Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Easter Message from Jesus

Now that Lent is over and we are celebrating Easter, Jesus has a special message that has to do with ... repentance! We normally associate this topic with Lent, but when the Lord appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection, as related in today's Gospel (Luke 24: 35-48 ), He instructed them that they were to preach "repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. It seems that it is not just a topic to be considered during Lent, but one we should reflect on every day. And what is this repentance He wants?
Repenting is more than just being sorry for our sins. It involves a change in the way we are doing things. If we say we are sorry and continue to do the same things, we have not repented only apologized. And how sincere is the apology if we do not take steps to correct the poor behavior? Repentance means we have to not only acknowledge our sins, but commit ourselves to change and not repeat it. This is only possible is we have a plan. The plan needs to contain strategies to alter the way we react to temptations. You see, the devil knows our weaknesses, and desires to use that knowledge to tempt us with what is easiest. Indeed, the greatest triumph for the devil is when we speak about "bad habits" rather than sin. We somehow do not think we have to worry about a bad habit, and so we fail to recognize the sinful actions we take. After all, everyone has some bad habits, don't they?
What the devil wants us to consider bad habits, God considers sin. And until we call it be it's proper name, we will never truly repent. So step one is naming our sins. Next,m we need to devise a plan to try and change our reaction to those temptations from one that falls into a sinful pattern to something different. These "occasions of sin" can be changed into "occasions of grace" if we try. For example, if you have a "bad habit" (Sin) of losing your patience when someone is driving in an erratic way, perhaps you can look at it differently. Could it be that God is trying to get you to pray for that person in that moment? And if you begin to think about each of these situations as though God was trying to get you to pray, your prayer life will certainly change for the better. Once you begin to pray for that person, two things can happen. You are not as likely to become impatient with someone you are remembering in prayer, and also your prayers just might be the means by which they begin to drive in a more responsible way. So, you can begin to change this occasion of sin into an occasion of grace.
As you consider your own areas of sin, I am sure you can find ways to try and repent of these also. The hardest part is beginning. So how about if we all try together. Let's begin to live this Easter message of Jesus. Let's begin to repent!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Change of Plans

Today's Gospel (Luke 24: 13-35) recounts the well-known story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and their encounter with the risen Lord. Right at the beginning of the story we are left with a question: "Why did they leave Jerusalem?" What was so important about getting to Emmaus that they would leave after hearing the astonishing news that the tomb was empty? Perhaps they were justifiably frightened for their own lives, believing that the followers of Jesus might be targeted for torture and death also. Perhaps they were discouraged, thinking that the death on the cross meant that their hopes " that he would be the one to redeem Israel" were dashed. Maybe they had family business to look after. We really do not know. What we do know is that they changed their plans. Along the way, during this 7 mile journey, they had an encounter with a man they later realized was Jesus. Because of this, they returned to Jerusalem in order to share the experience with the others. Whatever had caused them to leave Jerusalem suddenly was not so important. Their openness to make this change was important, because it indicates they realized the necessity of sharing their encounter with Jesus.
This story makes me reflect on my own willingness, eagerness even to share my experiences of Jesus with others. I am not talking about my formal preaching - that is part of my ministry. No, I need to look more closely at how I share the personal experiences of the Lord with others. Am I willing to change my plans in order to relate my encounters with the Risen Lord with people who are eager to hear this news? It is not always easy. I certainly have a lot of "work" to do, a lot of daily activities that demand my attention. But if I am not willing to l;ay these aside to share my personal experience of Jesus with others, what good is the work?
I need to renew my commitment to finding opportunities to make known to others how I have come to know the Lord. He reveals Himself to me each day, and I can help myself and others if I am willing to share this "Good News" daily. Even if it sometimes means I have to change my own plans.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Have Seen the Lord!

