Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Franciscan Prayer Before Scripture: Hilarion Kistner, OFM

I'm reading The Gospels According to St. Francis by Hilarion Kistner O.F.M. and wanted to share this beautiful prayer:

"God our Father we ask you to send your Holy Spirit into our midst and into our hearts, that this Spirit may enable us to be in union with you and with your Son. We also ask that Mary and all the angels and saints, especially Francis, will pray for us that you, Father, may enable us to realize more fully your desire that we simply be like your Son as we live our human lives, and that we might do that better if we appreciate the Word that you have given us—the Word that we read in holy Scripture. Be with us then, Father, through your Spirit and hear our prayer, which we make through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Monday, June 27, 2016

How Piety and Religiosity are Barriers to Discipleship

Matthew 8:5-13 (NRSV): Our Faith as a Path to Christ
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

It is not our religious pedigree or devout piety that matters. What matters is our faith in Christ as our Savior. The Gentile centurion is held up as a shining model of faith. This model is in stark contrast with the pious religiosity of the Jewish Pharisees and scribes who claim entitlement to God through the Old Covenant law and traditions. Jesus teaches differently, however: “‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’” Through Jesus’ love for us and our faith in him, he heals us, taking on the infirmity and disease of our sins (Isaiah 53:4).

Striving to live a holy life, loving God above all things, and loving our neighbor as ourselves does not entitle us to anything nor is it something we can self-generate. It is our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, Redeemer, and Savior that transmits our renewal in him. And through this gift of faith, we reap the burning desire to live a life of self-giving love, imitating the compassion, care, and light of Christ.
May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

How God Loves us in Our Imperfections: 'Simplicity: The Art of Living' by Richard Rohr

“Our problem consists in the fact that we're so conscious of not being good. And you need a great deal of trust to believe God’s pronouncement that everything God created is very good. We seem to believe that only perfect things are lovable -- that’s our problem. Yet the Gospel’s say very clearly that God loves imperfect things. But it is only the imperfect and broken who can believe that. Thus it happens that God throws a party - and the “good” people don’t come. That’s why God says that the crippled, the lame, and the blind are to be invited -- and they would be ready.” (58) ~ Simplicity: The Art of Living by Richard Rohr

Being an "imperfect" person, and especially an imperfect Catholic, Fr. Rohr's words strike a familiar chord with me. There was a time in my faith formation, when I listened to the traditionalist mindset in the Church, that I thought God would withhold grace from me because of my imperfections, for I indirectly thought "only perfect things are lovable" and that through piety I could become lovable enough. This is a misreading of the Gospel and a false interpretation of God's amazing love, a misreading that many traditionalist voices nurture in the searching faithful. God loves us in the ugliness of our imperfections so much that he became human and died a torturous death for each one of us, even me. It took God permitting me to feel the pain of intrapersonal rejection. In reconciliation, for instance, priests have reminded me to forgive and love myself, to avoid scrupulosity, and to stop beating myself up. These messages, through prayer and Scripture, finally make sense and shine a light on my once inaccurate view of God’s redemption and love.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Where in your walk of faith have you had a revelation that brought you closer to Jesus, where you cleared a hurdle that you did not even know existed?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How Western Civilization has Changed the Gospel Message: Richard Rohr

“Ever since the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel and Western civilization have been on a collision course. But the collision course turned into a one-way street. And the winner wasn’t Jesus; the winner was Western civilization. We’ve taken Jesus over and placed a crown on his head; not a crown of thorns but a royal crown, which he expressly rejected.” (24)

~ Simplicity: The Art of Living by Richard Rohr

This is an eye opener, and Fr. Rohr is right. The true meaning of the text and Christ's words have become a springboard for Western civilization's biased agenda. This is much food for thought.

Friday, June 24, 2016

How we are all Called to be Heralds of Christ: The Solemnity of St. John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-66, 80: The Feast of John the Baptist
In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist is clearly paralleled with the prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 49:1-6). The prophet Isaiah, in this context, is a type of Jesus but if examined carefully, Isaiah can be a type of John the Baptist, too. John is the herald of Jesus.

