St. Dorothy Catholic Community Orlando/Winter Park, Florida
Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-
Matthew 26:14--27:66 or 27:11-54
Passion (Palm) Sunday - April 5, 2020
Today, if we could be distributing palms, you would be holding them in your hands. In the ancient world, palm branches were the symbol of victory. For the Israelites in the Old Testament, the elegance, strength, and simplicity of this tree became a symbol of the just man or woman, the one in whom God's law triumphed. It also symbolized victory for the Romans. Palm trees were not native to Italy. And so, when the Romans started conquering other nations in the Mediterranean, the generals brought palm trees back to Rome as souvenirs of their victories. So the crowds waving palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem were declaring his victory. Today, we echo them, we join them, and we declare and celebrate Christ's victory.
But what victory is it? And how did Christ win it? It is the victory over original sin. Original sin, as tradition tells us, was mankind's disobedience to God and obedience to the devil. It shattered God's plan, let loose the scourge of evil, and gave the devil a certain power over earthly society.
Jesus, through his passion, death, and resurrection, reversed the disobedience of original sin by obeying his Father's will in spite of all the devil's attempts to thwart him: The betrayal of Judas, the abandonment of his apostles, the false accusations, the condemnation, the humiliation, the scourging and crowing with thorns, the torture of crucifixion - all of these sufferings were the devil's attempts to get Jesus to say "no" to his Father, just as he had gotten Adam and Eve to say "no".
But Jesus defeated the devil. He continued to love, forgive, and obey through it all. And so he, unlike Adam, unlike every other person in history, can say, "I have not rebelled" as was read in the first reading. His obedience establishes a beachhead in this world that is under the devil's sway: Jesus' Passion is D-Day for the devil, and liberation for us. This is the victory we celebrate.
It is easy for us to take this for granted. We get so used to hearing about how Christ came to earth to save us for our sins. Today, though, we should take some time to savor this truth, to refresh our appreciation of it. One way to think of it is to think of God as a painter and the earth as a painting. God creates the world and the universe, as a painter creates a painting.
But then God does something that no mere human artist can ever do.
God paints living beings into the painting. He includes angels and people, and gives them freedom to discover the beauties of the world and come to know and love the artist who created them. Unfortunately, some of the angels rebel against God. And they get the people to join their rebellion. By rejecting their friendship with God, they separate themselves from the very source of their existence, and they mar the original beauty, harmony, and happiness of God's creation. Their rebellion brings darkness and disorder into the painting. This rebellion was original sin.
What does the artist do now? He could just destroy the painting, angels, and people and start over. But that's not what God does. He doesn't want to destroy us; God wants to save us, to redeem us. So he decides to paint himself into the rebellious world of the painting. He becomes one of us.
And being one of us, he can reestablish on our behalf a friendship between God and man, between the painter and the rebels. And being at the same time God, he can instruct us infallibly about the way we ought to live, about the original plan the artist had for a beautiful, harmonious, and fulfilling life. This is the Incarnation: Christ becoming one of us in order to redeem us. And although the devil did his best to get Christ to join the rebellion - tempting him, torturing him, having him experience injustice, betrayal, and rejection - Christ stayed faithful. He proved by fidelity to his mission that God really does want to save us, not condemn us.
By joining forces with Christ, by accepting him as our Redeemer, by following his teachings and example, and by nourishing our souls on his grace as given by the Church, we become his partners in the redemption. We share and extend his victory. That's what we celebrate today.
Today and throughout this week we should give thanks to God for the great things he has done, reflect on his saving love, and renew our commitment to follow him. But the victory is too wonderful to keep to ourselves. There are still people who don't know about it. They don't know Christ, or they are afraid to follow him. They don't know that their sufferings in this fallen world, as the world is experiencing now can become meaningful and fruitful if they are united to Christ's sufferings.
There are two ways that each one of us can make this Holy Week truly holy, not only for ourselves, but for those around us - by our words and our deeds.
By our words. We should not be afraid to speak of Christ and the meaning of his Passion. We are his messengers. He wants to reach out to others through us. Who needs to hear the message? Maybe we can think of someone right away. Maybe we just need to be ready and willing, so that the Holy Spirit can work through us.
And by our deeds. This week, we can image Christ's Passion by doing what he did, by sharing our neighbor's burdens, by taking upon ourselves the crosses of others. It may be as simple as inviting someone to come and participate in the Holy Week liturgies via our Facebook Live broadcasts on Thursday and Friday at 7pm.
Today, on this day when we celebrate the victory of Christ's love, let's ask Christ to show us what to do, and let's promise him that we will not keep the victory to ourselves, that we will carry the palm branch not only in Church, but everywhere we go out there, as we state at the end of every Liturgy - being true messengers and ambassadors of the Redemption.
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16BC, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) - April 9, 2020
The distinguishing mark of the Christian is self-forgetful love. This is because every Christian is another Christ, and the distinguishing mark of Christ was his love. The washing of his disciples' feet was a perfect image of what this Christ-like love is all about. In ancient Palestine foot-washing was a job reserved for slaves. It was one of the most unpleasant and humiliating tasks. People wore sandals or went barefoot. And they walked on roads shared by herdsmen driving their animals to market and traders moving goods by ox and camel. The dirt of these unpaved byways, therefore, was blended with poop. Even a short walk caked one's sandal-exposed feet with the filthy, smelly mix.
That's what Jesus washed off his Apostles' feet.
By freely, gladly, and willingly washing his Apostles' feet, Jesus, God made man, the King of kings and Lord of the universe, lowered himself to the status of a slave. In that way, showed what he means by unconditional love. For Christ, unconditional love is not feelings; it is not noble desires; unconditional love is self-giving. Unconditional love is active and costly.
