Today’s first reading (which is also proclaimed at the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week) is the familiar passage from Isaiah with which Jesus will announce his own mission after his baptism. The prophet declares that the spirit of God has anointed him to be a bearer of glad tidings, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce God’s favor to the world. Through our own baptism and confirmation, we likewise have been anointed with the spirit of God. Like Isaiah, we have been sent by the Lord to be prophets in our own time, announcing glad tidings to those whose lives are lived on the margins of society through loneliness, alienation, rejection, uncertainty, or hopelessness. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be attentive to and serve the needs of those around us. Imagine Jesus calling you to rejoice in him and do his work.
What holds you captive, unable to experience this joy and proclaim it to others?
WELCOME TO ADVENT, AND HAPPY NEW CHURCH YEAR!! While the new civil year is little less than a month away, I invite you to reflect on the 2015 Year of Grace that begins today, and to offer the following reflection for your contemplation and reflection.
Advent occurs when we have our shortest, darkest days of the year. They literally cannot get any shorter by the end of Advent. Then, all of a sudden, that person that we have waited for-- that light-- bursts onto the scene and takes away our darkness, and the days literally become longer. Light literally enters our world, and that light is Jesus Christ. That is what hope should do for us, especially in the time of Advent. It should help us endure joyfully whatever might come our way, because we know that the darkness of our lives and the rainstorms that chill us to the bone will always end, and that the light of Jesus Christ will warm and soothe us-- that very light we yearn for with all of our hearts, minds and spirits. if we only welcome and be grateful for that light, it can and does change the very experiences of our lives!
We begin a new liturgical year by looking back and asking ourselves where we have failed to be Christ for one another...and we look forward as we encounter the chief protagonist of the Advent Scriptures, John the Baptist, whose voice echoes in the desert of our lives, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Let us then indeed heed John's plea...let us cleanse our hearts and await in eager hope through prayer for the Lord's renewed coming among us. The homily for today's Mass can be found here.
MARANATHA....COME, LORD JESUS!
We come to the end of the Liturgical Year with today's celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. If we have been less than loyal to our Lord and one another, let us seek pardon and begin anew as Advent draws near.
Peace and al Good!
Folks, as promised, the videos of the Corpus Christi Procession at St. Catharine of Siena Church are now up and posted for your viewing enjoyment. Let's be making sure that the Eucharistic Lord is at the center of everything we do in life...for it is in partaking of His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we have life within us! You can view them here.
As the summer days progress, let's also be sure that our faith is being cultivated and nourished. I invite you to visit the Spirituality 101 tab and Paths to Holiness tabs which are located to the left of the main page here.
Let us continue praying for one another!
ON THIS SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST,we come to the end of the Easter Season, and celebrate the great beginning of the Church. Be certain to view my blog for the usual weekend reflections.
Let us remember that EVERYBODY- from Pope Francis to the cook at McDonald's to Mrs. Murphy the housewife- in short, YOU AND I have been called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to witness the Gospel of Christ to those around us. You and I are called to bring good news to the poor; to bring liberty to those who are being held captive by addiction, alienation, rejection and indifference. We are called to heal the hearts overcome with great sorrow and loss. We are called to announce God's favor and glory among the people we encounter on the journey of life. Moreover, the Holy Spirit renews the Church in every time and place, in order that it might introduce us once again to Christ!
LORD, SEND OUT YOUR SPIRIT, AND RENEW THE FACE OF THE EARTH, AMEN, ALLELUIA!
My Dear Friends:
The See of Saint Peter is now vacant. At 2:00 p.m. EST, the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI came to an end, and thus, he will no longer be mentioned in the public prayers of the Church. I do encourage, you, however, to indeed pray for Pope Benedict, that the Lord will grant to him the peace and solitude he so desires in his life. Let us give thanks for the ministry of Pope Benedict, and above all, pray for our Cardinals as they now prepare for the upcoming conclave.
It was with great surprise that I learned of the news of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, announcing his intention to resign the papacy on February 28th, 2013.
To be certain, there is a sadness in receiving such news. Retrospectively, however, my admiration of Pope Benedict, which always been unabashedly strong has only increased with the declaration he made this morning. In listening to Pope Benedict's announcement, it's clearly evident to me that he's placing the greater good of the Church ahead of his own agenda and interests. This decision comes after much intense prayer and examination of conscience, and I pledge to Pope Benedict my continued loyalty and prayers as his papacy concludes in the weeks ahead.
