Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites

Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” (Luke 5:31-32)

Am I willing to acknowledge my need? Especially in a culture that so praises independence, do I admit that I depend on others: family, friends, God? Again, the striking image of the American student or worker who insists on showing up to class or work with a fever and incessant cough confronts us. We see this stubbornness regularly in others, and we are not immune from it ourselves. What helps to acknowledge this need? Holes. Make a hole in your diet through occasional fasting. Make a hole in your finances by occasional alms. Make a hole in your schedule by prayer, especially the most ancient and sacred prayer of the Sabbath. Into these holes the Lord may step in and offer you His holiness. When the patient stops trying to cure himself by holding his hand over the wound, and finally removes his hand to show the physician, then the doctor can do what only the doctor can do: work the healing necessary. Let us rejoice in our need, for we are cared for by such a good Lord. Let us acknowledge our needs by giving our Physician room to work in our lives.

February 17th, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday

“Why do we fast, but you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”

See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.

(Isaiah 58:3)

Again we have come to the Fridays in Lent when abstinence is not only the recommended form of penance, but a required form of penance. On this day many will suddenly become aware of the paramount place meat has taken in their diets, and may wonder, ‘why am I denying myself the joy of a delicious hamburger, pulled pork sandwich or delicious ribeye steak?’ The reason is not because self-denial is good in and of itself. Nor can it be that we are fasting and abstaining because that automatically improves our relationship with God (see the readings today). If that were the case, Jesus would be telling his disciples to be fasting exactly like the Pharisees rather than warning them about the leaven of the Pharisees whose fasting was an occasion for becoming puffed up with pride. If our actions, even good actions, even spiritual actions are simply serving our own egos, then they are disordered, because they are not leading us to God.

Rather Christ tells the disciples to fast, and Christians continue to do so because self-denial can be spiritually medicinal. It is precisely because of disorder in our desires, priorities and relationships with others that we are called to deny ourselves so as to become far more sensitive to the justice we should be rendering to God and neighbor. With the exception of expectant mothers, no person eats for someone else, only for himself. Therefore, to apply the brakes in consuming food (at the very least in consuming certain types of food one day a week), is to start (with God’s gracious assistance) to reassert the proper balance that should exist in our lives, not seeking ourselves and our own interests first, but God’s. It is a bodily beginning to our open recognition that we have allowed sin to take Christ from His seat of honor in our hearts and minds. In this Friday abstinence, the Church has found a reliable means to helping us return to the bridegroom who so yearns for our love.

February 16th, 2018

Thursday after Ash Wednesday and Memorial of St. Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you…” (Dt 30:19-20)

What does it mean for someone who is ill to choose life? At the very least for him to make every effort to seek out the means to regain his health: find a professional to diagnose him, take the medicine prescribed, follow the diet and exercise regimen recommended, etc. The patient does these things because he wants a fullness of health that he does not enjoy at the moment. His head is not as clear when he is sick. He has far less energy when he is sick. The fullness of life is affected by lacking the fullness of health. Perhaps this is why Moses describes life as loving, listening to, and holding fast to the Lord our God. I am able to think clearly, honestly and well about my priorities in life when I focus on the Lord. I am able to act with zeal, energy and joy when I act out of love for my God. Let us seek the fullness of life, so that we too may contemplate God as did St. Claude de la Colombiere who wrote, “God is in the midst of us, or rather we are in the midst of him; wherever we are he sees us and touches us: at prayer, at work, at table, at recreation.”

February 15th, 2018

Ash Wednesday

“Even now, return to me with your whole heart!” (Joel 2:12)

In the season of Advent, we celebrate the one who is ever with us, and yet whose coming we can always experience more and more deeply. Now as we begin Lent, we remember again that the Lord is with us. Yet with St. Augustine we may truthfully confess, “You were with me Lord, but I was not with you!” (Conf. X.22) And as we acknowledge that our sins bind our freedom and impede us from being present to God who is always present to us, we can meditate on God’s beautiful and unending cry to us: Return to me! How ardently the Lord desires that we be present to Him, that we love Him in mind, heart and deed! He knows that we will find the fullness of life and joy only in finding them in Him. So the Lord calls us not to hold back. He does not want our hearts to be half-satisfied because we still hold onto harmful thoughts, hurtful words, or destructive actions. “Return to me with your whole heart!” Let us attend to the cry of our God! Let us continue to take the honest look at ourselves that the readings this week have invited us to take, and admit to the Lord what is holding us back, what still impedes our return. He awaits us with open arms, let us this Lent let Him break the shackles which keep our hands from fully embracing Him.