That's what the washing of the feet teaches us.
And because he knows we're slow learners, he is going to repeat the lesson even more graphically by the suffering and death of his passion. If that's what unconditional love means for Christ, then it's also what unconditional love means for the Christian, for each you and for me. If we want to be his faithful followers, if we want to live as the members of God's family that we are, we must strive to follow his example: "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
We are here today watching via Facebook Live because we want to do that; we believe in Jesus and want to follow him. We want to improve our own lives, the lives of those around us, and the whole world. And yet, sometimes we forget how simple it really is.
Christ's strategy for changing the world and bettering our lives is self-forgetful love; it's washing each other's feet. If we live that, the rest will fall into place, both for us, and for our society.
A few years ago the British medical journal, The Lancet, did a study on why people desire euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The researchers did in-depth interviews with people suffering from HIV-1 and AIDS. They came up with this answer: "Participants desired euthanasia or assisted suicide because of disintegration and loss of community, which combined to create a perception of loss of self." In other words, the sick and helpless said, in various ways, "I am no longer who I was." And this led them to conclude, "I should be allowed to die with my dignity intact."
But why would these people feel that they were no longer themselves?
That's where "loss of community" comes in. They found that the people who used to care about them didn't care about them anymore, now that they were sick and dying. They saw that their feet were filthy, but no one came by to wash them, and so they conclude that they are not worth washing, and they lose hope. At that point, death starts to look like a solution, a way to stop spiraling further into worthlessness. Thus, the culture of death.
The antidote is Christ-like unconditional love. They need someone to wash their feet, to remind them that in God's eyes, they still matter, they will always matter. This is the message that every human heart needs to receive, the message that a healthy society knows how to send.
Today, the Lord is inviting us to renew our commitment to follow this path of self-forgetful love. I think we all want to say yes to that invitation. We want to make following Christ the central project of our lives. And there is no better way to do this than by making Christ in the Eucharist the central focal point of our lives. There we can learn to love as Christ loves. There we can find the strength to put that lesson into action, because there Christ himself speaks to our hearts and strengthens our souls.
Making the Eucharist the focal point of our lives doesn't mean spending all of our time in Church, though God does call some people to dedicate their lives in such a way. But for most of us, it means simple things, like receiving Communion regularly and worthily, and asking forgiveness for our wrong doingd beforehand when necessary.
It means trying to get to Mass. It means including Mass and Holy Communion in birthday and anniversary celebrations and other special occasions. It means carving a few minutes out of our busy schedules to come and sit with the Lord, to drop by the Tabernacle, where Jesus is always waiting for us, praying for us, and keeping the gifts of his grace ready for us.
As we receive the Lord now in Holy Communion, from the bread and wine/grape juice that is there with you at home, let's thank him for all he has done for us, and let's renew our commitment to strive to be his true followers, radiating Christ-like love in everything we do.
Psalms 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Good Friday, 2020 - April 10
Death, suffering, and sorrow were not part of God's original plan for humanity; they only showed up after original sin, as tradition us. By cutting off the human family from the source of harmony, peace, and justice - God - original sin opened the door to disharmony, strife, and injustice. And so suffering entered the world.
In the face of this difficult situation, God decided to send us a Savior, Jesus the Christ, who took upon himself all of our guilt, all of our suffering and pain. He experienced it in his own body and soul, and this was how he redeemed us. But if that's true, and it is, then we are left with a question.
If sin was the source of suffering, and if Jesus took our suffering upon himself in order to save us from sin, then why do we still suffer? Why is there still disharmony, strife, and injustice if Jesus has already atoned for all of mankind's sins? I am quite sure that this has been asked many times by many people during this pandemic in which we find ourselves today.
This is an important question, and it has an important answer.
Jesus doesn't save us from suffering; he saves us through suffering. Jesus teaches us, by his example, how to find meaning and purpose in our sufferings: by using them as a springboard for trusting in God.
In today's Psalm we get a glimpse of what was happening in Jesus' heart as he hung on the cross. He says, "I am like a dish that is broken." This describes how horrible he feels, in body and soul. But then he confides in God: "Into your hands I commend my spirit... Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord."
When God permits suffering in our lives, it's because he wants to teach us to let him be our savior, to lean more fully on him, just as Jesus leaned on his Father during the darkest day in history.
Whether we believe in Jesus or not, we will suffer in this life. That's the way things are in our fallen world. So the question isn't finding a way to avoid the cross, but gradually learning to accept our crosses the way Christ accepted his, gradually letting the Holy Spirit reveal to our hearts the meaning of the cross.
A while ago the New York Times reported an interesting story that illustrates this difficult truth. A crew of men were excavating for the basement of a large building, when one of the workmen noticed an unusual piece of metal lying in the dirt. Brushing it off, he discovered that it was a cross of sterling silver. He took it to the foreman, who in turn took it to a Catholic priest in a nearby parish.
Now, the thought occurs: was that cross lost accidentally, or was it buried on purpose? Was someone careless about their beautiful cross, or did they give up their trust in God and try to do away with it? In either case, the lost and buried cross is a kind of living parable about our own lives. Even if we try to ignore, hide, or do away with our crosses, we can't; the cross will keep showing up. And that's because God wants to use it to lift us closer to him, and he never gets tired of trying to do that.
As St Ignatius of Loyola put it, "There is no wood more useful for kindling and feeding the fire of divine love than the wood of the cross." And as St Francis of Assisi said, "I exhort you brethren, have continually before your mind the blessed passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will strengthen you, and encourage you to suffer more generously for the sake of his Love."