I ask all of you to join me in prayer as we begin the Lenten season, that the Lord will grant to the Church, a shepherd and pastor after His own heart, and that Our Lord will grant to Pope Benedict the consolation and peace he so desires at this pivotal moment in his life and in the life of the Church.
After the forty days of Eastertide, during which we have experienced the presence of the Risen Lord with the apostles, the liturgy today introduces us to the mystery of the Ascension and invites us to share in a deep spiritual joy.
The word ‘spiritual’ has almost lost its meaning in our culture which can be so superficial and subjective. What makes our joy truly spiritual in the Christian sense is that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit, rooted in our relationship with Christ the Lord. As Christians we continually ask in prayer that we will be able to receive and live these gifts of the Spirit.
In the Collect of today's Mass we ask Almighty God to "gladden us with holy joys". The Church rejoices in the Lord's ascension into heaven, and it invites the faithful to join their hearts and voices to this mystical exultation. But why do we rejoice when the Lord now seems ‘invisible’ to us? By Ascending into heaven, has Christ abandoned us, leaving us just as before the ‘yes’ of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation? Where is Christ our Joy now?
The Collect continues: "where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope". We are called to joy because our humanity is now ‘elevated’ in Christ beside the Father. In fact, because of Christ’s love for man He took on our flesh and so all that happens to Christ’s humanity will now also affect us too.
Christ recapitulates in Himself the entire cosmos and draws it to the Heavenly Father, depositing it at the foot of His ‘Holy throne’ (Ps 46). This is our glorious destiny, the ultimate and positive result to which our lives are called.
So great is the mystery of this love that St Paul, writing in chains for Christ's sake, exclaims: "I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received". We are made for heaven: made to live with Almighty God as his beloved children, called from all eternity. There a place has been prepared for us. It is waiting for us, and we must orientate all our energy and action towards this wonderful reality.
Ascending into heaven, Christ gives definitive direction to human history.
Like the apostles we are called to stop looking up at the sky with sadness, but instead to be obedient to the Lord's command: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation". This isn't a command that we can carry out alone, no matter how strong our force of will. Without the consolation and beauty of the Lord's presence we will be exhausted by the inevitable struggles and disappointments of life. But Christ is now, more present to us than ever, because by lifting up his own humanity to the right side of the Father, he is now at the very source of all reality. Everything is now present and contemporary to Him, and His presence is there in all of creation calling us to share in his divine love.
How do we approach this familiarity with Christ’s presence? We find the answer in the Post Communion Prayer that “hope may draw us onward to where our nature is united with you”. The familiarity with Christ increases our desire for Him, through prayer. Only in prayer are we able to discover, in the companionship found in the Church, His Presence.
The Holy Eucharist draws us into Christ's loving presence. Through the Blessed Sacrament, the Risen Lord continues to attract us and ultimately the whole of creation to himself. It is through the Eucharist that he prepares a place for us.
Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was the first to participate, body and soul, in the glory to which all humanity is called, to help us to understand and rejoice in the mystery of Christ's Ascension so that we will look forward in hope to sharing in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen!
One of my favorite passages in all of Sacred Scripture is contained in today’s Gospel account. It’s where we find Jesus telling us, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Jesus is saying something very beautiful in those words, something really wonderful about the humility of God in calling us to be, and making us, His friends. He comes to us not regarding us as slaves; rather He comes to us as His friends. He comes to us with respect, with caring, and in deep down love for us.
Allow me now to offer you some thoughts about friendship.
A friend is one who knows what to say in response to another person's self-disclosure. Friends reveal to each other their deep inner thoughts and feelings. When with respect and interest we accept our friend’s inner self the great likelihood is that a deep and satisfying friendship will blossom. There are few things in life that are more satisfying and wonderful than such a friendship. Jesus calls you his friend.
Hefty helpings of emotional expressiveness and unconditional support are key ingredients --followed by acceptance, loyalty, and trust. Our friends are there for us through thick and thin, but rarely cross the respectful boundaries of friendship. When we respond in kind, when we respond in return with our own acceptance, loyalty, and commitment in trust along with the signs of our affection and even love, something wonderful is born -- something precious is brought to life. Jesus calls you to be His friend.
Friendship is one of God’s choicest blessings, and a friend is the channel through whom great emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical blessings flow. Friends will cheer us when we are sorrowful or depressed. Friends will challenge us to go beyond our original limits of shyness and give us encouragement when we allow ourselves to go beyond our fears. Friends will motivate us when we’re ready to give up. Friends can provide strength for our hearts when life falls apart. Jesus is always there to give all that to you as your friend.
