Monday, May 13, 2019

May 13, 2019: Our Lady of Fatima

May 13, 2019: Our Lady of Fatima

"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God?" With this boldness a Lady, more brilliant than the sun, breaks out, on May 13, 1917, and enters into the lives of three children in the Cova da Iria. For six months, every 13th, the Virgin Mary will renew this invitation, on base of which the three shepherds will become humble witnesses of God's heart, in the complexity of a suffering world.

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” (M 175)

The spontaneous fiat of the shephers, 'the Lady welcomed [...] as the first fruits of her Message "(CVM 36), is confirmed by the Virgin with an intense light that penetrated the innermost dephts of the children, making them see themselves" in God, who was that light"(M 175). This light, in which they will also be immersed in June, will prepare them to welcome the Secret revealed to them in July: in a succession of images unveiled by Our Lady, the little shepherds grasp the idea that God's heart is caring for the human history; that sin consists in being indifferent to God's heart; that God is merciful and is always in search of man entangled in his dramas and misfortunes; and that those who embrace the light of God's heart are invited to participate, by prayer and sacrifice, in His care for humanity.

On the first immersion in that light, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, still savoring the echoes of the depth they had experienced, decided not to tell anything of what happened. But Jacinta, strongly affected by the beauty of the Lady and full of an irrepressible joy, cannot refrain herself. She is the first herald and messenger of this newfound divine joy communicated by the Lady. And like the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24,32) who, in front of the paschal mystery, had a burning feeling in the chest, she will confess to her friends: "I had inside me something that would not let me be silent" (M 45).

The news of the apparitions of the Lady of the Rosary soon will make its way. And the number of those who, as pilgrims, come to the Cova da Iria will certainly increase; and so the children will have much to suffer at the hands of those who doubted or opposed them. Already in the first encounter, almost as if to confirm the children fiat, the Lady had assured them that they would have much to suffer. As was the case with prophets (Jer 1:19), the vocation of the little shepherds accepts suffering as an integral part of their mission. They will be, for many, accused of fraud and greed. Even their own families, except perhaps the father of Francisco and Jacinta, fear they are spreading a lie and are afraid for their life. At home, and everywhere, they are subjected to visits and to incessant and strenuous interrogations.

But the greatest trial and affliction would occur on August 13. On the morning of that day, the children are surprised by the visit of the Municipality of OurĂ©m Adminitrator, a well-known mason and freethinker. After having questioned them in their home and at the rectory, because he wanted at all costs to know the secret they insisted on keeping concealed, the Administrator, in a tricky and deceitful way, proposes to lead them to the the Cova da Iria, but in fact conveys them to Ourem. There he insists on pressing the kids to unveil their secret, and even reached the point of locking them, for a while, in  a cell with other prisoners, and of uttering the threat of making them fry in olive oil. Francisco's innocent reply radiates peace and joy: “If they kill us, it’s all the same! We’ll go to Heaven!”(M 146).

Handed back to their parents on August 15, they will encounter the White Lady on the 19th, in Valinhos, and in September and October, in the Cova da Iria. A large crowd gather in this last apparition – thirsty for God or simply curious - and witness a sign, as the Lady had promised. But for the children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the last encounter becomes a permanent reminder that they are called to transform their lives into a blessing (Gen. 12.2).

"I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15)

The life of the shepherd children no more ceased to be paced and measured by God's heart. The fiat uttered to the Lady more brilliant than the sun was constantly renewed by the innocent desire of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta to intensify in their lives the passionate affection for God. The presence of God became, for them, sacred ground and, like Moses, barefoot in front of the burning bush (Ex 3.2-12), their intimacy is transmuted into an act of adoration in the presence of that inner light, which is God, which burns without consuming. That's the ineffable secret strengthening them. This Sacred Bush burning in their chest awakens them, as once did to Moses, for the mission of caring for those who live in the slavery of sin and ingratitude. And so, in sight of all others, they are the presence of God's light and also, before God, mediators in behalf of all others. Their lives become a constant offering of everything they are and do – however slight – for the love of God and in favour of sinners.

Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia's lives assume this vocation, that is inseparably contemplative, compassionate and announcing. But each of them will take on, with a particular and greater accent, the specific nature of their calling.