When suffering comes our way as it is right now for so many here and across the world, when we feel the weight of the cross in our own lives, it is easy to forget about this deeper meaning behind it. In times of darkness and storms we need reminders that God is still with us, like a shepherd watching over his sheep.
One way to assure that we will always find reminders when we need them is to make ourselves into reminders for others. We definitely all know people who are suffering - whether it's the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, family strife, illness, or even existential angst. As followers and ambassadors of Christ, we are called to help them carry that cross, just as Jesus helps us carry ours. By reaching out to others, even in very simple ways like a phone call, an email, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to tell them we are praying for them, we lighten their burden and unite ourselves to Jesus.
We lend him our hands, our voices, our hearts, so that through us Jesus can teach others that suffering in union with him is a path to salvation, wisdom, and joy.
In a few moments, Jesus will give himself to us once again in Holy Communion. He will prove yet one more time that he wants to accompany us and strengthen us, so that we don't have to carry our crosses alone. When he does, let's thank him from the depths of our heart.
Let's renew our faith in his power and wisdom, telling him that we trust him, even during dark and stormy times as we are experiencing now. And let's ask him to give us the courage to reach out to those around us whose crosses are particularly heavy, so that through us he can lighten their loads.
Acts 10:34, 37-43
Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Easter Sunday, 2020
Three days ago, on the evening of Good Friday, apparent failure loomed large. Not only was the Lord dead and buried, but the Apostles were holed up in a locked room, fearing for their lives.
Where were all the miracles now? What did the Master's beautiful words mean now?
It seemed like God had abandoned their cause, exposed it for a naïve dream. But now Easter Sunday has dawned - and with it, the irreversible victory of the Resurrection. The tomb is empty. The stone is overturned. The shadow of the cross is dispelled by the bright morning light of a new creation. Christ's apparent failure has blossomed into victory, just like the seed that disappears under the ground only to rise up again in fresh, new growth. That is the basic pattern of Christian life, for the Church, for Christian communities, for individuals: apparent failures blossoming into victories; Good Fridays turning into Easter Sundays.
As we follow Christ, he leads us up to the hill of Calvary, where we die to ourselves in the painful surrender to God's will - our own Good Fridays. But that death in fact gives God's grace room to work in our lives so that we sprout new shoots of wisdom, virtue, and happiness - our own Easter Sundays. Christian life is an infinite number of variations on this one theme, revealed to us by God in Christ: Good Friday - Easter Sunday; Good Friday - Easter Sunday; Good Friday - Easter Sunday.
Now we know exactly what's coming. When we expect one without the other, it means we have not learned the fundamental lesson of the gospel. When, on the other hand, we accept and adapt to that rhythm of Christian life, we finally begin to speed forward along the road to wisdom, holiness, and lasting fulfillment.
Evil doesn't want us to believe in the Resurrection. And if we do believe in it, evil doesn't want us to think about it - because it knows that keeping in mind the full Christian message will help us resist temptation and build magnificent, beautiful lives of virtue.
A small piece of American history illustrates this beautifully.
Some Moravian immigrants from Europe settled near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania centuries ago.They built a beautiful church and continued their Old World customs. One of these was to welcome the rising sun on Easter morning, from the top of the church steeple, with blaring trumpets and glorious hymns. At first these European settlers were at war with the local Native Americans.
One Holy Saturday, a band of Native American warriors silently paddled down the Lehigh River to launch a surprise attack on the settlement. They beached their canoes and tip-toed up the bank, concealed by the early morning darkness. They were creeping closer to their prey, when suddenly a burst of music and song shattered the pre-dawn stillness. The Moravians were singing Easter hymns to the accompaniment of their trombones. Terror-stricken, the invaders froze in their tracks; they had never heard brass musical instruments before. Breathless with fear, they crouched behind trees and bushes. Finally their leader whispered, "It is the voice of the Great Spirit, and it is a warning." As silently as they had come, they slipped back to the water's edge, launched their canoes, and retreated.
By themselves, all of Christ's miracles and wisdom and love would be powerless to guide or save us. Only by topping all of that off with the marvelous news of Christ's resurrection did Christianity receive the power to roll back the threatening forces of darkness and sin. And only by keeping faith in the Resurrection will that power be able to transform our lives too.
Today we should relish this joy of Easter, thanking God for letting us share in this victory, for giving us this hope. But let's not stop there. Let's not just enjoy Easter, let's let it change our lives. Christ's resurrection is not just a nice idea; it is the power of eternal life at work in us.
Why not do something for the eight weeks of the Easter season to plug into that power? Almost every one of us, I am sure, made an effort to live Lent in a special way. Most likely we might have given up something for Lent or tried to do more kindnesses even to those who may rub us the wrong way. That was a practical way to give the special graces that God sends during Lent some room to work in our souls.
So, if we gave something up as a way to help us live the penitential season of Lent or tried to do more kindnesses, why not take something up as a way to help us live the joyful season of Easter or continue those kindnesses even though Lent is over.
In the Second Reading, St Paul encouraged us to "think of what is above, not of what is on earth." Why don't we make an Easter resolution that will help us do that, that will help us keep in mind the eternal life in Christ that is waiting for us if we stay faithful to him? It could be something simple: like inviting a friend or family member who has forgotten about Christ's victory to watch the Mass on Sundays on Facebook Live. And when things have settled and we can resume Mass at the parish, invite them to come to Mass with you and then maybe go out for brunch afterwards.
Another idea would be like watching a classic movie together as a family each Sunday between now and Pentecost - a joyful, uplifting movie like having a special outing or doing something that would help out those who need help at this time as we are in a stay in place mode.