These words of Mary Magdalene, found in today's Gospel (John 20: 11-18), are powerful ones. But the words do not belong to Magdalene alone. I can honestly tell you that I, too, have seen the Lord! I have seen Him in the face of a father holding his newborn daughter in his arms. I have seen the Lord in the faces of migrant farm-workers who are striving to make a better life for their families. I have seen Him in the glance exchanged by a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I see Christ when I look at a daughter loving tending to her dying mother. I have seen the Lord in the eyes of men who will spend the rest of their lives in jail for crimes they admit committing. I have seen Jesus in the face of a brother priest who was dying of AIDS. I have witnessed the Lord in youth from our parish trying to help make living conditions better for young people who live in a group home because they are not able to live with their families. I see the face of the Lord in the faces of residents of Broadmeadow who offer their suffering for family members. And I see the Lord in the young and old, rich and poor who gather together each week to give praise and thanks to God and beg for the strength to do the will of the Father.
Now I must admit, it is often difficult to see the face of Christ. I have to be constantly reminded to look for Him in the people I encounter. But when I do, it makes all the difference in the world. I hope that we can all make the effort to remember to look for Christ, especially during this Easter Season. And, like Mary, we cannot cling to Him, but look forward to the next time we meet Him in our sisters and brothers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter!

No, I am not trying to make up for mot posting yesterday. The Church celebrates for an octave (8 days) this important feats, and so each day is celebrated as Easter Day! The awesome implications of the Resurrection of the Lord could not possibly be given adequate reflection in just one day, and so we break it down into various aspects to celebrate these Easter days.
Today we hear the story of the two Marys and their encounter with the Lord as they hurried to tell the other disciples what the angel had revealed to them. These two faithful followers, who stayed with the Lord even to Calvary, were blessed with being the first to see the Risen Lord. How beautiful... and appropriate! This is, perhaps, an insight into what awaits those who remain faithful to the Lord here on earth. If we do not abandon Him, we will see Him. Oh, we may not see His risen body until we die, but surely those who are faithful to the Lord are aware of His presence in their lives each day. The faithful are able to see the Lord in the poor and oppressed, in the hungry and thirsty, in the sick and imprisoned, in the "least" of His sisters and brothers. If our celebration of Easter does anything, it should stir us to go out and look for the Lord in our midst. It takes practice, but once you adjust your way of looking, you will never be the same. You will find Him in the simplest encounters, seeing in them opportunities to love. If you declare that what you do with another you do in the name of Jesus, He has promised that He will be there in the midst of this gathering. Now that is something to make you shout "Alleluia!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

My God, My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?

One of the most profound meditations on love I ever heard was shared by Chiara Lubich, founder of the Work of Mary (Focolare Movement). As she reflected on the question of when the Lord showed His love for us most intensely, she was given the insight that it was the moment on the cross when He exclaimed "My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?" Even though He no longer felt the presence of the Father, Jesus did not come down from the cross, as He could have, nor did He denounce the Father for this abandonment. Instead, trusting that the Father's will would somehow be done, He remained on the cross and died for us, stating "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."
True love is not something that is dependent on feelings.It comes from a deeper place. I sometimes may not "feel" that my parent, sibling, spouse, child, friend loves me, but that does not make it so. And I may not "feel" very loving toward them, but that does not mean love has disappeared. In fact, as with the example of Christ, love is seen as deeper and more profound when there is no sense that it is being returned. Jesus, feeling abandoned by the Father, certainly did not feel loved by Him in that moment. And He was definitely not feeling any love from the multitude who were gathered around Him on Calvary. Here He was, dying for the sins of all humanity, and He was being mocked, jeered, killed by the very people He was trying to save. Yet, He did not throw in the towel and quit. Despite this feeling of total abandonment, He loved the Father so much that He persevered. And He loved us with a love that did not depend on our reaction either. He died for those who killed Him, for those who shouted "crucify him!", for those who stood by silently, and for all of us who weren't even born.
That deep love, even when feeling abandoned, is the kind of love that needs to permeate each of our lives. When we feel that God has abandoned us, if we persevere and continue to try and do His will, we are following the example of Christ. And we know that, ultimately, His love conquered even death. Knowing this, therefore, I can continue to try and do the will of the Father, even when I do not feel Him present, and when I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. Truth be told, it is only when I act in this way that I am fully following the example of Jesus. I pray that you will have time to reflect on this awesome sacrifice made for each of us, and that this day dedicated to the deepest act of love by Christ for us will give you strength to persevere through your own crosses.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feet and Food

