Lift High the Cross

He saves us by our pain, because He has shared it.

God is so amazing that:

That by which we fall He saves us. Remember this. It is one of those eternal truths.

Believing the lie from the serpent in the garden led to death. What was the first sin? Pride. Distrust of God.

The serpents in the desert led to death. What was the sin? Grumbling, complaining…again…distrust of God.

What brought them healing and new life? Looking upon the serpent on a pole, held up by Moses. Trusting in the Word of God, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live” (Num 21:8).

There are Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).

And later He also says in John, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:40, my emphasis).

Jesus was lifted up on the Cross. By His death, He conquered Satan, the serpent in the garden, with something he is incapable of understanding—enfleshed merciful love that gives selflessly to others.

When we look upon Him and believe, we have new life, just as those in the desert.

When we believe His Word and look upon Him, and say “Amen, (I believe), ” and receive Him in the Eucharist…we not only spiritually, but materially have God’s eternal life-giving flesh within us.

Where we are weak He is strong. He is there in our weakness, in our pain. Placing our weaknesses and our pain at the foot of the Cross joins us to Jesus. He suffers with us and heals us, bringing peace into our hearts.

That by which we fall He saves us. Turn to Him and tell Him all about it. “Do not forget the works of the Lord” (Ps 78:7b). Jesus, I trust in You.

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg

The Weeds and the Wheat

A meditation on the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are the wheat. From the beginning we were created “very good” (Gen 1:31). Let us consider different types of weeds that are among us. Some are extremely invasive. Some not so much. Some even have pretty flowers that may look good from afar. When we get closer we can see that they are weeds. They will eventually take over that which surrounds them.

There are a few ways to combat them. There are “shock and awe” herbicides — these not only kill the weeds, but they will kill everything around them. There are selective herbicides that are designed to kill only the weeds and nothing else around them. These herbicides indeed work, but sometimes there are unforeseen consequences to using them. Often these herbicides will poison the soil or water in the future, or they are poisonous to other types of life. The perfect selective herbicide has not been created. In fact, it cannot, because none of us can foresee the ultimate consequences of our selective killing.

There is another way — to sow more good seed. This is the way of the Lord. Sowing more good seed takes patience. It takes Love. It takes willingness to suffer with the weeds, and to suffer for those surrounded by them.

Ultimately, it takes Wisdom. Lady Wisdom. It takes trust in her Source.

True Wisdom is from the Lord. One who has her recognizes such. One who has her recognizes that the Lord is the only source of justice and is Master of all.

His power is manifest in weakness, or at least what the world deems as weakness.

His kindness, patience, and “lenience” (Wis 12:16) is hope for those who suffer amidst the weeds — those who may even feel attached to them.

All in His time. All will be well.

Listen to the Holy Father on the Weeds and the Wheat…and Patience.

Lectio Divina: He Knows My Name…and Yours

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I just “went” to Mass in my living room with my beloved family.  This pandemic has given us the opportunity to change our ways of doing things — a hidden blessing is that we talk about the readings together.  I teach the Bible, but I usually don’t force this upon my own family…(They often remind me that they get enough through everyday conversation, lol).  Today I couldn’t help myself.  For reference, click the link for the readings from Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Easter: USCCB.

St. Peter begins in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36).

Granted, the readings for today skip over a wonderful review by Peter of Salvation History (skipping Acts 2:15-35), still, I asked the family the following question, knowing that they could answer it:  “Who is Peter talking to?”

“The Jews,” my oldest daughter said.

YES!  The Jews.  The reading continues, saying that they were “cut to the heart” and they asked what they should do.

“Repent and be baptized!” Peter said.

Aha!  Baptism!  So I asked the question, “What is the big deal about Baptism, and what does it have to do with today’s readings?”

The answer is everything (not my family’s answer!), when we consider the Rite of Baptism in the Catholic Church.  The rite begins with questions, and the second question is the most relevant to today’s readings.  

“What is the name of the child you bring for Baptism?

Our given name is so important, especially when we are baptized.  This is our adoption, through Jesus, into the Holy Family of God.  We become tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, imbued with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.  We are brought into the Blessed Trinity of Love.  We are washed clean of Original Sin, given the light of Christ, and we “put on” the white garment of Christ.  All this is done with our own name, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the psalm today we chant, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).  He leads us and guides us, for HIS name’s sake.  He gives us everything we need.  This psalm is good to remember and to pray, especially when we move to the second reading, where we hear from St. Peter again.

