One of the keys to loving Jesus is taking the time to appreciate how much He truly loves us. Yes, we know the historical facts and truths that He taught. We can easily read them over and over again in the Bible. But it always comes down to our response to Jesus. There are many things that we do in our lives and there are many different attitudes and reasons. We can act out of love, joy, hope, and gratitude or we can act out of duty, convenience, regret, anger, guilt, or fear or a host of other motives or impulses. The best reason to act of course is love. We love the people we are with and we love to do the things we do. To truly grow in our life with Jesus we need to ask these questions: Do I pray because I have to, want to…or love to? Do I come to Mass because I have to, want to…or love to? Obviously there is a great difference in the reasons we pray and come to Mass. We know the best reason, but is that in the forefront of our minds and hearts? With all the activities in our daily lives it takes discipline to find the time to pray. The fact is we do find time to do the things we want to do and like to do. When and where we find the time to pray every day becomes easier to carve out when we understand how much Jesus loves us and wants us to be part of His life. We can spend hours on the Internet, watching TV, or even reading a book. At times we recognize that we are centering our lives around what we like and our own agendas. But too much self-centeredness leads us to put off what is really best for our spiritual, physical, and mental well being.
This was well-illustrated in a story I read – about mosquitoes and bees:
Once upon a time, some mosquitoes and some bees had an exchange about their views and aims in life. The mosquitoes said: “We do not toil as you bees do, nor have we any desire to do it. We have a leisurely existence. In the night, slowly and unnoticed, we intrude into people’s habitations, and then we sting them and suck their blood. That is what we do. We know that we cause them itching and pain, none of us could care less. As long as we get what we want, it is all right with us. We know that people hate us, but this does not bother us.”
The bees retorted in horror: “Our way of life is just the opposite. Night and day we work hard and struggle to support ourselves from the fruit of our labor. We hate to be a burden or nuisance to anyone. On the contrary, we are delighted to share the surplus of our labor with others. Our aim in life is to support ourselves as well as to give comfort, nourishment, and sweetness to one and all. Flying from flower to flower, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the light of the day, collecting scented nectar and making honey is truly an exhilarating and worthwhile way of living. It is in working for ourselves and others that we find meaning and happiness in life.”
Our response to the goodness and love of others is gratitude and a desire to love them in return. That is the ultimate response to Jesus: to love Him in return. When that happen (as it does when we choose to love others) we make Him the center of our concern and look forward to spending time with Him. Our will is fueled by a desire to do what is truly good for others and Him. Their well being becomes an important part of our thoughts, words and actions.
Both this and last week’s Gospels can cause a person to think about Jesus as CS Lewis had. Jesus (when it comes right down to it) was one of three realities: He was insane. He was a liar. He is what He said He was…the Son of God. (“You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God…but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” from Mere Christianity)
One of the insights we all grapple with is that we are not in control of so many things in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, and in the lives of our country and our world. Peace only comes when we rise above the frustration, disappointment, anger, and vengeful thoughts that fill our minds when things do not work out the way we think they should. I have been reading a book quoting Henri Nouwen who had this profound thought: “Keep your eyes fixed on the Prince of Peace, Who doesn’t cling to His Divine Power, Who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights, and rule with great power. See the One Who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; Who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; Who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on Him Who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak…and Who is rejected with the rejected. That one, Jesus, is the source of all peace.” Was Jesus able to find peace in this world and, even more bring peace into our world? Of course He found peace, the peace that came from the prevailing thread revealed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and the four Gospels – God never takes no for an answer. God never gives up on us. God never stops reaching out to us. His love is divine, merciful, unconditional, and life giving. Jesus experienced rejection in the form of not being welcomed from the first moment He came forth from Mary’s womb (you know…there was no room for them at the inn). After bringing joy to the shepherds in the area who responded to the angel’s announcement about Jesus’ birth, and to the Magi with their humble, grateful gifts…Joseph had to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus. Rejection that caused Him to be a refugee did not stop Him from coming back to God’s chosen people…His people…the Jews.