Friends are there for us when all is well, and we want someone with whom to share life’s pleasant and memorable moments. We often just want them around, to have a good time, to laugh, to act silly, to enjoy some mutually enjoyed activity. In how many ways have friends enriched our lives and made us feel loved, accepted, respected and cared for? Probably so .many times that we can’t even count them. And yet more will follow. Jesus wants you to be His friend. He literally died for your love.
Friendship gives us courage. What a wonderful thing when a friend gives us courage and when we give courage to our friend. That gift lasts for a lifetime. Jesus offers you His friendship for both this life and for all eternity.
Friends are the only source of bravery in our hearts. When we don't have any friends we won't come out and deal with life when there is trouble. But when we have friends with us we never sit a dark cave of self-centeredness and self-pity. We may not be brave but friendship gives courage to our hearts. Friends will try to save us in many situations. Friends will help us to avoid and to escape from big troubles. Friends will step out in front of us to shield us in times of problems and troubles. Friendship never knows how to run away from us during times of pain, loss, and suffering. A good friend stays with us when there is a problem and never goes away. Jesus is always there for you wanting to be your friend in good times and in bad.
Have you noticed that when you pray, when you are in a close relationship with Jesus, when you experience friendship with Jesus, you find yourself in a place of safety? Have you noticed that you receive strength? “Ask,” Jesus said, “and you will receive.”
Have you noticed that when you are close to Jesus, when you are listening to His voice deep within you, that still inner awareness of His loving presence, you experience inspiration? This is something that goes a step beyond comfort, although Jesus, your friend, really wants to give you comfort. But more than comfort, He wants to inspire you, to inspire your thoughts, to inspire courage within you and give you the strength to act.
There’s a lot of negative news that surrounds us every day, bad news about our world along with bad news about our economy and the numbers of people out of jobs. Negative thoughts about failure can seep into our hearts and souls. Many people are filled with bad news about themselves, bad news about them personally. The Evil One wants us to feel rotten about ourselves. Jesus gives us gives us good news about ourselves in the face of all of the negative news we listen to and tell ourselves. We need to listen to Him and pay attention to His message of love for us, His message of personal love for each one of us.
Friends spend time with each other. That being so, we should allow ourselves to spend some personal time with Jesus; to be aware of His loving presence and to give Him our personal presence in return. Time alone with Jesus isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity. When we tell ourselves that we are too busy we are depriving ourselves of time with Him, time with Him that can be healing, time with Him that can be inspiring, time with Him that allows us to receive His love and His gifts.
We can be slaves to our work. We can be slaves to our schedules. We can be enslaved by so many worries, concerns, and what we consider to be important commitments. Jesus doesn’t want slaves; He wants friends.
The words we heard in today’s Gospel account are important words. They are the words of Jesus calling us to love, calling us to love others but above all calling us to love Him as our friend. He wants you to give Him your friendship and be His friend just as much as He wants to be with you always and in everything – your friend, and unlike our virtual friends on Facebook, who can drop off our list without warning or simply ignore us, JESUS WILL ALWAYS REMAIN LOYAL AND FAITHFUL TO US!
What remains is for us to let Him. Give Him the time and the chance to be your friend. In silence and solitude let Him come to you as your friend and give Him your inner self in return.
Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Easter, commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday. The Risen Lord is presented in the liturgy as the Shepherd of our souls, who "lays down his life for his sheep" (John 10:11). As we look at Christ the Good Shepherd we are called to pray especially for those who Jesus has placed as shepherds in His Church and also for young people who are called to this mission.
The verb 'to know' appears repeatedly in today's readings. When the Holy Scriptures talk about knowledge - especially knowledge between people - it means something much deeper than our how we use the verb in everyday language.
This biblical ‘knowledge’ isn't limited to the external or superficial information that we can know about another person. Instead, it refers to an intimate communion and mutual possession that engages the whole of our intelligence, freedom and will.
In the Gospel reading the Lord says "I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (John 10:14), and in the second reading St John says "the world refused to acknowledge him,therefore it does not acknowledge us" (1 John 3:1).
These verses written by St John speak of two different types of knowledge. There is the knowledge that is given to us and there is a knowledge that is not possible, and therefore fruitless, to search for or to pursue directly.