Elizabeth, after she was visited and waited upon by Mary carrying Jesus, gives birth to John. Neighbors and relatives rejoice at John’s birth and how good the Lord has been to the elderly couple in blessing them with a child. At the child’s bris, Zechariah gives John his name.  The drama of this scene is beautiful.  Zachariah, in his excitement and knowing God’s will “ask[s] for a tablet and [writes], 'John is his name,' and all [are] amazed” (62). This is the same name that Gabriel reveals in (Luke 1:13).  Miraculously, Zechariah gets his voice back and immediately praises God (64). The birth of John the Baptist to a faithful elderly couple and Zechariah’s muteness miraculously healed create in the neighbors a sense of awe and reverence for God. Naturally, they speak to all of the people in Judea about the blessings they witness.

We are all consecrated to be the heralds and representatives of Jesus in this world. Much like John the Baptist in first-century Judea, we are called and created to represent Christ in the way that God wills specifically for each of us. May our lives, through our thoughts, words, and acts of love, represent the gifts and love of Christ.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Our Calling to do Good: 'The Imitation of Christ'

It is better to look the other way when you see something not to your liking, better to leave everyone to think as he pleases than to feel bound to begin a heated argument. If you are pleasing in the sight of God and are concerned only with his view of the matter in question, you won't mind it so much when you are worsted by others.~ Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Knox translation), From Book 3, Section 44

I get the last part, but should we turn a blind eye to the wrongs in the world and "leave everyone to think as [they] please"? Are we not obligated, as Christians, to do what is good in the presence of what is wrong?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to be a True Follower of Jesus

Matthew 7:21-23: True Followers of Jesus
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”

Jesus declares to his audience that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus emphasizes that calling him “Lord,” casting out demons in his name, proclaiming prophecy, and performing deeds of power do not entitle anyone to enter heaven. It is following Jesus’ Way, his love, mercy, forgiveness, and self-giving, that marks us as his. Performing deeds of power and proclaiming Christ’s name are not enough. We are called, instead, to follow God’s will and imitate Christ’s example in our lives, living a holy, loving, merciful way of life. As a result, our lives will naturally bear the good fruit of love in Christ’s name in the form of caring for and giving ourselves away in service to others.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why we Should Seek the Creator and Not the Created: 'The Imitation of Christ'

"A man who attributes any goodness to himself puts up a barrier against the coming of God's grace, because it is always a humble heart that the grace of the Holy Ghost looks for. If only you would reduce your self-seeking to nothing, and empty your heart of love for anything created, my grace would be bound to flood your heart in fathomless streams. So long as you gaze at things created, you lose sight of him who created them." 
~ Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Knox translation), From Book 3, Section 42
How clearly this statement rings in my life. The created things of the world can be such distractions in devoting my life to God. But when I put God first, then the created things lose their power and my focus is on the love of Christ and not the love of stuff in my life.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Matthew 6:19-22: Treasure in Jesus

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When we invest ourselves in God, focusing our lives on and imitating Jesus’ love, forgiveness, and self-giving, we are investing in heavenly things. Keeping our minds and lives focused on Jesus, means our hearts are focused on Jesus, not on the poison of power, excessive wealth, or possessions.
Money, possessions, and material items, when obsessively sought after, can draw us away from God and into a world of self-focus and spiritual emptiness. Our lives, as a result, focus on the self first, putting God and others last. This doesn’t mean we cannot seek financial comfort and wealth; it means we must not obsess and be consumed by it. Earning a living and providing for our families is part of our calling in this world, a responsibility God gives us. We are to do it fairly, however, and with constant concern for God and neighbor.
Jesus reminds his audience, and us, to focus on the things of God and to make wise spiritual investments in life by surrendering ourselves to him. And when we give ourselves to God, investing our spiritual treasure and heart into his care, we commit ourselves to the betterment of our neighbor, too.
May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How God's Mercy Frees Us to Love and Live More Fully in Christ: 'Misericordiae Vultus' 21-25 by Pope Francis

Misericordiae Vultus by Pope Francis
Highlights From Paragraphs 21-25
. . . God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as a grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life. (21)
. . . God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. (22)
. . . I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with [Judaism and Islam] and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination. (23)
. . . At the foot of the Cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception. (24)
. . . From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. (25)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why the Pursuit of Things is and Empty End: 'The Imitation of Christ'

3. The Beloved: My son, a man often goes in eager pursuit of something he wants; when he has got it, he doesn't feel the same about it. Man's affections are unstable, and are apt to drive him from one desirable object to the next, so that even in trivial matters it is well worth renouncing oneself.