When I conclude my morning prayers, I like to reflect on the paradox of the Jesus Christ that Lewis presented…he is great in giving me the hope, inspiration, and the foundation to rise above frustration, disappointment, anger, and vengeful thoughts as I start the day. (Sure, at times I do not always succeed…but the lack of success or right judgment are lessened and the next day I once again have hope.) After praying morning prayer in the breviary, I read the Paradoxical Commands that come from a book by Kent Keith entitled “Anyway.” (St. [Mother] Teresa of Calcutta had these hanging in an office she used.) I read them thinking about how Jesus lived them. The Paradoxical Commands are a good guide that will help us find the peace Jesus came to bring into our daily lives, a good guide to commit ourselves as we leave the Easter Season (and think of the lessons of this week’s Gospel). The Paradoxical Commands:
People are unreasonable, illogical and
self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish
and ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and
true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be
honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be
destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help. They may attack you if
you help them. Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may be
repaid with indifference. Give the world the
best you can anyway.
As the Fortnight of Freedom 2017 comes to a close, as a nation of faithful Catholics and Christians, we continue our prayers for our United States. There are so many who are confused and misguided with the lies of “choice” and “conscience”.
Reflect, if you will on the story of Norma McCorvey. A woman who no one knows by name. She is the woman who is Roe in the Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade (the case that made abortion legal in our nation on January 22, 1973). Her road to notoriety started with an unplanned pregnancy. She originally said she was raped, a factor she thought would strengthen her case. Her lawyer was a pro-abortion feminist. It is interesting and encouraging to see how the life of Norma McCorvey has played out.
First of all, Norma never had an abortion. The child in her womb was too far formed. When she asked her doctor for an adoptive/foster attorney, that attorney put her in touch with the pro-abortion lawyer. Ironically, Norma McCorvey never stepped foot in a courtroom. She had signed an affidavit in Texas and was used as a pawn. (So much for “women’s’ rights”) She read about the legalization of abortion in the newspaper and was never contacted after the signing.
In 1995 Norma McCorvey declared herself Pro-life. In an account of a banquet of citizens for life that met in Alabama there was this observation: “In a 1995 Nightline interview, she explained that after working in four Dallas area abortion centers and learning a lot more, she started having inner-conflicts with herself. From that time on, Norma has completely moved her position from “a woman’s right to choose…to…upholding the right to life of the preborn baby.”
In the end people of good will see the light. Now is our challenge and time to witness to the truth of human life in the womb. I encourage you to say the prayer I put at the end of last week’s column (inspired from this week’s first reading): “Thank You Father for the gift of life. Thank You for the gift of Your Son Jesus. May my gratitude inspire and sustain me in doing everything I can to respect the lives of all people and to do all in my power to end abortion…and everything else that harms, abuses, or threatens human life. Give me the courage and strength to live in Your image each day. Amen.”
Psalm 69 has simple words to contemplate (the Psalm verses from last week): For Your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my children, because zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme You fall upon me. I pray to You, O LORD, for the time of Your favor, O God!
In Your great kindness answer me with Your constant help. Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is Your kindness; in Your Great Mercy turn toward me. “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and His own who are in bonds He spurns not. Let the heavens and the earth praise Him, the seas and whatever moves in them!”
One of the gifts we have as Catholics is the living Word of God. The first part of every Mass we celebrate is called the Liturgy of the Word. The Word, of course, comes to us from the Bible, the inspired Word of God. The Bible is far more than a historical account of the relationship of God and His people, it is the life-giving voice of God for us to hear, think about, and be informed, encouraged, and inspired by as we hear this week’s Sunday readings.
More than 3,000 years ago there were two women who were ordered to kill male children when they were born, but they refused. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah, and their goodness and concern for human life is recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Jewish people wound up in Egypt after Joseph was sold into slavery and then became a very high-ranking person in the royal family. But once Joseph died and time passed, the Jewish people were enslaved and the birth of their male children was seen as a threat to the King and his fellow Egyptians. Exodus 1:15-22 tells us: “The King of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women, look on the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the King of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them. Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born, but you may let all the girls live.”
These two midwives are our forebears in the Pro-life movement today. They refused to be threatened by what the King would do to them, and as a result, found peace with God and experienced His blessing. They saw beyond popular opinion and the law enacted by the leader of their nation.