Let’s firstly consider that knowledge of Christ that was given to us by grace as Christians. That knowledge of Christ which is an intimate communion and reciprocal possession of Him is a gift that was granted to us and that inspired St John the Apostle to exclaim: "think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children; and that is what we are" (1 John 3:1). Knowing Christ cannot be reduced to a simple acquaintance with what the four Gospels narrate about Him, or even with the truth that the Church teaches. Although these things are necessary and also urgent especially in our epoch that is so marked by religious illiteracy. (c.f Pope Benedict XVI Homily Chrism Mass 2012)
The knowledge that Christ gives us is an intimate communion with His own life. It is a communion which transforms us and lifts us up to the reality of being the children of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit who we receive at Baptism. We are truly "called God's children and that is what we are". This knowledge, moreover, engages the whole of our person - but it doesn't depend on us. In fact, it comes as a gift which is rooted in the sovereign initiative of God that takes flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true Good Shepherd who gives His life for us, His sheep (cf. John 10:17-18).
Christ laid down his life for us, and he took it up again. What does this mean that He 'takes up' his life again? There is the obvious meaning: Jesus offered Himself up voluntarily to death on the cross for us, and then He rose from death to live forever. But we can also see a further meaning. By rising, Christ take up the life He gave for us on the cross, bringing us to heaven with Him, and inviting us into His relationship of love with the Father. We become sons just as Christ is the Son, and participants in the same love that Christ has for the Father and for humanity.
This has a special significance for those called to the priesthood. Those who receive the gift of a Vocation are taken up into the life of Christ and made a partaker in His own saving work. The priest becomes a sharer in Christ's love and mercy who is able to make present in his own person Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
As to that other knowledge, that of the world, St John tells us that it isn't for us because the world "does not acknowledge us". Those who have met Christ and possess knowledge of Him should know that this treasure is fundamentally incompatible with the acknowledgement of the world. The Lord himself taught us that we cannot serve two masters (cf. Luke 16:13). The only way to ensure that the world can acknowledge us is for us to attract it once more to the knowledge of Christ so opening itself to God.
Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gate of Heaven and Queen of Apostles, that, like her, we will fully open ourselves to the true knowledge of Christ - the Shepherd who leads us to the pastures of heaven.
We’ve often heard the phrase, “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” It’s a warning to us to beware of someone or something that has yet to be encountered or tried, and our natural instinct is to doubt a claim to the contrary because we don’t have faith in the person or the product. Today’s Gospel emphasizes the journey of faith. Thomas reminds us that doubt sometimes is a part of having a committed faith in Jesus. The apostles shared the news Christ’s resurrection with Thomas, but he allowed the darkness of the crucifixion to blind him to the reality of the Lord’s promise of victory over sin and death. Thomas felt that the resurrection was too good to be true- that death conquered Jesus forever. Thomas struggled with this, and yet in his struggle he embraced a deeper, lasting faith. He did not come to believe because he touched the Lord’s wounds. Thomas’ faith in Jesus was prompted by His invitation “do not persist in your unbelief, but believe.”
Like Thomas, we too, tend to allow the disappointments of life to consume us. Do you think it’s too good to be true that Jesus invites you to put your faith in Him and trust Him to bring a greater good out of a seemingly disappointing event or situation? On this Divine Mercy Sunday, do you believe that your sins are greater than God's UNFATHOMABLE MERCY? Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!
The dawn breaks.
In the east, the black sky fades to gray and purple, a warm glow of pink and yellow warms the horizon, light shines forth over the earth, and a new day is here. It happens every day.
But on Easter morning, it takes on special beauty. On this day, it is more than the start of another day. It is the fulfillment of the promise that, whatever happens in our lives, we have hope and salvation through Christ. It all starts with light. The book of Genesis tells us, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good.”
Man was placed on earth to live in the light of God’s creation. But sin was also in the world, and man succumbed to it. And with sin came darkness. Not the natural darkness of night, but the cruel, cold darkness of separation from God and spiritual death.
But in spite of our sinful natures, God always loved mankind and each and every one of us. He did the only thing He could to bring us back to His perfect love. St. John explains: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
The Son of God chose to come among us as one of us. Fully God, yet also fully human, He experienced the full range of our human nature. He grew hungry and ate with us. He grew weary and rested among us. He felt joy, friendship, adulation, and love. He dealt with sorrow, loss, rejection, deceit, and pain. He shared in our humanity so that He could share with us his divinity. We did nothing to deserve any of this. Out of nothing but pure love, He showed us the way. In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear His words, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
But the darkness of sin still pervaded the earth. Christ had to go to that ultimate step of facing and overcoming the final darkness of death to make a way for all of us to join Him in everlasting love and glory. The day after His crucifixion was indeed a dark day – the ultimate darkness, as the very light of God was extinguished from the earth. What pain and desolation His disciples must have felt in that darkness.
