Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

(Pompeo Batoni -1773)

"One does not fall in love;  one grows into love,
and love grows in him."
(Dr. Karl Menniger)

The first reading for today's liturgy comes from the Book of Ezechiel.  Reading through the verses slowly two or three times is a worthwhile Saturday exercise.  Buried within the words of Yahweh to Ezechiel is a promise that is reiterated many times in the Old Testament.  In essence it is what is depicted by the artist's feelings in The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Yahweh promised time and again that he would be our God and we would be his people.  It is a message also contained in the teachings of Jesus Christ.  So, as we stand at the threshold of Holy Week, perhaps we could take some time today and tomorrow to use the message in the Ezechiel reading as an opportunity to have one of those conversations with God that we may have wanted but have been too busy or too distracted to initiate.  

Yahweh speaks as the father must have spoken to his returned son ... no more division between us.  I am your father and you are my son for whom your past errors have made me love you all the more.  Let me show you that what divided you from me and your brother is past history.  Remember in you there is me and in me there is you, my son.  As Yahweh spoke to Ezechiel:  "I will deliver them from their apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God....  I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them....  I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

As the truly prodigal father wraps his penitent son in his arms, so too does God pull us to himself each and every day.  Again, use these words of Ezechiel to engage God in a heartfelt conversation of gratitude and awareness for the never-ending love of God for each of us.  It is the love that is manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for you and me.  These words are clearly an opportunity for "one to grows into love and (L)ove grows in him."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

The gospel brings us back to a difficult time in the life of Jesus:  when some of his hearers wanted to stone him.  Why?  Because, as they said:  "You have said that you are God."  Of course these "enemies" were happy with the various miracles performed but not with his "blasphemy."

In our world today perhaps there is not the threat to throw stones.  However, "stones" are hurled from vicious tongues because of the actions of some Church leaders and other members of the Catholic Church.  Of course, once again, the good works of Jesus are forgotten when there is an abandonment of the Church that Jesus founded and the graces He gives to us through the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

This gospel reminded me of the story of the prodigal son.  That led me to Google.  When I sought images of the prodigal for this picture, I came upon a painting by the artist Pompeo Batoni, The Return of the Prodigal Son.

How many times have I acted in a manner similar to the son in the painting who allowed emotional and/or other realities to pull him away from his father's house and all the good was there for him.  Batoni's painting (1773) clearly portrays a father who had much to offer his some with the finer things of life.

How many times have I turned away from God and his graces, even for a short period of time because of the allurements of people, places or things.  These were better than God or his Church which he gave to us as a means to lead us back to him despite the failures of the human beings who lead it or who are members of it.

Help those who have walked away from God to return to him and his love.  Let the Holy Spirit open hearts to the loving embrace of Go, my heavenly Father.

NB:  I found as a refreshing gallery of various art works.  It was there that I learned more about the Batoni painting.  Likewise there is a good virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel that is interesting.  You have to do a little searching but it is well worth the effort.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

In this gospel story there is buried within the various sentences and the event that Jesus encounters a reminder that is of particular importance to almost all of us.  The hidden reminder is related to the word "conversation."  Isn't it obvious that had the Pharisees and scribes taken time to talk with Jesus perhaps the many encounters with Jesus would have been reduced.  Conversation is the tool that helps individuals deal with one another.

What does this reading say to us?  After a little nudging by the Holy Spirit, I believe the dialog and its style reminded me that I should look at my daily "prayer."  Why?  Because so often the thirst to "know," can become the primary way that I come to Jesus.  Questions like "What did Jesus mean?"  "Where" is Jesus leading me?"  Do all the gospel writers record this event?  Many other similar questions can be considered.

It is important to know about Jesus.  All knowledge is important.  However, knowledge is not conversation.  Knowledge is not dialog.  The gospel reading reminded me that what is important for all of us is our effort to have conversations with Jesus.  It is through the conversations that we are going to know more about ourselves and our relationship with Jesus.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

Well, here we are at one the usual Lenten readings that most Catholics and other Christians remember.  We can imagine the scene when King Nebuchadnezzar reacts to what he considers an insult to himself.  The three young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refuse to worship the golden idol that the king had made.  So filled with himself, the king felt that the failure of people to bow to his golden creation, was a rejection of the king himself.  He was so disturbed by the three young fellows denial that he ordered the famous fire of the Old Testament readings.  Because the young men would not worship him as a god, he ordered that they be put into the intense fire and heat to see how strong their God was.  We know what happened:  the power of God protected them.  Watching the fire to see what would happen to those being put into the fire, he saw the three walking around safely and with a fourth figure that scholars consider as a messenger of God or, perhaps, even a representation of Christ.  What is the message for us?

Many people reading the story in the Book of Daniel, focus their attention on the three men.  Yet, what is being taught is to be best understood by focusing on the sad situation of the people's leader, King Nebuchadnezzar.  Why?  Here we see an Old Testament understanding of what would happen to idol worship.  The three who were fire-bound were not fearful.  They trusted their Yahweh would protect them in any circumstances.  The king was faced with a choice:  worship of the true God or be a loser.

