Monday, February 20, 2017

Lenten Reading Suggestions for 2017

Every Lent I like to find a spiritually challenging or enlightening book to read and meditate upon. Seeing the Lenten begins March 1st I thought I would share with you some of my favorite titles for Lent.  Feel free to share yours as well.

The Spear: A Novel of the Crucifixion
Louis de Wohl is by far my favorite Catholic author. The Spear takes the reader through the events surrounding the Crucifixion of Our Lord from the perspective of Cassius Longinus, the man who thrust the spear into the side of Christ.  We've read this story aloud during Lent to our family and everyone loves it.

The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
This book is a retelling, in detail, of the Lord's Passion as seen by the Anne Catherine Emmerich herself through various visions. It is a fascinating book and was drawn heavily upon by Mel Gibson for The Passion of the Christ.

Life of Christ
Life Of Christ has been hailed as the most eloquent of Fulton Sheen's writings, the fruit of many years of dedication and research. Filled with compassion and brilliant scholarship, his recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ is as dramatic and moving as the subject Himself. Here is a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and most of all the Savior whose promise has sustained humanity for two millennia.

In Conversation with God: Vol. 2: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide by Francis Fernandez.
Man's highest aspiration is to be able to converse with Jesus - to pray. In Conversation with God helps the reader to pray with piety and with confidence. It is aimed not at the 'specialist' but is for the ordinary person - for the housewife, for the teacher, for the secretary, for the shop assistant... This book is a great spiritual gift for Lent with daily meditations to contemplate throughout the day.

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Fulton J. Sheen
Timeless words from the pen of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen inspire the heart and imagination as readers embark on a Lenten journey toward a better understanding of their spiritual selves. Covering the traditional themes of Lent--sin and salvation, death and Resurrection, sorrow and hope, ashes and lilies--these 50 passages and accompanying mini-prayers offer readers a practical spiritual program as a retreat from the cares and concerns of a secular world view.

The Sacred Passion
In this book, Fr. de la Palma provides an aid for meditating on the Passion. He recreates the events of Jesus' life beginning with Holy Thursday and concluding with the burial of Our Lord and a powerful evocation of the coming resurrection. With vivid detail and a constant recognition of the role the Blessed Mother played in those days, Fr. de la Palma helps the reader enter into the Last Supper, the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, the arrest of Our Lord, the denial of St. Peter, the trials before Caiaphas and Pilate, the scourging and mocking, and finally, the Crucifixion. His meditations hew closely to the Gospel accounts, adding to them insights from other scriptures and frequently culminating in fervent prayers to Our Lord and Our Lady.

Way of the Cross
Enter into the wounds of Christ Crucified. When Msgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer proposed this way to those who asked him for advice on how to deepen their interior life, he was doing no more than pass on his own experience, pointing out the short cut he had been using throughout his life, and which led him to the highest peaks of spiritual life. This posthumous work of Msgr. Escriva, like the previous ones, has been prepared to help people to pray and, with the grace of God, to grow in a spirit of reparation - of love-sorrow - and of gratitude to our Lord, who has rescued us at the cost of his Blood. For this same reason, some words of Msgr. Escriva have been included as points for meditation; they have been taken from his preaching and his conversation, which reflected his zeal to speak only about God and about nothing but God.

Preparing for your Lenten Marathon.

For Catholics and other Christians, Lent is a sort of New Year. It is a time to examine ones life, compare it to the life of Christ, and work toward bringing the former more into line with the latter. Like New Year, it is filled with resolutions and vows, promises of penance and change. It is a time of death for old habits and a time of rebirth or rejuvenation for the soul.

However, there also lies hidden in Lent a very serious and dangerous trick of the devil. The temptation presented by the Father of Lies is to “overdo” the Lenten season. As strange as it may sound, temperance must be exercised in a heroic manner during Lent in relation to penance and sacrifice.

Like a runner at the beginning of a race, at the beginning of Lent we are full of energy and excitement. Our heads are filled with numerous ideas for penance and sacrifice like sugar plumb fairies dancing in our heads. Without honest recognition that the path we are walking leads us to Calvary we will quickly be exhausted and give up many of the ideas we held on Ash Wednesday. The devil tempts us into taking on more sacrifices and more penances and more practices of piety than we can ever really hope to fulfill. Usually, after a strong start we find that we really need to drop a few of the practices we began so eagerly. It is here that the devil returns to accuse us of being weak, being unworthy of Christ, of not being able to carry such a simple cross as this. This accusation can often turn to self-pity or self-hate resulting in the former marathon penitent giving up everything all together.

