Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 2013 Wednesday: St Ignatius of Loyola

Lord, where do you send us to bring your love and mercy to others? There are no borders, no limits: you send us to everyone. Grant us the grace to remember that your love is not only for those who seem close to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Help us not to be afraid to go and to bring the Gospel into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. You seek all, and you want everyone to feel the warmth of your mercy and love.

—Pope Francis, adapted from World Youth Day Homily , July 28, 2013

Meditation: What do you most treasure and how do you keep it secure? In a peasant community the best safe was often the earth. The man in the parable "went in his joy" to sell everything. Why? Because he found a treasure worth possessing above everything else he had. He did not, however, have enough to buy the treasure. Fortunately, he only needed enough money to buy the field. In a similar fashion, God offers his kingdom as incomparable treasure at a price we can afford! We can't pay the full price for the life which God gives us; but when we exchange our life for the life which God offers, we receive a treasure beyond compare. The pearl of great price also tells us a similar lesson. Pearls in the ancient world came to represent the supremely valuable. Jesus remarked that one should not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Why would a merchant sell everything for a peerless pearl? No doubt because he was attracted to what he thought was the greatest treasure he could possess.

Discovering God's kingdom is like stumbling across hidden treasure or finding the one pearl of great price. When we discover the kingdom of God we receive the greatest possible treasure – the Lord himself. Selling all that we have to obtain this incomparable treasure could mean many things – our friends, job, our "style of life", what we do with our free time. Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. In this parable what does the treasure of the kingdom refer to? It certainly refers to the kingdom of God in all its aspects. But in a special way, the Lord himself is the treasure we seek. If the Almighty is your gold and your precious silver, then you will delight yourself in the Almighty (Job 22:22-23). Is the Lord the treasure and delight of your heart?

"Lord Jesus, reveal to me the true riches of your kingdom. Help me to set my heart on you alone as the treasure beyond compare with any other. Free my heart of any inordinate desires or attachment to other things that I may freely give to you all that I have in joy and gratitude for all that you have given to me. May I always find joy and delight in your presence."

Don Schwager,

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30, 2013 Tuesday: 17th Week in Ordinary Time C

Each of us is called to be
both a sacrifice to God and God’s priest.
Do not forfeit what God confers on you.
Put on the garment of holiness,
let the cross on your forehead
be your unfailing protection.
Let your heart be an altar,
on which you offer yourself to God.
— St. Peter Chrysologus

Are you quick to judge the faults of others? Jesus’ parable teaches us patience lest we judge before the time is right. Jesus also warns that there is an enemy who seeks to destroy the good seed of his word before it can bear fruit. Both good and evil can be sown in our hearts like tiny seeds which germinate, and in due time yield a harvest of good or bad fruit. We must stand guard lest evil take root in our hearts and corrupt us. Charles Read said: “Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” In the day of judgment each will reap what he or she has sown in this life. Those who sow good will shine in the kingdom of their Father. They will radiate with the beauty, joy, and fulness of God’s love. Do you allow the love of Jesus Christ to rule in your heart, thoughts, and actions?

"Lord Jesus, may your all-consuming love rule in my heart and transform my life that I may sow what is good, worthy, and pleasing to you.”

Don Schwager,

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29, 2013 Monday: St. Martha

What gives us hope and joy in the face of death? The loss of a loved one naturally produces grief and anguish of heart. When Martha, the sister of Lazarus and a close friend of Jesus, heard that Jesus was coming to pay respects for the loss of Lazarus, she immediately went out to meet him before he could get to her house. What impelled her to leave the funeral party in order to seek Jesus out? Was it simply the companionship and consolation of a friend who loved her brother deeply? Or did she recognize in Jesus the hope that God would restore life?

Martha, like many Orthodox Jews, believed in the life to come. The loss of her brother did not diminish her hope in the resurrection. She even gently chides Jesus for not coming soon enough to save Lazarus from an untimely death. Jesus does something unexpected and remarkable both to strengthen her faith and hope in the life to come and to give her a sign of what he was to accomplish through his own death and resurrection. Jesus gave to her belief a new and profound meaning: He came from the Father to defeat sin and death for us and to restore life to those who believe in him. Jesus states unequivocally the he himself is the Resurrection and the Life. The life he offers is abundant life – life which issues from God himself. And eternal life – the fulness of life which knows no end. Do you seek the abundant life which Jesus offers to those who believe in him?

"Lord Jesus, you are the Resurrection and the Life. Strengthen my faith and hope in your promises that I may radiate the joy of the gospel to others."

Don Schwager,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

July 28, 2013: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Have you ever met someone who seemed to have everything “figured out” and have it “all together”? Are you the type to have it all “figured out”? I came across a quote which read, “I finally got it all figured out and then I forgot where I put it.” Do you ever feel that way? For the most part, we are attracted to people who seem confident and in control.
Jesus must have been an impressive figure to the disciples. He must have appeared to have it all together and figured out. The disciples were attracted to him, for he had a sense of authority. At some point, the disciples noticed that Jesus would retreat each night to pray by himself, and they were probably curious if his prayer life had something to do with his confidence and sense of authority.

How is your prayer life? How is your prayer life when things are difficult, depressing, painful, and when you feel afraid? When was the last time you prayed with your spouse? Does your prayer time somehow rejuvenate you just as it renewed Jesus? Do you wish that your prayer life was better than it is now? Perhaps the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray” because they yearned for the peace they saw in him.

Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is inviting us to know His Father who is our Father. After a long grueling day of teaching in villages, Jesus’ comfort and solace was in speaking with His Father. He spoke to His Father about challenges of the day. He asked especially for all who came to him for healing, those who needed forgiveness of their sins, and those who needed freedom from the evil one. He also asked His Father to replenish his strength and renew His determination to do His Father’s will. Could we also benefit from this type of prayer after a long and challenging day?

One of the funerals at our parish this week was for a woman whose life changed abruptly about 20 years ago when she was a vibrant mother and grandmother in her 50’s, and who very active in parish life and in the life of the community. She underwent a routine back surgery, but something went wrong during the procedure and oxygen was cut off to her brain. She went into coma and woke up with severe brain damage which left her unable to use her muscles and speak. Can you imagine what she was feeling after she woke up from her coma? Her family was in shock as well. Some children were angry at God. “God, if you are all loving and kind God, how could you let this happen to our mom who lived her life faithfully serving You?” Some of her children stayed away from the church for awhile.

For 20 years, this mother was bedridden and unable to take care of herself. She had to be fed, clothed, and washed. What do you think her prayer life was like? She was unable to hold a rosary in her hands to pray as she used to, for both of her hands were clenched in a fist.  I imagine that through these years, in her own way, she was able to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and as she began the words, “Our Father,” she was able to forget about herself and could gaze up to Heaven to see the Heavenly Father. Having prayed these words so many times before her illness, I feel that the moment she prayed, “Hallowed be Thy name,” she lifted everything she had--her pain-racked body, her love for Him--all of what she had, to praise Him. I wonder how many times she prayed for healing of her body over the 20 years. I believe that when she prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,” she left everything up to Heavenly Father, for she was at a place where her interior attitude is that of complete openness. She was willing to do whatever God wills in order to bring more glory to Him.

What a beautiful prayer that Jesus taught us! We must remember that it’s not a rote prayer. It is a prayer of trust and surrender of everything into the hands of loving Father. When prayed with reverence and expectant faith, Heavenly Father will give us the same strength and determination that He gave Jesus.