But the next morning, the first Easter morning, that darkest of all nights was split by the most glorious of all dawns. Light overcame darkness; life overcame death, Christ was victorious over a sinful world and the door to paradise was opened for all eternity to those who love and follow Him.
Every Easter morning, we rejoice anew to the arrival of the light of eternal joy that is promised to each of us in His presence in heaven.
CHRIST IS RISEN…HE IS TRULY RISEN! ALLELUIA!
We might ask ourselves, “Why is Holy Week so special?” Indeed, why is Holy Week so unique to Catholics and Christians- to the followers of Jesus Christ? We recall the last days, the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ- the Son of God who became man. Not only do we recall, but through the special liturgies of this week, we relive these events from the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday to His death on Good Friday which culminates with His victorious rising from the dead on Easter Morning.
The liturgies of this most sacred week are not mere ‘stage performances’ or even the yearly unfolding of the familiar Passion play. What we commemorate and relive during this week called “holy” is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our dying and rising in Him.
Thus, we need to ask ourselves, “Will I bring my REAL self to Jesus this week, especially on this Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday? Will I really bring all that is in need within myself of forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and redemption? Will I go to the Lord, so that He who suffered horrific pain and death on the cross for my salvation can forgive my sins, especially in the Sacrament of Penance, heal my wounds and reconcile myself again with Him and with one another?” Simple questions….How will we respond?
The great Blessed John Paul II once noted: “The heavenly Father’s saving plan was completed in the free and total gift to us of the only begotten Son. ‘No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:18), Jesus declares, leaving no doubt that he decides to sacrifice his own life for the salvation of the world. In confirming so great a love, the Redeemer goes on: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).”
Each of us then, must follow the example of our Savior by freely laying down our lives during the Holy Week liturgies to allow Him to forgive our sins, heal the wounds in caused by our sins and the sins of others, transform us more closely into the image and likeness of God and, thereby, live the divine life we received at Baptism.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen put it this way: “…We must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.”
This is the holiest week of the year for all of Christendom, and yet the world goes on- regular television programs, regular work schedule, preparing our tax returns, preparing for vacations, and so forth. I’m also issuing another Facebook Challenge…SHUT DOWN YOUR PAGES FOR THREE DAYS…beginning on Holy Thursday and re-activate on Holy Saturday!!! God knows we have far too much ‘entertainment’ that keeps us away from what matters the most. I urge you to set aside the time you would spend on Facebook or Twitter or any other of the social networks and enter into a time of deep prayer, conversion, repentance and renewal. Visit the Serve Faithfully Website (servefaithfully.webs.com) and pray the online Stations of the Cross which are provided, and above all, set aside the time to attend the Chrism Mass at your local Cathedral and be a part of the blessing of the oils with your bishops, along with attending Mass on Holy Thursday Evening, the Liturgy of Good Friday and the Solemn Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday.
Let us journey this Holy Week together, by being united in prayer for one another. Let us journey together from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from discouragement to hope, from boredom to enthusiasm, as we, united with Christ, pass-over from death to life.
I wish you and your families a very beneficial Holy Week with its great culmination in a joyful Easter.
"It is wonderful for us to be here!" From the depths of our heart we give thanks to the Church that, on this second Sunday of Lent, we are permitted to see the mystery of the Transfiguration and to make our own the astonished and tender words of Peter, the Apostle, who welcomed the light of Christ.
The Transfiguration is a deep mystery and by meditating on it, Christians of all times have received new graces. The Church puts this Gospel reading forward at two different moments of the liturgical year: on the second Sunday of Lent and on the Solemnity of the Transfiguration. That feast falls on August 6th, in the middle of the northern summer, as if to say that the brightness of creation is a symbol of that eternally new Light of the Paschal mystery which glows victoriously.
Therefore, during this time of Lent, we have a brief experience of summer's light and joy. Notwithstanding the real struggle against sin and temptation, we see something of the joy which comes from being on the right path, which leads us by prayer and radical conversion to Easter.
Our Lord Jesus, who knows the hearts of men, wanted to preserve the three disciples - and therefore all of us - from the 'scandal' of the Cross. The Transfiguration is really a Theophany, a manifestation of Christ's Divinity. By showing just a glimpse of his glory, Jesus reveals to His disciples who He really is, and the source of the truth of his teaching and the power of his actions: "This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to Him!" (Mk 9:7).