As we are moving quickly toward the final days of Lent, this particular reading is always a good springtime lesson.  Usually many of us turn to "spring cleaning."  Already the words "time to rid myself of this or that."  During Lent it is time to take stock of what we may have created as "idols" in our lives, in our homes, in our closets, on our shelves, in our rooms and so forth.  In our particular times one of the areas where we may have unknowingly created idols in our lives is the technical creations that abound.  How many gadgets does one person actually need?  A good question to ask ourselves.  Do I need a department store of clothes in my closets (plural)!  How powerful is "I have to have ....." in my life?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

Today's gospel from St. John's account of the life of Jesus Christ calls from our memories the fact that the cross is so much a part of our faith.  Whenever we see a cross be it situated atop a building or standing in a field with two other simple crosses, we are reminded not of a craftsman working in a carpenter shop but rather of a man.  The cross reminds us of the man Jesus.  The cross has become for Christians and non-Christians alike a symbol of one man's final day on this earth.  When we see a simple cross, without a body nailed to us, our minds easily travel back to a hill most of us have never seen or walked:  Calvary.

More deeply within our Christian hearts, the cross symbolizes two realities:  first and foremost, that the man who was crucified suffered that horrific death for humankind and that includes you and me.  Secondly, the cross is a symbol to us that God the Father is ever present to us in our sufferings just as he was to His Son.  The cross without the figure of a body on it reminds us of the same sentiments that Jesus felt and expressed:  "The one who sent me is with me.  He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him."  The Father is there for Jesus and his will always be present for you and me in our sufferings whatever they might be.  At the same time we have to promise of Jesus himself who repeated more than a few time, "I am with you always."   When we bring from our moments of pain, loss, frustration or confusion these same crosses in our lives to Jesus and God the Father, it is then that we share in the life of Jesus.  Furthermore, each of us can say "When I have walked to my own Calvary, when I have suffered because of circumstances in my life, and when I have turned to God the Father and experience his healing graces, it is then that I have become a participant in the totality of the Jesus-message.  It is then that I have come to experience fully the Paschal Mystery.  In this moment I am truly a Christian ... a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.  Truly He is my Lord and Savior."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent - 2012

In a couple of recent homilies and reflections there were references to Jesus' use of the phrase "I AM THAT (or WHO) I AM."  Today we encounter one of those "I AM" statements: "I AM the light of the world."  Since there are seven such statements in the Matthew's gospel, and you are likely trying to recall others, let me list them at this point.
I AM the Bread of Life (6:34, 38)
I AM the Light of the World (8:12)
I AM the Gate (10:7)
I AM the Good Shepherd (10:11)
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
I AM the true Vine (15:1)

The use of the phrase is meant to recall the name that God gave for himself to Moses when he encountered the burning bush.  God was identifying himself for those who might inquire who He is.  So Jesus likewise employs the same terminology to identify himself.  In the other gospel option for today's liturgy, John's gospel, there are seven times that Jesus uses the I AM identification.

Back to "I AM the light of the world."  What importance is there for us today, in this second day of the fifth week in Lent?  You and I, we are called upon to be a reflection of that light of Jesus.  We, sharing in the unique relationship we have with God, namely, the presence of God within our souls, we must make it our concern to walk in the light of Jesus so that we can indeed be that reflection.  We are called to be not just a light but the light of the world.  As one scholar wrote, "We are to be the moon to Jesus' sun."

A grace that we might pray for during these final days of the Lenten season is the grace to intensify our intimate knowledge of Jesus.  Why?  Because he is the way that leads us to the Father.  What would we know of God without having first known his Son?  Look at the historical events and words from Patriarchs and Prophets.  How much more the Jewish people came to learn of God just as we have when then began to go beyond the knowledge of God simply as YAHWEH.  It is the life of Jesus, his teachings and how he lived his life that have taught us what we know about the nature of God and, indeed, our own  human nature that was God-Created.

To give greater value and breadth to our intimate knowledge of Jesus, we have been given two reliable sources:  the writings of those inspired by the Holy Spirit to create for us the Old and New Testaments and the teachings in prayer that numerous saints and Jesus himself have handed on to us.

It is never to late to turn to the Scriptures to fortify our relationship with Jesus.  God is always OPEN for the business of our prayer with him.  Recall the words of Jesus "I AM the Gate."  Let his graces open for each of us a more fruitful life of prayer.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fifth Sunday in the Season of Lent - 2012

Today's Gospel  - John 12:20-23

Today’s gospel reading brings to mind the hymn, Just a Closer Walk with TheeEach of us has those moments, those days, when we long to see Jesus, to be with Him. to talk with Him.  It is not strange to have that same feeling when we feel betrayed by a loved one or a friend, when our relationships with another are torn to pieces by misunderstanding and when we are lonely and feeling so empty.   In all of these kinds of moments and many others, there is that feeling that I want to be closer to Jesus.  It is at those moments when a walk with Jesus seems to be the sure solution to the pain that is eating away at my spirit.

What this teaches us is that the very core of our being is that Jesus is our foundation.  He is so much like the cornerstone on each new building.  Theologians might write great  books.  Father Jeff may conduct outstanding liturgies only to be outdone by his skills in decorate our church with gorgeous arrangements and meaningful posters but deep within our hearts we do feel that what we want most of all is time with Jesus, alone with Jesus.  When our faith seems to have little substance for our problems, we know that Jesus has what we need.
Yet, despite these moments that cause so much pain and sorrow, how do we feel about Jesus in the ordinary 24/7?  How easily we seem to loose that need for a closer walk with the Son of God.  Recently I read this thought:  “At times, we act as if Jesus is an add-on to our imagined weightier matters that suddenly become so much more important.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to become wrapped up in various issues such as the call for a respect for the sanctity of life.  Others get tangled in the HHS demand that birth control pills be provided in all institutions.  Locally in our state there is going to be the full blown challenge to the Same Sex Marriage law recently passed by the State Legislature.  While all issues may have rooted values, it is easy to become totally involved in an issue that is looked upon as a faith issue.  At the same time, however, we might forget the primacy of Jesus.  When all is said and done, doesn’t it happen that there is the intensity of longing to see Jesus, to be with Jesus, to hear Jesus and to be LOVED by Jesus that outstrips all those issues that distract us from him.
We are like the Greeks mentioned in the Gospel.  Like them we want to “see” (have a meeting with) Jesus.  If ever there was a period of time in the Church’s calendar year when we deepen our relationship with Jesus, we are about to begin that opportunity at this time in the season of Lent. 
I would sincerely encourage you to put a on your refrigerator, your mirror and even on the dashboard of your car that reads very simply:  Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent - 2-12