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26, 2013 Friday: St. Anne and St Joachim, Parents of Blessed Mother

How good are you at listening, especially for the word of God? God is ever ready to speak to each of us and to give us understanding of his word. This parable of Jesus is a warning to those who hear and who preach the word of God. What makes us ineffective and unresponsive to God's word? Preoccupation with other things can distract us from what is truly important and worthwhile. And letting our hearts and minds be consumed with material things can easily weigh us down and draw us away from the treasure that lasts for eternity. God's word can only take root in a receptive heart which is docile and ready to hear what God has to say. One lesson is clear: the harvest is sure.While some seed will fall by the wayside and some fall on shallow ground and never come to maturity, and some be choked to death by the thorns; nonetheless a harvest will come. The seed that falls on good soil, on the heart that is receptive, will reap abundant fruit. Are you teachable and eager to learn God's truth? And do you allow anything to keep you from submitting to God's word with joy and trusting obedience?

"Lord Jesus, help me to guard the word you have planted in my heart that no doubt or temptation may keep me from believing and obeying you. May I be fruitful in your service and may I never fear to speak of you to others and to share with them the good news of the gospel."

Don Schwager,

Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25, 2013 Thursday: Homily of Pope Francis, Copacabana prayer service

Homily of Pope Francis: Copacabana prayer service
July 25th, 2013
Rio de Janeiro

Dear Friends,

“It is good for us to be here!”, Peter cries out after seeing the Lord Jesus transfigured in glory. Do we want to repeat these words with him? I think the answer is yes, because here today, it is good for all of us to be gathered together around Jesus! It is he who welcomes us and who is present in our midst here in Rio. In the Gospel we have heard God the Father say: “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to him!” (Lk 9:35). If it is Jesus who welcomes us, we too ought to welcome him and listen to his words; it is precisely through the welcome we give to Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, that the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future, and enables us joyfully to advance along that way with wings of hope (cf. Lumen Fidei, 7).

But what can we do? “Bota fé – put on faith”. The World Youth Day Cross has proclaimed these words throughout its pilgrimage in Brazil. “Put on faith”: what does this mean? When we prepare a plate of food and we see that it needs salt, well, we “put on” salt; when it needs oil, then you “put on” oil. “To put on”, that is, to place on top of, to pour over. And so it is in our life, dear young friends: if we want it to have real meaning and fulfilment, as you want and as you deserve, I say to each one of you, “Put on faith”, and your life will take on a new flavour, it will have a compass to show you the way; “put on hope” and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark, but luminous; “put on love”, and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful, because you will find many friends to journey with you. Put on faith, put on hope, put on love!

But who can give us all this? In the Gospel we have just heard the answer: Christ. “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” Jesus is the one who brings God to us and us to God. With him, our life is transformed and renewed, and we can see reality with new eyes, from Jesus’ standpoint, with his own eyes (cf. Lumen Fidei, 18). For this reason, I want to insist with you today: “Put on Christ!” in your life, and you will find a friend in whom you can always trust; “put on Christ” and you will see the wings of hope spreading and letting you journey with joy towards the future; “put on Christ” and your life will be full of his love; it will be a fruitful life.

Today, I would like each of us to ask sincerely: in whom do we place our trust? In ourselves, in material things, or in Jesus? We are all tempted to put ourselves at the centre, to think that we alone build our lives or that our life can only be happy if built on possessions, money, or power. But it is not so. Certainly, possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied. “Put on Christ” in your life, place your trust in him and you will never be disappointed! You see how faith accomplishes a revolution in us, one which we can call Copernican, because it removes us from the centre and restores it to God; faith immerses us in his love and gives us security, strength, and hope. To all appearances, nothing has changed; yet, in the depths of our being, everything is different. Peace, consolation, gentleness, courage, serenity and joy, which are all fruits of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22), find a home in our heart, and our very being is transformed; our way of thinking and acting is made new, it becomes Jesus’ own, God’s own, way of thinking and acting. During the Year of Faith, this World Youth Day is truly a gift offered to us to draw us closer to the Lord, to be his disciples and his missionaries, to let him renew our lives.

Dear young people: “Put on Christ” in your lives. In these days, Christ awaits you in his word; listen carefully to him and your heart will be warmed by his presence; “Put on Christ”: he awaits you in the sacrament of Penance, to heal by his mercy the wounds caused by sin. Do not be afraid to ask God’s forgiveness! He never tires of forgiving us, like a father who loves us. God is pure mercy! “Put on Christ”: he is waiting for you in his flesh in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his presence and his sacrifice of love, and in the humanity of the many young people who will enrich you with their friendship, encourage you by their witness to the faith, and teach you the language of charity, goodness and service.

You too, dear young people, can be joyful witnesses of his love, courageous witnesses of his Gospel, carrying to this world a ray of his light.
“It is good for us to be here”, putting on Christ in our lives, putting on the faith, hope and love which he gives us. Dear friends, in this celebration we have welcomed the image of Our Lady of Aparecida. With Mary, may we be disciples and missionaries. Like her, may we say “Yes” to God. Let us ask that her maternal heart intercede for us, so that our hearts may be open to loving Jesus and making others love him. He is waiting for us, and he is counting on us. Amen.

July 25, 2013 Thursday: St. James the Apostle

Who doesn't want to be first, and to be esteemed and honored by others? We seem to have an unquenchable thirst for recognition and fame, power and authority to rule our own lives as we please as well as the lives of others. Should we be surprised to see the disciples of Jesus thirsting for power, position, and authority? James and John, the sons of Zebedee, urged their mother to strike a deal with Jesus, their Master and Messiah. They wanted the distinction of being first and most important in position, next to Jesus, of course!
When Jesus called the twelve apostles to be his inner circle of disciples who would teach and exercise spiritual authority on his behalf, he did the unthinkable! Jesus taught contrary to the world's understanding of power, authority, and position, by reversing the order of master and servant, lord and subject, first and last! Jesus wedded authority with love, position with sacrifice, and service with humility. Authority without love is over-bearing and slavish. Position without respect and concern for the subordinate is demeaning and rude. And service without generosity and sacrifice is cheap and unkind.

Those who wish to serve with the Lord Jesus and to exercise authority in God's kingdom must be prepared to sacrifice not just some of their time, money, and resources but their whole lives and all that they possess! Jesus used stark language to explain what kind of sacrifice he had in mind. His disciples must drink his cup if they expect to reign with him in his kingdom. The cup he had in mind was a bitter one involving crucifixion. What kind of cup does the Lord have in mind for us? For some disciples such a cup entails physical suffering and the painful struggle of martyrdom. But for many, it entails the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and temptations.

A disciple of Jesus must be ready to lay down his or her life each and every day in the little and big sacrifices required and even to the point of shedding one's blood if necessary for the sake of Christ and his gospel. What makes such sacrifice a joy rather than a burden? It is love the kind of "love which God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). An early church father summed up Jesus' teaching with the expression: "to serve is to reign with Christ." We share in God's reign by laying down our lives in humble service and love for one another, just as Jesus did for our sake. Are you ready to lay down your life and to serve others as Jesus has taught and modeled for us?

"Lord Jesus, make me a servant of love for your kingdom, that I may seek to serve rather than be served. Inflame my heart with love that I may give generously and serve joyfully for your sake."

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24, 2013 Wednesday: Pope Francis in Rio WYD 2013

Openness to being surprised by God is an attitude which marks the life of a Christian, Pope Francis said in his homily at Brazil's Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida during his first World Youth Day Mass.

“God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us,” Pope Francis taught at a Mass July 24, after he had venerated the shrine's image of Our Lady.

“But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God!”

