Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sept. 23, 2018: 25th Sunday B

Sept. 23, 2018: 25th Sunday B
Do you ever consider yourself ambitious? In a positive sense, ambition is desire and determination to achieve success. In a negative sense, ambition is an inordinate seeking of recognition or honor. Ambition is morally good when the recognition sought is not selfish and the means used are not evil. Also true through, is that ambition becomes sinful when motivated by pride or pursued without concern for justice or charity. A kindergarten teacher made a poster of her students’ responses when she asked her students the following question: “When I grow up, I’d like to be…” Little Toby said I want to be a veterinarian because I can help pets get better. Isabella said she want to be a ballerina because she loves to dance. David wanted to be a fireman since he likes explosions and fire. Then Little Albert said, “When I grow up, I’d like to be a person who stays home and does nothing.” Albert is certainly not ambitious, but he certainly makes up for it with his honesty.  

In a way, ambition is part of our makeup in that we have an innate desire to make a name for ourselves. We see a glimpse of this tendency even in the apostles.  As the disciples and Jesus made their way to Jerusalem, Jesus again foretold of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The disciples were confused and fearful to ask what he meant and found it difficult to believe in the reality of His kingdom.  Their ambition was to receive glory and praise for being with Jesus, the Messiah -- a triumphant ruler in the line of David who would restore the fortunes of Israel. The disciples had hoped that being associated with this kind of Messiah, would win top roles and positions of honor in the coming messianic kingdom. While Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about self-sacrificial love on the cross,  the disciples were dreaming about making a name for their own. So Our Lord pointed out to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Modern disciples also need to be reminded of the dangers of careerism and personal ambitions. Pope Francis’ message to cardinals, bishops, and priests echo Our Lord’s exhortation about servant leadership. He said that all types of priestly ministry require great inner freedom which calls for vigilance in order to be free from ambition or personal aims, which can cause so much harm to the church. He called on priests and bishops to make their priority the “cause of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the mission” entrusted to them, not self-fulfillment or public recognition. He said that by cultivating a life of prayer, one can transform ordinary, daily work into a means of sanctification.

The same can be said for all of us. St. James’ words are instructive, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” We all have been in workplaces, church and civic groups where personal ambitions of a few have caused disorder and ill feelings. We also have experienced people who have sown peace and order by their selfless motives and actions on behalf of the good of others. While personal ambitions can bring out the worst in us, the attitude of service can bring out the best in all of us.

Who is the greatest in God’s kingdom? The one who is humble and lowly of heart, who models himself after Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve. If we want to be ambitious, ponder these words from St. Dominic Savio, “I am not capable of doing big things, but I want to do everything, even the smallest things, for the greater glory of God.” If we want God’s glory, we must empty ourselves of selfish ambition, vanity, and pride. Only the humble vessels can cooperate with the Holy Spirit who desires to accomplish great things for God’s glory. Are we ready to humble ourselves and to serve as Jesus did?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sept. 16, 2018: 24th Sunday B

Sept. 16, 2018: 24th Sunday B

Is there someone you know who has not changed in all the years you’ve known him? Perhaps the person is blessed to look ageless, or his generous and loving personality has not diminished over the years. Conversely, we may know a person who hurt us years ago, and we have kept our distance from him presuming that his evil way has not changed. In a recent biographical movie, singer Bart Millard shared the story of his tumultuous relationship with his alcoholic and abusive father. The movie began with Bart’s mother leaving the family after suffering many years of abuse by her husband. She left her son behind with his father. When Bart could no longer tolerate the abuse, he moved out of the house believing he ‘paid his dues’ under his alcoholic father. After a few years, Bart returned home and his father told him that he turned his life over to Christ. Bart was skeptical and refused to forgive his father. Although Bart was a Christian musician, he believed that Christ was powerless to change his father. How many of us also doubt, time to time, whether Christ has power to effect change in our lives?

Who is Jesus for us? We say we believe in him as our Lord and Savior and recite the Creed, but really who is Jesus to us? Do we see him like a Santa Claus who gives us everything for which we ask? Is he just an image, a statue, or a picture on a book that we look at when things aren’t going so well? After asking what others said about him, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter thought he knew the answer, but when Jesus revealed who he really was and that he would undergo great suffering on the Cross to accomplish his mission, Peter became uncomfortable. We become uncomfortable too, when we hear Jesus say to us, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." ‘Wait a minute,’ we say, ‘this is not what I bargained for… I thought following Jesus meant that I would avoid troubles and suffering in my life.’