If we ask the Holy Spirit to give us some ideas, she won't be stingy. She just needs us to decide to let Easter make a difference in our lives, to let it change the pattern of our lives, the way it should.
Our souls need that as much as they needed the time of penance and contrition that we lived during Lent otherwise we won't be able to resist the power of the false stories that our culture is constantly bombarding us with especially at this time to instill anxiety, fear and distress. The Church is wise in giving us six weeks of Lent and eight weeks of Easter.
Today, as we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist, let's promise him that we will find a way to benefit from that wisdom.
Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
First Peter 1:3-9
2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday – April 19, 2020
Why is today Divine Mercy Sunday? On April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized the Polish nun who had received from Christ the amazing revelations of the Divine Mercy in the early years of the twentieth century, Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska. During that ceremony, the pope fulfilled one of the requests that Christ had made through those revelations: that the entire Church reserve the Second Sunday of the Easter Season to honor and commemorate God's infinite mercy.
Where do we see this mercy revealed in today's Readings?
First of all, we see it in the reaction Christ shows to those men, his chosen Apostles, who had abandoned him just two nights before. They had abandoned Jesus in his most difficult hour, but Jesus wasn't going to abandon them. He passes through the locked doors, passes through their fears, regret, and guilt, and appears to them. He hasn't given up on them. He brings them his peace. And he reaffirms his confidence in them by reaffirming their mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
We also see God's mercy in Christ's reaction to the men who had crucified him. Does he crush them in revenge? No.
Instead, he sends out his Apostles to tell them - and to tell the whole sinful world, the world that had crucified its God - that they can be redeemed, that God has not condemned them: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And then, just to make sure that the Church is fully armed to communicate this message, Jesus gives the ultimate revelation of God's mercy - he delegates to his Apostles his divine power to forgive sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
This, as tradition tells us, is the institution of the sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament in which the limitless ocean of God's mercy overwhelms the puny ocean of our misery. It was the ultimate revelation of the Divine Mercy.
Of all the Apostles, perhaps Doubting Thomas experienced this mercy most dramatically. Thomas was mad that Jesus had failed. He was brooding over it, nursing his anger and sorrow in solitude. So when he finally heard the news of the Resurrection, he wouldn't accept it: "Unless I see the mark of the nails... I will not believe."
A week later, on the second Sunday after the Resurrection, Thomas is with the other Apostles, still locked inside their fears and doubts. Jesus comes through those locked doors once again, and wishes them peace.
And then what does he do?
Right after he greets the whole group, his very next words are for Thomas: Touch my wounds, Thomas; believe in me!
What look do you think was in Jesus' eyes at that point? I think he was smiling and maybe a little laughter. He was glad to oblige Thomas' stubborn request. He wasn't offended by the Apostle's hesitation and resistance, he was just eager to get his faith back. And Thomas sees this, and he sees that Christ humbly lowers himself to Thomas' level, letting him touch him, letting him feel Christ's real, physical presence...
And Thomas falls on his knees and is the first Apostle to proclaim his faith in Christ's divinity, calling him "My Lord and my God", the very titles given to God throughout the whole Old Testament.
We are all Doubting Thomases.
We all resist God's action in our lives in one way or another, get mad at him, don't trust him, rebel against him. I know that I have done so on so many occasions. And it is precisely in those moments and those corners of our lives where Jesus wants to show off his boundless mercy, come down to our level, and win back our faith.
We are all children of this God whose mercy, goodness, and power are boundless, persistent, and untiring. And children should be like their parents. We have the grace to experience God's mercy - through the sacraments, through prayer, through being taught the Good News about Jesus Christ. But there are many people around us who haven't had that grace, or have forgotten about it.
I can think of nothing that would please God more than if we all made the commitment to spread that mercy this week, even just a little bit in whatever way is available to us.
We all have relationships that are not exactly marked by mercy. We all know of relationships that marred by indifference and envy and resentment. This week, why not take the first step towards reconciliation, with prayer, words, or actions? Why not follow in the footsteps of Christ, not waiting for others to take the first step, but doing so ourselves, just like Jesus who held out his hands to Thomas, showing them by our courage and humility the face of Christ, our merciful Lord?
In his conversations with St Faustina, Jesus promised to unleash on the world a flood of mercy. He has been doing so, and he wants to continue to so. The flood hasn't yet reached every heart.
This week, let's be conscious channels for that flood, clear pipelines for that mercy to refresh someone's shriveled and dried up heart. If in today's Mass we put ourselves at Christ's service for this purpose, I am sure Jesus will give each one of us plenty of opportunities to carry it out. All we need to do is keep ever on our lips that prayer that he himself taught to St Faustina: Jesus, I trust in you.
Acts 2:14, 22-28
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
First Peter 1:17-21
3rd Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2020
These two disciples gave up on Christ because of the cross. They were walking away from the community of apostles and Christ's followers - leaving the Church. It wasn't because they were big sinners. It was just that the Cross, the tragedy of Good Friday, had scared them away.
"We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel," they say to the stranger as they walk back to their old lifestyles, sad and disappointed. They simply can't understand how salvation can come out of the Cross, victory out of defeat. So they give up.
But Jesus comes to their rescue. He walks along with them, talking to them about the Scriptures, the promises and revelations found in God's Word. And their hearts "burn within them." Their hope is stirred into flame. Their spiritual strength and their faith return. Suddenly they are able to recognize Christ's saving power and love even in the darkness of the shadow of the Cross.
We too face the temptation of fear and discouragement when crosses come into our lives like so many crosses have come into our lives since the pandemic. In fact, we all know people who have left the Church, just as these two disciples were leaving Jerusalem, because the Cross crushed their hope, and they became cynical, angry because of being hurt or manrinalized by their institutional Church.