Francisco, moved by his inner eye sensitive to the Spirit's light, listens to the call to worship and contemplation. Sometimes, he took refuge behind a rock or on top of the mountain to pray alone. Other times, he remained in the parish church, for long hours, in the intimacy of silence, to keep company with Jesus hidden in the tabernacle. There he persisted in prayer, thinking about God, absorbed in the contemplation of the unfathomable mystery of God who comes to meet man. Francisco, and only he, with the eyes of his heart, becomes aware of the sadness of God before the suffering of the world, suffers from it and wants to comfort Him (M 145). The little shepherd, who had not heard both the Angel and Mary, but had only seen them, is the most contemplative of the three children. In his life, it is almost as if contemplation springs from attentive listening to silence that speaks of God, to silence in which God speaks. Francisco's contemplative disposition consists in letting himself to be inhabited by the unspeakable presence of God – “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how!” (M 142) - and this presence was to be transfigured into prayerful reception of the others. In Francisco comes to the fore a life of contemplation.

Little Jacinta translates the joy, purity and generosity of faith, welcomed as an offering of God's heart, and difused through the chores and trifles of her life as a simple girl, into a sacrifice acceptable to God (Romans 12, 1) in behalf of humanity. The force with which the divine light broke in and invaded her child's life seizes her definitely with a new dynamic and ardent desire of sharing her joy. The purity of her mirthful heart longs and wants that everyone may enjoy, grateful and pure, the presence and the gladness of God's heart. This eagerness to share the ardent love she felt for the hearts of Jesus and Mary made her grow and become solicitous for sinners. All the small details of her grazing day, all the discomforts of the unending questionings and interrogations to which she was subject, all the distresses of her illness were an occasion and motive of an offering to God for the conversion of sinners. Other times, she shared her food with the poor, offering this abstinence in sacrifice, as a sign of giving her life for the love of God and humanity. This pray and suffering for love "was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else» (M 61). Her joy was to live immersed in the love of the suffering Christ, in the manner of St. Paul: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church "(Col 1:24). The fire she had in her chest radiated and would, certainly, expand inasmuch as it  did not contagiate, through the theological dynamics of prayer and sacrifice, all men and women, particularly the ungrateful ones, that is, all those who do not welcome the grace. Jacinta's vocation is compassion.

Lucia welcomes the mission to evangelize, to make known the good news of God's mercy, responding to the merciful God's desire to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (M 175). Early and in good time Lucia understands that in the core of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is the transforming power of God's mercy. And there she discovers her vocation to be a living memorial of the "greatness of the Divine Mercy" (M 190). In a way similar to Israel, called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49.6), Lucy's life becomes a living testimony of the designs of mercy that God has for humanity. From her humble life as shepherdness until the closure of her religious consecration, Lucia is the witness who quenches herself in order that light of the Secret of God's mercy shine without interruption, as already definitively revealed by the Son and remembered at Fatima. In her we can catch a glimpse of the faithful witness of a gift, that is accepted and offered to the world.

May 12, 2019: 4th Sunday Easter C

May 12, 2019: 4th Sunday Easter C
This is a season when many mothers face empty nest as their children graduate and “fly away” to colleges or enter workforce. Some mothers posted online what they are telling their sons and daughters as they depart for their new adventures: Call your mother, or at least text your mother; Only spend what you have...being broke in college or anywhere after high school is a rite of passage; Show gratitude to all of those people who have gotten you to where you are today… don’t look down on anyone unless you are helping them up; Don’t let your room get to the point where it looks like an episode of “Hoarders.” How much these mom’s advice stick depends on how well they decide to listen. As our graduates embark on their new journey, there is one advice that will help ground them firmly on their faith: your one desire should be that you want and choose what better leads you to a deeper relationship with God.

To want and choose that which leads us into a deeper relationship with
Our Heavenly Father means that we must recognize the voice and the presence of Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, in the ordinary choices we face every day. We the disciples of Jesus are the faithful sheep that belongs to Jesus and listen to his guiding voice. Granted, it is not easy to listen to his voice in today’s environment. We get distracted by things around us--swirling desires pull us in all sorts of directions. Only listening attentively in prayer will we hear what our Good Shepherd has to say to us.  