The manifestation of the Christ’s Divinity is also a manifestation of God the Father. We are embraced briefly by the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: the voice of the Father indicates His beloved only-begotten Son. That Son is the man who was born of Mary in poverty, who lived in obscurity for thirty years working as a carpenter, who shared his life with the fishermen of Galilee, who while healing the sick and feeding the thousands with his word and with bread was also subject to sleep, hunger and tiredness just as we are. The Transfiguration also shows us that the eternal dialogue of love between the Father and the Son has entered into human history, and how in Christ all mankind will be drawn up into eternal glory. In Christ the whole of creation and all history are summed up. In Christ the great story of God and Israel is recapitulated.
"Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them anymore but only Jesus," (Mk 9:8). The light of the Transfiguration doesn't seem to last long enough and the disciples can soon only see Jesus’ Humanity that they had always known. The hearts of Peter, James and John, and ours too, are strengthened by knowing for certain that in Jesus body lives the fullness of Divinity.
A strong and certain faith in Christ’s Divinity gives us the true strength that sustains us on our Lenten journey. It is the journey that follows Christ to the foot of the cross, where we will see the greatest and most 'scandalous' manifestation of God's glory. The cross is a 'transfiguration' of the Christ’s Divinity, which although seeming to disappear in suffering and death, actually joins itself to our lives so that we can share in the divine sonship.
"With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give," (Rm 8:32). Most Holy Mary, who in your womb re-clothed our humanity in the Light of the Most High, guard us and sustain us in our struggle. Look lovingly at us with those eyes.
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by satan" (Mk 1:12-13).
Having introduced the season of Lent with the imposition of ashes, the Church today points out the path for us to journey along. She also tells us the nature of this journey and how we might go about following it.
The Gospel reading shows us how the journey of Lent consists in letting ourselves be led into the desert, allowing ourselves to remain there for forty days, and challenging ourselves to face the temptations of satan. It is like the Exodus of Israel towards the Promised Land; it is the exodus of humanity with each of us journeying as pilgrims towards heaven. We don't look forward to this journey for its own sake, but we are led along it by Another. The journey is signposted by our combat with the temptation of Satan and - with all that implies in terms of fatigue and suffering. It is a long journey which only our sure hope allows us to undertake with faith and courage.
The nature of this Lenten journey is revealed in the collect, the opening prayer, addressed to God, Our Father, that “we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effect”.
This Lenten journey is a “sacramental sign” of our conversion. What does this mean? “Sacramental sign” means that on this road, that is common to every man, God has preceded us and has done something for us and now He asks us to play our part. He has already fulfilled this journey of conversion for us.
The model to follow is Jesus Christ. "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert." It is Christ, true God and true Man, "the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous" (1 Pt 3:18) who has taken upon Himself our sins and by His free choice, as He was without sin and totally immune to it, has decided to also face our temptations. St Augustine wrote: "Christ took his flesh from you and in return gave you the salvation that resides in him; he took your death for himself and gave you his life; he took the share you deserved and gave you the honor that was his. Consequently, he took your temptation and gave you his victory." (Comm in Ps., 60).
It is not asked of us, therefore, to make this journey simply by 'doing likewise'. There would be nothing new in that, because, whether we like it or not, our daily life is already like this with all its hard work and hopes! We are asked, in fact, to welcome what is new about Lent: the Other on this path, who is our companion, who has already journeyed on the path of the Exodus, and who has associated us, by our Baptism, with His Victory.
We are all called to stay close to Christ, giving over everything to him - our flesh, our sin, our humiliations, and our temptations - so that we can receive back so much more. He offers us His Salvation, His Life, His Glory, His Victory! Let’s, therefore, give everything to the Lord in the great gift of sacramental Confession, in Eucharistic adoration and in frequent Communion, where Jesus takes our entirety and gives us His Very Self. Let us trust everything to our “greatest friend”, that God has placed at our side.
And so we offer all our sacrifices and hardships to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, because she who is the treasurer of heaven, will distribute to humanity the merits of her Son. Obtain for us, we pray, O Mary, that we will keep our eyes fixed on Christ so to defeat, along with Him, the temptations of satan and thus gain the gift of Eternal Life. Amen.
READINGS: Is 5,1-7; Ph 4,6-9; Mt 21,33-43
"The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant." (Is 5:7) With these words the Prophet, Isaiah gives us the horizon upon which to interpret Jesus’ parable. He is the Son who was sent to gather the fruit by the Master of the Vineyard. Some aspects of the parable appear to be of particular importance, especially for the present time.