4. For a man to make real spiritual progress, he must deny himself; a man who has made this renunciation enjoys great freedom and security . . .

~ Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Knox translation), From Book 3, Section 39

God’s Justice is His Mercy, Not the Law: 'Misericordiae Vultus'

Misericordiae Vultus by Pope Francis
From Paragraph 20: God’s Justice is His Mercy, Not the Law
. . . Jesus speaks several times of the importance of faith over and above the observance of the law. It is in this sense that we must understand his words when, reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections to him, “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Faced with a vision of justice as the mere observance of the law that judges people simply by dividing them into two groups – the just and sinners – Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation. One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law. In an attempt to remain faithful to the law, they merely placed burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father’s mercy. The appeal to a faithful observance of the law must not prevent attention from being given to matters that touch upon the dignity of the person.
. . .  The rule of life for his disciples must place mercy at the centre, as Jesus himself demonstrated by sharing meals with sinners. Mercy, once again, is revealed as a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ mission. This is truly challenging to his hearers, who would draw the line at a formal respect for the law. Jesus, on the other hand, goes beyond the law; the company he keeps with those the law considers sinners makes us realize the depth of his mercy.
. . . [After his experience on the road to Damascus, St. Paul] places faith first, not justice. Salvation comes not through the observance of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who in his death and resurrection brings salvation together with a mercy that justifies. God’s justice now becomes the liberating force for those oppressed by slavery to sin and its consequences. God’s justice is his mercy (cf. Ps 51:11-16).

Many times, I struggle with the doctrinally-focused attitudes of some Catholics to the point of considering other Christian faith traditions. I am a sinner and, although I continually try to imitate Christ, my life is imperfect.  Many of my life choices have not been in perfect conformity with Catholic doctrine. This is an issue for me, for I want to live honestly with God, and as a Catholic, I feel, many times, like I can’t. But Pope Francis turns the tables here (and in Amoris Laetitia).  Living in conformity with God’s will is recognizing that the Father’s justice lies in His mercy. It is not, as many in the Church want to purport, about the burdens and precepts of perfect doctrinal living, a legalism that is infectious among many traditionally-minded faithful. Being a faithful follower of Christ, therefore, is about our faith in Christ, our hearts being aimed at conforming to Jesus the best we can and know how. It is about what Jesuit priest and theologian Karl Rahner calls the “fundamental option” of our hearts, even when not in perfect conformity with doctrine, that is aimed at God’s love and mercy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Loving Jesus in the Oppressed: from 'Misericordiae Vultus' by Pope Francis

Misericordiae Vultus
From Paragraph 15: Loving Jesus in the Oppressed

. . . Moreover, we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair and which is often a source of loneliness; if we have helped to overcome the ignorance in which millions of people live, especially children deprived of the necessary means to free them from the bonds of poverty; if we have been close to the lonely and afflicted; if we have forgiven those who have offended us and have rejected all forms of anger and hate that lead to violence; if we have had the kind of patience God shows, who is so patient with us; and if we have commended our brothers and sisters to the Lord in prayer. In each of these “little ones,” Christ himself is present. His flesh becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us. Let us not forget the words of Saint John of the Cross: “as we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why we Should Always Give God the Credit: What Jesus Teaches us in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Offering prayer, giving alms, and fasting should not be done in a dramatic way, intending to draw attention to the faithful. Many hypocritical religious leaders of Jesus’ time were guilty of public displays of piety, and Jesus, here, teaches that this false piety is not the Way. These acts of love, instead, are to be offered purely in the core of our hearts with sincerity and love for God and neighbor.