Some key points to remember as you begin and make your way through Lent:

Saint Josemaria Escriva once said, “The world admires only the spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of the sacrifice that is hidden and silent.” When you consider the practices that you take on this Lent consider Who you are doing these things for. All our mortifications must be geared toward becoming more like Christ.

It is the small sacrifices that are often the most difficult. It is easy to give up chocolate for Lent but not as easy to give up another tasty treat like gossip. The small, hidden sacrifices are the most difficult because they work on the things most ingrained into our being. The world certainly will not admire the small, hidden sacrifice of giving up gossip but the value of that sacrifice, in the eyes of God, is far greater than foregoing soda or something of that nature.

When “giving up” something for Lent be sure to replace that something. Nature abhors a vacuum and that missing space will quickly be filled with something else. It is up to you to make sure that that sacrifice is filled in with something good. If it is time that is sacrificed, like not watching TV, surfing the Internet, etc., then fill that time with prayer or reading. Sin is often crowded out of our lives by good things. We replace vices with virtues.

Finally, on this walk toward Calvary, you and I, like Jesus, will most likely fall. When we do fall, the devil will rush to our side and begin to whisper in our ear. Remember that discouragement, self-hate, and the like are from Satan and never from God. God is our biggest fan and biggest supporter. He wants us to follow Him and at the same time He wants to be our “Simon of Cyrene” and help us carry the cross. If you fall and fail in your Lenten practices seek to imitate Jesus and get back up and carry on. The struggle ends on Calvary and the reward will come on Easter Sunday.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lambs among Wolves: A Poem

Luke 10:1-9

From the dark the wolves do watch
as naked lambs travel to and fro
no bag, no cloak, no sandals
as to every town they go.

Messengers of the One to come
to each house they bleet out peace
announcing to all the Kingdom of God
and His eternal feast.

To make such a feast
the field must yield
its bounty in due time
but laborers are few
so pray the good Lord
send those to tend, to prune and hive.

The bleeting peace
does go out
and often times returns
But those who accept
that potent peace
give the labourer what he deserves.

Relying on the Shepherd
the sheep heal
by word and by hand
no mind to wolf
with fiery eyes
God's Kingom is at hand!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Be a Fool for Christ's sake!

Mark 3:20-21

I often wonder what life would be like for St. Francis if he were to live in our day. What would it be like if a friend of ours renounced the successful family business his father owned and chose a life of poverty? What would our reaction be if a friend we went to high school with showed up at our door dressed in burlap asking for the scraps from our dinner or extra building materials we may have in the basement? Most likely you and I would smile, offer them a cup of coffee, and then call his or her family members or doctor. We would think that our friend had lost their mind!

We see similar behavior in young men and women who are in love. They can be in love with another person or an idea but the effect is usually the same. They do and say crazy things. They are consumed with their thoughts. They have this strange look as though they are looking through the world and everything in it to something beyond.

In today's Gospel we find that Jesus' friends think he is crazy. The passage is short for today, only two verses - "Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-21 NAB) The RSV-CE says it this way, "he is beside himself" indicating a sort of split personality or that He is crazy. The Douay-Rheims says simply, "He is become mad."

What made Jesus' friends and relatives react in such a way? The answer is not clear from the text but it is obvious that He has done something to cause them great concern. It appears that Jesus is neglecting Himself even to the point of not eating. It seems that those who love Him are concerned that He is giving too much of Himself (oh if they only knew how much He would give!). Between the lines you can almost hear the murmuring, "He's lost his mind, he doesn't eat, he barely sleeps. He looks terrible. He can't go on like this. He needs to send these people away and stop this nonsense. What is wrong with him? He must be sick in the head. We must intervene, we must drag him away for his own good. Maybe after some rest he'll come to his senses" and on and on.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:25), "We are fools on Christ's account" (1 Corinthians 4:10). Scripture, Tradition, and the lives of the Saints make clear that "the servant is not greater than the master" and so we too, if we are living for Christ, will be thought mad by the world. When was the last time someone thought you were crazy as a direct result of you living your faith? When was the last time a friend or relative tried to set you aside and tell you they were concerned about how generous you are? When is the last time you felt a "fool on Christ's account?" It's time to get crazy! We need saintly madness more today than ever before!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

We're on a Pilgrimage

Mark 3:7-12

I don't like crowds. I am the type of person who stays away from a crowd. I don't do well at football games or concerts. You can imagine my anxiety level when I took a youth group to Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day. There I was sleeping in a field, soaked to the bone with close to a million of my closest friends. But it was all worth it. The lack of food, the long hike, the downpours, the heat, the sweat, the blisters, the fatigue was all worth it. It was a tremendous blessing to be part of such a pilgrimage of faith. It was a blessing to see how "universal - catholic" the Church really is and it was a blessing to see, in the flesh, Saint John Paul the Great - a witness, a fellow pilgrim, a role model, and a saint.