First of all, the vineyard doesn’t belong to the tenants. The fundamental experience of human life consists in its irreducible gift! No one is the master of life because no one is the author of life! Life is a gift and, with it, the cosmos in which we live was also given to us.
This universal experience, that is so evidently obscured in today’s dominant culture that has a restricted idea of reason, is the horizon on which we live and work. Everyone works in the Lord’s vineyard. We are men and women that live and work in a context that was given to us, of which we are able to take possession, yet inevitably, someday, it will be taken from us. This emphasis doesn’t sadden our lives but rather makes them much more fascinating, filled with significance and responsibility, as we are not orphans but live totally in relation to God’s great plans for us.
In order to constantly remind humanity of that reality, throughout history the Lord has chosen a people to be the light for all nations. He has invited many prophets to bring that people, and also all humanity, back to a true relationship between man and the universe and between God and man.
The greatest gift that the ‘Master of the Vineyard’ could give to the tenants, to lead them back to their duty to ‘produce fruit’, was to send His Own Son. At this point the liar dramatically enters the parable and is able to make man believe that, by eliminating the Son of God, the ultimate closeness to the Mystery, they can become ‘masters’ of themselves and reality. There has never been a greater lie insinuated in a man’s heart!
To eliminate God means to meet our own destruction, the loss of the centre and significance of our lives, to be dispossessed of the vineyard, no longer able to bear fruit. The condition to continue to ‘work in the Lord’s vineyard,’ to be participants in the works of the Kingdom, is that we must be able to bear fruit. If, as single Christians we don’t bear fruit and we don’t humbly recognise that every fruit is derived from God’s Grace, in which we freely cooperate, it automatically will exclude us from the vineyard.
Mysteriously, the rejection and murder of the Son dilated the boundaries of the Kingdom, making them universal, which is catholic, by construction and vocation. In fact all men are called to the Church!
Thanks to this great plan, in which we are inserted without merit, we live the Apostles exhortation: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Phil 4:6)
The Blessed Virgin Mary, that mystical Vineyard in which the most beautiful fruit in history grew, sustains us in our life’s journey and helps us to yield the fruit that God expects from us. Let us begin this month of October in asking Our Mother's intercession by meditating on the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary.
READINGS: Ez 18,25-28: Ph 2,1-11: Mt 21,28-32:
Our actions follow us! It is this dramatic and fascinating reality that strongly emerges from this Sunday’s readings. It is dramatic because the personal liability for what we have done cannot be cancelled, while, at the same time, our actions represent what we could rightly describe as life’s drama. It is fascinating because our actions demonstrate, in a very special way, man’s greatness and his uniqueness as the only free creature.
In a cultural context that tends to level out differences and reduce man to ‘one of the living beings on earth’, it is necessary to courageously ask ourselves: ‘Am I the result of biologicaldevelopment? Am I, my thoughts and actions, just the fruits of a complex chemical reaction?’
Science pretends to dominate reality, claiming to be the only key to read the human phenomenon. It would like to reduce man to the single outcome of a mere chemical reaction and so not recognize man’s liberty, paradoxically making us a slave to a ‘biological mechanism’ reducing us to a functional being that is, more or less, just like a machine.
On the other hand, the Holy Scriptures reminds us of man’s responsibilities: ‘When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity he has committed he shall die’ (Ex 18:26) Human actions are not neutral and indifferent. They determine our lives and they can determine our ‘death to grace’.
Such an appeal to personal responsibility, far from evoking apocalyptic or threatening tones, if nothing else, shows the passion that God the Father has for the liberty of His sons. The Lord doesn’t want slaves that serve Him but sons that freely love Him, not with words but with deeds and with our entire existence.
This fact emerges in the question that Jesus poses to the high priests and elders of the people: ‘What do you think?’ (Mt 21:28) Which is to say: you judge this situation yourselves.
Experience how my teaching extraordinarily corresponds to human reasoning and to a man’s heart
The parable, used by the Lord, is very effective as it doesn’t speak of masters and slaves but of men and sons! ‘A man had two sons’ (Mt 21:28) which indicates that the filial relationship is fed by the fulfilment of the Father’s Will and it appears primarily in our deeds and actions. The Lord’s interlocutors recognized that the first son fulfilled the Father’s Will even though he had said, ‘I will not; but afterward he repented and went’ (Mt 21:29).