Our celebration of the Triduum, the holiest days in our year, begins tonight with the Mass of the Lord's Supper. This helps us remember that the Lord did two very important things when He gathered with His followers for the last time before He died. The synoptis Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) speak of His gift of the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, which are given to us as food for our spiritual nourishment. In John's Gospel we hear of the example He gave by washing the feet of His disciples. We reflect on both of these this evening because both are important. The reason we are given the food is so that we can wash the feet. Eucharist is supposed to lead us to serve one another. We cannot claim to have received the benefits of the Eucharist if we don't take the example of Christ seriously.
I pray that these days will be a time for each of us to renew our commitment to serve one another. We ARE the Body and Blood of Christ present in and to the world, and He needs our hands to wash the feet of the rest of His brothers and sisters. May the Eucharist strengthen us to be Christ for the world.
May I also ask for continued prayers for my mother, who will undergo surgery next Friday for the removal of a brain tumor. God bless each of you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Importance of Oil

My thoughts today turn toward oil. I am not speaking about crude oil, with the outrageous price per barrel that it is now commanding, but rather the oil that will be blessed by bishops throughout the world in these last days before the Triduum begins. In our Diocese of Wilmington, we will celebrate the "Chrism Mass" this evening, and priests will gather to concelebrate with our bishop as he blesses the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and consecrates the Chrism.
These oils will be used in sacraments throughout the diocese during this next year. I would like to share with you phrases from the prayers said by the bishop over each of the oils.
"Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction." It is very impressive to me to think that this Oil of the Sick will be used to anoint countless individuals we need the healing power of God in their lives. How many will be comforted in their last days, hours or minutes by the graces that are given in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick!
Likewise, innumerable infants, children and adults will be touched by the Oil of Catechumens, marking their desire to be baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. "Bless this oil and give wisdom and strength to all who are anointed with it in preparation for their baptism. Bring them to a deeper understanding of the gospel, help them to accept the challenge of Christian living, and lead them to the joy of new birth in the family of God." What a beautiful sentiment!
And I am awestruck to ponder the connection with the entire diocese that will be felt by those who will be marked with Sacred Chrism in the sacraments that change forever the life of the recipient: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as the altars and church walls that will be consecrated with this perfumed oil! "Father, by the power of your love, make this mixture of oil and perfume a sign and source of your blessing. Pour out the gifts of your Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters who will be anointed with it. Let the splendor of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed with this oil."
Indeed the prayers that are pronounced by the bishop are short, but powerful. And their meaning is profound and beautiful!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Preparing for Holy Week

As we enter into this most holy week of the Church's year, I think it is a good idea to use the week to make our spiritual lives better. The first step is to ask ourselves just what it is we want to accomplish in our spiritual lives this week. Just as we need goals in other areas of life (work, school, finances) so too we need to set spiritual goals, and Holy Week is a great place to start. You may desire to be more loving, less critical, more tolerant of others' opinions, less impatient, or any number of wonderful goals. You may want to become more familiar with Sacred Scripture, or particular teachings of the Church. Once we have selectd the goal, we can then move on to deciding what we have to do to accomplish it. Surely our lives do not stop. We still have work, school, etc. But if we really hope to accomplish our goal, we have to have a plan. Perhaps we will decide to spend 15 minutes each day reading from the Bible. Or maybe we will seek to find one way each day that we can help someone. We might promise to find something nice to say to each person with whom we interact. Or counteract each bit of negative gossip we hear by relaying something positive about the person. Deciding on a more intense form of self-denial may also help us relate in a better way to the sacrifice of Jesus. Removing various things we find enjoyable - sweets, alcohol, TV, video games, etc. - can give us a glimpse into the suffering of Jesus. Or perhaps we might decide that it is the perfect week to contact those from whom we are estranged by writing letter, cards, e-mails or making overdue phone calls to re-establish the relationship.
The point is, we have to make a plan and then stick with it. Even if this Lent has not turned out the way you expected, even if you have not really stuck to the goal you set for yourself on Ash Wednesday, we can start again today and try to make this week a really holy one. And I would suggest that, by joining the community at prayer as often as possible this week, you will receive the grace, the encouragement and strength to stick with your goals for the week. Have a Holy Week, everyone. I know I am going to try, and will be praying that you do also.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Performing the Father's Works