In today's reading we find a pilgrimage of sorts taking place. People have heard about this Jesus of Nazareth and are coming from all over to see Him, to listen to Him, and perhaps be healed by Him. Scripture mentions different locations from which these people are streaming. Some of these men, women, children, and families are traveling considerable distance to be with this miracle worker. Some are walking, some are riding, and others are being carried or carted. Many of them are traveling between 40 and 70 miles to be with Jesus. They are experiencing heat and cold, hunger, blisters, aches and pains, and other types of suffering to be with Him. There are so many people arriving at this place that Jesus begins to fear for His safety and the safety of His followers. He arranges for a boat to be brought in case the crowd gets out of hand and He needs to depart quickly.

In this reading we can find strength to continue on our faith journey, our journey and pilgrimage in this life as we travel toward the next. We can see that the end, Christ, is worth any suffering that we may have to endure on the Way. The goal is worth the effort. The prize is worth the struggle. Jesus is worth the suffering that we may face, suffering often caused by the world, the flesh, or the devil in an attempt to get us to turn back. Therefore, let us look to those who took this pilgrimage as our example. Let us look to them for the strength and courage to continue on the path to Christ. When we arrive all tears will be wiped away. All the suffering will be turned to joy and all ills will be healed.

FROM THE SAINTS - "I want you to be happy on earth. But you won't be if you don't get rid of that fear of suffering. For as long as we are "wayfarers", it is precisely in suffering that our happiness lies." "I'm going to tell you which are man's treasures on earth so you won't slight them: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonor, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison..."
- Saint Josemaria Escriva - The Way #'s 194, 217

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Most Ridiculous Commandment

Mark 2:23-28

Thou shalt rest. Thou shalt take it easy. Thou shalt relax, read, spend time with friends and family. Thou shalt spend time with Me for one day before going back to work.

How many of us have ever uttered these words or similar words? - I'm so busy, I need a break, If I only had some free time I would (insert favorite activity here). I always thought the third Commandment was sort of ridiculous. Who needs to be told to take a day off? Who needs to be told to not work? Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get out of work. Yet God, who knows His children best, saw fit to make one of the Ten Commandments tells us to take it easy.

Of course keeping Holy the Sabbath is not simply about being a couch potato. It is supposed to be a day of retreat. It is a day where we can duck out of the world and spend time with God and enjoy His gifts - creation, family, Scripture, etc.

I treasure my Sundays. That is my favorite day of the week. It is a day when we get up early, go to Mass, eat breakfast on the deck, go for a hike or go fishing, and end the day with a campfire or family rosary or both. When we can't get out and about, we institute an "electronics free day" and spend time reading, playing board games, or wrestling.

While some may live for the weekend I live for Sunday. I admit that it often does take some planning since we choose to refrain from shopping, dining out, etc. But I think that makes the day much more enjoyable. If we're going hiking at the state park we make sure our tank is filled on Saturday. If were cooking out or entertaining we get the extras during the weekly grocery trip. Then, come Sunday, no worries. I love it! It's like a weekly retreat. It's recreation in the true sense, re-creation - a chance to be re-created in God's image and likeness. Its a chance to love Him and enjoy His love.

So what was the big deal with what Jesus' disciples were doing? The Pharisees had taken a basic list of things that shouldn't be done on the Sabbath and expanded it to a 39 item list. So a simple command (in it's true sense and spirit) like "do not perform farm work on the Sabbath" becomes a ridiculous and anguish-filled command like "do not walk through a field of grain or even casually pick the grain to munch on for that is considered farm work."

Jesus is teaching the Pharisees, His disciples, and us that the law of charity must trump all other rules. He uses a story that they were very familiar with to prove His point (1 Samuel 21). Man's basic needs must come before ceremonial rules. Jesus shows that it is better that man be fed by picking grain on the Sabbath than starving to death on the Sabbath in order to keep a ceremonial law.

Lord Jesus, help me to truly rest in Your presence this coming Sunday. Give me the strength to deny my worldly interests for one day and focus on You and the gifts You have given for my benefit. Help me to retreat for a day and be recreated so that I might better serve you in the days that follow.