In that ‘repentance’ we find all the strength and beauty of the meeting between Grace and liberty and between understanding God’s will and carrying it out. In these actions man fully expresses himself. Man becomes more human, more like a son, realistically responsible and therefore adult in his own actions in a rational way. For this reason and in this direction, Paul, the Apostle, can affirm: ‘Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 2:3-5) St Paul invites us to that essential radicalism that must always characterize the Lord’s disciples who recognize the importance of free and reasoned human actions, whilst at the same time, they also see the fragility of created liberty and therefore the indispensability of Grace.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, that welcoming and active woman, sustain us. With her, who more than any other creature had fulfilled God’s Will, we can say our ‘YES’ to the Father who invites us to the vine yard to do an effective work that becomes a collaboration with the Divine Work of Salvation for us and all our brothers.
READINGS: Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
Back in Jesus’ time everyone knew about shepherds, their sheep, and how they interacted with each other. The dynamics between them were well known. Not so today. Few of us have watched shepherds tending their sheep. So to understand the full impact of the imagery that Jesus used we need to take a look at a few points.
During nights back then shepherds kept their sheep in sheepfolds that were large circles of stones that both penned in the sheep while at the same time protecting them from predatory animals such as wolves. There was a narrow opening to let the sheep in and out. At night the shepherd would spread his bedroll across the base of those openings and would sleep there. A predatory animal could enter the sheepfold only by crossing over the body of the shepherd and so of course they would not.
Additionally there were times when the sheep belonging to differing shepherds would get mixed in with each other. But that didn’t pose much of a problem because the sheep of each shepherd recognized their own shepherd’s voice and would follow only him. No need for painting colored dyes on the sheep -- voice recognition was enough.
Shepherds knew of verdant grazing fields and so they would walk ahead of their sheep and lead them to pastures where the sheep would find good food. In the movement, however, sometimes a sheep or two would go off on their own and become lost. Being out on their own they would be easy kills for wolves and other predatory animals. So long as they stayed in the flock, however, they were safe. So the shepherd would leave the flock for a while and go in search of the sheep that strayed and was lost.
Now let me repeat the teaching Jesus was giving to His disciples.
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
We should ask ourselves: “Whose voice am I following?” Some of us listen to only our own inner voice. Nobody, we tell ourselves, can tell me what to do or what to believe. Others of us listen to the seductive whispers of the world. Still others pay little attention to any call other than their urges, drives, or desires. We all know that many voices call us and we need to be aware of them, where they are coming from, and where they will lead us.
For this weekend's reflections I want to give some attention to how we can discern and listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd. How does God speak to us?
First of all, you need to expect that God can reach you. Many don’t. But how can God communicate with you if you don’t think He can? Nevertheless He is trying to!
Think of the good things that have come to you, the good things that you have experienced. Aren’t they from God? On the opposite side, if you have experienced remorse, have you ever considered that it may be God whose voice is reaching you in your remorse? Conscience, after all, literally means “to know with.” Remorse is knowing that you have done something that displeases God and that He is telling you that you can do better. Cannot the voice of penance and regret deep within us be inspired by God?
Prayer is essential. Prayer places your soul at the disposal of God. Prayer can bring us to be reflective, to contemplate, to see and hear the actions and whisperings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we are reflective we gain insights – we see things and we see people as God wants us to see them. Is that not God calling us, God speaking to us?
The Holy Spirit is quite capable of inspiring our imaginations and inner thoughts. If we don’t accept the Holy Spirit’s power and ability to inspire our inner thoughts and dispositions then we are saying that God cannot or will not reach us. In our silent attentiveness the gentle whisperings of the Holy Spirit can be heard deep within us.
God also speaks to us in the beauty and majesty of creation. Moments when we are filled with awe and wonder over nature’s beauty are moments when God is speaking to us. We ought not to be deaf to what God is sharing with us.
Then there is the example of good people along with their words, their attitudes, and their dispositions. These, too, are ways in which God speaks to us.
Much depends upon your basic disposition toward God. Do you really believe that God is angry with you, that He wants to inflict punishing pain and suffering upon you, or do you believe that God loves you, knows you can do better, and wants to free you from guilt and lead do to do better, even wonderful, things? Your basic dispositions control what you hear and what you do not hear. Is God really silent or are you deaf to His voice?
To be sure, each one of us has been like a wandering and lost sheep. If we’re fixated on that and feel totally lost then we will not see our Good Shepherd coming after us to carry us on His shoulders back into the fold from which we have wandered.
Do you think God cares for you? Do you think that God can reach you? If so, then you will understand what today’s Gospel is telling you. But understanding is only the beginning. What is necessary is for you to let God find you, tell you of His love for you, and then let Him carry you back to where you belong.