The Moses Code
The Most Powerful Manifestation Tool 
in the History of the World
James F. Twynam

As we close the fourth week of Lent, I propose a small activity that I came upon while slowly working my way through Twynam's interesting book.  It is an activity that fits into the closing weeks of the Lenten journey.

In the chapter tittled Reality vs. Imagination, the author offers an exercise, which, like the others in the interesting and rewarding presentation, have made me take serious time writing and reflecting on my own spirituality.  The specific exercise for the 5th chapter is related to "The Law of Giving and Receiving."  Twynam starts off with this question:  "What happens if you offer to rub your partner's back, who gladly accepts, but then doesn't off to return the favor?"  Of course there might be the sense of rejection or not caring.  Why?  Twynam suggests that what is feeling hurt is your Ego.  Most of us don't do something for someone else without at least some sense of "What's in it for me?"  It is almost always that there is some presence of the Ego, felt or sublimated.  Ego is always with us.

Twynam suggests that if there is a goal that we are seeking, let's use is example, like happiness.  Who of us does not wish to be happy?   His direction to you if that is your goal, then the more you make it your effort to bring happiness to others, the more you will enjoy happiness in your life.  He believes that the unrewarded back rub may not arrive from the person you expected to return the favor but that felt need may come home to you from a "direction you didn't expect."  

The challenge today would be to focus on what your really want in your life.  While it may be a cruise vacation or a large screen TV to watch the craziness of March Madness, what is missing in these desires is the care of your soul.  The Ego will not be satisfied on a ship nor in front of a TV.

Select one quality you would like to accept into your life on this Saturday, which here in the metropolitan DC area is damp, chilly, cloudy and foggy.  Take that quality, happiness as an example, that you would like, and look for ways you can bring that same sought after quality, happiness, into the lives of someone you know well or even someone you really don't know all that well.

Giving what you desire for yourself to others is, Twynam teaches, a sure means of receiving the same gift for your life.  Once you have done this for one or several people, take a few moments to look at yourself.  How do I feel now?  Most likely, I am sure, you will be smiling, and feeling happy because you have reached out and touched someone, as a telephone advertisement noted some years ago.  Imagine you're calling a elderly relative who might be so lonely on a day like today.  Imagine calling someone in the hospital.  Visiting the sick.  What could be better activities during this season of Lent.

Thank you, James F. Twynam!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent - 2012

Stop for a moment sometime during this day to consider this notion that was included in the last posting:  you and I, we make a serious step forward in our spiritual life when we come to an awareness that God is not something entirely outside ourselves.  Yes, the you that is reading these words may have walked from a car or a bus or Metro to your office.  You may have been at home preparing a breakfast for your children and/or spouse.  Yes, that same you that carried out these actions is a person, a human being, who has within you something most find hard to accept:  as a creation of God, I possess something of my God!  It was something of the Divine within me as I walked, rode to work, prepared some cereal or toast, made a sandwich or even read the morning newspaper.  All of this because God created me and you!  And the more we align ourselves with this belief or reality, the more we will experience the peace and power God has built into what we might call our spiritual DNA.

Before any of us were human beings, don't forget, we were spiritual beings because we were with God in his Infinite Mind.  Today, as a human beings, I am and you are capable of a unique alignment or relationship with God in and through the "spark" of God that resides within this "mortal coil," to use the words of Shakespeare.

Once we have accepted this special relationship, the concept of what some spiritual writers call the "higher self," we can build an even stronger relationship with our God.  St. Paul's words to the Philippians describes this opportunity that awaits each of us.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who,
though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
(Philippians 2:5-6)

What Paul seems to say is that when we strengthen the awareness of God's "spark" within each of us, we are coming to realize the power of God that has been given to our personal being.  Recall the words of Paul: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" a kind of equality with God.  "This is," as Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote "a Divine invisible presence that's within you."  Does it seem impossible?  What then does St. John the Evangelist mean when he wrote that "all things are possible with God"?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TUESDAY in the Fourth Week of Lent -2012

Let me begin with these words:  "I need your prayers!  My computer program ....  my computer .... my lack of computerese.  My computer has been creating more problems than ever before.

The reflection for today is lengthy.  I hope it does not put Mr. Sandman to work in your eyes.  It is a deviation from the readings of the day because I am reading several books at the same time ... a little each day ... because they do complement each other.  But I was captured by a few words of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians in the second chapter, verses 5 and 6.  Perhaps you may not have visited these two verses and come to understand fully their meaning.  Perhaps it might be scary because you think it might be "heresy" and you might be buying a ticket to eternal rejection!!!  I do not think that is the case.

Let this mind be in your which was also in Christ Jesus, who, 
being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.