Peter begins, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:20b-21).

This man whom God made Lord and Christ suffered for us (recall first reading). This man said to us, “Follow me.” (Many times in the Gospels). When we are baptized we put on His garment, we receive His light — for a glorious purpose — to share in His victory over sin and death. St. Peter concludes, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (ibid, v. 25).

Why do we follow Him?

Because He is the Good Shepherd, but not only this. He is the gate. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9), Jesus says in today’s Gospel.

How do we know to go through Him?

The answer is earlier in the Gospel reading: “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 he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:2-3, my emphasis).

Do we see the importance of our name?  Do we see why the Church asks for this name for Baptism? When He calls our name… when we hear His voice… we remember, and we follow!

Jesus is always calling our name, because we belong to Him through Baptism.

Recall Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday — when did she recognize the Lord, her Shepherd?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (Jn 20:16). We read this only a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to another book in the Bible. Jesus echoes the words of Peter from today in the Book of Revelation. Here is ‘the rest of the story’:

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).

Jesus is our Shepherd, our Defender.  He knows our name, and we know Him.  The Father sees us and loves us through Him, and brings us into union with the Trinity, in the Holy Spirit.

A Prophecy for the Ages about Life for the Soul

See daily Mass readings at USCCB

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.
My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever. –Ezekiel 37:21-28

I didn’t mean to do a Lectio post today but this reading speaks to something that has been on my heart for three weeks — since the time that I last received Holy Communion. Holy Communion is sustenance for the spirit; just as a healthy meal feeds the body, the Eucharist feeds the soul. This whole chapter from Ezekiel speaks to me about the Eucharist, because it is about life, and the Eucharist is life for the soul.

The reading is from Ezekiel 37, (I recommend reading the whole thing), in which God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the dead, dry bones. He is told to do this in two stages: prophesy to the bones to hear the word of the LORD, saying, “Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life,” and then to prophesy to the breath, saying, “From the four winds come, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.”

Wow. I want to make an important point about Ezekiel: he had never received the Sacraments but God was clearly working through him. Remember this. This event occurred almost 600 years before Jesus. God was speaking particularly about the unification of the two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. They were in exile, both physically and spiritually. God was preparing to bring the dead back to life — God is always wanting to unify His people! This prophecy is indeed one for the ages.

The Church teaches that God normally works through the Sacraments, especially Baptism. We are encouraged to do what we can within our own natural powers to be fed supernaturally through the Sacraments, but it is clear from Ezekiel that God can and will work outside the Sacraments.

This is so important in our times today. I firmly believe that God is calling us to seek Him in the depths of our spirits — the depths of the life He has already breathed into us. We all have become complacent. God is calling us to unity, to recognize the beauty and glory of the life within us, and the life within the persons near us. We are unified through His life — the seed of the Gospel already planted within us. He has made an everlasting covenant through “His servant David” who is our KING. He is our Shepherd and He has made His dwelling with us — His sanctuary is our HEARTS!

This prophecy is for us, too. It is not just for the ancient people of Israel and Judah. It is for us TODAY.

It is time for the Baptized to truly understand the Spirit dwelling within, and the power of God, through intercession of His people, to heal.  It is through our action, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, that the world will know the holiness of God. 

Indeed, the Eucharist is the source and summit, but any liturgy on earth pales in comparison to the divine, eternal liturgy celebrated for all time in the heavenly realm. The heavenly liturgy is as near as our choice to participate in it in every moment. And we do, as our priests continue to offer the Holy Sacrifice on earth, and we “lift up our hearts,” in union with them!

God is with us and we need to live like He is, in the covenant of peace. 

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:37-39).”

Amen!

Do we BELIEVE?

For more on partaking in our hearts of the Heavenly Banquet, read this by St. Gregory Nazianzen (click link).

Lectio Divina for 03/28/20

The readings for today are found at the USCCB website.

The readings today have everything to do with the battle in the heart.   Jeremiah, through the Holy Spirit speaking to his spirit, says, “I knew their plot because the LORD informed me…” (Jer 11:18a). He trusted the Lord, but still had not realized the extent of the plots against him.  Regardless, he obeyed the Lord and trusted Him, the LORD who spoke to his heart.