Pope Francis came to Aparecida, “the house of the Mother of every Brazilian,” about 160 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, earlier today by helicopter. He was greeted by Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida and by the shrine's rector.

Following the Mass, he will visit Aparecida's seminary, and then return to Rio de Janeiro to visit St. Francis hospital.

The Pope's Marian devotion was evident at the Mass, as the shrine of Brazil's patroness was the site of his first Mass for the week-long World Youth Day. He also remembered that the day after he was elected Bishop of Rome, he consecrated his papal ministry to Our Lady at the church of Saint Mary Major.

Similarly, he had come to Aparecida to “place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.”

Pope Francis also remembered the 2007 gathering of Latin American bishops at the shrine, which led to a document which emphasized mission in the region. He noted that “it is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship,” adding, “that is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.”

Looking forward to World Youth Day, he said, “I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary … that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”

It was in this context that he introduced three “attitudes” of the Christian life: hopefulness, an openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.

Examining the Mass' reading from the book of Revelation about the woman chased by a dragon, Pope Francis said that while there are “many difficulties” in each person's life, “God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them.”

“Let us never lose hope,” he urged. Though there are “moments of discouragement” as we try to evangelize or “to embody our faith as parents within the family,” he encouraged us to “always know in your heart that God is by your side.”

God is the object of our hope, taught the Bishop of Rome, and he is “the one with the upper hand” in the face of evil and the devil.

Everyone, he said, “to some extent … feels attracted” to the idols of “money, success, power, pleasure,” echoing the three temptations – riches, honor and pride – considered by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

“Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols,” Pope Francis reflected.

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope,” in light of this situation, he urged. “Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world.”

Youth do not solely need material things, he taught, but “above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people … spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy.”

This attitude of hope leads to an openness to being surprised by God, he said.

“Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us.”

The Pope recalled the founding of the Aparecida shrine, which was erected after three fisherman discovered in the area an image of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, after a day of catching no fish.

“Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother,” he asked.

Yet this shows that God is always other, always greater, and “God always surprises us … always saves the best for us.”

Being open to the surprise, the utter otherness of God, allows “the wine of joy, the wine of hope” never to run out in the Christian life.

“If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.”

Pope Francis finally linked hope and openness to God's surprises to the final attitude, living in joy.

“If we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy.”

Joy marks the Christian life, he said, and Christians “are never gloomy,” for “God is at our side.”

“We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us.”

He added, “Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father,” who resurrected his Son so that “sin and death have been defeated.”

“If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will 'light up' with a joy that spreads to everyone around us.”

The Pope remembered the words of Benedict XVI at the 2007 meeting at Aparecida, where he said that “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.”

Pope Francis concluded saying “we have come to knock at the door of Mary's house.”

“She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to 'do whatever he tells you.'”

“Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.”

Aparecida, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 / 08:40 am (CNA/EWTN News)

July 24, 2013 Wednesday: 16th Week of Ordinary Time C

"A hundredfold"

Just as all the force of the laws and commandments God gave to men comes to fulfillment in purity of heart (as the Fathers say), so all the means and methods with which God is prayed come to fulfillment in pure prayer. Groanings, prostrations, petitions, lamentations: all the forms that prayer can take have their end, in fact, in pure prayer... Meditation no longer has anything to detain it: neither prayers, nor movements, nor lamentation, nor power, nor liberty, nor petition, nor desire, nor pleasure in what it hopes for in this life or in that which is to come. After pure prayer there is no other... Beyond this limit lies wonder and no longer prayer; prayer ceases and contemplation begins...

Prayer is the sowing and contemplation the harvest of the grain. The reaper is astonished to see what cannot be expressed: how is it that from the tiny, bare seeds he has sown such abundant sheaves can have suddenly sprung up before his eyes? The sight of his harvest takes his breath away...
Just as hardly a man in several thousands can be found to fulfill a little less badly the commandments and things of the Law and come to purity of soul, so one in a thousand can be found who is worthy, with much vigilance, of attaining pure prayer, of crossing the threshold and discovering this mystery. For it is not granted to many but to few to know pure prayer.

Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Discourses, 1st series, no.32

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23, 2013 Tuesday: 16th Week in Ordinary Time C

Who do you love and cherish the most? God did not intend for us to be alone, but to be with others. He gives us many opportunities for developing relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Why does Jesus seem to ignore his own relatives when they pressed to see him? His love and respect for his mother and his relatives is unquestionable. Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach his disciples a spiritual lesson and truth about the kingdom of God. On this occasion when many gathered to hear Jesus he pointed to another higher reality of relationships, namely our relationship with God and with those who belong to God.

What is the essence of being a Christian? It is certainly more than doctrine, precepts, and commandments. It is first and foremost a relationship a relationship of trust, affection, commitment, loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion, mercy, helpfulness, encouragement, support, strength, protection, and so many other qualities that bind people together in mutual love and unity. God offers us the greatest of relationships union of heart, mind, and spirit with himself, the very author and source of love (1 John 4:8,16). God's love never fails, never forgets, never compromises, never lies, never lets us down nor disappoints us. His love is consistent, unwavering, unconditional, and unstopable. Nothing can deter him from ever leaving us, ignoring us, or treating us unkindly. He will love us no matter what. It is his nature to love. That is why he created us to be united with him and to share in his love and unity of persons (1 John 3:1). God is a trinity of persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and a community of love. That is why Jesus challenged his followers and even his own earthly relatives to recognize that God is the true source of all relationships. God wants all of our relationships to be rooted in his love.

It is through Jesus that we become the adopted children of God his own sons and daughters. That is why Jesus told his disciples that they would have many new friends and family relationships in his kingdom. Whoever does the will of God is a friend of God and a member of his family his sons and daughters who have been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ.

An early Christian martyr once said that "a Christian's only relatives are the saints" namely those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and adopted as sons and daughters of God. Those who have been baptized into Jesus Christ and who live as his disciples enter into a new family, a family of "saints" here on earth and in heaven. Jesus changes the order of relationships and shows that true kinship is not just a matter of flesh and blood. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God transforms all of our relationships and requires a new order of loyalty to God first and to his kingdom of righteousness and peace. Do you want to grow in love and friendship? Allow God's Holy Spirit to transform your heart, mind, and will to enable you to love freely and generously as he loves.

"Heavenly Father, you bless us with many relationships and you invite us into the community of your sons and daughters who have been redeemed by your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love my neighbor with charity, kindness, compassion, and mercy, just as you have loved me. In all of my relationships, and in all that I do and say, may I always seek to bring you honor and glory."

Don Schwager,

Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22, 2013 Monday: St Mary Magdalene

She longed for Christ, though she thought he had been taken away

On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves - I sought him but I did not find him. 
I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves. I sought him but I did not find him. 
The watchmen came upon me as they made their rounds of the city: Have you seen him whom my heart loves? 
I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves. I took hold of him and would not let him go till I should bring him to the home of my mother, to the room of my parent. - Song of Songs 3:1-4

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord's body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary's attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her "woman"; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

Saint Gregory the Great (c.540-604), Pope, Doctor of the Church (Homily on the Gospel of John; PL 76, 1189-1193)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 21, 2013: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Do you ever feel too busy? I don’t know about you, but I have all sorts of tools to help me get organized, such as reminder and to-do apps on my phone, a thick paper calendar, and lots of sticky notes stuck on my desk, but even with all of that, I sometimes feel unorganized, hopelessly behind in my to-do’s, and overwhelmed. Before I entered the seminary, I took a time management class offered by the company I worked for and learned some important techniques such as, “First things first,” “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “Begin with end in mind.” At the end of the day, though, I felt busy.