Recall for a month that God created you.   That very act of creation made you and me a handiwork of our God.  Look at a work of art.  Perhaps a picture or rendition of The Pieta by Michelangelo.  Not only do you see a sorrowful mother and a beaten son who happen to be the Son of God and his mother, Mary.  You see something intangible, something invisible of the artist.  In me I know that there something of my mother and my father.  You may physical features in me that are similar to Mom and Dad, if you knew them.  You also know that there is an unseen, invisible presence in me that is a part of them.  However, as I know, my primary Source for my being is my God.

In a way similar to the examples just offered, my Creator has planted within me and every human being "a fragment of himself, a spark ..." (Omraam Airsnhov).  Yet how often do we recall and consider that each of us can look to God as the Source of our being.  Likewise we have within us something of the God who made us.  Why else would I be called  Temple of the Holy Spirit?  So in each of us there must be a "spark" of God that is invisible, just as there is something of Margaret Fisher and her husband, Milton Sr., my parents in me.

During this Lenten season as we draw closer to the great Resurrection Day, we should meditate upon what it means to have this "spark" of the divine within our very being.  Our lives can take on greater significance if and when we can grow in an awareness that the God who created us is not "something external" to ourselves but is in all reality "a portion" of who each of us is. " (Dr. Wayne Dyer)

Perhaps coming to understand this unique way in which we are created, each of us comes to know that there is something about ourselves that shares something of our God who is all-loving.  Coming to understand and believe this can help align yourself with the "spark" of divinity that is within.  This is why saints and eminent theologians have tried to teach that we are more than a human being.   We are spiritual beings which means there is something of the Divine Spirit within us.

Whenever you have a moment this evening or tomorrow, take a moment and ask yourself this question:  "In what I am doing or about to do, can I say my actions spring from the divine spark that resides within me or is it rather from my self-serving or judging ego?"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Friday in the Third Week of Lent - 2012

Daily Mass Readings

I am enjoying retired life again this weekend, attending a fund raising event in NYC and at the same time visiting with some of my family who live in Calvert County.  I have to go to NYC to visit with them!!!  What are we missing.

Did the encounter between Jesus and the scribe seen different than most of his "meetings" with Pharisees and scribes?  If not, may I suggest you read it again before proceeding.

While we have no way of knowing if the scribe became convinced to follow the Way of Jesus, we do know that Jesus saw in the man and his values much of what he was trying to teach.  What we also know at this time in our history is that our vocation to walk with the Lord Jesus comes about successfully when we commit ourselves to walk with Jesus through thick and thin.  Like the scribe we have to be committed to loving unconditionally every single person God has created.  Of course, as you read in these postings, once again we meet the reality that being a faithful follower of Jesus is not easy!!!  

We are on the down slope of Lent now.  Don't give up.  If you have not started, why not try now.  Do you think the scribe would have accepted the Way of Jesus if he had the opportunity to go through Lent?
Thursday in the Third Week of Lent - 2012

The first reading today, from the Book of Jeremiah, may be centuries old.  There is a pearl of wisdom in the prophet's word that can help modern society as it seeks to find itself, to rediscover the peace of mind and soul that many say has been lost.  In the Gospel we watch Jesus as he teaches the people of his time about certain demons that have impacted an individual but his society as well.   These are Yahweh's words to Jeremiah for his people as well as God's people today.

This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.

The word "demon" certainly brings to mind something mysterious, a power that attempts to do evil in a person or a society's life.  Have you ever encountered a "good demon"?  In our lifetime we have had the good fortune to experience so many inventions or to learn new insights into human existence that many of the centuries-old "demons" have been destroyed by science and human intelligence.  Consider all that science has uncovered in the last 50 years; consider all that medicine has discovered in our lifetime.  Many myths have been interred forever during our time on this earth.

Yet, the presence of demons in our societies has not totally ended.  Old demons and newer demons brought about by our marvelous discoveries continue to demand of us that we listen again to what Yahweh and Jeremiah, his voice at the time, spoke to the people.  Just take a moment to list in your mind or on paper the demons of the 21st century.  Let me suggest a few:  what is the demon or demons that so vigorously attack family life?  What is the demon that drives world leaders, people of power, to create wars, to suppress peoples, to walk over the poor?  Why has humanity not recognized that greed is a vicious demon that harms so many individuals and institutions?  How many are the families and homes leveled by greed?
Why are there so many varied demons who seem to succeed in convincing men and women that there is no need for God?

Again, turning to words from Jeremiah, we are given an answer to many of these questions.  God does not compete with the non-stop "noise" in our world today.  "Listen to my voice," were his words.  And many of our ancestors who were able to make the leap from the noise around them to the world of silence continue to tell us:  Find time for quiet; set aside time in your day to listen for the whispers that come from our God.  Perhaps the strongest demon in our time is "busyness."  So often among so many:  "I just do not have time to pray, to listen to God."  Oh, how poor have we become if this is our mantra!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent - 2012

One of the challenging experiences that most priests confront in the course of their ministry is the person who comes to talk about one person or another who just does not live up to the expectations placed upon us by the Commandments and/or the Church.  For me this experience can be summed up in the moment when a person complained about a particular family who were not consistent in fulfilling the Sunday Mass obligation.  Of course the conversation continued to demean the family for one thing after another.

When I had listened enough, I asked the party to pull the plug.  Enough had been said.  Because I knew something of the "complainer's" background, I asked if I could ask him a personal question.  Of course!  When was the last time you frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  I had heard him telling others at a party that he didn't believe in Confession any longer.  Of course there was silence for a few seconds.  Rather than allow him to swing in the breeze, I interrupted a hesitant response.  My message was quite clear:  Obsession with external observances of Church laws and the Commandments so often is the treat of individuals who really do not have a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Likewise it is sometimes interesting to watch those who have received communion and who seem to find "counting who is receiving Holy Communion" as private time with the Lord!