February 14th, 2018

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

In the midst of acknowledging the truth about our struggles and challenges and admitting the truth about the Lord, sometimes people confusedly think that temptation comes from the Lord. Yet, against this confusion, St. James writes, “God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (Jas 1:13) Rather, what comes to us from God is only good, in fact “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (Jas 1:17) So what then is the truth about temptation?

The truth about temptation is not found denying temptation. Following the counsel of the Lord, we know we ought to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. (Mk 8:15) This may describe the point of view of those who deny that they experience any temptation, and instead insist that their exercise of secular or religious authority is in no way influenced by any disorder in their hearts. That is the denial that puffs oneself up, rather than seeking to truly be built up by the Lord. So what is the truth about temptation

The Psalmist admits the truth: “My foot slips.” The truth about temptation that we are called to admit is that we experience it. Enticed or lured by our narrow desires to treat creatures as if they were the God who alone can fully satiate our longings, we are tempted. And yet in admitting that truth, the psalmist also admits the greater truth of God’s gift, “When I say, “My foot is slipping,”

your mercy, O LORD, sustains me;

When cares abound within me,

your comfort gladdens my soul.” (Ps 94:18-19)

May we with the psalmist be open and honest about our temptations, so that we may share with the psalmist in God’s mercy and consolation.

February 13th, 2018

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

To truly allow ourselves to be fitting dwelling places for the Lord we must cultivate hearts that are true and just. The heart that is true does not deceive itself, nor does it seek to hide its wounds from those it has been created to love.

But what is the heart that is just? The one which gives to others their due. To our children we owe diligent care. To our employers we owe sincere effort in labor. To our spouses we owe fidelity and love. To our God we owe all of these things, and what grounds the offering of all we owe to God is faith. Because faith is so essential for our relationship with the Lord, the pernicious nature of willful doubt needs to be addressed. “For the one who doubts…must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.” (Jas 1:6-8) Just as others in our life will have trouble relating well to us if we do not give them the care, effort, or love we owe them, so too God cannot give us the wisdom we long for if our hearts do not openly and justly render Him the trusting faith that is His due. For this reason Jesus sighs from the depths of his spirit before he asks, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” (Mk 8:12) It is not a sign the Pharisees need, but trust in the One who stands before them, the One to whom all signs in  history have been pointing! As we turn to the Lord in our need, let us above all turn to Him with the faith of the leper we heard yesterday and repeat once more with all the trust God deserves, “If you wish, you can make me clean!”

February 12th, 2018

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: World Day of the Sick

O God, who teach us that you abide

in hearts that are just and true,

grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace

as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.

– Collect for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we join our prayers together as a universal Church today, let us reflect on what it really means to present our hearts as fitting dwelling places for the Lord. The prayer does not presume that our hearts are already perfect, but that if we are indeed open to the working of the Lord in our hearts, then our hearts should be just and true. A just heart desires to give to others what they are due. A true heart seeks to be honest and sincere.

Leviticus’ prescription of the ostracizing of the leper is jarring, and yet provides a powerful image for a true heart. (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46) Ancient men, like modern men, did not have a natural inclination to make their illnesses known. Today we guard our medical secrets very carefully, and sometimes so carefully that we do not even acknowledge to ourselves that we are sick or ill. As a teacher, I become frustrated when a student shows up in the height of flu season coughing, sneezing and feverish, all the while repeating his mantra, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” Unsurprisingly, he and the other students sitting within his sneeze radius spend the next few days at home in bed recovering from being “fine”. You and I may balk at Leviticus’ commands to quarantine oneself in time of illness, and on top of that to tear clothes, muffle beards and shout ‘Unclean! Unclean!’, but that ancient honesty beats modern denial any day of the week.