Aren't you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don't you often hope: 'May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.' But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running haphazardly, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burnout.

All of us can identify with Martha in today’s gospel. Martha was overwhelmed and there was not enough time in a day to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish. Yet she was convinced that what she was doing for Jesus was absolutely important.  She expressed her frustration to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Haven’t we also had occasions when we complained to Jesus about having too many things on our plate and not enough help to accomplish them to satisfaction?

So Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” If Jesus was to tell you the same thing after you complain to him about how busy you are, would you be satisfied? What is he telling each of us?
Jesus is addressing our desire to please. Many of our internal voices stem from what we think God expects of us and what others expect of us in order for us to be loveable. While in the seminary, I made a resolve to offer a one-year novena.  It took me 30 minutes each day to pray the novena and after 10 months, the prayer became a to-do on my list. My spiritual director asked me, “Paul, are you doing this so that God will love you more? Will God love you more if you pray all four mysteries of the rosary every day? What if you miss one? Do you fear that God will love you less?”

Would it be a relief to us if we learned that we did not have to accomplish many things in order to please God? One quote that I treasure from Mother Teresa is, “It’s not how much you do, but how much love you put in doing. It’s not how much you give, but how much love you put in giving. To God there is nothing small. The moment we have given it to God, it becomes infinite.”

Sometimes we say to God, “Lord, I resolve each day to read several chapters of scripture.” But what God simply wanted from us was for us to take one verse from scripture and dialogue a few minutes with him. Sometimes we feel that God is asking us to evangelize to many persons when he is simply asking us to speak lovingly about him to one person we meet that day. When we truly know that God already loves us without us trying to earn his love, we don’t have to be an overachiever. He simply asks us, “My son, my daughter, do you desire to be near me as I am always near you?”  If you are having trouble feeling close to God -- or even wanting to draw close -- you might consider what activities you are using to fill the empty places of your life.

The story of Mary and Martha was never meant to be a psychological profile or a role play in which we choose the character with whom we most identify. This is a story of two different responses to one singular occasion. In it, we should find not our personality type, but the kind of heart Christ longs for us to have. Let us spend some time this week asking Jesus how we can order our day to do one thing necessary--that is, to spend quality time with him.

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19, 2013 Friday: 15th Week in Ordinary Time C

What does the commandment "keep holy the Sabbath" require of us? Or better yet, what is the primary intention behind this command? The religious leaders confronted Jesus on this issue. The "Sabbath rest" was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God's goodness and the goodness of his work, both in creation and redemption. It was a day set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on our behalf. It was intended to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment. Jesus' disciples are scolded by the scribes and Pharisees, not for plucking and eating corn from the fields, but for doing so on the Sabbath. In defending his disciples, Jesus argues from the scriptures that human need has precedence over ritual custom. In their hunger, David and his men ate of the holy bread offered in the Temple. Jesus also quoted of the Sabbath work involved in worship in the Temple. This kind of work was usually double the work of worship on weekdays. Jesus then quotes from the prophet Hosea (6:6): I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. While the claims of ritual sacrifice are important to God, mercy and kindness in response to human need are even more important. Do you honor the Lord in the way you treat your neighbor and celebrate the Lord's Day?

"Lord, make us to walk in your way: Where there is love and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance; where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor annoyance; where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice; where there is peace and contemplation, there is neither care nor restlessness; where there is the fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter; where there is mercy and prudence, there is neither excess nor harshness; this we know through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Prayer of Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226)

Don Schwager,

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18, 2013 Thursday: 15th Week in Ordinary C

What does the yoke of Jesus refer to in the gospel? The Jews used the image of a yoke to express submission to God. They spoke of the yoke of the law, the yoke of the commandments, the yoke of the kingdom, the yoke of God. Jesus says his yoke is "easy". The Greek word for "easy" can also mean "well-fitting". Yokes were tailor-made to fit the oxen well. Oxen were yoked two by two. Jesus invites us to be yoked with him, to unite our life with his life, our will with his will, and our heart with his heart. To be yoked with Jesus is to be united with him in a relationship of love, trust, and obedience.

Jesus also says his "burden is light". There's a story of a man who once met a boy carrying a smaller crippled lad on his back. "That's a heavy load you are carrying there," exclaimed the man. "He ain't heavy; he's my brother!" responded the boy. No burden is too heavy when it's given in love and carried in love. When we yoke our lives with Jesus, he also carries our burdens with us and gives us his strength to follow in his way of love. Do you know the joy of resting in Jesus' presence and walking daily with him along the path he has for you?

Jesus offers us a new kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. In his kingdom sins are not only forgiven but removed, and eternal life is poured out for all its citizens. This is not a political kingdom, but a spiritual one. The yoke of Christ's kingdom, his kingly rule and way of life, liberates us from the burden of guilt and from the oppression of sinful habits and hurtful desires. Only Jesus can lift the burden of sin and the weight of hopelessness from us. Jesus used the analogy of a yoke to explain how we can exchange the burden of sin and despair for a weight of glory and victory with him. The yoke which Jesus invites us to embrace is his way of love, grace, and freedom from the power of sin. Do you trust in God's love and submit to his will and plan for your life?

"Lord Jesus, inflame my heart with love for you and for your ways and help me to exchange the yoke of rebellion for the yoke of submission to your holy and loving word. Set me free from the folly of my own sinful ignorance and rebellious pride that I may wholly desire what is good and in accord with your will."

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17, 2013 Wednesday: 15th Week in Ordinary C

Do you want to know the mind and thoughts of God? Jesus thanks the Father in heaven for revealing to his disciples the wisdom and knowledge of God. What does Jesus' prayer tell us about God and about ourselves? First, it tells us that God is both Father and Lord of earth as well as heaven. He is both Creator and Author of all that he has made, the first origin of everything and transcendent authority, and at the same time, goodness and loving care for all his children. All fatherhood and motherhood is derived from him (Ephesians 3:14-15). Jesus' prayer also contains a warning that pride can keep us from the love and knowledge of God. What makes us ignorant and blind to the things of God? Certainly intellectual pride, coldness of heart, and stubbornness of will shut out God and his kingdom. Pride is the root of all vice and the strongest influence propelling us to sin. It first vanquishes the heart, making it cold and indifferent towards God. It also closes the mind to God's truth and wisdom for our lives. What is pride? It is the inordinate love of oneself at the expense of others and the exaggerated estimation of one's own learning and importance.

Jesus contrasts intellectual pride with child-like simplicity and humility. The simple of heart are like "infants" in the sense that they see purely without pretense and acknowledge their dependence and trust in the one who is greater, wiser, and more trustworthy. They seek one thing the "summum bonum" or "greatest good" who is God himself. Simplicity of heart is wedded with humility, the queen of virtues, because humility inclines the heart towards grace and truth. Just as pride is the root of every sin and evil, so humility is the only soil in which the grace of God can take root. It alone takes the right attitude before God and allows him as God to do all. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6). Only the humble in heart can receive true wisdom and understanding of God and his ways. Do you submit to God's word with simple trust and humility?

Jesus makes a claim which no one would have dared to make he is the perfect revelation of God. One of the greatest truths of the Christian faith is that we can know the living God. Our knowledge of God is not simply limited to knowing something about God, but we can know God personally. The essence of Christianity, and what makes it distinct from Judaism and other religions, is the knowledge of God as our Father. Jesus makes it possible for each of us to personally know God as our Father. To see Jesus is to see what God is like. In Jesus we see the perfect love of God a God who cares intensely and who yearns over men and women, loving them to the point of laying down his life for them upon the Cross. Jesus is the revelation of God a God who loves us completely, unconditionally, and perfectly. Jesus also promises that God the Father will hear our prayers when we pray in his name. That is why Jesus taught his followers to pray with confidence, Our Father who art in heaven ..give us this day our daily bread. Do you pray to your Father in heaven with joy and confidence in his love and care for you?