Sometimes these acts of love, which are given to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, can, with the right intention, be offered in public for others to see.  But only if they are shown in order to glorify God, not ourselves. Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:16, for instance, that we should shine our light on others “so that they will see the good things [we] do and praise [our] Father in heaven.” Prayer, likewise, can be offered in public if it is in the right context and done for the right reason. Praying together in church, for instance the Our Father during the liturgy of the Eucharist, and praying in  groups, such as praying the Rosary, are naturally done for the glory of God and love of neighbor. Communal prayer, therefore, is not hypocritical prayer. Jesus is speaking against the self-aggrandizing Pharisees who try to call attention to their false piety when they should be glorifying God.

When we are tempted to brag or think highly of our offerings of prayer, treasure, time, talent, and fasting, we, too, fall into the trap of the Pharisees. We give to God because the Holy Spirit is working in us, with us, and through us; for we are not able to do anything outside of God’s grace. Everything we offer, then, are God’s gifts being offered back. Shouldn’t we give credit, where credit is due?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How Christians can be an Oasis of Mercy: 'Misericordiae Vultus' by Pope Francis

Misericordiae Vultus by Pope Francis
From Paragraph 12: The Church as an Oasis of Mercy

  • The Spouse of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of God who went out to everyone without exception.
  • The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself.
  • Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Matthew 5:39-40: Being a Witness to Love and Forgiveness

But I say to you . . . if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

One of the toughest teachings of Jesus is the command to not seek revenge for being wronged. It just goes against our human nature. When someone hurts us or those we love, we want to exact revenge, to get even, to feel better by personally leveling the scales. But Jesus teaches us the opposite: Turn the other cheek and give more than what is demanded. Rather than unpack these words, their context, and their meaning, Julio Diaz, a social worker from New York City, lives Jesus’ teaching for those with a keen eye toward the Gospel. Notice that Julio says nothing about Scripture or Jesus. Instead, he lives the Gospel lesson, exemplifying Jesus’ love.

The following transcript is from the recorded StoryCorps interview with Julio Diaz.  

Julio Diaz: So I get off the train. You know, I’m walking towards the stairs and this young teenager, uh, pulls out a knife. He wants my money. So I just gave him my wallet and told him, ’Here you go.’ He starts to leave and as he’s walking away I’m like, ’Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.’ So, you know, he’s looking at me like, ’What’s going on here?’ You know, and he asked me, ’Why are you doing this?’ And I’m like, ’Well, I don’t know, man, if you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was go get dinner and, uh, if you really want to join me, hey, you’re more than welcome.’
So I’m like, ’Look, you can follow me if you want.’ You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help. So, you know, we go into the diner where I normally eat and we sit down in the booth and the manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi – you know so… The kid was like, ’Man but you know like everybody here. Do you own this place?’ I’m like, ’No, I just eat here a lot.’ He’s like, ’But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’ I’m like, ’Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?’ So he’s like, ’Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way.”
So I just asked him in the end I’m like, ’What is it that you want out of life?’ He just had almost a sad face. Either he couldn’t answer me or he didn’t want to. The bill came and I look at him and I’m like, ’Look, uh, I guess you’re gonna have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this so if you give me my wallet back I’ll gladly treat you.’ He didn’t even think about it he’s like, ’Yeah, okay, here you go.’ So I got my wallet back and I gave, you know, I gave him twenty dollars for it.
You know, I figure, uh, maybe it’ll help him – I don’t know. And when I gave him the twenty dollars, I asked him to give me something in return – which was his knife – and he gave it to me.
You know, it’s funny ’cause when I told my mom about what happened – not mom wants to hear this but – at first she was like, ’Well, you know, you’re the kind of kid if someone asked you for the time you gave them your watch.’ I don’t know, I figure, you know, you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.