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." So Dan asked the question in another way and said, "Well then, what does God say?"  Mother Teresa smiled and said, "He listens." Dan was confused and didn’t know what to say. Mother added, "And if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you." In prayer two friends listen attentively to each other; it’s not a one way communication. God listens to us attentively like a Good Shepherd, listening to our deepest desires and yearnings. We in turn listen, not just say lots of words. We listen for his thirst for love of us. Perhaps if we listen attentively, we will hear the following:

“I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter. I come - longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts.” (Fr. Joseph Langford, “I thirst for you”)

When we truly listen to Jesus in prayer, we will gradually want and choose what matters most to Heavenly Father. We will deepen our desire to satiate Jesus’ thirst for us. Rather than impulsively go and do whatever we want, we instead desire to heed Jesus’ call to us, “follow me,” to go where Our Shepherd wants us to go. For our young people graduating, in due time you will encounter persons you are attracted to marry. Or perhaps, you will feel an attraction to a consecrated life to priesthood or religious life. In these attractions, one must pray deeply to hear the genuine invitation from Our Good Shepherd to follow His lead rather than to be swept away by emotions. By your prayerful discernment, you will be participating in an adventure which the Lord has in plan for you.

There is no greater joy than to risk one’s life for the Lord. We ask our Good Shepherd to give us a heart and ears open to His call. When he calls us to follow His path, we need to trust Him and not yield to our fears and preferences. Like the disciples who left their nets and boat behind when they were called, when we trust the Lord’s invitation and follow Him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can satiate our deepest yearnings.

Friday, May 10, 2019

May 9, 2019: Ascension Catholic School Baccalaureate Mass

May 9, 2019 Ascension Catholic High Baccalaureate Mass

Dear Graduates, parents, school faculty, and guests, 
This day has been much anticipated by the graduates and the parents alike. For the students, the past twelve plus years have been an adventure of growing, maturing, and discovering their place in the world. I thank you parents, godparents, and grandparents for being faithful to the promises that you made when these graduates were baptized as babies 16-17 years ago, to protect the flame of faith in their hearts!

Dear graduates, the Book of Proverbs reminds us not to forget the teaching we have received and to take to heart the commands of God. Over the course of your lives spent in this school and this church, Jesus enlightened the eyes of your hearts through His Divine Word and the Holy Eucharist for you to see yourselves as disciples of Christ. Just as he did with his apostles, he invites each of you to follow Him, to go where He leads you, to offer yourselves in service of God. Just a few days ago, a high school senior showed us what a disciple of Christ looks like. 

A high school senior, Kendrick, was looking forward to his graduation ceremony. He loved fixing things and tinkering with his jeep. He hoped that, like his father, he would major in mechanical or electrical engineering in college. A childhood friend described him this way, “He cared about his faith and his family and friends more than himself. He was always the first to help when anyone needed it; if it was a friend to talk to, someone to hold the door, or carry something, he would always help no matter what.” Another close friend said that Kendrick looked forward to joining the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization for men, once he was in college, “He told me he wanted to be a Knights of Columbus because he wanted to help not only people, but his community.” The day before yesterday, Kendrick’s English class was disrupted by a classmate who walked in the classroom and pulled out a gun. The young man told out loud to everyone not to move. In that split second, Kendrick lunged for the gunman. And while the gunman was disoriented after shooting Kendrick, a cluster of boys then tackled the gunman, allowing the rest of the class to dive under their desks and flee the classroom. Kendrick died from that gunshot. 

What Kendrick did was brave, and many are calling him a hero. For those who do not yet know the love of Christ, the explanation for what Kendrick did, stops there. He was being altruistic for the benefit of many, they would explain. But for those of us who know Jesus, who know the love of Christ, and who serve Christ, we know why Kendrick did what he did. He was following the footsteps of Jesus who called Kendrick and all of us to follow Him. Jesus himself explains in John’s Gospel, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” 

We Christians serve God who created this infinite Universe and yet calls us friends, who became man and laid his own life for us on the Cross so that we may be saved and redeemed. The world serves a fallen angel Lucifer, a mere creature whose motto is, “I will not serve,” a conniving creature whose goal is to separate us from trusting and loving God. A definitive choice is given to us at baptism when the Church asks us, “Do you reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises.” God gives everyone on earth a choice, to freely love and trust God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and to make our lives a life of charity and service. Often we use words and phrases that betray our baptismal promises, and we don’t realize that they are contrary to Christian vision for life. We use phrases such as, "It's my life"; "I want what feels right for me"; "Follow your heart"; "Just do it"; "I want to be fulfilled"; "It's my choice." We have all used these phrases, but they fly in the face of Christian faith because we are created solely to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to enter eternal life. The phrases we should use are, “I want what God wants for me,” “I love what God has in plan for me,” or “I trust that God will carry me through this.”