Knowing Christ and following him mean following the path of love, which is not always easy. In fact the path of Christ’s love is painful, yet it is a path that leads to spiritual growth, to greater faith, and more intimate union with Our Lord. Mother Teresa said, “True love is love that causes us pain, that hurts, and yet brings us joy. That is why we must pray to God and ask Him to give us the courage to love.” Mother Teresa taught that to love is to recognize Jesus in those around us. In particular, she said for her, Jesus is:
The Unwanted-to be wanted
The Leper-to wash his wounds
The Beggar-to give him a smile
The Drunkard-to listen to him
The Drug addict-to befriend him
The Prostitute-to remove from danger and befriend her
The Prisoner-to be visited
The Old-to be served.

It is not easy to love those who are unlovable or forgive those who have hurt us.  When Bart Millard returned home after running away from his alcoholic and abusive father, he could not accept the fact Christ has transformed his father. What was even more difficult to accept was the fact that Bart himself had not changed, that his heart was still hardened and unforgiving. Christ whom Bart loved invited him to look at his father through love. When his father revealed that he had terminal cancer, Bart’s heart began to change. Perhaps Bart saw in his weak, imperfect, and broken father, his own failures, imperfection, and brokenness. Perhaps in that recognition, Bart saw the image of Jesus broken on the cross, who willingly sacrificed himself to redeem the fallen humanity. How could Bart, who had begged Jesus to forgive him many times for his pride, anger, lust, and greed, remain unforgiving to his father who was asking for his forgiveness? When his father died, Bart could not imagine his father being anywhere else than in the Paradise promised to Bart’s father by Christ. Bart composed a song that reflected his imagination of what it would be like for his father to be in Heaven and stand before God. “I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk, by your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when you face is before me.  I can only imagine..Surrounded by You glory, what will my heart feel will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still.  Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall,l will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all. I can only imagine”

Who is Jesus for us? If we allow our relationship with Jesus to deepen through listening to his voice in the scriptures, our personal prayers, and reception of Holy Eucharist, he becomes a living, Lord and Savior who transforms our lives. What Jesus asks of us is difficult, to deny ourselves and take up our cross. But if we respond to his call with love and trust, Jesus will help us carry the cross that we must bear in our lives. The more that we come to know Him, the more we will love Him, and His amazing love for us will transform us to recognize Jesus in others.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Sept. 15, 2018: Our Lady of Sorrows

Sept. 15, 2018: Our Lady of Sorrows

Click below to pray the Seven Sorrows with Fr. Paul

Mary, Mother of Jesus, you were the first one to hear Jesus cry, “I thirst.” You know how real, how deep is His longing for me and for the poor. I am yours––Teach me, bring me face-to-face with the love in the Heart of Jesus Crucified. With your help, Mother Mary, I will listen to Jesus’s thirst and it will be for me a WORD OF LIFE. Standing near you, I will give Him my love, and I will give Him the chance to love me and so be the cause of your joy. And so I will satiate the thirst of Jesus. Amen. 
—Prayer by Mother Teresa

———The Seven Sorrows of Blessed Virgin Mary———
1. The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34–35)
2. The escape and Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:43–45)
4. The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Via Dolorosa.
5. The Crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary. (John 19:25)
6. The Piercing of the Side of Jesus with a spear, and His Descent from the Cross. (Matthew 27:57–59)
7. The Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. (John 19:40–42)
It is a common practice for Catholics to say daily one Our Father and seven Hail Marys for each sorrow. 

Below is a Reflection by St. Bernard of Clairvaux 

The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted [Luke 2:34]. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword [Luke 2:35].

Truly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus—who belongs to everyone, but is especially yours—gave up his life, the cruel spear, which was not withheld from his lifeless body, tore open his side. Clearly, it did not touch his soul and could not harm him, but it did pierce your heart. For surely his soul was no longer there, but yours could not be torn away. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.

Or were those words, Woman, behold your Son [John 19:26], not more than a word to you, truly piercing your heart, cutting through to the division between soul and spirit? What an exchange! John is given to you in place of Jesus, the servant in place of the Lord, the disciple in place of the master; the son of Zebedee replaces the Son of God, a mere man replaces God himself. How could these words not pierce your most loving heart, when the mere remembrance of them breaks ours, hearts of iron and stone though they are!

Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants.

Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.

+ a sermon by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Sept. 14, 2018: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Sept. 14, 2018: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

By Deacon Greg Kandra 

If you want a sense of what this feast today is all about, you need to hear the story of Jim Schmitmeyer’s grandmother.

Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer is a priest and writer from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and in one of his books he describes the last days of his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

“Everything had grown completely strange to her and nothing was familiar,” he wrote. She no longer recognized anyone, didn’t know where she was, and only spoke a few phrases in German, the language of her youth.

On the night she lay dying, the family was called. Before heading out the door to the nursing home to say goodbye, her daughter thought to bring something sacred: a small wooden crucifix hanging on the bedroom wall.

Fr. Schmitmeyer wrote of what happened next:

“In a world where my grandmother knew nothing else, she recognized the crucifix! She reached for the cross and held it close to her until she died later that evening.”

He added:

“I am convinced that, on some deep level, in that part of us that we call the soul, we recognize the power of Christ’s cross because we retain a memory of human love….Love remains.”

And it is love that, on this particular Sunday, we embrace as surely as a dying woman embraced that crucifix.

Because, fundamentally, we are people of the cross.

We are people who recognize it as the greatest sign of the greatest sacrifice, the greatest love, the world has ever known.

Yes: we are people of the cross.

It may seem strange to some people that we celebrate it, that we “exalt” Christ’s cross—an instrument of death.

But this is the great mystery of the cross: Christ transformed that instrument of death into a source of life. That is what we celebrate. We are a part of it. And it is a part of us.

We are people of the cross.

It begins at the beginning. Before we can even speak, when we are brought to the church to be baptized as infants, the priest or deacon marks our foreheads with the sign of the cross—signifying that we are claimed for Christ. It is the very start of our lives as Catholic Christians.

As we get older, we grow up and dip our fingers into the font and learn to make the sign of the cross, reliving our baptism with every gesture and every drop of water.

Throughout our lives, we use that sign of the cross to begin every prayer, mark every blessing, punctuate our daily devotions.

We see it everywhere: on necklaces and bracelets, rosaries and rings, cemeteries and steeples.

Even now, we are, literally, in the midst of it. This morning the very place where we worship, this church, is built in the shape of a cross. Again and again we have come to this particular cross—one made of stone and glass and steel—to pray, to plead, to hope, to rejoice.

Day after day, we have come to this cross, our church, to spend time within it—to be nourished by the Eucharist and touched by grace.
And every year on Good Friday—a day when the cross looms the largest and casts the darkest shadow—we come here again to show our special devotion. We stand before a wooden cross and venerate it with a kiss.

And we hear the words echoing: “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.”

We are helpless before this profound truth.

We are people of the cross.

It is not, to us, a source of death. No. It is a source of strength and a cause for hope.

Last winter, one image captured that so powerfully. It was from the uprising in Ukraine. People had taken to the streets. The standoff had stretched for weeks and had claimed dozens of lives. Protestors were occupying the central square in Kiev, which was surrounded by soldiers. The soldiers stood poised with guns and shields. The protestors were unarmed.

But into this tense standoff one night came several priests. The photograph from that moment is stunning: the priests standing in the center of the square, between the soldiers and the people. They had come to pray for peace—and for life, not death.

They had only one weapon: the cross, held high.

That was their shield, their armor, and their cause.

And it is ours, too.

We are people of the cross.

Where would we be without it?

In moments of conflict, uncertainty, anxiety, hopelessness or fear…look to the cross. Look to it, too, in times of thankfulness and joy. Remember what it gave us.

Remember how, 2,000 years ago, the wood of death became, in fact, a tree of life.

And hear again the words of this gospel—a passage that has been called the most famous in the Bible. It has even been described as “the Gospel in a nutshell,” because it summarizes so simply and profoundly the substance of our faith.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

It happened because of the cross.

Jim Schmitmeyer’s mother understood that. In the last moments of her life, she saw the cross as a sign of love. Love that outlasts everything because, as Fr. Schmitmeyer wrote, “Love remains.”

I’m reminded of the words we pray during the Stations of the Cross—a refrain that, this day, becomes our anthem, our consolation, and our hope.

    “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sept. 9, 2018 23rd Sunday B

Sept. 9, 2018 23rd Sunday B

How many of us have been told by our friends or loved ones to have our hearing checked? When I go visit my parents in Dallas, I take ear plugs with me because both of them turn on the TVs in their home to the maximum volume because they are both hard of hearing. One can be hard of hearing because of physical deterioration, but also due to selective hearing. I saw a cute comic in which the caption stated, “Selective Hearing Aid for Men.” It was an image of a hearing aid stuck in an ear with a switch with three modes: Off mode, TV mode, and Wife mode. Do you know of a person with such hearing aid? All of us have a hearing problem—a tendency to hear only what we want to hear. We have a similar problem in hearing God’s voice. We complain often that God is not speaking to us. I wonder though, is it that God is not speaking to us, or are we selectively tuning him out because we only want to hear what we want to hear from him? This type of hearing problem is due to the hardness of heart, not due to damaged ear drum. Jesus came to heal and restore our hearts that refuse to listen to the Father’s voice.

