Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oct. 31, 2013 Thursday: 30th Week in Ordinary Time

When your security is threatened and danger strikes do you flee or stand your ground? When King Herod, the ruler of Galilee, heard that thousands of people were coming to Jesus, he decided it was time to eliminate this threat to his influence and power. That is why some of the Pharisees warned Jesus to flee from the wrath of Herod. Jesus, in turn, warned them that they were in greater spiritual danger of losing both soul and body if they refused to listen to God and to his messengers the prophets. Like John the Baptist and all the prophets who preceded him, Jesus posed a threat to the ruling authorities of his day.

Jesus went so far as to call Herod a fox. What did he mean by such an expression? The fox was regarded as the slyest of all animals and one of the most destructive as well. Any farmer will tell you how difficult it is to get rid of foxes who under the cover of night steal and destroy. The fox became a symbol of what was worthless, insignificant, and destructive. It takes great courage to stand up and openly oppose a tyrant. Jesus knew that he would suffer the same fate as the prophets who came before him. He not only willingly exposed himself to such danger, but he prayed for his persecutors and for those who rejected the prophets who spoke in God's name. Do you pray for your enemies and for those who oppose the gospel today?

Jesus contrasts his desire for Jerusalem – the holy city and temple of God – with Jerusalem's lack of desire for him as their long-expected Messiah. Jesus compares his longing for Jerusalem with a mother hen gathering her chicks under her protective wings. Psalm 91 speaks of God's protection in such terms: He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge (Psalm 91:4). Jesus willingly set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing that he would meet certain betrayal, rejection, and death on a cross. His death on the cross, however, brought about victory and salvation, not only for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but for all – both Jew and Gentile – who would accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus' prophecy is a two-edged sword, pointing to his victory over sin and death and foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and the dire consequences for all who would reject him and his saving message. While the destruction of Jerusalem's temple was determined – it was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D. – there remained for its inhabitants a narrow open door leading to deliverance. Jesus says: I am the door; whoever enters by me will be saved (John 10:9). The Lord Jesus opens the way for each of us to have direct access to God who adopts us as his children and who makes his home with us. Do you make room for the Lord in your life? The Lord is knocking at the door of your heart (Revelations 3:20) and he wishes to enter into a close personal relationship with you. Receive him who is the giver of expectant faith, unwavering hope, and undying love. And long for the true home which God has prepared for you in his heavenly city, Jerusalem (Revelations 21:2-4).

"Lord Jesus, I place all my trust and hope in you. Come make your home with me and take possession of my heart and will that I may wholly desire what is pleasing to you. Fill my heart with love and mercy for others that I may boldly witness to the truth and joy of the gospel through word and example, both to those who accept it and to those who oppose it."

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oct. 30, 2013 Wednesday: 30th Week in Ordinary C

St Teresa of Avila on Friendship with Jesus

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

-St. Teresa of Avila

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Oct. 29, 2013 Tuesday: 30th Week in Ordinary C

O God, give us grace to walk humbly
and save us from pretension
and every arrogant folly.
You have made us, and not we ourselves.
Help us to remember the limits
of our power and our wisdom,
but help us, also,
to do our duty within the limits
of our power and our wisdom.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

What can mustard seeds and leaven teach us about the kingdom of God? The tiny mustard seed literally grew to be a tree which attracted numerous birds because they loved the little black mustard seed it produced. God's kingdom works in a similar fashion. It starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God's word. And it works unseen and causes a transformation from within. Leaven is another powerful agent of change. A lump of dough left to itself remains just what it is, a lump of dough. But when the leaven is added to it a transformation takes place which produces rich and wholesome bread when heated – the staple of life for humans. The kingdom of God produces a transformation in those who receive the new life which Jesus Christ offers. When we yield to Jesus Christ, our lives are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Paul the Apostle says, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Do you believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

"Lord Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit and transform me into the Christ-like holiness you desire. Increase my zeal for your kingdom and instill in me a holy desire to live for your greater glory."
-Don Schwager,

Monday, October 28, 2013

Oct.28, 2013 Monday: Apostles Simon and Jude

Speaking to those gathered at Casa Santa Marta for Mass, the Pope said that by praying to God to choose his apostles, Jesus was “putting together his team together” – and afterwards a great number of people came to be with Him and to be healed by Him, because “power was coming Him and healing them all”. And he referred to three different rapports Jesus has: “Jesus and the Father, Jesus and his Apostles, Jesus and the people”. And the Pope pointed out that “Jesus prayed to the Father for the Apostles and for the people”. And he said: he is still praying.