External observance of laws in our Church has one purpose:  to strengthen our personal relationship with God.  We must not forget what Jesus has taught in so many different ways:  the ultimate guide in our lives must be the law of love!  A truly loving act stands on its own.  When the letter of the law sucks true love from any act, the letter of the law loses its strength.

Jesus teaches us that even he would not downgrade the Law in any way.  For him the Law is an instrument to help us achieve a higher level of living the gospels.  Jesus endeavored to teach those in the Temple and others that true observance of any law must be show and/or seen in the heart and mind of the Christian who seeks to follow him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent - 2012

Once again we are at a famous place in biblical history:  Peter asking Jesus if there is a specific number of times he should forgive others.  Peter, of course, let's the answer he expects to surface before Jesus could answer.  Seven times seem quite adequate for Peter.  I suspect that for most of us today, seven times is extraordinarily generous.  Jesus surprises Peter with his answer.  "Peter, multiply that number times eleven!"  Wow!  You have to be kidding me!  In essence Jesus is teach us that there really should be no limit to the number of times we should forgive another person.

Of course we know how many times God forgives us, don't we?  Every time a person comes to a priest for confession, God forgives.  Think for this moment:  what is the sin that I confess over and over again?  Okay.  Now this question:  How many times is your "over and over again"?  How would you feel if I, as a confessor, said to you after you had mention to me the same sin for the unteenth time these words:  "Sorry, friend,  you have used up all the points on your confession card.  No more forgiveness of that particular sin.  You are up the creek if you cannot control yourself now!"  What would you say?  What would you think of God and Jesus and all his sufferings and death so that you could make the effort to repent for a particular sin as well as others if there was a quota system?

We know that with God there is not quota; there is no time limit on his forgiveness.  But here is an interesting reality that recently was presented to me.  About certain things in life we sometimes will say, "It takes two to tango."  In some particular action or activity one person alone is not involved.  Forgiveness is one of those experiences where we are truly required to work hand in hand with another person.    Did you ever think about that person who had offended you?  Not only does that person have to extend his sorrow for his/her action but that same person has put you in the very difficult position of willingly giving you his/her forgiveness.  Giving forgiveness to one who is seeking pardon is not always as easy as hearing the offender say, "I am sorry.  Please forgive me."

Interesting insight isn't it?  This was presented by a law professor at Creighton University, Professor Edward Morse.  It surely is something to chew on! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Monday in the Third Week of Lent - 2012

The gospel reading for today has more than a few way anyone can use it to strengthen a personal Jesus-relationship.  Let us ask this question:  "What is the message Jesus is trying to instill in hearts after a reading of the two biblical accounts?"  More to the point what is the Holy Spirit whispering to you in your heart after you have read the two accounts?

So often we call upon God for help to cure whatever kinds of spiritual illnesses as well as physical ones that might be a cross that we are carrying.  Yet, from all practical experiences it might seem that there is not response to our petitions.  We might ask ourselves if we are acting like Naaman?  Is what God gives us as an answer something so mundane that we give it little attention.  There might not have been the flash of light that we expected to accompany a divine response.

Once again we need to recognize that God wants to help us so much yet we human beings, with our faults and blindnesses, cannot take the time to absent ourselves from the busyness of the day, from the distractions that prevent our opening our eyes to spend quiet time with the Lord, with the Holy Spirit and/or with the Father.  During the season of Lent the Holy Spirit is seeking to be with us more closely than at other times of the year.  Why?  Because the Spirit desires that we strength our own relationship with Jesus Christ who endured the pains of Holy Week for each of us.

Each day of Lent is a time when the Holy Spirit is challenging us to believe, to trust that God will be at the ready for us IF we but take the time to listen to his words that are most likely whispered in our ears or coming to us from a most unlikely event or person.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Third Sunday In Lent - 2012
March 11, 2012

In the liturgy for this Third Sunday of Lent we are presented with notions that relate to most believers’ Lenten practices or faith:  CLEANSING.  In the Exodus reading we read of the foundations for a cleansing of one’s life:  the Ten Commandments.  The thoughts of the evangelist, John, likewise focus our attention on the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem.  In essence these two readings are a presentation of the expectations God has for each of us during our time on this earth.  The very first of the Commandments sets a clear standard for the life of a Christian:  God expects that there will be no other person or thing that supplants giving God the first place in life.  Yet, truth be told and recognized, most of humanity at one time or another gives our Creator a demotion from his supreme role. 
When examined well, our readjustment of the prime order comes about through our own laziness.  Other issues, noble in themselves but far from surpassing our Creator are family, work, neighborhood involvements, civic obligations, recreational pursuits, even our Church “weasel God from being Almighty.”  Probably the most important cause for our demoting God is BUSY-NESS.  Then there will be a day when we realize how we have avoided God and some parts if not all parts of life are a mess.
Then there are “those moments” when we elect a new leader in our lives.  We surrender to our egos.  Something enters our life and we let it happen:  a Sunday picnic, a team sport (especially for one’s children -- once religious education classes are finished so often is Mass attendance).  Of course there is every intention of returning to what adults know to be our obligations.  Have you ever seen a time occupier given complete control in one’s life to easily step down for God to regain his place of preeminence?  When God has been removed from his throne, there will be the day when the question surfaces:  “How did I let myself get into such spiritually vacuous state?”
What do you think it was that Jesus confronted when he walked into the Temple as described in the second reading?  Or what confronted the Son of God ?  Easily, if we know the circumstances -- all of them -- we see that Jesus comes upon what appeared to be little more than a religious carnival where ferris wheels and throwing rings on bottle necks had not come about.  Don’t think that prayer, worship and God were the principal events in the Temple!
Actually angered by what confronted him, Jesus made a whip and drove from the sacred Temple the far-from sacred.  The sacred had become nothing but a marketplace.  As the Son of God, Jesus would not and could not stand by, allowing desecration.
The season of Lent is a time when we are called upon to examine our own temples, the temple of the Holy Spirit that each of us is.  Hopefully those who say they are practicing something for Lent realize that all of our Lenten sacrifices are taken up in order to help us use a feather duster to put cleanliness and order back into our lives.  The Ten Commandments are the code for living that our sacrifices, our prayer, our fasting, our almsgiving are meant to enhance and, where necessary, to repair.
If we are truly members of this modern society, can there be any doubt that we have not, at least to some degree, become somewhat like the merchants that met Jesus in the Temple?  Have the levels of “commerce and noise and clutter and profanity” become more powerful that prayer and praise?
Let this Lent be a time of cleansing.  For a serious adult can simply abstaining from Hershey bars or bags of popcorn before a TV set be taken as a serious effort to cleanse whatever might need removal from his/her Temple of the Holy Spirit that may no longer have the Creator God as the Supreme Being in life?
You be the judge!
Saturday in the Second Week of Lent - 2012