We heard from the gospel Jesus healing and restoring a deaf and mute man’s ears and speech impediment. The man that Jesus pulled away from the crowd already suffered from double isolation--he was a foreigner and had a physical disability that excluded him from community. We can’t imagine the kind of frustration and depression this man suffered throughout his life due to his disability. I wonder what it was like for him  to suddenly be able to hear sounds and to be able to verbalize his wants and desires. We all have experienced frustration of being misunderstood even when we tried our best to express our needs and desires. Perhaps for the first time, he was understood by others and treated as a person with dignity. Even more, this miracle shows that Jesus recognizes each of our needs even before we can voice them. Jesus comes to each of us, personally, to touch and heal us, whether we are sinners, marginalized, scandalized, or unchurched; His mercy is for everyone.

The miracle that Jesus performed foreshadows the restoration of our hearts to be able to hear, speak, and love the Father’s voice. Before Jesus uttered the word, “Ephphatha—Be opened,” he looked up to heaven in a gesture of prayer and sighed. Perhaps as he looked up to heaven, Jesus was speaking with His Father about the man’s condition as well as “deafness” of all of humanity. When we reflect on our lives, are we deaf to God’s voice? Even though the voice of the Father is spoken loudly and clearly to generations of people to come, His voice is falling on deaf ears by our selfish desires of pride and lust. Like the deaf man who was cut off from the community, we can also be separated from the life that really matters--the joy and peace in God. We can read the sacred words of scripture, but not put it into practice. We can receive Eucharist at Mass, but not nourished by Him. We cannot be changed by the scriptures or nourished by Eucharist if we do not stop to acknowledge Jesus, the one who came to be one of us, redeem us and graces us continually. So we also need to come to Jesus to ask him to heal the ears of our hearts and enliven our desires to praise him.

Jesus never turns anyone aside who approaches him with sincerity and trust. He treats each of us with kindness and compassion. In turn, Jesus calls us to treat others likewise. Have we been deaf and mute to anyone who needs us? Are we afraid to step forward in faith to help them? Trust that the Holy Spirit who has been placed in us at our baptism enables us to see, hear, and love others just as Jesus loves.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

September 8, 2018: Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary

September 8, 2018: Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on its traditional fixed date of September 8, nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints Joachim and Anne.

“Let us celebrate with joy the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from her arose the sun of justice, Christ our God.” (Entrance Antiphon for feast day)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sept. 5, 2018: Mother Teresa

Sept. 5, 2018: Mother Teresa
(You are invited to Special feast day mass for Mother Teresa with Bishop Michael Duca at St. Agnes Catholic Church, Sept. 5, 2018, 5PM located 749 East Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA 70802)

I Give What I Have
Deep down in every human heart there is a knowledge of God. And deep down in every human heart there is the desire to communicate with Him. And therefore, the word that I speak… is true, because I am a Catholic, and a sister totally [consecrated] in vows to God. Naturally I can only give what I have. But I think everybody… knows deep down in their hearts that there is God, and that we have been created to love and to be loved; that we have not been created to be just a number in the world. But we have been created for some purpose, and that purpose is to be love, to be compassion, to be goodness, to be joy, to serve. 

You see that in animal life [even], there is love between animals, there is the love of the mother animal to the little child, to the little animal to which she has given birth; it is engraved in us, that love. So I don’t think it is difficult for you; you can express that in your own words; but you know very well that every single… person… knows that God IS love, and that God loves them, otherwise they would not be, they would not exist; and that God wants us to love one another as He loves us. We all know! Everybody knows—how God loves you. Each one of us knows. Because otherwise we cannot exist. The proof of our existence is that God—somebody who is higher, somebody who is greater—is holding us, protecting us. 

Life is life, and the most beautiful gift of God to a human family, to the nation, and to the whole world [is] the child. And therefore if the child is born a disabled child, we cannot destroy it. We cannot destroy the unborn child; we cannot destroy the born child. If your parents did not want you, you would not be here today. If my mother didn’t want me, there would be no Mother Teresa. So I think it is good that our parents wanted us. And it is for us to help our people. If a mother is not able to take care of that deserted child, it is for you and for me to help them to take care of that child. That is the gift of God to that family. 

-St. Teresa of Calcutta