Jesus has saved us, he said, with his prayers, with his sacrifice, with his life. He is gone now and he continues to pray – the Pope said – but does that mean that Jesus is a spirit? Jesus – he underlined – is not a spirit! He is a person, a man with flesh like our flesh, but in the glory of God. He said Jesus has wounds on his hands, on his feet and on his side. And when he prays he shows the Father the price of our salvation. Pope Francis said: “it is as if he is saying: Father, may this not be lost!”

So prayer stems from Jesus who prays and intercede for us.

“We often say to each other: pray for me. I need prayers. I have so many problems”. And that is good – Francis pointed out – “because we are brothers and we must pray for each other”.

And the Pope says he prays to Jesus to pray for him and intercede for him.

He concluded saying that He prays for all of us, and he does so courageously, showing the Father the price of our redemption: his wounds.

We must think about this – concluded the Pope – and we must thank the Lord. We must thank him for giving us a brother who prays for us and intercedes for us. And speaking to Jesus we must say: “Lord, you have saved me. And now pray for me”. “It is to him we must entrust our problems, our life and many other things so that He may take them to the Father”.
-Pope Francis, Oct. 28, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oct. 27, 2013: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

The other day, I was watching a TV commercial for an online match-making service. A woman was on a speed-dating event at a coffee shop where every 5 minutes or so another person would sit in front of her. She appeared tired and bored listening to a monologue of guys trying to impress her in 5 minutes. What do you think are the top blunders that people should avoid on their first date? Bragging and arrogance. Dating experts say that bragging and arrogance indicate a person’s desire to compensate for those qualities that one feels are lacking. Compensating in this way indicates the person’s greatest insecurity. For instance, a person’s bragging of designer clothing might ironically indicate his insecurity about his financial situation, and therefore a corresponding desire to make a statement about his success without actual achievement of that success. Another example; a person who describes himself as intelligent and educated does so because he finds it difficult to convey his intelligence in a much more effective way – through his actions.

Now you might be asking how a 5-minute speed-dating event has anything to do with today’s Gospel. Well, take a guess as to what is the average length of time people spend in a day talking to God in prayer. Five minutes. If you think about it, God is like a date who is sitting and waiting to be genuinely heard and spoken to, while we are the ones moving from one table to another every five minutes. What do average folks do in those 5 minutes of talking to God? I certainly hope not bragging and showing arrogance. But that’s what the Pharisee did in today’s Gospel. We should expect from a prayer expert - like the Pharisee - something profound. Instead he prayed the following: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” How did he sound in his prayer? He came off as arrogant and bragging, as if he should get a gold-star sticker for his deeds. Can you imagine, God has been anxiously waiting during the day to hear from us, and He gets a 5-minute speed-dating event where all he hears is our bragging and arrogance?

Do we sound like that sometimes when we talk to God? Jesus shows us another way to pray--a way that is more pleasing, honest, and humble--like the tax collector who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Why is this more pleasing to God? When we are not honest with God, there is a danger of abandoning our relationship with God altogether. How many of us said this to ourselves? “I am full of faults, I’m not making any progress, I’m incapable of being really converted and loving God seriously. Presenting myself before God in such a state is just hypocrisy—I’m pretending to be a saint, when I am worth no more than people who don’t pray at all. It would be much more honest in God’s eyes if I just dropped it completely!”

Cultivating a relationship with God is no different than cultivating a relationship with our loved ones. What do good friends do for each other? They are patient, gentle, and kind with each other's faults. They keep no record of wrongs. They always protect, trust, hope, and persevere. They look forward to spending time with each other. What friends enjoy is quality time with each other, even if it means 5 minutes.

Do you remember the dying man that I spoke about last weekend? I saw him again, and he is now much closer to departing his wife, children, and friends. He is less conscious and sleeps most of the time. Each time he awakes from his sleep, he is conscious for less than five minutes. Outside his bedroom, his grieving wife showed me a note that her husband had given her when he proposed to  marry her more than 56 years ago. The note was given to her on a Christmas day.  He wrote,

“My dear love, I pledge my most sincere and loving affections to you throughout our engagement period and throughout our life. I earnestly promise to be faithful, understanding, trusting, and kind to you whom I love so fervently.