"Lord Jesus, give me the child-like simplicity and purity of faith to gaze upon your face with joy and confidence in your all-merciful love. Remove every doubt, fear, and proud thought which would hinder me from receiving your word with trust and humble submission."

Don Schwager,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013 Tuesday: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is worldwide, and most Catholics are familiar with the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular. Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251, and gave him the scapular with the following words, which are preserved in a fourteenth century narrative: "This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was instituted for the Carmelites in 1332, and extended to the whole Church by Benedict XIII in 1726.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Today is the principal feast day of the Carmelite Order. Through the efforts of the crusader Berthold, a group of hermits living on Mount Carmel were organized into an Order after the traditional Western type about the year 1150. Oppressed by the Saracens, the monks slowly emigrated to Europe. During the night preceding the sixteenth of July, 1225, the Blessed Virgin is said to have commanded Pope Honorius III to approve the foundation. Since the Carmelites were still under constant harassment, the sixth General of the Order, St. Simon Stock, pleaded with the Blessed Virgin for some special sign of her protection. On July 16, 1251, she designated the scapular as the special mark of her maternal love. That is why the present feast is also known as the feast of the Scapular. The scapular, as part of the habit, is common to many religious Orders, but it is a special feature of the Carmelites. A smaller form of the scapular is given to lay persons in order that they may share in the great graces associated with it. Such a grace is the "Sabbatine privilege." In the so-called Bulla Sabbatina John XXII affirmed that wearers of the scapular are soon freed from the flames of purgatory, at least by the Saturday after death. The confirmation of the Bulla Sabbatina was promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences, July 4, 1908.
Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15, 2013 Monday: St. Bonnaventure

Jesus, pierce my soul with your love
so that I may always long for you alone,
the fulfillment of the soul’s deepest desires.
May my heart always hunger and feed on you,
my soul thirst for you, the source of life, wisdom,
knowledge, light and all the riches of God.
May I always seek and find you,
think about you, speak to you
and do everything for your honor and glory.
Be always my hope, my peace,
my refuge and my help
in whom my heart if rooted,
so that I may never be separated from you. Amen.

— St. Bonaventure

July 15, 2013 Monday: 15th Week in Ordinary C

Why does Jesus describe his mission and the coming of God's kingdom in terms of conflict, division, and war? Jesus came in peace to reconcile a broken and sinful humanity with an all-merciful and loving God. Jesus also came to wage war, to overthrow the powers and principalities arrayed against God and his kingdom. What are these powers? Jesus describes Satan as the ruler of this world whom he will cast out (John 12:31). The battle Jesus had in mind was not an earthly conflict between nations, but a spiritual warfare between the forces of Satan and the armies of heaven. The scriptures make clear that there are ultimately only two powers or kingdoms God's kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. John contrast these two kingdoms in the starkest of terms: We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).
What does Satan seek? To be the ruler of his destiny and master of his universe. Satans goal is to bring as many people as possible into his kingdom, and to neutralize or remove anyone who tries to stand in his way. Satan is fiercely determined to not rest until he has won over the hearts, minds, and souls of every person living on the face of the earth today. Satan is opposed to God and to everyone who swears allegiance to God's authority and rule in their lives. The evil one has but one aim the complete domination of our heart, mind, and will to his kingdom. And he will use any means possible to draw us from good to evil, from truth to deception, from light to darkness, and from life to death. There are no neutral parties in this spiritual battle. We are either for or against the kingdom of God. The choices we make and the actions we take reveal whose kingdom we choose to follow. Jesus came to overthrow Satan's power and to set us free from everything that would keep us from the love of God and his wise rule in our lives freedom from slavery to sin and our unruly desires, freedom from fear, greed, and selfishness.

When Jesus spoke about division he likely had in mind the prophecy of Micah: a man's enemies are the men of his own household (Micah 7:6). The love of God compels us to choose who will be first in our lives. To place any relationship or anything else above God is a form of idolatry. Jesus challenges his disciples to examine who they love first and foremost. A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin. It is possible that family and friends can become our enemies, if the thought of them keeps us from doing what we know God wants us to do.

True love for God compels us to express charity towards our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus declared that any kindness shown and any help given to the people of Christ will not lose its reward. Jesus never refused to give to anyone in need who asked for his help. As his disciples we are called to be kind and generous as he is. Jesus sets before his disciples the one goal in life that is worth any sacrifice and that goal is the will of God which leads to everlasting life, peace, and joy with God. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)?

"Lord, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has conceived the things you have prepared for those who love you. Set us ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we may love you in and above all things and so receive the rewards you have promised us through Christ our Lord." (from A Christian's Prayer Book)

Don Schwager,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 14, 2013: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

This week, our social responsibility coordinator and I sat across from folks who came in for assistance with utilities and food. As I listened to each story, I could not resist wondering how much of their story was true. Perhaps my attitude was similar to that of the priest and the Levite in today’s Gospel. The priest and the Levite probably asked themselves, ‘Did the man really need the help or was he faking it?’ It was safer and perhaps less troublesome to look the other way than risk finding out.

One young lady we talked to said her trailer partially burned in a fire, and she asked for a small window air conditioning unit that would cool her living room. She said five persons lived in the trailer. Later in the afternoon, I delivered the window unit to the trailer.  Outside, I saw their fire damaged refrigerator and partially burnt couch. Inside, I saw the charred living room wall where the fire started. The ceiling also showed fire damage. Her story turned out to be true, and she did need the help.

Jesus told a dramatic story in today’s gospel in response to a devout Jew who wanted to understand how to apply God's great commandment of love to his everyday life circumstances. In so many words this religious-minded Jew said: "I want to love God as best as I can and I want to love my neighbor as well. But how do I know that I am fulfilling my duty to love my neighbor as myself?" The real issue for this believer was the correct definition of who is "my neighbor".  He understood "neighbor" to mean a fellow Jew. Jesus challenged him to see that God's view of neighbor went far beyond his narrow definition.

Jesus told a parable to show how wide God's love and mercy is towards every fellow human being. Jesus' story of a brutal highway robbery was all too familiar to his audience. We, too, are familiar with violent robbery, for we are bombarded with such terrible stories on the 5 O’Clock news every day.

Why didn't the priest and Levite stop to help? For the priest, his piety got in the way of charity. For the Levite, his personal safety came ahead of saving his neighbor. So what does Jesus' story tell us about true love for one's neighbor? First, we must be willing to help even if others brought trouble on themselves through their own fault or negligence. Second, our love and concern to help others in need must be practical. Good intentions and showing pity, or empathizing with others, are not enough. And lastly, our love for others must be as wide and as inclusive as God's love. God excludes no one from his care and concern. God's love is unconditional. So we must be ready to do good to others for their sake, just as God is good to us. Jesus not only taught God's way of love, but he showed how far God was willing to go to share in our suffering and to restore us to wholeness of life and happiness.