This week’s reflection is brought forward to remind our parish members that the Fortnight of Freedom (which was established since the Obama administration attempts…(and I remind everyone…still attempts)…to remove religious freedoms from our public square. Too many believe that the Trump administration “has taken care of all that”. NOT TRUE…the Obama leftovers continue his agenda in full force and by every means possible. So let us not be lulled into a sense of false security. The Fortnight for Freedom of 2017 has begun last Wednesday, June 21st (the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More) to July 4th (Independence Day). This is a time to pray all the more for our country. The US Conference of Bishops asks us to reflect:
It is good to love one’s country, but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and his kingdom. Nationalism becomes idolatrous when loyalty to the nation is more important than loyalty to Christ. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher show us what faithful citizenship looks like. They loved and served their country. But when they were forced to choose between God’s Church and the king, they were faithful to the Church. May their example continue to illuminate the path for us, as we seek to faithfully serve our Church and country.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
Today is the eighth day in our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. We prepared for our Easter celebration with forty days of Lent, a time to reflect on our life with God and His life with us. How good it is to be invited to rejoice in the wonder of Easter for fifty days. As we see in today’s Gospel, what seemed to end on Good Friday with the death of Jesus on the cross was renewed, re-nourished, and reaffirmed as the Risen Jesus appeared to His disciples who were behind locked doors for fear of being identified as His followers. His words were not words of disappointment or rebuke, but words of reassuring love: “Peace be with you!” He showed them His hands and His side, they saw that He was the one who was crucified. But most wondrously, He made it clear that He still loved them. Now that love would truly transform them and they would begin building up the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. No longer were they fearful, discouraged, or guilt ridden. He expressed not only His love for them, but also His faith in them as: “He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Not only did Jesus forgive them for their lack of courage, for abandoning Him, and denying Him when He underwent His passion, not only did He assure them of His life-giving love, He now breathed His Holy Spirit on them, entrusting and enabling to do what He did. Now they too could bring the peace of God’s mercy to all who would be open to it. Having personally experienced His forgiveness they were now empowered and impelled to extend that life giving power to all who opened their hearts to their need for it.
Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, everyday is another time to try to escape the memory and guilt caused by past infidelities, betrayals, selfishness, anger, gossip, and apathy. Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness we expend time and energy trying to carry guilt and self disappointment that only weigh us down more and more. Our fifty day celebration of Easter, every celebration of Mass, every humble confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance, all raise us beyond the devastating and energy draining power of sin, both our personal sins and failings and the sins and failings we see in our world every day.
Pure, unconditional love, love that is Christ-like and Christ-centered is at the core of what we need to share each day with our family, friends, and all those we encounter. Each time we love from our hearts as Jesus did and His commissioned disciples did after His Resurrection, the life-giving power of Easter is present. These fifty days of our Easter celebration communicate a message that is sorely needed in our world today. Will our world ever be free of such violence? The Resurrection is the beginning of the way to overcome all evils. Even more the power of the Resurrection encourages and enables us to rise always to be life givers in our thoughts, words, and actions. The Holy Spirit breathed onto the Apostles in today’s Gospel has been breathed into us in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. As we learned from our early years, a Sacrament is a visible sign of God’s grace. Filled with the goodness, wisdom, love, and mercy of the Holy Spirit, we become what fill us. Happy Easter!!!
The idea is that every aspect of human existence was better in the “good old days” than it is today. What childish nonsense! All of us are required to live in the present. The “good old days” are right now. The advances in modern technology and medicine are tremendous. People are living longer than ever before. The quality of life is much better now than in the “good old days.”
This Catholic Church of ours has our spiritual welfare in mind during these forty days. In Lent we rise above childish limitations to appreciate the value of this special liturgical season. The Church sees Lent in terms of three different aspects of our life in faith. The first aspect is: the Pascal Mystery, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ which brings about our salvation. The Church gives us these forty days as a preparation for the celebration of the great event of Easter. The Paschal Mystery is at the very heart of our faith in Christ…as the Savior. It is through the Paschal Mystery that the Church came into being.
With the first aspect of Lent comes the second: Christian initiation. Early in Church history it became clear that the most appropriate time to introduce new members into the faith and Christian community is through the spiritual birth of baptism as the Church was celebrating Her own birth. Lent then became the annual season of preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism.
The third aspect of Lent is: Repentance and Renewal. The Church recognizes that Easter is the time for us Catholics to become reconciled to God and to His Church through the repentance that comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Each liturgical year one of the three aspects of Lent take on a prominence. And so during the year of Cycle A it is the turn of repentance to occupy center stage, because of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which features parables about the forgiveness of Jesus. As St. Paul preached repentance to the Romans by explaining how the Lord forgives sinners. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
So Jesus suffered, died, and rose for all sinners, even the really bad ones. On this Second Sunday of Lent, we should turn our attention to our need for repentance by going to Confession (which isn’t just for the CCD students) as an important part of our preparation for Easter. And giving up treats, snacking between meals, (… or Twitter, Facebook, etc.) like we did in the “good old days” puts us in the proper penitential frame of mind.