A thought for your reflection during this season of Lent.  Yesterday, while leading the Stations of the Cross, the phrase, "the heavy cross," seemed to grab my mind.  It appeared in the words of many of the stations.  Eventually my mind became focused on the phrase.  Why?  There is a fireplace in The Hermitage, the residence where I live.  I have always loved a fireplace.  A great place to reflect on whatever I like to allow some freedom in the hallways of my mind.  What I began to think about during the stations was the word "heavy."  I have a pile of cut logs in the garage.  Usually I carry five or six logs to the fireplace, using a flight of stairs from the basement to the living room.  I thought about the weight  of those five or six cut logs.

What an oppressive load on the beaten body of Jesus as he made his climb to Calvary!  I had never thought about that aspect of the "Way of the Cross." the weight of the cross!  Without having endure the soldiers' lashes, the piercing pain of the crown of thorns and the many times soldiers roughly pushed the man carrying the cross, imagine how painful the journey would have been.  Then add all of these tortures.

What should I think?  Should I allow sorrow to take over in my heart?  Not for me.  Rather, I felt a deep sense of gratitude.  This is the intensity of God's love for me:  the Father sending his Son to carry every ounce of my sins; the Son bearing all of my failings to the top of the hill cloaked in torture.

Every time I look at a pile of logs, every time I carry several to the fireplace, I know now what really should enter my mind:  Jesus, Son of God, you carried the weight of my sins, my failures.  Deo Gratias! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

Today's gospel brings us to consider end times in life.  How will I be judged when my life comes to its end, when God calls me to review my life?  What are going to be the criteria that will be used to screen to good and the bad activities that were a part of those years on this earth? What kind of questions might be placed before me?

Some might think immediately these are the criteria?  Did I ever deliberately miss a Sunday obligation?  I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly.  Every day I recited prayers.  I tried to live up to the expectations of the 10 Commandments.  The Church's guidelines for me were important.  I lived a good ethical and moral life.

According the what we read in the gospel today, the answer to the question "How will God judge my life on this earth?" may be a surprise.  The answer is twofold:  love and service.  It is the service of our fellow human beings, the love we have for them and the ways that we reached out to help when there was a need.  Love and serve are the two keys that will be used to open the gates of entry into the kingdom of God.  These are the measuring sticks!  Isn't this an interesting wake up call?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

Today's Saints
Felicity and Perpetua

Even in the season of Lent, our Church takes a day to honor two extraordinary North African women.  Both died because they refused to yield to the commands of a fellow Carthaginian who had climbed the ladder of the Roman Army to become Emperor.  It was his decree that resulted in the torture and death of Felicity and Perpetua, her "slave."  Today, I suspect, Perpetua would be tagged as Felicity's house keeper.

The two women were born near the end of the first century.  Perpetua, well-educated, composed an account of their lives after being sent to prison because they refused to deny their Christianity as was demanded by the Emperor.  She was only 22 years old and the mother of a young boy.  Her housekeeper, Felicity, was pregnant as the time for their execution drew closer.  She prayed that God would afford her an early delivery so that she would not escape the execution with her friends.   Her prayers were granted and her child was adopted by Christian parents.

The account of their years of conflict with the Emperor and time in prison was written by Perpetua and is believed to be the first literary account written by a woman.  Her words were powerful.  Tradition has it that her story was often read at liturgical celebrations.

The example of Perpetua, Felicity and several other companions who also refused to give up their faith, brought about the conversion of some who were witnesses to their torture and suffering.  Whenever you read or hear the names of Perpetua and Felicity mentioned during the reading of the First Eucharistic Prayer, the original Canon of the Mass, know that it is these noble women who are mentioned.

Perhaps their feast day could not be at a better time this year.  Women throughout the world are suffering terribly not only for their faith but for their womanhood as well.  The abuse the many women suffer today cannot be easily overlooked although in many places around the world it seems that such is the case.  Let us pray that women, like our mothers and sisters, our grandmothers, our aunts and women friends may never be treated in any manner that damages the sacredness of their persons or their humanity.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent - 2012

"All their [Pharisees and Scribes] works are performed to be seen."

