Thursday, March 09, 2017

The prayer God always answers.

In today's Gospel Jesus says, "...what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?" What man indeed? We know, or at least we think we know, how to give good gifts to our children. When it comes to the basic needs, we know what good gifts to give. However, our children do not always want those good things we have to offer. They often want the stone instead of bread or the serpent instead of a fish. You and I are no different when it comes to our Heavenly Father.

I cannot count the number of times I have prayed for something that really wasn't what was good for me. I can't count the number of times that I was handed something good by the hand of God but called it evil since it wasn't what I prayed for. Only through grace and spiritual growth am I able to look back and see that God's response was a loving one.

So, what then should I be asking God to give me?  What is a safe prayer?  How can I pray each day and never have to wonder if I am asking for a stone, scorpion, or serpent?

As I've mentioned before, many times we do not see something in Scripture until it's time, until we are ready.  Often we read and reread the same passage, maybe hundreds of times, before something really jumps out.  Today was one of those days.  I even said aloud, "wow, I never noticed that before."

"If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

Did you see it?  Did it register?  I can almost see Jesus saying this to me with an elbow nudge and a wink.  It's like a secret code between old friends.  It's like an inside joke but it's no joke.  He pulls me and you aside and says, "pssst, want to know what to ask my Father for?  Want to know what He'll never say "no" to?  Move in closer."  Jesus looks around to make sure no one else is overhearing and then says, "ask for the Holy Spirit."

Duh! or in the words of Homer (Simpson) Doooh!  Yes, this is what Who I should be asking the Father for each and every day, each and every moment!  I can pray for material needs in this world.  I can pray for the physical needs of my family.  I can pray for the spiritual needs of those around me.  There's nothing wrong with any of these prayers.  However, if I want to change the world for the good, if I want to make a powerful and eternal difference, I need to be asking the Father to give me, and others, the Holy Spirit.

"If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask [for] him?"  Jesus is telling me and you what Who to ask for!  Troubles with work?  Come, Holy Spirit!  Troubles with family? Come, Holy Spirit!  Election year? Come, Holy Spirit! Sickness? Come, Holy Spirit.  Financial troubles?  Come, Holy Spirit!

Let us start today to make "Come, Holy Spirit" a prayer we pray often because, " much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

Here are some awesome books to assist you with the prayer, Come, Holy Spirit!

When the Spirit Comes in Power by Peter Herbeck.  This short but powerful book will open your heart and mind to the true power of having allowing the Holy Spirit into your life.

Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled with the Fullness of God.  Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., examines the events of Pentecost and how the people around the Apostles thought them to be drunk.  He goes on to teach us how those first followers experienced Christ and what Pentecost means for us today.

(This is an affiliate link.  By clicking on this link I may earn money by your purchase.  I do not recommend anything I haven't read or used personally and believe is of value to you the reader.  Thank you)

Monday, March 06, 2017

What I Have Failed To Do

I believe today's Gospel passage completely destroys my "but I'm a good person" argument.

I often like to compare myself with others and say, "well, at least I'm not like this person. At least I'm not - murdering, stealing, committing adultery (insert potential mortal sin here)." However, this passage mentions none of those sinful things and yet I still see folks cast into "the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels."

Most of us grow up learning about the sins we shouldn't commit. We are taught to follow the Ten Commandments and avoid doing evil things. Unfortunately, we are not catechized on the very troubling "sins of omission" which are apparently just as deadly to the soul.

In today's Gospel Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the good from the bad. His criteria is not based on the sinful things that were or were not done. Instead, the deciding factor is whether one did or did not do the good things that should have been done.

This is, unfortunately, a frightening revelation to me. I have always focused on avoiding sin yet here I find that a life of holiness is not based solely on avoiding sin but also on doing good. The "goats" were cast into the fire not because they had done some evil thing directly but because they avoided doing the good they could have done. Their sin is one of omission. With this insight I will be approaching confession much differently next time because I know that if I chose to open my eyes I would see plenty of opportunities for feeding, clothing, etc.

I also have to be careful not to make this into a social justice Gospel. What I chose to do for my brothers and sisters must come from the heart, a heart full of love for God. As Saint Paul says, "If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."(1 Cor 13:3) I must learn to see Christ in each one of them just as God sees Christ in me. If He can look upon me, wretched as I am, as His own son, surely I can look upon the least of these as my brother or sister.