Mother Teresa said, “Jesus said, ‘I have chosen you. I have called you by name.’ Everyday you have to say, ‘Yes.’ Total surrender. To be where Jesus wants you to be… To accept whatever He gives. And to give whatever it takes, with a big smile. This is the surrender to God. You are free then.” 

Dear graduates, I pray that you do not forget that each of you have been purchased at a great price by Jesus. Your life is not your own. God has created each of you with a unique mission that goes beyond your time on earth and into eternity. However long God has asked you to stay here on earth, always ask in prayer, “Lord, what can I do for you today? Whom can I love around me and who needs my help today?” With these simple questions, you are going to do great things for God.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019: 3rd Sunday Easter C

May 5, 2019: 3rd Sunday Easter C

This past week, I had the privilege of eating breakfast as a guest with the Benedictine monks at the St. Joseph Abbey in Covington. Normally at home, breakfast for me is a short 5-minute routine of throwing vegetables and fruit into a blender and then hurriedly drinking the soothie before heading to the office. At the refectory of the Benedictine monks, however, I was mesmerized by the mural paintings of famous Dom Gregory de Wit on every available interior surface. I could not but slow down with each bite of food to appreciate the scripture story being depicted on the walls. One panel of mural depicted the Old Testament story of Esau begging his twin brother Jacob for the bowl of lentil soup he had cooked. Esau just came back from a hunting trip famished and found his brother Jacob cooking lentil soup. in desperate hunger, Esau exchanged his birthright and family inheritance for a mere bowl of Jacob’s lentil soup. In that mural, I could not help but see the parallel to Jesus’ question to Peter as they were eating the miraculous catch of the fish, “Peter, do you love me more than these things,” perhaps referring to the fishing profession, the equipment, his life, and his pursuit of worldly goals. Are we also in some way trading our love for Christ with our love for the world?

For Peter, that early morning experience of encountering Risen Jesus at the charcoal fire was a deja vu experience. On the night of the arrest of Jesus by the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied his Lord and friend three times in order to save his own skin. On that ominous night by the light of the moon, Peter betrayed his own bold promise to Jesus that he would follow Jesus and even die for him. However, on the dawning of a new day when the sun was about to rise, Jesus’ triple question at a different charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee, “Peter, do you love me,” was an opportunity for Peter to restore his love, loyalty, and commitment to Jesus. Peter not only received restoration of relationship with Jesus that morning; he received a triple command from Jesus to feed, tend, and love others.

Several years ago as I stood on the shores of Galilee, I pondered my own ‘Peter moment.’ It was when I denied Jesus numerous times through my own atheism, and my total disregard for someone’s dignity as a person, and when my own pride prevented others from knowing or loving Jesus. Yet I also recalled the moments when Jesus restored me of guilt of betraying him. The amazing truth is that the same Jesus who restored Peter’s loyalty and love restores ours. Follow me, Our Lord said to the disciples. These were the words he said when he first called them to be disciples, and the words to restore them to discipleship. These same words, follow me, are our call as well. Do not be afraid to give your all in following the Father’s will. Love and forgive even in the most difficult of human situations. In that simple question to us, “Do you love me,” the fire of His love purifies our lukewarm hearts and strengthens our resolve to tend, to feed, and encourage our family, friends, and strangers.