Throughout our Lenten journey, God will make his intention for us made to us in and through events and people.  We simply need to listen for the "voice" of the Holy Spirit in our hearts after we have listen to Jesus speaking to us in Scripture and God the Father whispering in our ears.

Considering the words taken from today's gospel, I look to all the goodness that has been extended to me throughout my life, especially during the years of my seminarian life and then life as a priest.  Through those almost forty-years of priestly service to the people of God and my 13 years of formation, my life has been graced by God and his people with an abundance of kindness and concern.  There have been so many who have touched my life and my ministry by giving of the time, talent and treasure to help me in whatever work I might have been involved in.  To be honest, at times being so generously cared for has been embarrassing.  I know quite well there a several thousand faithful followers of Jesus who have assisted me in my life and ministries.  Never once have I felt that the extended gift was being made in order to gain privilege or special advantage by any of these generous individuals.  

As far as I am personally concerned, I know that I would never have had the talent or treasure to reach back to assist in their needs when it was needed.  But I know that my gift to these folks are words of thanks and serious prayer for them and their needs.  My measuring stick to determine if I am being as generous to these folks is made clearer to me when I examine my own spiritual life.  Am I praying as I should?  Am I making a conscious effort to incorporate all those who have helped me in my daily prayers?

One of the thoughts that came to me during my prayer time this morning is one that I would invite you to include in your prayer life every so often:  a reading of the complete Sermon on the Mount.  It is in that "sermon" that Jesus is telling us how the Father wants each of us to life.  I realized this morning that I have not given as much time to that sermon as I should.  There in the two chapters of the Gospel are the keys to the service God expects of me for my sisters and brothers who have help me and who continue to pray for me.  And you? what does this concluding part of the Sermon on the Mount speak to you? 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Monday of the Second Week of Lent - 2012

WIth these words from Jesus, we come to the end of the selections taken from the Sermon on the Mount.  Remember that these directives from Jesus were and continue to be his advice to each of us today in our world as well as those who were seated on a hillside listen to what Jesus was teach.

Taken seriously, reflectively considered, Jesus' words were not sugar-coated placibos.  Dealing with God and with each other were in the eyes and heart of Jeus serious business.  Why?  Because he wanted us to see in them how he lived and what would be expected of us if we are to honestly strive to be his disciple.

What Jesus is stating without any hesitation or doubt in these few words of the gospel today is this:  we must incorporate the way Jesus dealt with others in the manner with which we deal with others.  Can we be as merciful as the Father?  That is what Jesus asks of us.  Just as God fills our lives with the gifts of mercy, understanding and lvoe, so too each of us is called by God the Father and Jesus extend their love and mercy to others.

We know from what Jesus has taught us that God will care for us in the same way that we reach out to care for others.  We cannot be stingy with the care that we extend to others.  God never holds back in his giving his graces to us.  When you feel that God is holding graces from you ... slow and carefully examine your life to see where you might be holding gifts that you can share with others.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent - 2012

Let me begin by asking a question:  Is there where you are today?  Or, Have you been there before?  And what is this “where” and “there” of these two questions.  Let me quote from the second reading for the Sunday liturgies: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verse 31b --that is the second sentence in the verse.
If God is for us, who is against us?
If you ever felt that you were caught in a corner because of circumstances that tried your faith and you questioned God loyalty to you, give attention to the first reading Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13.  Here was a faithful follower of Yahweh who had an almost cruel choice to make following Yahweh’s asking him to take the life of his beloved son.  It is a request from God that is so far from the ordinary expectations that we have for our Creator God.  Surely Abraham must have asked the question that many of us have had to face at one time or another in our lives:  Is God truly for us? 
Probably the current politicization of moral issues (media term = social issues) in particular the matter of contraception has forced many people to feel the same kind of question:  Is birth control really what God is asking of me?  Or consider those who have pounded the pavements, going up and down stairs seeking employment?  Or recall how during the course of one’s married life, the glamour and the excitement, the love between partners seems to have died.  How about the reality of caring for an elderly parent or spouse whose mind is shackled by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?  Ponder the pain parent or grandparents have when a child loved so dearly seemingly looses it all and takes the lives other young people.  Think about the faithful people who regularly attend Mass and have to deal with a lack-luster parish life.  Lastly, ponder the confusion and hurt felt by children, wives or husbands who live in abusive situations.   All of these and so many more situations that reflect the realities of human life weigh down upon you or your neighbor.  In all of these instance surely there have to have been times when anyone who follows Jesus might wonder “Where is God?”  You might say that there is some Abraham in me:  I am being asked to carry a cross that is so heavy and I do not feel God easing the burden.
So just as Abraham was about to accomplish what must have been breaking his heart, God speak to him:  hold on.  Do not harm your son.  What I want from you is that you listen to my voice.  It is no different for us today.  No matter what the cross is that you are carrying, the reality is that God is asking you to listen to him.
Recall the famous and marvelous event on the mountain top:  Jesus is together three of his closest followers.  Suddenly things, strange things begin to happen.  Imagine the scene.  Put yourself in the picture as you read the story or hear it read.  There is Jesus but in a new way along with two Old Testament greats, Moses and Elijah.  Remember God spoke from the clouds to the disciples with a simple message:  “This is my son, my Beloved -- listen to him.”  Listen to him!  Listen to Him!
The main question we have to face in whatever circumstances that weigh heavily upon us is this:  Do you always ultimately believe God is for you.  He will not abandon you ... not just most of the time but whenever you truly need his graces and his presence.  Do you think that God would not be ready for you when he has already given us his Son not just in presence in our world but given us his Son, hanging lifeless the cross.  No need we have can outweigh the gift of the Resurrection and the forgiveness of whatever sins there have been in life.
What we are called upon during these early days of Lent is to accept the moments that make us ask “Is God for me?”  We have to trust God.  We have to know that God is our representative, our advocate.  When it is difficult to accept a particular cross, realize that pain or frustration, is the invitation to ask ourselves:  “How strong is my faith?  Do I realize that God is for me?”  That’s the challenge.  A good beginning in these early days of Lent.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Saturday of the First Week of Lent - 2012

The words from the gospel are another part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Again for many of us these words and what Jesus means by them may be a challenge.  Jesus does not ask easily at times!