Lord Jesus, help me to grow in my love for all. Give me the eyes to see as You see. Help me to reach out and love others. Help me to grow and realize that avoiding sin is not living a faith-filled life. Help me to remember the words of St. John, "Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness."(1 John 2:9) and the words of St. James, "If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:15-17)

FROM THE SAINTS - "We will be judged on the degree and quality of our love." - Saint John of the Cross, Spiritual Sentences and Maxims, 57

Friday, March 03, 2017

The Birth Scar

The Scar

Whenever I ask my 18-month-old about his belly he proudly lifts his shirt and inserts a finger into his belly button. Recently, when he did this, I was taken back to the time of his delivery. In my mind's eye I could plainly see my newborn son squirming and filling his lungs with air for the first time. I also remember having the opportunity to cut the cord that had connected him and his mother for so long. That separation of mother and child has left a scar to remind my son of the sufferings his mother endured.

When meditating on the crucifix I am inclined to focus on the more obvious wounds of our Lord’s body. For instance, I only focus on the wounds in the hands and feet or the pierced side of the Savior. There is a wound, or a scar, rather, that has caught my attention recently but is often overlooked in meditations.

The navel or bellybutton of our Lord can speak volumes to us. Christ’s bellybutton first of all signifies His humanity. Many paintings of the Child Jesus are nude to show that He was fully human. But I think His bellybutton proves His humanity far better. The fact that Jesus had a bellybutton means that Jesus was born of a woman. It is a scar, a birthmark, which all men have. It is a constant reminder that someone loved me very much and made a tremendous sacrifice for me.

The Love of a Woman

Besides the love God has for man, there is no stronger bond of love than that between a mother and her child. Jesus and Mary are intimately linked. Mary could truly say, "This is my body, this is my blood." Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. Mary felt Jesus’ first kicks. God became flesh and received all His nourishment through this very birth scar. Jesus humbled Himself to be born of a woman and Mary nursed God at her breast. Mary held God’s hands during His first steps and the Creator was held in the arms of His creation. Mary called God in for dinner and taught Him to live among His people.

Jesus could have just wandered onto the scene and begun His work. He could have just as easily walked out of the desert and into the synagogue and begun teaching, but He saw fit that He should experience human life. In meditating on this birth scar of Christ I can draw many conclusions. The foremost of these is that God chose to live a fully human life. By becoming man and being born of a woman, Christ has sanctified all human life. The birth scar is proof of His intimate connection with human nature and that He was fully human.

I cannot look at Mary without thinking of Jesus nor can I look at His birth scar without thinking of Mary. Mary is truly the gate of Heaven. She is the link between Heaven and Earth. By her saying "yes" to God we are now able to become not only sons and daughters of the Father, but also sons and daughters of Mary for we are the "rest of her offspring" against whom the devil is waging war (Rv 12:17).

Healing Wounds

Today, as we celebrate the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us remember that Jesus lived first within the womb of this holy woman.  Surely as she visited with her cousin Elizabeth, they spoke of the lives contained within them - Jesus and John the Baptist.

As we pause today to meditate and reflect on the mystery of the Visitation, let us remember the labor of the Blessed Mother and what she may have experienced as she stood at the foot of her son's cross and stared at the scar that once connected them so intimately. Surely, her womb ached. Surely, she was reminded of that joyful night in Bethlehem so long ago when He squirmed and took His first breath. Or perhaps she was reminded of a time when He too lifted His shirt and placed a finger in that beautiful scar.

It is said that the only things in Heaven that are man-made are the scars on the body of our Lord. I say there is one other scar in Heaven that is more beautiful than all the other scars. The scars in His hands and feet were caused by the hate of men, but the scar in the middle of His belly was caused by the love of the Woman and by it too, we were healed.

This meditation is taken from You Shall Look Upon Him Whom You Have Pierced: Meditations on the Crucifix available here.


Friday after Ash Wednesday

In a letter to his brothers in the Society of the Servants of the Poor Saint Jerome writes the following: "In his kindness, our Lord wished to strengthen your faith, for without it, as the evangelist points out, Christ could not have performed many of his miracles. He also wished to listen to your prayer, and so he ordained that you experience poverty, distress, abandonment, weariness and universal scorn....he desires to include you among his beloved sons...for this is the way he treats his friends and makes them holy. ...he is asking you to grow continually in your confidence in him alone and not in others."

God often deprives us of the things that we love in order to pull us closer to Himself. As a gentle Father, He is removing that which is separating us from Him. When faced with these losses, with these crosses, we are given two choices that Saint Jerome goes on to mention, "either you will forsake your faith and return to the ways of the world, or you will remain steadfast in your faith and pass the test."

In today's Gospel Jesus tells the disciples, and us, that there will be a time when we will experience the loss of His presence. For the disciples this would be a real, physical absence. For us, more often, it is a spiritual absence or a dryness in prayer. It is at these times that we must hold fast to that hope that is within us. God is testing us and asking, "do you still love me even when you don't "feel" me present? Do you still love me even when the sweetness of my grace seems to have vanished?"