What will prevent us from abandoning our Risen Jesus and our hope when we feel the weight of the Cross?
The same thing that rescued these two sad disciples: conversation with Christ - prayer. Prayer is the source of light and strength for any person regardless of their style of belief. When we take time to unburden our minds to God, and to read and reflect on the Scriptures, maybe with the help of spiritual books, we give Jesus a chance to explain things to our hearts.
Centuries ago, when our fellow Christians were building the astonishing Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, the whole town or city would contribute to the work. Sometimes they would do so directly.
They would quarry the stone from somewhere outside the city, and every townsperson would put their own stones onto carts. Some of the carts and wagons became so heavy that they would require hundreds of people to pull them to the building site. Yes, the people themselves would pull those carts. They would harness themselves to the carts with ropes, or just grab onto ropes attached to the carts full of stone for the rising cathedral. And all together they would pull the cart along. Sometimes they would sing hymns as they pulled. Most of the time they would pull in silence, each one praying to God in the quiet of their heart, thinking about how much Christ had sacrificed himself on the cross to be able to offer them salvation, and offering him prayers and their own sacrifice in thanksgiving, and in penance for their sins.
They had no iPod's to listen to as they worked, and no pay check to look forward to. What gave them the strength to carry on that backbreaking work, week after week, month after month, decade after decade? It was prayer. They pulled those carts loaded with stone, and while they pulled, they prayed.
We too are pulling our carts through life especially now, loaded with the stones of suffering, frustration, and hardship. And if we become people of prayer, we will not only find the strength to keep on pulling, but the Holy Spirit, the master architect, will even build those stones of suffering into beautiful cathedrals, glorifying God and filling hearts with joy for all eternity.
One temptation that we can fall into in our prayer life is the Shakespeare Temptation. This happens when our prayer becomes a monologue. We kneel down to pray, start talking - and we don't stop.
We just rattle on for two minutes or ten minutes, maybe reciting memorized prayers, or telling God all of our problems and complaints.
God is pleased with this prayer and listens to it, because it shows that we believe in him and trust in him. But that's only a half-way life of prayer. Prayer is not meant to be a monologue; it's meant to be a conversation.
Yes, we need to speak to God about what is important to us, just like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. But God also wants to speak to us about what's important to him as well, just as Jesus did with those two disciples. How does God do that? Usually through the words of the Bible. This is why reading should be a regular part of our prayer life.
As people of prayer, we all spend to spend at least ten or fifteen minutes a day in personal prayer, in conversation with God - in addition to our prayers that we usually say before going to sleep. The recap of the day prayer. And part of that time should be spent reading and listening to God's Word, giving God a chance to talk back with us in dialogue.
Reading a chapter from the Bible or from a good spiritual book is what the Holy Spirit uses to give us new insights, encouragement, and strength. Jesus wants to pour out into our hearts his own wisdom, comfort, joy, and strength. Let's give him the chance.
Let's leave Shakespeare for the theatre and turn our daily prayer more and more into a conversation with the one we know who will always unconditionally loves us.
Acts 2:14, 36-41
Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
First Peter 2:20-25
4th Sunday of Easter/Vocation Awareness Sunday - May 3, 2020
Three thousand people became followers of Christ in one day, as the result of one sermon given by St Peter. That's what the Book of Acts records in the First Reading. After the Apostles received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, they went to the Temple to give thanks, and the presence of the Holy Spirit attracted crowds of awestruck pilgrims.
Peter stands up and addresses them. He tells them about Christ. And "they were cut to the heart." These were the same crowds who had rejected Jesus just a few weeks earlier. But now the mere mention of his name "cuts them to the heart." Hearing the truth about Christ made them want to follow Christ. But they didn't know how. And so they asked, "What are we to do?"
Peter explains that they need to repent and be baptized. They need to decide to give up their self-centered ways, follow Christ's teachings, and receive the sacraments worthily. We are all so familiar with this scene that we can easily overlook the most important thing. The grace of God didn't reach those three thousand people directly.
It reached them, inspired them, changed them, and renewed their very lives, through the mediation of the Apostles, through the preaching, witnessing, and ministry of Christ's chosen messengers. Christianity is not just about "me and Jesus." Christianity is about the whole family of Jesus. It is about his Church, through which Jesus has chosen to make himself known and loved by sinners who need his grace. God works through messengers and ambassadors, that means all of us.
Christ shows us that he is the Good Shepherd in many ways, including the example of his followers. Thirty years ago less than five hundred people lived in Cancun, Mexico; today there are more than a million residents. The success of the new tourist hot-spot sparked a rise in crime and the need for a local prison to detain the region's worst criminals.
In spring, 2006 a Catholic layman there felt that Christ was asking him to reach out to those lost sheep. On his first visit he asked the prisoners some simple questions. "How many of you have been insulted?" Several raised their hands, and he responded, "Christ was too." "How many of you have been shoved or spat upon?" Again, several raised their hands, and he said, "Christ was too." Finally he asked, "And how many of you have been imprisoned?" This time all of them raised their hands, and he exclaimed, "Christ was too!"
On another occasion, he gave each inmate a scroll tied with a golden thread - it was a personalized letter from God. The inmates were encouraged to write a response to God.
One wrote: "Father, I feel the need to know you because you know me. After all, you created me, and every time I hear about you I want to know you more. Show me your ways and teach me to love you! Never allow me to wander astray." Another wrote: "Now I understand that you have brought me to this prison so that I would finally wake up to the reality that the REAL prison was my evil thoughts and the errors which I committed. For this reason, Father, I ask for your forgiveness. I have cried because I have made you suffer and I don't want to hurt you anymore."