The only question that Jesus will ask us when we arrive at the gates of Heaven is, “Did you love?” What will our answer be?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Chaplet of Divine Mercy: April 28, 2019

Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, Donaldsonville LA, April 28, 2019
with Grace Notes

Sunday, April 28, 2019

April 28, 2019: Divine Mercy Sunday C

April 28, 2019: Divine Mercy Sunday C

Which of the following statements do you agree with more? ”I will believe it when I see it,” or “I will see it if I believe it.” At the heart of these two contrasting statements is the matter of trust. The first statement implies, “Prove it. I won’t trust until I see the proof.” The second statement implies, “I trust.” Depending on which statement we embrace, determines the way we perceive the world. For example, if we think the world is a grim place, full of evil and selfish people, then that’s what we will often notice around us. But if we believe that God planted goodness in the world with good people then we will see the world filled with opportunities for the goodness of God to flourish. It is natural for our faith journey to begin by demanding signs and proofs then progress to simply trusting. With each encounter with Risen Jesus, we move from seeking signs from Jesus to simply trusting Jesus. We notice this progression of faith in Apostle Thomas.

Thomas was not present when Risen Christ appeared to the apostles on Easter Sunday evening. He refused to believe the apostles’ story of their encounter with Risen Jesus stating, “Unless I put my finger in the nail marks in his hands and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Poor Thomas has been stuck with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas” ever since. But just because he demanded a sign didn’t make him a second-rate apostle. He was grieving terribly the death of Jesus whom he followed as a devoted disciple. His encounter with Risen Jesus changed him. Jesus in his mercy gave Thomas the sign he desperately needed--an opportunity to put his finger in Jesus’ hands and side. Thomas was now unconditionally committed to Jesus as he cried out aloud, “My Lord and my God!”

I was a doubting Thomas in my younger years. Plenty of folks quoted scripture to me, but I needed proof of a Good God. St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “Distrust hurts [Jesus’] most sweet Heart, which is full of goodness and incomprehensible love for us.” (Diary, 595) Distrust of Jesus means that we are choosing not to commit ourselves into His care. Distrust and doubt are understandable in a world which promises self-sufficiency by way of material goods and comforts so readily available. As we rely more and more on worldly things, we trust more in the world than trust in God. A person who doubts Jesus or even questions the existence of God may ask, ‘Why is there a need to trust God when this world provides me with everything I need?’ Yet a rosy world view cannot mask the reality of contradictions, conflicts, evil, and injustice found in our own daily experience.

Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the Risen Christ and offers to humanity. Our Lord told St. Faustina, "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary, 300). The simple words written on the bottom of the image of the Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in You,” reminds us that only in Jesus will we find peace amid our brokenness, despair, and injustice. God has given us this special feast of Divine Mercy Sunday so that we will receive the grace of childlike trust in God and love of neighbor. Our sister in faith, St. Faustina is praying for us today in order for us to unconditionally commit ourselves into the care of Jesus. Let her words from her diary sink in our hearts today, "O doubting souls, I will draw aside for you the veils of heaven to convince you of God's goodness" (Diary, 281). Each time we pray and sing the Chaplet, let us be grateful to God for the gift of mercy which comes from the Risen Christ.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

April 23, 2019: Week 9 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

April 23, 2019: Week 9 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

They say that some of the worst things to say to a grieving person are:
- Cheer up. Your loved one wouldn't want you to be sad.
- He is in a better place.
- Pull yourself together because you need to be there for your kids.

Fr. Henri Nouwen said that to be a friend to someone in a moment of despair or confusion is to stay with the grieving person, not trying to give solution, to cure, or to fix. Rather, to be a caring person is to be present in silence, to offer warm and tender hand. Risen Jesus is the friend who stays with us in our moment of despair or confusion, showing us the way to the Father.

Mary Magdalene was inconsolable the morning she found the tomb empty. Her beloved teacher’s body was gone, perhaps stolen by someone. When she saw a man standing there, Mary didn’t recognize Him because she was still holding onto Jesus who died and not Jesus who had risen. When Jesus appeared to her, he said, “Stop holding onto me.” When Jesus called her by name, Mary’s eyes and heart opened.

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy… So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)

Unexpected sorrows of life can momentarily confuse and disorient us. In those moments, we don’t recognize Jesus who is present with us in silence as a friend who lends his warm and tender hand. If we persevere in prayer, we will hear Risen Jesus, who knows us completely and deeply, calling us by name and encouraging us to share with others how trials of life are but stepping stones to glory yet to be revealed. As Mother Teresa said, “Remember that the Passion of Christ ends in the joy of the Resurrection of Christ! When you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn.”