Does God speak to everyone in their hearts?  Absolutely.  Even the evil ones, who hatch plots against the Lord’s holy ones? (cf. Jer 11:19, Ps 7:2-3). Yes. 

The contrast between the evil ones and the holy ones is also presented in the Gospel. God speaks, but they do not hear Him, because they have cut themselves off from His word with their hardness of heart.  Their intellects can no longer be informed by the information presented outside of them, because what is within them is defiled and refuses to hear.  Our human intellects are darkened as a consequence of our sins until we cannot even see, much less understand, the Truth.

We see this very clearly in the Gospel for today.  The most interesting contrasts are between the guards and the elite, and then Nicodemus, (who is one of “the Jews”), and the elite.  The elite are those jews who will not listen: the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the teachers and doctors of the law.  They sent the guards to bring Him, but even the guards were captivated by Truth; their hearts were open.  All it takes is a willingness on our part to believe; God will do the rest.  Nicodemus seemed to want to be a voice of reason, and unveils the irony and hypocrisy: “Shouldn’t we first hear what He has to say?”  After all, if they had asked the right questions, they would know that He was of David’s family and came from Bethlehem! 

This convicts me because I am faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions.  Perhaps this is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to give Jesus some last words that we do not hear in the other Gospels: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

None of us knows what we are doing, which is why we need a Savior.  None of us is well, but many of us think we are.  We cling to the law that is outside of ourselves, but if we do this, it can harden our hearts.  Jesus fulfills the law with Life and Love.  He says to the person in front of Him, “I love you first and foremost.  Whatever you have done — I can and will forgive.  Whatever your burdens are —  I can and will carry them.  Whatever ails you — I can and will heal.”

And then He says, “You just need to let me.”

Offer Sacrifices from Your Heart

The daily readings for today can be found at the USCCB. The readings for last Sunday are found here.

Today I want to combine the two Sundays of no public Masses into one theme: worship from the heart.  God’s providential goodness is amazingly beautiful, when we can see it.  We see it (by His grace) when we open our hearts to His light and look for it.  On that point let us begin with the Gospel today.

Jesus heals a man blind from birth (Jn 9:1-41).  When Jesus was asked about the origin of the blindness, whether it was the sin of his parents or the man’s own sin, our Lord replies, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  Jesus says a bit more, but I want to focus on the reason for the blind man’s trial — so that the works of God might be made visible.  This is not the only time that Jesus mentions that trials are for our sake, so that we may see the works of God. 

Last week we saw the testimony of the woman at the well, “‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him” (Jn 4:29-30).  The people rushed to see Jesus because of the truth He had spoken to the woman in her heart.  She testified to Him, and they believed!

Jesus will say in the Gospel next week, before the raising of Lazarus, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4).

God is glorified through our weaknesses and trials! Nothing, not even death, can stop Him!

So what does this have to do with worship from the heart? 

God can change my heart through this crisis, if I let Him.  I need to be open to the light, to the truth that God is with us (Emmanuel).  I cannot be like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, who, when presented with goodness, find reasons to reject it (cf. Jn 9:16).  I must resist the hardening of my heart — and see the goodness and truth that is right in front of me — in my family and in the sacrifices of all who are working in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery services (to just name a few!).

Love requires sacrifice, and Love Himself has given us the ONE, true sacrifice that is re-presented to the Father for all time in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Whether we are physically present at the liturgy or not, Jesus’ sacrifice is offered to the Father everyday by His ministerial priests, and we can join ourselves to it. We are baptized priest, prophet, and king, and it is in these capacities that we are called and equipped to make sacrifices ourselves.  Jesus said to the woman last week, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn 4:23).  The hour is here. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (cf Ps 95:7-8).

I ask you, dear reader, do you have love in your heart?  

If you have love in your heart, you have God (cf 1 Jn 4:16). Anyone who has love in their heart has God in their heart, and can make sacrifices into acts of true worship through the love they give their neighbor.  These sacrifices are true worship when they are united to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.  Every moment is a gift, even in time of crisis, or should I say, especially in time of crisis.  God is with us, indeed, we just need eyes to see it.  Open the eyes to my heart, Lord!

Amen. Jesus, I trust in You!