharist, let us re-dedicate ourselves to living out our oneness in Jesus as we go about the daily tasks of living this week.

The Most Holy Trinity (May 27, 2018)

Ask yourself, as Moses did: “Did anything so great ever happen before?” We hear Moses remind the Israelites that our God has revealed the Divine Presence in many wonderful ways: from creation through the great signs of divine power done for God’s people during the Exodus. God lovingly gave the chosen people commandments by which to live and the promise of a land where they would live long and prosperous lives.

Our Triune God continued to love his people. The Father sent the Son, Jesus, to dwell among us. And Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit as God’s abiding Presence in us and among us. God sought us out in love and made us adopted children, brothers and sisters of Jesus. We have “received the Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” In prayer, Jesus taught us to approach God and call him “Father.”

As adopted children, co-heirs with Jesus, we have the right to inherit the promised reign of God. The Spirit of God is always with us, enabling us to bear our sufferings with Jesus, so that we may also be glorified with Jesus.

St. Francis de Sales describes for us our promised eternal inheritance.

“We will see face to face and very clearly the Divine Majesty, the essence of God, and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. There we will understand and participate in those adorable conversations and divine colloquies which take place between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” ( Sermons for Lent, 1622, p. 63)

Ask yourself again: “Has anything so great ever happened before?” De Sales encourages us:

“Note well how ardently God desires us to be His, since to this end He has made Himself entirely ours. He gives us both His death and His life; His life so that we may be freed from eternal death; His death so that we can enjoy eternal life. Let us live in peace, then, and serve God so as to be His in this mortal life and still more so in life eternal.” ( Treatise on the Love of God, 3. 5)

All praise and honor to you: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Pentecost (May 20, 2018)

Jesus breathes new life into his disciples. Jesus announces that mutual forgiveness will be the mark by which his community will be recognized. And as God has forgiven them in Jesus, Jesus tells them to forgive one another as a sign of the new life they share.

(St. Luke’s account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles describes the coming of the Spirit in a much more dramatic fashion than John. As the Spirit descends on the disciples as tongues of fire, the disciples begin to make bold proclamation of the Good News in an astounding way. In John, Pentecost takes on the form of a more intimate conversation and communication.)

The very same Spirit is given to each of us at our Baptism. The Spirit’s presence has been strengthened in us through Confirmation. (In some Christian traditions – mostly in the East - Baptism and Confirmation as essentially administered/celebrated back-to-back at the same time.) We are one in the Body of Christ because we all share the one Holy Spirit.

Each of us has special gifts that have been given to us as a way of manifesting the Spirit’s presence in us. Our gifts are given not solely for our own good, although that’s a good place to start! Ultimately, our gifts of the Spirit are meant for the good of others. When we use our gifts for others, we witness to our oneness in Christ. No one’s gift or ministry or work is more important than anyone else’s - all are needed for the unity of the community of the Church.

Each of us is important because we bring a gift or talent or way of working that no one else can bring to the group. We all lose something when an individual person’s gifts are not welcomed or used in the community. We need one another in order to experience the full wonder of God’s love for us.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!” This is a bold request on our part. Are we really open to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that God wants to give us? Are we willing to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to be drawn more deeply into the Mystery of God’s love? Can we find new ways to use these gifts in our efforts to love one another during the day?

May this feast of Pentecost be a rebirthing in each of us of all the spiritual gifts that help us stay centered in the Holy Spirit.