FROM THE SAINTS - "I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness. Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals, and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job." - Saint Josemaria Escriva

Friday, January 13, 2017

Undaunted Faith

Mark 2:1-12

There is so much to this reading. Every time I read it I think of something different to meditate on. In the past I have always seen the paralytic as merely along for the ride. I have read it with the idea that perhaps he was telling his friends to put him down or to give up. Maybe he was discouraged by the crowd and asked them to simply take him home and they could try another day when Jesus wasn't so busy. Maybe that says more about my personality and what I need to work on.

But today it hit me that maybe it was just the opposite. Maybe it was the paralytic who pushed his friends into doing something radical. Maybe in the past he had tried to get others to get him close to Jesus but to no avail. And now he wasn't giving up. I can hear him begging them to find another way, any way and telling them that he refused to go home.

No matter how you look at it it is apparent that we are in this together. We need each other. In pre-Cana classes I lovingly tell couples that the perfect image of marriage is the crucifix. Sometimes you are Christ to your spouse and sometimes you are the cross. Either way, both are necessary. There is no salvation without Christ and there is no salvation without the cross.

Sometimes we are the paralytic that wants to throw in the towel. We want to just give up and drown in self-pity and it takes those who love us to bring us to Christ. They help join the cross of our suffering to the Christ who takes away all suffering. Other times we are the friend who will not give up on the person we love. We become Christ and we help carry their cross. We know that he or she is paralyzed by sin and we will not stop until we bring them before Christ. And still, at other times we may be the paralytic who pushes the friends to not give up. We tell them that we are depending on them and by doing so we bring out the best in them - we raise them up and they raise us up.

Jesus has the power to work those same miracles today. Over and over in the scriptures Jesus is moved by a show of faith. If you are paralyzed call upon those people who will help you to Jesus. If you are helping someone, are you doing all that you can? Are you ripping a hole in Heaven by your prayers and bring your friend before Christ?

Jesus wants us to be persistent, faithful, and cunning in regards to our faith. He wants us to approach our faith life with the same zeal, creativity, passion that we pour into our other life projects. Imagine what your faith life would be like, imagine the effect that it would have on others if you poured the same amount of energy into prayer as you do into business, sports, hobbies, etc! What have you got to lose? What is there to gain? There are much better pay-outs for the eternal investor than the temporal.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Wilderness of the Confessional

Mark 1:40-45
[Leprosy] was a feared disease, and its victims were shunned because of their disfiguring stigmata—collapsed facial bones, fingers, and toes, with the hands and feet ultimately rotted away. Leprosy was among the first diseases identified as contagious. Early societies took measures to shield their healthy members from contagion: lepers were obliged to wear distinctive clothing and carry a bell to warn others of their presence, or they were segregated in lazarettos, precursors of quarantine stations and isolation hospitals. (source)

We are given the impression that perhaps Jesus is alone in the wilderness on the outskirts of a town or city. He was probably praying and escaping the pressure of His growing fame. Jesus seeks the refuge of the wild for peace and the leper seeks it for peace as well but for different reasons. Here we see Jesus associating with the most marginalized of His time, lepers. We may assume He is alone, otherwise word of this "touch" would have spread just as fast if not faster than word of His miracles (we know how fast bad news travels). With a word and a touch Jesus cleanses this man thus removing the social and physical pains associated with his disease in an instant.

Jesus instructs this man to keep quiet but the man cannot help himself. I doubt that Jesus was too upset with this man for not following His wishes. Yet, He may have been disappointed for the news of the cure made it more difficult for Him to travel from town to town.

A few lessons might be taken from this passage that we can apply to our own lives. There are many diseases today that cause man to be marginalized. Yet, again, we must be concerned with the one disease that truly is a silent killer, leprosy of the soul, sin. This disease disfigures a being created in the image and likeness of God beyond recognition (depart from me, I do not know thee.) It is a slow rotting of the soul. Our goal should be to seek Christ often, finding Him in the silence, peace and wilderness of the confessional. We should seek to often enter into that place and cry out from the heart, "If you will, you can make me clean." There we will hear, "I do will, be made clean."

In addition, being faithful in little commands can further the kingdom while disobedience can often act in opposition to God's grace. How much more difficult is it for Christ to speak and heal when we are the ones speaking. People who knew the leper did not need to hear the story of his healing, they need only look at him for proof. So it is with us. We need not run from person to person telling them about all the Lord has done, let them see the fruits of the healing in the way we live our lives. They will notice the leprosy of our souls has been healed.

FROM THE SAINTS - "This man prostrated himself on the ground, as sign of humility and shame, to teach each of us to be ashamed of the stains of our life. But shame should not prevent us from confessing: the leper showed his wound and begged for healing. If you will, he says, you can make me clean: that is, he recognized that the Lord had the power to cure him." - Saint Bede