Christ the Good Shepherd didn't give up on those men, and he will never give up on any of us.
How foolish a sheep would be if its shepherd led it to rich, green pastures, but it refused to eat the grass! Unfortunately, that is often exactly the way we behave, and so we miss out on the "more abundant life" he wants to give us. Life in today's society (before Covid-19) has become so busy that we can let ourselves be satisfied with just a superficial knowledge of the treasures of our faith. I truly wonder if this has changed due to recent events or will we just go back to the same ole same ole.
The wisdom of the Catholic faith is much more nourishing to our minds and hearts than the top-ten lists at yahoo.com or the headline news on CNN. And yet, sometimes we spend a whole week filling ourselves with news, gossip, and entertainment, and squeezing our faith-meals into one short hour on Sunday. That is not a healthy diet.
Sometimes we can be intimidated by, the writings of the saints, and other great spiritual works of our Catholic heritage. But discovering these treasures is really not as hard as you think. It's just a question of trying, of finding the sources that speak most to our heart, and then making regular use of them.
St Therese of Lisieux used to keep two books close to her at all times: the Gospels and The Imitation of Christ. St Francis de Sales, one of history's busiest men, always had a copy of The Spiritual Combat in his saddlebags. Each one of us needs to give Jesus a chance to feed us with the rich food of literature and even we can go a step further and look up various Saints lives as videos on the various movie channels. One that is special to me is Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which is the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
As I have been saying over the past weeks, daily quiet time of 15-minutes spent with the Lord, in prayer, reading, and reflection is one way to do that, to actively let him be our Good Shepherd. If we do, as today's Psalm promised us, "there is nothing we shall want."
Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
First Peter 2:4-9
5th Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - May 10, 2020
On the Fifth Sunday of Easter Our Lord reminds that that we are called to continue his work and to achieve even greater things than he accomplished during his earthly ministry. He built his Church with growth in mind, generation after generation, founded on him and the Apostles.
In today’s First Reading the Twelve are faced with more work than they can handle, and people are starting to complain. The Twelve cannot take care of everyone. This is no surprise. Our Lord didn’t just appoint one person to carry on his work; he appointed Twelve, and, soon after, the Twelve needed helpers, and other apostles, like Paul and Barnabas, to continue the work in the face of the Church’s explosive growth. The Twelve asked for candidates, but they were also clear that those who would help them in the ministry needed to be “filled with the Spirit and wisdom.” These would become known as the Seven, and, according to tradition, may have been the first deacons in the Church. The Church’s mission is not just for the clergy. Everyone is called to help according to their possibilities and state of life.
As needs increase, each member of the Church must be dedicated to doing his or her part: bishops shepherding their dioceses, helped by priests and deacons; consecrated persons contributing according to their charism; and laity, ordering the world’s affairs in accordance with the Gospel and helping the Church in matters where they may have more expertise. The Holy Spirit kept the apostles faithful to the work Christ wanted them to do, and the Spirit continues to do so for all of us.
In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that through Baptism we have been incorporated into the Church, and are now living stones in an edifice constructed with a spiritual and priestly purpose. Our Lord described himself to the Pharisees and scribes as the stone rejected by the builders that would become the corner stone. They had rejected him, but the Abba God build the Church on him, and he made the Apostles the foundation for the Church.
The Lord continues to build the Church through you and me, on the solid foundations of those living stones who have preceded us and our own efforts at holiness. A living stone is not just edified, but edifying. We are inserted into this spiritual and social structure and helped to support it and to remain solid. If our works are edifying, it will attract even those who don’t know Our Lord to see where that special something we have comes from and to seek it out as well.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, at the Last Supper, prepares his disciples for the moment when he’ll be separated from them on earth, and they’ll be expected to carry on his mission. He reminds them that they have a place waiting for them in Heaven, just as they have a place in his Church. He tells them today that they know where he is going. They know the way to the Creators House too and don’t need him to show them.
When the moment was right, Jesus returned and led every one of them to the Creators House, just as he will lead us one day. In the meanwhile, we have to stay the course he has taught us, and, if we get turned around, ask for directions to get back on track. Helping people get back on track to the Creators House is what we’re all called to do as Christians, but to do that we must know how to get to the House.
Christ describes himself as the “road”: we show others the way to the degree that we imitate him. Jesus became flesh and put some believers on the right track, and those believers have helped him guide us ever since. He sent apostles to the four corners of the world, and they still carry out their mission through us.
This is the work he said would be even greater than his ministry on earth. It spread to the entire Roman Empire, then beyond its borders to the whole world. You and I are called to continue these “greater works” that he encouraged his first disciples to do. The key is having faith in him.
The evangelization of Korea is unique in that it was evangelized by Korean laity without the help of missionaries. Korean society was experiencing profound changes in the Eighteenth century, and its scholars started studying Western literature. They also went periodically to Peking for commercial and cultural exchanges and, on one of those trips, some Koreans brought back the book The True Doctrine of God by Fr. Matteo Ricci, S.J. The Korean layman and thinker Lee Byok, inspired by this book, founded the first Christian community in Korea. In 1780 he asked a friend going to China to be baptized and to bring back more religious books and writings on the Catholic faith.
Lee Byok organized the Christian community as best as he could with the limited knowledge he had and died at 31. The community continued and eventually submitted itself to the Bishop of Peking when it learned about ecclesiastical structures and their role.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord describes Heaven not just as his home, but as a place for us to call home as well. Thinking of home evokes so many warm sentiments – rest, security, peace–and it also invokes the memory of the people there waiting to be with us. Many people today live a difficult situation at home, if they have a home at all, but they all dream of that peaceful place where they can be together with their loved ones. A simple family dinner, where everyone sets aside work, school, etc., to spend time together becomes a glimpse of Heaven as each enjoys the company and there are no worries to dampen the evening.