Mother Teresa puts all this into one simple sentence: “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” The next time we encounter a person that we’d rather step away from, let Mother Teresa say to you, “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013 Friday: 14th Week in Ordinary C

What does Jesus mean when he says his disciples must be sheep in the midst of wolves? The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when wolves and lambs will dwell in peace (Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25). This certainly refers to the second coming of Christ when all will be united under the Lordship of Jesus after he has put down his enemies and established the reign of God over the heavens and the earth. In the meantime, the disciples must expect opposition and persecution from those who oppose the gospel. Jesus never hesitated to tell his disciples what they might expect if they followed him. Here Jesus says to his disciples: This is my task for you at its grimmest and worst; do you accept it? This is not the world's way of offering a job. After the defeat at Dunkirk, Churchill offered his country blood, toil, sweat, and tears. This is not the message we prefer to hear when the Lord Jesus commissions us in his service. Nonetheless, our privilege is to follow in the footsteps of the Master
who laid down his life for us. Are you willing to accept hardship and suffering in following after the Lord?

"Lord Jesus, help me to patiently and joyfully accept the hardships, adversities, and persecution which come my way in serving you. Strengthen my faith and give me courage that I may not shrink back from doing your will."

Don Schwager,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11, 2013 Thursday: St Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict and the Twelve Steps of Humility

July 11th is the feast day of St. Benedict the great founder of monastic communities all across Italy. St. Benedict was born around 480 AD and died around 543 AD. After much difficulty in settling monastic communities and maintaining them, St. Benedict set out to write his thoughts regarding the right schedule and life style proper to a monk in a monastic community. St. Benedict in his Rule considers the twelve steps of humility which each monk is to consider and undertake if he is ever to increase in love as an adopted son of God. Below will be a somewhat brief listing and discussion of his steps of humility. The discussion is taken from Chapter 7 of St. Benedict’s Rule.

The Fourth Step of Humility: Embrace Suffering Patiently and Obediently
“The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embrace suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” To which St. Benedict adds from Scripture, Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22) and to which we might add “24 Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) that is to say that to take up your cross and follow Christ is to save your life by choosing to give it away in servility and difficulty, but to spare ourselves from humility is to miss the entire point of our creatureliness which is the glorification of God and the honor to which we enjoy by being part of His Creation and of His holy image. Those who do not understand their place and the great benefit to have and keep a righteous and just place in God’s Creation is to throw their lives away and to lose it. Those who lose and give their life for His sake shall find it, eternally present in Him. This is the great blessing of the monastic life or those who get up and follow Him, for they have Him present in their hearts and maintain Him there by His great love in life everlasting. The saints then say, St. Benedict writes, “But in all this we overcome because of Him who so greatly loved us” (Romans 8:37) and “O God, you have tested us , you have tried us as silver is tried by fire; you have led us into a snare, you have placed afflictions on our backs” (Psalm 66:10-11) and this is greatly praised just as those who when stricken turn the other cheek to be stricken again, or when deprived of their coat offer their cloak as well, or when required to go one mile, offer to go two miles. To undergo these humiliations or sufferings patiently is to understand the depth of love of Christ’s love for us and to willingly embrace and reciprocate this love for His sake.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


"Now comes the reckoning for his blood." Genesis 42:22

In today's first reading, we meet Joseph's ten brothers. They are starving and in prison (Gn 42:5, 17). They are in anguish (Gn 42:21). They feel they are being punished for planning to kill their brother Joseph and eventually selling him into slavery (Gn 42:21). They have been guilt-ridden for twenty-two years. Even after Joseph showed forgiveness to his brothers and tried to promote reconciliation, they remained in spiritual starvation and imprisonment for seventeen more years (see Gn 50:15). Joseph's brothers went on a thirty-nine year guilt trip.

When we sin, we must go on a guilt trip because we are guilty. Even if we rationalize our sins, we are only delaying the guilt trip. The longer we wait to go on it, the worse it becomes. The Lord wants us to admit our guilt and immediately come to Him. A guilt trip that goes to Jesus can last thirty-nine seconds instead of thirty-nine years. However, a guilt trip that goes anywhere else is prolonged indefinitely. Sin and guilt don't go away by our efforts. However, when we take sin and guilt to Jesus, they go away permanently.

The only way to get rid of guilt permanently is to take it to Jesus. Go on a guilt trip to Jesus immediately. May the trip be over in minutes or even seconds.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9, 2013 Tuesday: 14th Week in Ordinary C

What help and hope can we give to someone who experiences chronic distress or some incurable disease of mind and body? Spiritual, emotional, and physical suffering often go hand in hand. Jesus was well acquanited with individuals who suffered intolerable affliction whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. A "dumb demoniac" was brought to Jesus by his friends with the hope that Jesus would set the troubled man free. These neighbors, no doubt, took pity on this man who had a double impediment. He had not only lost his ability to speak, but was also greatly disturbed in mind and spirit. This was no doubt due to the influence of evil spirits who tormented him day and night with thoughts of despair and hopeless abandonment by God. Jesus immediately set him free from the demon who tormented him and restored his ability to speak at the same time. This double miracle brought wonder to the crowds who watched in amazement. "Nothing like this had ever been done before in the land of Israel!" Whenever people approached Jesus with expectant faith, he set them free from whatever afflicted them whether it be a disease of mind and body, a cripling burden of guilt and sin, a tormenting spirit or uncontrolable fear of harm.

How could Jesus miracles cause both scorn and wonder at the same time from those who professed faith in God? Dont we often encounter the same reaction today, even in ourselves! The crowds looked with awe at the wonderful works which Jesus did, but the religious leaders attributed this same work to the power of the devil. They disbelieved because they refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their idea of religion was too narrow and closed to accept Jesus as the Anointed One sent by the Father "to set the captives free" (Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 11:5). They were too set in their own ways to change and they were too proud to submit to Jesus. They held too rigidly to the observances of their ritual laws while neglecting the more important duties of love of God and love of neighbor. The people, as a result, were spiritually adrift and hungry for God. Jesus met their need and gave them new faith and hope in Gods saving help. Whenever the gospel is proclaimed Gods kingdom is made manifest and new life and freedom is given to those who respond with faith. The Lord grants freedom to all who turn to him with trust. Do you bring your troubles to the Lord with expectant faith that he can set you free? The Lord invites us to pray that the work of the gospel may spread throughout the world, so that all may find true joy and freedom in Jesus Christ.

"Lord Jesus, may your kingdom come to all who are oppressed and in darkness. Fill my heart with compassion for all who suffer mentally and physically. Use me to bring the good news of your saving grace and mercy to those around me who need your healing love and forgiveness.

Don Schwager,

July 9, 2013 Tuesday: Pope Francis at Lampedusa

Pope at Lampedusa: "Forgive us, Lord" for indifference

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis travelled on Monday to the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa. He threw a wreath of flowers into the sea to remember the thousands of migrants who have died making the journey to Italy from Africa. He then met with several migrants, thanking them for their welcome. The highlight of the day was a Mass celebrated in the island’s sports stadium, which served as a reception centre for the thousands of people who fled the upheavals caused by the Arab Spring unrest in North Africa, as well as refugees from poverty and violence in other parts of Africa.

Pope Francis said he came to Lampedusa “today to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated.”

He began by greeting the islanders with the phrase “O’ scia’!” a word of greeting in their local dialect, and thanking them for the work they have done to provide assistance to the migrants who have found their way to Lampedusa, saying they offer “an example of solidarity.”
He also greeted Muslim migrants who are about to begin Ramadan.
“The Church is near to you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families,” he said.

The Holy Father wore violet vestments during the Mass, calling it a “liturgy of repentance.”
“God asks each one of us: Where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?,” Pope Francis said during his homily, quoting from the Genesis story of Cain and Abel. “Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility.”

“The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference,” he continued. “In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.”