If in the midst of a 103 degree temperature and inability to stop sneezing we insist that we are in perfect health, is it any wonder that we do not want to admit our avarice, lust, pride, sloth etc. to ourselves, let alone to the spiritual descendants of Aaron? Yet, we also yearn to be a dwelling pleasing to the Lord! Truth is what we need, yet we think it unbearable. ‘Don’t go to the doctor; he’ll just tell you you are sick!’ If the doctor merely gives diagnosis, but no treatment, how are we better off than when we were in denial? The good news is, the truth about our need is fully understood in the context of a greater truth. The leper of the Gospel not only lived crying, ‘unclean! unclean!’ but cried out to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean!” (Mk 1:40) Brothers and sisters, as we look towards the beginning of Lent, let us not hide our wounds from ourselves, but in open and honest acknowledgment, show our hearts to the Lord who wishes to heal us and to make His dwelling within us.

February 11th, 2018
Saturday of the Second week of Advent
John was a new Elijah, destined to turn the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob (Sir 48:10), yet he often went unrecognized. (Mt 17:12) The business of heralding is not done so that others will pat you on the back. Neither John who announced the coming of the King, nor Christ who is the King were always well received. Yet, their message indeed worked reconciliation. Even if they were not acknowledged by all, there were those who did receive them, and who could bear the fruit of grace in their lives because they believed what was preached to them. Let us continually seek to let Advent transform us into heralds of the Good News that Christ comes anew. Then we too will know what it means to enjoy the blessedness of falling asleep in the friendship of heralds such as Elijah and John. (Sir 48:11)
December 16th, 2017
Friday of the Second Week of Advent
The Lord comes as one who wants only to teach us what is for our good. (Is 48:17) So many claim to do this, but then demand a price for the benefits they offer to us. Yet, our Creator does not make us because of something He can get out of creation, but because of the joy and gladness He can then bestow on His creatures. Our Redeemer does not come and ransom us for His own profit, but solely and gratuitously for ours.
This may explain Jesus’ exasperation in the Gospel today. Both He and John have preached to the people solely for the benefit of the people, hoping that the people will accept the message as good for themselves. Yet, the response is of childish rebellion which rejects good teaching, and instead pouts because the teacher has not conformed to the whims of the student, “we played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.” (Mt 11:17) Surely there were people who annoyed Jesus that day who considered themselves to be heralds of the Lord. And they were annoyed that Jesus was not dancing to their tune. Let us take this as a lesson ourselves. In order to announce well the coming of the Lord, let us be conformed to Him. Let us constantly attune the message we bear to the words of the Lord. Let us be humble before those who correct us when we are not conforming our thoughts, words and deeds to those of Christ. Only in humility before Jesus can we faithfully announce His coming.
December 15th, 2017
Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Few indeed are the times the Lord addresses us in more surprising terms than in the words of today’s first reading, “Fear not, I will help you. Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel; I will help you, says the Lord” (Is 41:14) One might well marvel at these words of the Lord to His Chosen People. After all, does Christianity not pride itself on emphasizing the goodness of Creation described by Genesis? Is not all that God makes good? All Creation is very good indeed! And yet, to the Chosen People in exile, submitted to a foreign power, it seemed as if they could not be lower. That they were as powerless as a blind, wandering worm, or what is perhaps the only lesser state by comparison: that of a maggot, an insect in its first stages of development, dependent even upon other insects for the  basics of life in order to survive and grow. The Lord does not tip toe around Israel’s feelings of self pity, but rather makes use of a a bit of immersion therapy, and then says, even if you should be as lowly as you feel, like a powerless insect, even then My grace will make of you something capable of threshing the very mountains, powerful enough to turn the hills into chaff. (Is 41:15)
At times we may feel quite lowly, and yet, the Lord chooses us to be citizens of His Kingdom. Even if we are the least in that Kingdom, we are expected to exercise our citizenship as fervently as John the Baptist. “…among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11) Indeed, solely by virtue of our earthly birth, none of us, not even John the Baptist, is capable of fulfilling the great plans which God has for us. But by virtue of that adoption into His royal family, by the power of the grace which the Lord comes to give, we are capable of far more than we would even imagine on our own.  Do you know any who are especially preoccupied with their weaknesses, failures, struggles right now? Perhaps this is the time given by the Lord to decide how you can make known to them the coming of Him who gives even the smallest insect the power to thresh the mountains.
December 14th, 2017
Next Page »