Our Lord has prepared a place for each of us with Our Creator in Heaven. How often do we dream of that? How often do we dream of the day in which life’s journey, with all the fatigue and trial, will be over and we’ll finally and permanently be home with the ones we love? How often do we see the need to remind others of our true home as well so that one day we’ll all be there together?
Let’s ask Our brother Jesus today to help us always keep our true home in mind. If we know he’s shown us the way, no burden or obstacle of this life will rob us of our hope in getting there.
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
First Peter 3:15-18
6th Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2020
On the 6th Sunday of Easter, we’re reminded not only of all the reasons for our hope but the need to share those reasons with others as well. The Easter season has two weeks to go, and just as Our Lord ascended and left his disciples to continue his work, we have to be ready for the return to Ordinary Time that should be no less characterized by hope.
In today’s First Reading Philip is one of the Christians scattered by the persecution that arose after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, but that did not deter him or the Apostles from evangelizing. Philip may have had to leave Jerusalem, but there was plenty of work in Samaria. Like Jesus, he preached and performed signs, and people welcomed his message. He cast out unclean spirits and paved the way for his listeners to be baptized.
The Apostles had remained in Jerusalem, despite the persecution, but when they heard of the work Philip had been doing in Samaria, they knew they had something to give as well: the Holy Spirit. Even today we don’t just receive Baptism; we receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism expels evil from us and distances us from evil influences, and Confirmation strengthens us to go out and share the Gospel with others.
In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that we must always be ready to share the reasons for our hope with others. We have received new life in Christ. It’s our duty to give others the opportunity to receive new life in Christ as well. This doesn’t just mean giving reasons, but showing in our lifestyle that hope has transformed us and sustained us.
It is thanks to hope that we sanctify Christ in our hearts. It is thanks to hope that we don’t shy away from explaining the reasons for our hope to everyone who asks, whether they’re curious or skeptical. It is not just what we explain, but how we explain it that lends credence to our message: gentleness and reverence.
Gruff and jaded Christians undermine the main reason for our hope: the love of God. If we’re mistreated as a result, we are consoled by the fact that we’re imitating Christ in suffering for the sake of good.
In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares the disciples, and us, for Pentecost. He may be ascending soon, but the Holy Spirit is coming in force.
Jesus, after the Ascension, is only within view of those who have faith. The world had its chance, but without faith, it was only a matter of time before they lost sight of Jesus. After Calvary, as far as they were concerned, Jesus was gone. The Risen Christ appeared to those who believed in him.
The Holy Spirit didn’t just come to us at Pentecost. Today’s words, spoken in the Last Supper, reminded the first disciples, and us, that the Spirit is always with us. Thanks to the Spirit we are never alone and even now, through the Spirit, we maintain communion with the Creator and the Risen Jesus. The love of God is the greatest reason for our hope, and the greatest way we can reciprocate that love is to obey Christ out of love.
The term “apologetics” is derived from today’s First Reading when Peter mentions the need to explain the reasons for your hope. Apologetics is a theological science that explains and defends Christian religion.
When we think of an apology, we usually thinking of simply saying we’re sorry for something. Apology has a much broader classical meaning: “a verbal defense against a verbal attack, a disproving of a false accusation, or a justification of an action or line of conduct wrongly made the object of censure.”
The Church leaders of the second century are called the Apologists, debating mainly with the Jews of their time, but also the Pagans who objected to the tenets of Christianity. The Church has had apologists throughout her history. At the start of the twentieth century, due to a passionate argument tone, it fell out of fashion, lacking the gentleness and reverence Peter calls for in today’s Second Reading, but now it continues alive and well.
Some believers see apologetics as being sorry for something bad, so they just avoid mentioning that they are believers at all. There are many misunderstandings of our faith. If we don’t realize that they’re misunderstandings, it is no surprise that apologetics would mean for us apologizing.
That spirit many times means buying the lie about our faith, and that robs us of hope. Apologetics is about sharing reasons for hope. It’s about sharing something good, not apologizing for something bad. Take stock of your hope this week. It’s what inspires us to give witness.
Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ascension - May 24, 2020
Today we’re celebrating Christ going home to Heaven. His mission on earth is accomplished. The angels are cheering at his return. The souls that were waiting for many years, since the beginning of human history, for Jesus to come and re-open the way to Heaven are celebrating too from their new and eternal home.
We are also thanking Jesus for the first thing that he did, and now continues to do, as soon as he got back to Heaven. Jesus is now at God’s right hand forever, asking him to help us get to Heaven too, and everyone we love. Like Jesus promised at the Last Supper, he and the Creator are sending the Holy Spirit to help us get home by bringing us grace. Christ has ascended and now the disciples are waiting for the “whoosh” of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s First Reading the disciples are still confused and have doubts, even though they’ve seen that Jesus has risen from the dead. They were expecting, like all of Israel expected, one big whoosh right away: they thought the Kingdom of Heaven was coming right now. They were waiting for one last bang and for everyone to be in Heaven and evil to be ended.