Pope Francis then moved from the Old Testament to the New Testament, with another story of death caused by indifference to suffering: the Massacre of the Innocents.

“Herod sowed death in order to defend his own well-being, his own soap bubble,” said the Holy Father. “And this continues to repeat itself. Let us ask the Lord to wipe out [whatever attitude] of Herod remains in our hears; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this.”

Pope Francis then asked for forgiveness: for the “indifference towards so many brothers and sisters…for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anaesthesia of the heart, … for those who with their decisions at the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies. Forgive us, Lord!”
Though the influx of migrants has slowed since its height at the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, people nevertheless continue to come. Shortly before the pope arrived on the tiny island Monday morning, a boat carrying 165 migrants from Mali made port. On Sunday, 120 people including four pregnant women were rescued at sea after their vessel suffered engine failure roughly 11 kilometres from the Lampedusan coast.

Monday, July 8, 2013

July 8, 2013 Monday: 14th Week in Ordinary Time C

Do you take your troubles to the Lord with expectant faith and confidence in his help? People in desperate or helpless circumstances were not disappointed when they sought Jesus out. What drew them to Jesus? Was it hope for a miracle or a word of comfort in their affliction? What did the elderly woman who had suffered greatly for twelve years expect Jesus to do for her? And what did a grieving father expect Jesus to do about his lost beloved daughter? Jesus gave hope where there seemed to be no human cause for it because his hope was directed to God. He spoke words of hope to the woman (Take heart, daughter!) to ignite the spark of faith in her (your faith has made you well!). And he also gave divine hope to a father who had just lost a beloved child. It took considerable courage and risk for the ruler of a synagogue to openly go to Jesus and to invite the scorn of his neighbors and kin. Even the hired mourners laughed at him in scorn. Their grief was devoid of any hope. Nonetheless, Jesus took the girl by the hand and delivered her from the grasp of death. In both instances we see Jesus' personal concern for the needs of others and his readiness to heal and restore life.

In Jesus we see the infinite love of God extending to each and every individual as he gives freely and wholly of himself to each person he meets. Do you approach the Lord with confident expectation that he will hear your request and act?

"Lord Jesus, you love each of us individually with a unique and personal love. Touch my life with your saving power, heal and restore me to fullness of life. Help me to give wholly of myself in loving service to others."

Don Schwager,

July 7, 2013: Pope Francis, Sunday Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters!

First of all I want to share with you the joy of having encountered, yesterday and today, a special Year of Faith pilgrimage: that of seminarians & novices. Please pray for them, that their love for Christ might mature more and more in their lives and that they might become true missionaries of God's Kingdom.

This Sunday's Gospel (Lk 10:1-12.17-20) speaks to us precisely of this: of the fact that Jesus is not an isolated missionary, does not want to fulfill his mission alone, but involves his disciples. Today we see that, in addition to the Twelve Apostles, He calls seventy-two others, and sends them into the villages, two by two, to announce that the Kingdom of God is near. This is very beautiful! Jesus does not want to act alone, He has come to bring to the world the love of God and wants to spread that love with a style of communion and fraternity. For this reason, he forms immediately a community of disciples, which is a missionary community. Iright from the start, He trains them for the mission, to go [on the mission].

Beware, however: the purpose is not to socialize, to spend time together – no, the purpose is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and this is urgent! There is no time to waste in small talk, no need to wait for the consent of all – there is need only of going out and proclaiming. The peace of Christ is to be brought to everyone, and if some do not receive it, then you go on. To the sick is to be brought healing, because God wants to heal man from all evil. How many missionaries do this! They sow life, health, comfort to the peripheries of the world.

These seventy-two disciples, whom Jesus sent ahead of him, who are they? Whom do they represent? If the Twelve are the Apostles, and therefore also represent the Bishops, their successors, these may represent seventy-two other ordained ministers - priests and deacons - but in a wider sense we can think of other ministries in the Church, catechists and lay faithful who engage in parish missions, those who work with the sick, with the various forms of discomfort and alienation, but always as missionaries of the Gospel, with the urgency of the Kingdom that is at hand.

The Gospel says that those seventy-two returned from their mission full of joy, because they had experienced the power of the Name of Christ against evil. Jesus confirms this: to these disciples He gives the strength to defeat the evil one. He adds, though: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20)” We should not boast as if we were the protagonists: the protagonist is the Lord [and] His grace. Our joy is only this: [in] being His disciples, His friends. May Our Lady help us to be good servants of the Gospel.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7, 2013: Pope Francis, Mass with Seminarians, Novices

Homily at Mass with Seminarians, Novices and those discerning their Vocations

Saint Peter’s Basilica, 7 July 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting you, and today our joy is even greater, because we have gathered for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day. You are seminarians, novices, young people on a vocational journey, from every part of the world. You represent the Church’s youth! If the Church is the Bride of Christ, you in a certain sense represent the moment of betrothal, the Spring of vocation, the season of discovery, assessment, formation. And it is a very beautiful season, in which foundations are laid for the future. Thank you for coming!

Today the word of God speaks to us of mission. Where does mission originate? The answer is simple: it originates from a call, the Lord’s call, and when he calls people, he does so with a view to sending them out. But how is the one sent out meant to live? What are the reference points of Christian mission? The readings we have heard suggest three: the joy of consolation, the Cross and prayer.

The first element: the joy of consolation. The prophet Isaiah is addressing a people that has been through a dark period of exile, a very difficult trial. But now the time of consolation has come for Jerusalem; sadness and fear must give way to joy: “Rejoice .. be glad ... rejoice with her in joy,” says the prophet (66:10). It is a great invitation to joy. Why? For what reason? Because the Lord is going to pour out over the Holy City and its inhabitants a “torrent” of consolation, of maternal tenderness: “You shall be carried upon her hip and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (vv. 12-13). Every Christian, especially you and I, is called to be a bearer of this message of hope that gives serenity and joy: God’s consolation, his tenderness towards all. But if we first experience the joy of being consoled by him, of being loved by him, then we can bring that joy to others. This is important if our mission is to be fruitful: to feel God’s consolation and to pass it on to others! Isaiah’s invitation must resound in our hearts: “Comfort, comfort my people” (40:1) and it must lead to mission. People today certainly need words, but most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good. What a joy it is to bring God’s consolation to others!

The second reference point of mission is the Cross of Christ. Saint Paul, writing to the Galatians, says: “Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14). And he speaks of the “marks of Jesus”, that is, the wounds of the crucified Lord, as a countersign, as the distinctive mark of his life as an Apostle of the Gospel. In his ministry Paul experienced suffering, weakness and defeat, but also joy and consolation. This is the Paschal mystery of Jesus: the mystery of death and resurrection. And it was precisely by letting himself be conformed to the death of Jesus that Saint Paul became a sharer in his resurrection, in his victory. In the hour of darkness and trial, the dawn of light and salvation is already present and operative. The Paschal mystery is the beating heart of the Church’s mission! And if we remain within this mystery, we are sheltered both from a worldly and triumphalistic view of mission and from the discouragement that can result from trials and failures. The fruitfulness of the Gospel proclamation is measured neither by success nor by failure according to the criteria of human evaluation, but by becoming conformed to the logic of the Cross of Jesus, which is the logic of stepping outside oneself and spending oneself, the logic of love. It is the Cross – the Cross that is always present with Christ – which guarantees the fruitfulness of our mission. And it is from the Cross, the supreme act of mercy and love, that we are reborn as a “new creation” (Gal 6:15).