Fasting has the effect of making us hungry for the Lord. It is a reminder that "man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." It is a reminder that the things of this world do not satisfy, only God can satisfy.

The bridegroom has been taken away from us and so we fast. He has deprived us of himself in order that our faith may grow. But our hunger must not make us weak. Our hunger must not make us lose hope for this is the way he treats his friends and makes them holy.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Take Up Your Cross

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

In the First Reading, Moses challenges the people, and us, to "choose life". He says, "choose life, that you and your descendants may live." This seems pretty practical. If we choose life, we and our descendants will go on. If not, well...

However, I think we need to look deeper. In fact, I would encourage you to insert a word here in the scriptures, if only mentally - "choose eternal life." For most of us, choosing life is not much of a choice in the arena of our daily lives. Most of us do not rise in the morning with the thought of I'm going to choose to live this day racing through our brains. Yet choosing eternal life must be an everyday, and in fact every moment, choice. It is an effort to make those choices day after day and minute after minute. In some degree, every choice we make throughout our day is a choice for either eternal life or eternal death - therefore choose life!

So how then do we "choose life"? The Gospel gives us the answer. We choose the Cross. This is certainly a paradox but it is the instruction of Our Lord. In fact, He gives us a frightening teaching concerning the choice for the cross later in Luke 14:27, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Our Lord says, "cannot" and that is not to be taken lightly.

In choosing the Cross, we choose life, eternal life. Taking up our Cross daily is not an option, it is a requirement. Those who seek to "save their life" by fleeing the Cross will lose it, for in reality they are choosing death, eternal death. They are, in fact, choosing to flee from a holiness and joy that can only come from God Himself - the student is not greater than the master.

Lent gives us plenty of opportunities to once again choose the Cross, to choose life. We are invited to take upon ourselves little crosses. We are encouraged to give up something we are fond of and make sacrifices by doing that which we don't really like. My giving up coffee or meat is supposed to be removing something from my life in order to make more room for God. Most often the "room" or space that is made is in the shape of a Cross.

If I think fondly of and desire my coffee, I should take the time to think this way, "I could have that coffee right now and be satisfied...for a while, but I would only want more. I now make the choice to desire Christ who will satisfy me for eternity. I accept this cross and in doing so, I choose life, eternal life." The hunger of fasting should make me hungry for God. The desire for that which I have given up should make me desire God. In choosing the cross throughout Lent, I choose life!

"A Christianity from which we tried to remove the cross of voluntary mortification and penance under the pretext that these practices are the remains of the Dark Ages or of an outworn Mediaeval era, quite inappropriate for a modern Humanistic Age, would be an insipid Christianity, a Christianity in name only. It would not have kept intact the doctrine of the Gospels, nor would it serve to induce men to follow in Christ's footsteps." - J. Orlandis, The Eight Beatitudes (Take from In Conversation With God Vol. 2

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

How to never sin, well, almost never.

"In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin." - Sirach 7:36

Lately I have been meditating a great deal on the end of my life. Since the death of my grandmother and the death of my wife's grandfather, I have taken many an opportunity to think about life, death, judgement, and what is really important.

As I think back with fondness on the lives of these dear people I have a persistent thought that they are gone from this world. In due time, even their happy memory living in my heart and the hearts of others will fade away. All that they had, all they accomplished, all that they meant to friends, enemies, neighbors, and family will be forgotten save for a stone with their name. Yet their names are written in the book of life and that, in the end, is all that matters.

This of course may sound depressing to some but to me it is a call to holiness. It is a realization that this world is not the end but rather a means to the end, a perfect end - God. It is not and should not be my focus. Yes, I must live in this world but I must live for the world to come - remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.

As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flowers like the flower of the field;
the wind blows and he is gone
and his place never sees him again. - Psalm 103:13-16

On this Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are dust. We are reminded that God formed us out of dust and one day our body will return to the earth from which it came. We are reminded to remember the end of your life.

All of the great saints meditated often on the "four last things - death, judgement, heaven, and hell." This is a pious practice that helps keep things in perspective. It is what Saint Thomas More perceived as "medicinal herbs" in the battle against the spiritual sicknesses. It is a reality check and an energizer to "run so as to win."

As we enter into this long, slow, painful death to self that we call Lent let us seek to die to self, die with Christ so that we may rise again with Him on Easter Sunday.

"Without God, all that remains of man's greatness is that little pile of dust, in a dish, at one side of the altar, on Ash Wednesday." - Jacques Leclercq

"These ashes on my forehead are merely the beginning of my burial, to be followed, in years to come, by shovels full." - Michael H. James

Mother's Day Weekend.