We have learned that "God is love."  Sure.  It is easy for him.  He is "built" that way.  Can you imagine him being anything but love?  If this is really who God is, then he must have love in his heart, his Spirit, his being for the young man who shot at a table of fellow students in the northern Ohio high school earlier this past week.  Likewise he must love the perpetrators of the 9/11 horror that severely hurt so many families.  He loves the priest who refused communion during her mother's funeral to a woman who is gay.  And can we say that God does not love those enemies who kill our American troops?  I don't think he can.

So, in this reading God, through his Son, is calling upon you and me to have within our hearts a true concern for our enemies -- that the electric chair, not a well-guided bullet and so forth.  We are called to be a living imitation of the God who created all of us.  Surely the actions of people who hurt, offend or insult others is hurtful, painful and frustrating.  It does not mean, however, that we have to bring ourselves to their level.  Even if only in my heart and I mind, God is calling you and me to have compassion for the most despicable of humanity.  He wants you and me to pray for that person's healing of the deep-seated hatred that is part of his/her experience of life.

The real question might be this:  Do I realize that my becoming hate-filled does not have the first impact upon a horrific and harming person?  I am the one who brings suffering  ...  to myself.  Yes, as hard as it is to become more than superficial with this Love Like God Loves idea, it is our calling as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.  Remember one of the first directives in the Sermon on the Mount:  Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God!
Friday of the First Week of Lent 2012

Today's gospel is a part of the well-recognized Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus' words draw the listeners to consider that God's mercy to be guaranteed demands repentance.  Jesus, throughout this particular "sermon" -- remember it covers about three chapters of Matthew's gospel account -- is also trying to instill in hearts the very real danger of superficiality.

If we take the time to examine the various ways that Jesus speaks about how we have to live our lives to achieve the guarantee of God's mercy, we will find there a many ways in which we too easily fall into handling our road to repentance with a bit of superficiality.

In the State of Maryland, yesterday, the Governor, Martin O'Malley, signed into law a bill that will permit same sex marriages.  Now his actions elicit very definite reactions:  either you admire his position or you reject it.  It seems difficult for me to find a middle ground in this matter.  There is no superficiality about individual responses:  you either like it or you don't!

How many times do you recite the Our Father prayer aloud or in you mind each day?  Even if it is only once or twice a day, how much superficiality enters into this prayer as you recite or think it?  Most would say "I'm not being superficial with this prayer."  Let's look at one simple sentence in the prayer that Jesus taught us:  "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."  Do you really mean this when you pray these words?  

Remember the words from St. John the Evangelist's first letter:  "If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother [let me add for inclusivity "sister"], he is a liar."  Furthermore, let's recall the significant words in Matthew (25:45) "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me."  Ouch!  You see we can too easily pass over the impact of what Jesus was teaching.

Did anyone ever say that the life of a genuine follower of Jesus Christ would be easy?  During these days of the annual Lenten journey let us pray to God for the grace to be honest with ourselves and our desires to live life as Jesus calls teaches.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday of the First Week of Lent 2012

From the time that we were able to understand some of the messages that parents were offering to us, we were taught that if we took the time to pray to our God that he would give us what it is that we need.  In today's gospel we read or hear these words:  "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find."

How often have you purchased a lottery ticket with a prayer?  Can you count the number of times that you have prayed for someone with cancer only to find yourself attending a funeral?  Were our parents, the  parish priests or the nuns (if we attend a Catholic school when and where that now rare breed of human beings existed) out of touch with religious reality?  Or is it that there were secret codes we did not know when we made our petitions to Jesus, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Mary, St. Joseph or any other of the myriad of saints?

Once again in our adult lives we confront a reality we might wish did not exist:  we just do not ask God for the things that we need most of all.  No one of us in a right frame of mind would present a loaded gun to a five year old child to play at what was a favorite activity in my youth, "cowboys and Indians."  Even a sensible teen would know better than to put such a loaded weapon in the hands of a five year old person.  Clearly God is not going to give anyone of us children a "toy" or a "gift" that will bring us harm despite what we might think is what we need.

So, what is the "it" that will be given to us?  We must trust.  God will only give us what we should have in our lives.  Of course this leads to a further inquiry in our adult minds and hearts.  If that is the way this God of ours actually acts, why should be spend any time in prayer, any time talking or asking of God?

It is important to consider what it is that we ask for in our prayers, our petitions.   If we take the time to examine the various petitions we place before God, we might find a clearer understanding of the degree of importance in our asks.  We must face the difference between needs and wants.  This is what God uses as his scale to determine what we want.  Even Jesus had to face this reality when he prayed just prior to the onset of his passion and death.  No garden ever heard or witness such a petition that seemingly went unanswered.  Where would we be if God had taken away the chalice that Jesus knew he would be forced to drink?  Would there be any redemption for the sinner?  Ours is a wise God!  Don't sell him short.