Finally the third element: prayer. In the Gospel we heard: “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, to send out labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). The labourers for the harvest are not chosen through advertising campaigns or appeals for service and generosity, but they are “chosen” and “sent” by God. For this, prayer is important. The Church, as Benedict XVI has often reiterated, is not ours, but God’s; the field to be cultivated is his. The mission, then, is primarily about grace. And if the Apostle is born of prayer, he finds in prayer the light and strength for his action. Our mission ceases to bear fruit, indeed, it is extinguished the moment the link with its source, with the Lord, is interrupted.

Dear seminarians, dear novices, dear young people discerning your vocations: “evangelization is done on one’s knees”, as one of you said to me the other day. Always be men and women of prayer! Without a constant relationship with God, the mission becomes a job. The risk of activism, of relying too much on structures, is an ever-present danger. If we look towards Jesus, we see that prior to any important decision or event he recollected himself in intense and prolonged prayer. Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and pressing duties. And the more the mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love. Herein lies the secret of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord!

Jesus sends his followers out with no “purse, no bag, no sandals” (Lk 10:4). The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.

Dear friends, with great confidence I entrust you to the intercession of Mary Most Holy. She is the Mother who helps us to take life decisions freely and without fear. May she help you to bear witness to the joy of God’s consolation, to conform yourselves to the logic of love of the Cross, to grow in ever deeper union with the Lord. Then your lives will be rich and fruitful! Amen.

July 7, 2013: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Do you remember when you were 20 years old? Were you attending college, in a fraternity or sorority perhaps? Or were you already working, perhaps married with children. I’m sure you can fondly remember how much youthful energy you had. I’m going to tell you a true story of a 20 yr. old young man who lived in an era which was recently portrayed in the movie Les Miserable. A young student arrived in University of Paris in early 1800’s. He surrounded himself with young Catholics like himself and they met together to discuss various topics. At one gathering, a student challenged him and other practicing Catholics. The student admitted that the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, but "what do you do now?" This question prompted this 20 year old, a sensitive young man of modest middle class background, to take a good look at the misery of the working poor of Paris. He said to his Catholic friends, “If we are too young to intervene in the social struggle, are we then to remain passive in the middle of a world which is suffering and groaning? No, a preparatory path is open to us. Before doing public good, we can try to do good to a few. Before regenerating France, we can give relief to a few of her poor.“ The 20 yr. old Frederic Ozanam and his friends formed “Conference of Charity” from which was born the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Although there were social programs run by the government at the time, the St. Vincent de Paul Society took a very different approach, an approach they learned from the gospel we heard today. Members were sent out two-by-two, into the homes of the poor of the city of Paris. They weren’t there to give a handout. The Society’s rule explained how and why they went personally into the homes. The rule said, “The vocation of the Society's members, who are called Vincentians, is to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Members show their commitment through person-to-person contact. Vincentians serve the poor cheerfully, listening to them and respecting their wishes, helping them to feel and recover their own dignity, for we are all created in God's image. In the poor, they see the suffering Christ. Vincentians endeavor to establish relationships based on trust and friendship. Conscious of their own frailty and weakness, their hearts beat with the heartbeat of the poor. They do not judge those they serve. Rather, they seek to understand them as they would a brother or sister.”

Who is called to do such charity? Specialists? Jesus sent his disciples out to help him reap the harvest. Are we not disciples? We tend to leave it to the specialists--to priests, nuns, missionaries. The people Jesus sent out weren’t specialists. Yet they became his instruments. The seventy-two began by being Jesus’ disciples. Then he steered to goals beyond themselves by making them his apostles. The Lord asks us to share with others what we have received from him.

Pope Francis spoke so beautifully a few days ago about what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. He said, “To meet the living God we must tenderly kiss the wounds of Jesus in our hungry, poor, sick, imprisoned brothers and sisters. Study, meditation and mortification are not enough to bring us to encounter the living Christ. Our life will only be changed when we touch Christ’s wounds present in the poor, sick and needy.” Our Lord spoke of harvest in today’s gospel. The harvest is indeed great for those who have eyes to see it and a heart to respond to it. It is in our hospitals, homes, schools, prisons, workplaces, neighborhoods. Everyday is a harvest day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5, 2013: Pope Francis' first encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) excerpts

The Light of Faith: Points to ponder

(Vatican Radio) Here are eight significant quotes from the first Encyclical of Pope Francis: Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith)

1. From Paragraph 4: “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us.”

2. From Paragraph 16: “If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love (cf. Jn 15:13), Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, to transform their hearts. This explains why the evangelists could see the hour of Christ’s crucifixion as the culmination of the gaze of faith; in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth.”

3. From Paragraph 18: “In many areas in our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us (cf. Jn 1:18). Christ’s life, his way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience.”

4. From Paragraph 25: “In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.”

5. From Paragraph 26: “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.”

6. From Paragraph 46: “The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others. Faith thus professes the love of God, origin and upholder of all things, and lets itself be guided by this love in order to journey towards the fullness of communion with God. The Decalogue appears as the path of gratitude, the response of love, made possible because in faith we are receptive to the experience of God’s transforming love for us.”

7. From Paragraph 52: “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.”

8. From Paragraph 57: “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).”

July 5, 2013 Friday: Pope Francis, Daily Homily

God's mercy at heart of Pope's daily homily

(Vatican Radio) The heart of God’s message is mercy: that’s what Pope Francis told staff of the Vatican’s Governatorate gathered for daily mass Friday at the Santa Marta guest house inside the Vatican. Together with the pope, Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas concelebrated the early morning liturgy which coincided with Venezuela’s national holiday.

In his homily, Pope Francis drew on the Gospel reading from Matthew: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Pope Francis repeated Jesus’s words to the Pharisees who criticize the Lord for sharing a meal with sinners. The taxpayers, he explained, “were sinners twice because they were attached to money and were also traitors of the country” in the sense that they collected taxes from their own people for the Romans. Jesus, then, sees Mathew, the tax collector, and looks upon him with mercy:
Matthew, he says, feels Jesus’s gaze upon him and “he feels stunned; he hears Jesus’ invitation: ‘Follow me! Follow me!’ At that moment, this man is full of joy but he’s also doubtful because he’s also very attached to money. It just took a moment – and we see how (the artist) Caravaggio was able to capture it: that man who was looking, but also, with his hands, was taking the money. Only a moment in which Matthew says yes, leaves everything and goes with the Lord. It is the moment of mercy received and accepted: ‘Yes I’m coming with you!’ And it is the first moment of the meeting, a profound spiritual experience.”

The second moment comes as a feast. “The Lord feasts with the sinners”: God’s mercy is celebrated. And following these two moments, the stunned encounter and the feast, comes the “daily work” of announcing the Gospel:“This work must be nurtured with the memory of that first encounter, of that feast. And this is not one moment: up to the end of life. Memory. Memory of what? Of those events! Of that encounter with Jesus who has changed my life! Who had mercy! Who was so good to me and who told me also: ‘invite your friends who are sinners so we can have a feast!’ That memory gives Matthew strength and to all of them to forge ahead. ‘The Lord has changed my life! I met the Lord!’ Remember always. It is like blowing on the embers of that memory, no? Blowing to keep the fire alive, always.”

The biblical parables talk of those who refuse to take part in the Lord’s feast. And Jesus went out to “find the poor, the sick and he feasted with them:”“And Jesus, continuing this habit, feasts with the sinners and offers forgiveness to sinners. ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners.’ Those who consider themselves righteous, they can cook in their own stew! He came for us sinners and this is beautiful. Let us be regarded by Jesus’s mercy; let us celebrate and remember this salvation!”