I shall come to you for help and comfort which only you can give to me. I also beg of you to ask for my aid when ever possible; to be outspoken and frank in all situations. I want very much to be needed by you. As long as it is within my power to make you happy, I also shall be happy.

I shall expect from you only what you are willing to give and nothing more.  My love for you shall not die! Forever! ”

Although this wife now only gets less than five minutes of time with her dying best friend, who is her husband, she knows how much he loves her. He is frail, weak, and unable to tell her how much he loves her, but she knows.

Isn’t that how God wants us to approach Him? He knows how frail and weak we are, but when we look deep into our hearts, can we not find the desire in us to express to Him in less than five minutes, how much we love Him? Are our prayers honest, sincere, and humble?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Oct. 25, 2013 Friday: 29th Week in Ordinary C

Dear Lord as I come to you today
Fill my heart and my whole being
with the wonder of your presence.

Lord you gave me life and the gift of freedom.
Through Your love I exist in this world.
May I never take the gift of life for granted.
May I always respect the right to life of others.

We watch out daily for signs of change in the weather. But Jesus advises us to put more effort into working out our relationship with God. The wise move would be to settle our affairs while we are still free to do so. As we stand before God in prayer, we must search our hearts with honesty and humility and ask God to straighten us out.
What are the present signs in my life telling me? Am I missing the point about something? For instance, I am growing older. Or perhaps I am nourishing dislike of another person? But how do I connect these facts with my relationship to God? Remove the cloud from my vision, Lord, and inspire me to act upon your truth.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Oct. 24, 2013 Thursday: 29th Week in Ordinary C

I believe, Lord, but let me believe more firmly.
I hope, Lord, but let me hope more surely.
I love, Lord, but let me love more warmly.
I repent, Lord, but let me repent more deeply.
Lord, give me humility, meekness,
chastity, patience and charity.
Teach me goodness, knowledge and discipline.
Give me your love together with your grace
and I will be rich enough.
My God, my Jesus, my all in all.
— St. Anthony Mary Claret

Do you want to be on fire for God? Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth. What kind of fire did Jesus have in mind here? The image of fire in biblical times was often associated with God and with his action in the world and in the lives of his people. God sometimes manifested his presence by use of fire, such as the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:2). The image of fire was also used to symbolize God's glory (Ezekiel 1:4, 13), his protective presence (2 Kings 6:17), his holiness (Deuteronomy 4:24), righteous judgment (Zechariah 13:9), and his wrath against sin (Isaiah 66:15-16). It is also used of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3). God's fire both purifies and cleanses, and it inspires a reverent fear of God and of his word in us.

Jesus’ sharp statement that he would cause division rather than peace within families must have shocked his disciples.Was he exaggerating? Jesus used a typical Hebrew hyperbole [a figure of speech which uses exaggeration for emphasis] to drive home an important lesson. We often do the same when we want to emphasize something very strongly. Jesus’ hyperbole, however, did contain a real warning that the gospel message does have consequences for our lives. It has the power to heal, restore, and unite those who believe its message. But the consequence of ignoring or rejecting the gospel can lead to many hurtful desires and seduction by the world.

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 essence of Christianity is loyalty to Jesus Christ – the Son of God and Savior of the world – a loyalty that takes precedence over every other relationship. 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. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)?

"Lord Jesus, may your love consume me and transform my life that I may truly desire nothing more than life with you. Make me strong in love and fidelity that nothing may hinder me from doing your will."

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Oct. 23, 2013 Wednesday: 29th Week in Ordinary C

I ask you, good Jesus,
that as you have graciously granted
to me here on earth
sweetly to partake of the words
of your wisdom and knowledge,
so grant that I may some day come to you,
the fountain of all wisdom,
and always appear before your face,
who lives and reigns,
world without end. Amen.
— St. Bede the Venerable

What lesson can a thief in the night teach us about the kingdom of God? Jesus loved to tell stories, many which ended with a dramatic and unexpected change of circumstances. Can you imagine a thief calling ahead to tell his victim when he would strike? The intruder usually strikes when he is least expected and under the cover of darkness and secrecy. Should we be surprised to see a thief making off with a great treasure or prized possession which has been left unguarded or unlocked?