They ask Jesus when it’s going to happen. Jesus answers: wait for the Holy Spirit to come, and they still didn’t get it, which is why the angels have to tell them to move on. When Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know the times or seasons, he’s teaching them what the whoosh of the Holy Spirit is like: unexpected and big. The disciples thought there’d be one big whoosh and everyone would be in Heaven. Jesus is telling them to hold on to and be ready for the whoosh.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul prays that we too receive this “whoosh” of the Holy Spirit when Christ arrives home. This “whoosh” will bestow on us wisdom and revelation, not just on the level of knowledge, but in our hearts as well. Paul describes well where Jesus is headed today: to God’s right hand, where he’ll be put in charge of all things and be above all other powers. It also says he’s being given to us, the Church, as head over all things.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares the disciples, and us, for Pentecost. He may be ascending soon, but the Holy Spirit is coming in force. In the Gospel today, and for the rest of the next ten days, we’re waiting for that first big whoosh of the Holy Spirit that came to the Church on Pentecost, which is what we’ll celebrate on May 31st which is PentecostSunday.
Jesus tells the Apostles to go out and baptize the whole world.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit whooshed down on him. Whenever we receive the sacraments, whenever we pray, and whenever we love each other the same thing happens to us. The Holy Spirit also fulfills the promise Jesus made in the Gospel today: by the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine today in Mass will become the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ – and Jesus will stay with us in the Eucharist “until the end of the age” when he will return with the last big whoosh that will bring us all home to Heaven.
The whoosh of the Holy Spirit is like a garden hose: when you’re watering plants, or washing your car, or planning to play on your lawn, somebody has to turn on the hose, and somebody has to guide it, or the water goes splashing all over the place. Jesus is ascending to heaven to turn on the hose and let the Holy Spirit bring the flow of grace.
That whoosh of the Holy Spirit comes out strong and in all kinds of ways; like water from a hose it cools you when you’re hot and thirsty, it washes away the dirt and sweat, and it wakes you up if you’re sleepy. That all depends on you holding on to the hose and pointing it where it needs to go, or else everyone and everything just gets splashed and wet and you waste a lot of water.
If your parents tell you to wash the car, and you just have water wars on your lawn and get all wet, the car is still dirty, you’re in big trouble, and the job doesn’t get done. The Holy Spirit wants to do something with the whoosh, so you need to listen to her and point the right way for the grace she brings to be effective.
We keep that “hose” steady so that the grace can do what God wants it to do, and it helps us and others get to Heaven. The Apostles guided the hose, and so do we: Jesus sent the Holy Spirit through the Apostles, to the other disciples, and to all the generations of disciples after them, and to us.
The Holy Spirit whooshes in when we least expect it, so we must always be ready, and live good lives so that we don’t block the hose by putting kinks in it and stopping the flow.
Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
First Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Pentecost - May 31, 2020
Some people call Pentecost Sunday the birthday of the Church, but, while a lovely thought, that’s not entirely accurate. Today, the last day of the Easter season, we celebrate when the Church “goes public”: the frightened folks in the upper room are emboldened by the Holy Spirit to go out and proclaim the Good News, and the Holy Spirit helps them to be understood. Some see this moment as reversing what happened at the Tower of Babel: if the pride and hubris of men led them to division and misunderstanding, the Spirit of the Lord brings them back together again into one people through reconciliation with God and with each other.
The places named in today’s First Reading by the astounded Jews are all places where the Church first spread, aided by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the Apostles by the Holy Spirit was always meant to inspire all believers. Like the tongues of flame descending on the Apostles, the Holy Spirit wants to inflame hearts.
We’re all called to not only let our hearts be inflamed by the Holy Spirit but to share that flame with others as well.
The devout Jews recalled today are from all over Asia Minor, as well as far-flung places like Rome and Cyrene. They went out and brought enflamed hearts to their native places and shared the flame of an ardent faith inspired by the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading it is thanks to the Spirit that we can pray at all. Pentecost Sunday is a special day for celebrating the many gifts the Holy Spirit lavishes upon us all.
Throughout the Easter season, we’ve seen the Spirit emboldening, instructing, dissuading, and strengthening the disciples as they started to spread the Gospel throughout the world.
Just as we are the Mystical Body of Christ, a Biblical image of the church, the Holy Spirit is like the Soul of that Body, giving the Body form and life that makes the church visible as a living thing.
With the Holy Spirit’s help the church is not just a conglomeration of people who agree on certain tenants, but a communion of life and love that wants to welcome everyone into the fold, telling them of God’s unconditional love for all of us without exclusion or exception.
In today’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus gives the Apostles a special infusion of the Holy Spirit that helps them reconcile sinners with God and helps people to see when they haven’t.
Pentecost Sunday is not just a day for celebrating the Holy Spirit’s gifts that enable us to be in communion with each other; it is also a day for celebrating the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing us into and maintaining our communion with the Most Holy Trinity, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Trinity Sunday.
Without this gift of reconciliation through the Holy Spirit, there is no communion, and without this communion, little by little, divisions and misunderstandings are sown. Through the Holy Spirit, we remain unified and united, among ourselves and with God.
In business “going public” refers to what is called an initial public offering (IPO): a private company becomes publicly traded and owned through giving the public an opportunity to buy shares in the company.
It starts with contacting an investment bank and determining the number and price of shares that will be initially issued. The investment bank owns the shares, underwriting the IPO, and takes legal responsibility for them, with the hope that when those shares go on sale, they can sell them at a profit to the public.
The Lord came and prepared his followers, especially the Apostles, to go out and make the Gospel “public.” The gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive, big and small, are talents we can invest for the building up and the expansion of the faith and church.
The Holy Spirit at Pentecost helped the disciples to take the faith public.
When is the last time you shared your faith with someone outside your immediate family?
When is the last time you publicly showed your faith? Made the Sign of the Cross in public? Did some outreach as a member of your parish?
Let the Holy Spirit inspire you to go out and inflame the hearts of others with the faith. If your heart is not on fire, start there first.