St. Francis of Assisi echoed that our lives should witness for Christ each day, and only if necessary, should we use words to preach. Julio Diaz exemplifies both Jesus’ words and St. Francis’ attitude toward preaching the Gospel. And I pray that each of us goes and does likewise.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why Pardon is the Key to Serenity of Heart: from 'Misericordiae Vultus'

Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”) Highlights
By Pope Francis

From Paragraph 9: Pardon is the Key to Serenity of Heart

  • In [the parable of the lost coin, lost sheep, and the two brothers] we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.
  • [The parable of the unforgiving servant] contains a profound teaching for all of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, (but) it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.
  • Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully.
  • Let us listen to the words of Jesus who made mercy an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
  • As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible.
  • The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our well-being and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other

Friday, June 10, 2016

How to be a Good Friend

Ben Sira 37:4-5 (NABRE)
4 A harmful friend will look to your table,
   but in time of trouble he stands aloof.
5 A good friend will fight with you against the foe,
   and against your enemies he will hold up your shield.

I am reminded daily of this truth, especially among the students I serve and my own emerging teenage son.  People, even at a young age, learn to exploit others for the sake of their own gain. “Friendship” becomes a bargaining token, a lever of power over others. But this does not have to be the case.  

The sacred writer states that a good friend will fight with you against “the [common] foe” and “your [not their] enemies.” Being “a good friend” is standing at someone’s side no matter the consequence, even if it means losing your favor among others and being persecuted. A “good” friend, moreover, will “hold up your shield.” Shields are defensive, protective implements, so a good friend will protect and defend.

Lord Jesus, you are my true friend and the example of perfect friendship. Please grant me the grace of being a good friend to those I love and to those who most need my friendship. Amen.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Jesus Says About Anger: Matthew 5:20-27

Matthew 5:22-24
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled …

"The point is that the consequences for not working at reconciliation are dire. It is not enough for Jesus' disciples to avoid killing; they must actively seek to diffuse anger and pursue right relation with all. Here Jesus is not addressing righteous anger, that is, outrage at injustice that gives energy to work toward change."

~ From The Gospel According to Matthew by Barbara E. Reid, OP.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What Pope Francis Says About the Mission of Jesus

"The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favour of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion."

~ Misericordia Vultus #8

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How We can be Both Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Jesus teaches that we are to be the salt of the earth, flavor-enriching, life-sustaining, and preserving. Salt is not only a flavor enhancer and food preserver, but it is necessary to sustain life.  Without salt, we physically die. We are, then, to preserve, sustain, and add to/highlight the pleasant flavor of humanity on earth. On the other hand, Jesus says, if we lose our taste, we are “no longer good for anything.” Our lives must reflect the enrichment of God’s love and grace or we are not effective Christian witnesses in this world. If we are, as Jesus teaches, the salt of the earth, we are reaching out to others in love, offering our lives to God, and living our lives joyfully in Christ.

Jesus teaches that we are the “light of the world.” God gives us the light of love and faith in him. We are to let the love of God’s light in us shine for others to see. And through our shining lights of witness, our light of love toward others, God is glorified, Jesus is made present, and the fruits of the Spirit are visible for all to see.

Lord Jesus Christ, I yearn to be the salt and light of this world, glorifying you in all things. Use me, Lord, to love, flavor, preserve, and shine your glory on this earth. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2016

How Selfish Behavior is so Easy: Mark 12:32-33 (NRSV)

Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Through the two great commandments, Jesus emphasizes the love of God and neighbor as the foundation of the gospel. As the scribe above points out, and Jesus later in this passage affirms, we cannot simply offer up personal sacrifices, immerse ourselves in cloistered ministries, fellowship with our own inner circles, and then ignore our love for God and neighbor around us. We are called, through Christ’s love, to reach out to the margins. And if we love God with everything we are given, the natural outcome is to love our neighbor, not just the neighbor who is comfortable to love such as those who think like us or run in our circles.

I readily struggle with this truth.  For just this weekend, my family and I went out for lunch at a local diner.  Although we normally get decent service, our waitress was slow, did not offer us drink refills, and had to be tracked down several times to bring us the few items we needed. Our food arrived late, and, overall, our lunch was not a restful, pleasant experience. My natural instinct was to leave less of a tip. I normally leave 20% on all bills, but this time, I left 15%. It may not seem like much of a difference, but it was more about the principle. After the less-than-charitable conversation in the car on the way home, I felt like my heart missed something.  Here was an opportunity for me to love someone despite their shortcomings, and I failed. I, instead, gave into my own needs rather than the needs of others. Why is a selfish heart such an easy temptation? This incident is a reminder of how much I need God in my life.