In today's Gospel John 10: 31-42), the Lord speaks of performing the works of the Father as a sign that He is the Son of the Father. It seems to me that it is also a good way to prove that we also are children of God. But that means that we have to be doing God's work each and every day.
I often wonder where the day goes, it passes by so quickly. And then, on reflection, I wonder just what it is that I have accomplished. Many tasks of daily life may not seem to have any purpose. Some of the routine things can easily become meaningless if we allow them. It is important to try and see  how even these routine things have a place in the plan of God. They may not seem very meaningful, but those tasks which are designed to make the day go more smoothly can help me focus my attention on the interactions I have with people, the opportunities to help make these encounters more intense experiences of God's presence. Often the work that the Father calls me to do is simply be present to another - to give them the chance to be heard and valued. These seemingly random, often brief interactions can make a huge difference in their life, and mine as well, if I embrace them as part of the work of the Father that I am called upon to undertake.
Every day these works will change, but one thing is clear. I have to become more and more aware of  my part in performing and the importance it has in God's plan.
By using this criteria, performing the works of the Father, perhaps I can keep a better check on myself. I have to remember to ask myself each day, and many times during the day, "Am I doing the works of the Father?". And then I need to give thanks to God for these occasions of grace.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Complain, Complain, Complain

Today I would like to reflect briefly on the Old Testament reading from the book of Numbers (21: 4-9). It is part of the story of the Exodus, reflecting on the forty years that the Israelites spent in the desert. In this particular incident, the people were complaining and stating that they were better off in Egypt. This seems to be confirmed when they are plagued by serpents who are biting them. But they come to the conclusion that it is a punishment for doubting God, and so repent.
This seems to be a pattern for the people of Israel, and for us as well. We ask God to help us ("Please God, help me find a job, sell my house, get into college"). God answers our prayers. But then we are not satisfied with the way God answers our prayers ("I hate this job, I did not get enough money for my house, school stinks"). So we grumble, complain and doubt ("How could God do this to me! God hates me! God never listens to me!"). Then we end up going back and asking God to help us again. It is a vicious circle, with us doing all of the complaining and God patiently listening and answering.
I think that we need a new perspective on how we pray and what we ask for in prayer. We sometimes get so specific that we try to lock God in to what we  want, rather than being open to what God wants. and therein lies the problem. Until we can get to the place that Jesus showed us ("Not my will, but Your be done"), we will never realize the power of God. Unless we give up our insistence on having things our own way, we can never see the beauty and wisdom of God's way. And if we do not complete each prayer with the idea that, even though I think my request is a good one, I am open to whatever God want of me, we will never break the cycle of complain, complain, complain.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Casting Stones

Today's very famous Gospel (John 8: 1-11) tells the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. It is presented not as rumor or supposition, but as fact. She was caught "in the very act". Now there are several problems with her accusers. First of all, the Moses wrote in the law that both the man and woman were to be given a careful trial and, if found guilty, both were to be stoned. None of these procedures were being followed. Jesus, on the other hand, is being very careful to observe the law, even to the point of writing on the ground. This act of writing on the ground is itself very significant. It was unlawful to write even two letters on the sabbath but that writing with dust was permissible. The previous passage makes it clear that this was the eighth day of the feast, which was to be kept as a day of rest, so then Jesus' writing on the ground would show that he knows well not only the law but also the oral interpretations that only permitted writing in the dust.
The entire event backfires on those who wanted to trap Jesus, since he challenges them with neither an approval nor condemnation, but rather asserts that the one who should cast the first stone was the one who had not sinned. Those who condemned this woman as a sinner end up admitting their own sinfulness by slinking away, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. And, as the only one who had the right to condemn and cast the first stone, Jesus instead shows Divine Mercy and refuses to condemn, but tells the woman to go and sin no more.
Many questions come to me as a result of reflecting on this passage. How often do I want to cast stones, denouncing the sins of others? Why do I not think of my own sinfulness first? And how many times have I placed more emphasis on the "go and sin no more" part of the story, rather than the "neither do I condemn you" part? and why do I think that I even have the right to judge the actions of others as sinful, when only God alone has this right?
I hope to be able to have time today to go back to this passage - several times. I need to let it seep into the depths of my being, so that I am able to realize that I cannot cast stones. Indeed, I have to pray that the Lord will be as forgiving of me as He was of this woman... and of the people who thought to condemn her!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Tomb, the Stench, the Bonds

The story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11: 1-45) has so much to reflect upon today. I want to concentrate on three things. First, the tomb. The tomb is where things that are dead are placed. It is dark, cold, and remote. The living are separated from it, such as with the stone in today's gospel. There are parts of each of our lives that are dead and need to be buried. Those parts that have kept us from being the person we are called to be. Whether lies, unfaithfulness, gossip, stealing, disobedience - those things we call sin are to be buried in order to be rid of them.
Why is this necessary? Because of the second thing for today's reflection - the stench. They did not want Jesus to open the tomb because Lazarus had been dead for four days, and the smell would be terrible. (Remember - no embalming was used.) Sin has a way of stinking. And, just as any bad odor, it clings to and remains on anyone who comes close. Putting the dead body in the tomb contains the stench and keeps it from clinging to others.
The third point for our reflection is the bonds. When Lazarus came forth from the tomb, we are told that he was "tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth." Jesus commanded others to "untie him and let him go". You see, these bonds would have enabled the stench, the remnants of death, to cling to him. And Jesus did not want this for Lazarus.
Now, as we continue in Lent, I cannot help but think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of this Gospel. Our sins need to be buried, because they stink. Jesus calls us forth to a new way of living, calls us out of the tomb. And we need to have the bonds, the remnants removed. This is exactly what happens when we confess and receive the absolution of the priest. We recognize those parts of our life that are dead, that stink, and we ask that they be forgiven. Many people think that they can just go to God, that they have no need of a priest to have their sins forgiven. But Jesus realized that the bonds of sin can remain and enable the stink of death to cling to us. Just as He asked others to remove the bonds from Lazarus (notice He did not do it Himself), so too He asks priests to remove the bonds of sin from His brothers and sisters. For this reason, I encourage you to consider participating in this wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation during these last weeks of Lent. It is the best way to the call of Jesus to "come out" of the tomb and into the new life of joy and peace with God and others.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Power of Believing

Sorry for the lapse, folks, I am in Hyde Park, NY, attending the 50th Anniversary of the Focolare Movement in North America, and have not been able to update the pages. I hope to be back on a regular schedule soon.

Today's Gospel (John 4:43-54) speaks about the power of believing. We hear of a man, a "royal official", who comes to Jesus because his son is ill to the point of dying. The man begs Jesus to come to his home and heal the boy. But Jesus simply tell him to go home - his son will live. Incredibly, the man believes Him and goes home, where he discovers that his son has indeed recovered. Upon hearing that the boy got well at the same time Jesus told him to go home, the man and his whole household came to believe in Jesus. What a beautiful story of faith! How incredible that this man simply accepted the declaration of the Lord that the child would recover. No fusws, no pleading for Him to come anyway. He trusted that Jesus would take care of things and he let go of his own notion regarding how that should happen.
I often wonder what God thinks when I lay-out exactly what I want and how I think God should acccomplish it. The old saying "if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans" is really true. Living in this present moment and trying to do what God wants of me right now is hard enough. Trying to lay out the future is impossible. I know in my heart of hearts that God is watching over me, but sometimes I just can't resist telling Him what to do. My prayers can become almost demands, which really are expressing doubts that God knows what is best. If I truly believe that God, the all-powerful, all-knowing Father knows me and what is best for me, I have to let go of my own plans and believe that His love will accomplish what is best for me. And when you think about it, that is really the best testimony of faith. The power that comes from believing frees me from having to worry about things. If I "let go and let God", I can be confident that my life may not be easy but will bring me to the joy of heaven. And after all is said and done, that is the most important and powerful thing that I pray God will do for me. That is the true power of believing.