These two great commandments should govern our lives, and in them, we find true Christian witness. We are not identified as Jesus’ followers through our “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” It is through our love that all will know we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Prayer for Seeking True Joy

O sweet and delightful word! But sweet only to those who love the Word, not to those who love the world and all that is in the world. My God, my all! To one who understands, that is enough said; to one who loves, it is something to be said over and over again, each time with joy. When you are present, there is joy in everything; when you are not, all things are distasteful. You set the heart at rest, you bring great peace and joy and mirth. You make us think well of all and praise you in all. There is nothing that can please us for long without you; but if it is to be enjoyable and to our taste, your grace must be within it, it needs to be flavoured with the spice of your wisdom.

~ From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (III, 34, 1)

Friday, June 3, 2016

7 Verses on the Depth of God's Love for Us: Romans 5:5-11

5. God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.
6. Christ died for the helpless and wicked in God’s chosen time.  That we are helpless and wicked shows God’s deep love for us, as broken as we are.
7-8. God’s limitless love for us is shown in Jesus Christ’s dying for us while we are steeped in sin. Jesus did not die for the righteous, for no one is righteous; we are all sinners. He died for the sinners of the world.
9. We are put right with God through the blood Jesus shed on the cross, not by anything that we did or can ever do. Our justification comes from the blood of Jesus offered in love for us on the cross.
10. Our sinfulness and broken lives made us God’s enemies. But through the death of Jesus Christ, his son, we are no longer enemies but friends.
11. We then can rejoice not through our pseudo-righteous behavior and religious observances but because of what God has done for us by offering his only son on the cross to redeem the unrighteous -- everyone!  Through our Lord’s willful sacrifice, his ultimate offer of love on the cross, we are made right, made friends, with God.

In this passage, Paul alludes to the holy Trinity: The gift of the Spirit poured in us, God’s love for us, and Jesus’ willful death on the cross, his act of sacrificial love, offered up for each one of us. And Paul clearly explains the magnitude of God's unbridled love. We are helpless sinners, Paul reminds us, loved by an infinite God who wants each one of us with him eternally. The only way this can happen is if God himself dies for us since we are incapable of righting our own sins. Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, lovingly offers his life to the Father for us. We are made right with God through Jesus' salvific love.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing what I, in my state of sinfulness, could never do. Thank you, Jesus, for offering up your sacred life for me on the cross, for being my Redeemer and Deliverer.  In return, I offer you my life, Lord. Let all you have given me be laid at your sacred feet. Use me, Lord, your redeemed, to be a loving, merciful presence in this world. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me, thank you, heavenly Father, for loving me, and thank you, Spirit of God, for living in me! Amen.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

5 Ways to Mercy and Mystical Union: Highlights from 'Amoris Laetitia' (311-317)

Highlights from Amoris Laetitia (311-317)
Chapter 8: The Logic of Pastoral Mercy
  • Mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. (311)
  • [Mercy] sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate. (312)
  • I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. (312)
    • I especially love this advice. Being a faithful follower of Christ, I find (or have found) myself in complicated situations at various moments throughout my life, whether they be marital or not. It can be discouraging for the faithful to feel there is no hope in adhering to the Church's view. But here, and throughout the exhortation, Pope Francis gives us hope. It is not about being perfect; rather, it is about moving toward perfection. The path toward perfection is a lifelong journey, and knowing that we are loved despite our imperfect situations, is a grace in itself.
Chapter 9: The Spirituality of Marriage and the Family
  • The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.
  • Spirituality becomes incarnate in the communion of the family. Hence, those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union. (316)
    • Being a father and husband, I agree. That I cannot be a priest, monk, or theologian does not mean that my life has to be any less spiritual. The opposite is true. Jesus calls me to be deep in his Spirit as a husband, father, teacher, and neighbor, right where I am. It is about living my vocation in, with, and through Christ in the small moments of my day. It is about cooperating with God's many opportunities to love. My life, then, where it is, can be mystically unified with the Trinity. That is a beautiful truth.