What does this say about the gift and great treasure which God has entrusted to you? When God offers us his kingdom he gives us a priceless treasure (see the parable of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-46). What is this treasure of immeasurable value? The Lord Jesus himself is our treasure (Job 22:22-23) and the kingdom he offers us is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The Lord offers us a relationship with God the Father as his sons and daughters and the promise of eternal life as well. This treasure is of far greater value that any earthly treasure because nothing can diminish its insurpassable worth or destroy it. But it's possible to lose this great treasure if we do not guard it with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can lose heaven and eternal friendship with God if we allow Satan – the deceiver and father of lies – to rob us of our faith and make us deny God's word of truth! The Lord Jesus fortunately does not leave us on our own – he stands watch with us to guide, direct, and keep us from the snares of the evil one. Do you keep vigilant watch over the treasure which God has entrusted to you?

Jesus ends his teaching on watchfulness and vigilance with another parable about a master and his servants (similr to the parable in Matthew 24:.45-49). The storyline is similar. There is an element of surprise – the master suddenly returns home unexpectedly, probably from a long journey. He rewards the dutiful servant for his faithfulness to his master. He has performed his service with diligence and has done all that the master required of him. The master punishes the other servant who behaved wickedly. This servant was not only irresponsible – he was frequently absent from work and spent his master's money by throwing endless parties with his friends. The wicked servant also abused his fellow workers with physical force and violence – probably to make them do the work he was supposed to do for his master. The master not only strips him of his job and a secure place to live, but removes him from the joy and fellowship of the people he lived and worked with. The wicked servant is cast into a prison of like-minded rebels, trouble-makers, thieves, and murderers.

This vivid picture gives us a glimpse of wht hell is like – a dark and dismal society of endless quarreling, strife, envy, and hatred. Should we be surprised to see a just master acting with such swift judgment? After all the master is only giving back to the wicked servant what he has given to others through his abusive and irresponsible behavior. The master rewards the faithful servant with friendship, honor, and promotion But the master punishes the unfaithful servant, who stole from his master and used his position to abuse others, by removing him from his position of trust. The Lord has entrusted each one of us with his gifts and grace – the grace to love God with faithfulness, trust, and obedience – and the grace to love our neighbor as ourself. Do you want to be faithful and reliable as the Lord is faithful and trustworthy?

The Lord loves faithfulness and richly rewards those who are faithful to him. What is faithfulness? It's keeping one's word, promise, and commitments no matter how tough or difficult it gets. Faithfulness is a key character trait of God and one that he expects of us. Fortunately God gives the grace and strength to remain faithful. He also rewards faithfulness. The joy and privilege of being a son or daughter of God carries with it an awesome responsibility. The Lord expects us to make good use of the gifts and graces he gives to us. The more he gives, the more he requires. The temptation while the Master is away is to put off for tomorrow what we know the Master expects us to do today. How can we grow in faithfulness? God's grace shows us the way. When we are faithful in the little tasks and promises we make, we learn to be faithful in the bigger and more important responsibilities and tasks entrusted to us.

The Lord Jesus calls us to be vigilant in watching for his return and to be ready to meet him when he calls us to himself. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit so that we may have the wisdom, help, and strength we need to turn away from sin to embrace God's way of love, justice, and holiness. The Lord's warning of judgment causes dismay for those who are unprepared, but it brings joyful hope to those who eagerly wait for his return in glory. God's judgment is good news for those who are ready to meet him. Their reward is God himself, the source of all truth, beauty, goodness, love and everlasting life.

“Lord Jesus, you have captured my heart and it is yours. Take it that I may have you alone as my treasure and joy. Make me strong in faith, steadfast in hope, and generous in love that I may seek to please you in all things and bring you glory.”
Don Schwager,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oct. 22, 2013 Tuesday: Blessed John Paul II

O God, you are our Creator.
You are good and your mercy knows no bounds.
To you arises the praise of every creature.
O God, you have given us an inner law by which we must live.
To do your will is our task.
To follow your ways is to know peace of heart.
To you we offer our homage.
Guide us on all the paths we travel upon this earth.
Free us from all the evil tendencies which lead our hearts away from your will.
Never allow us to stray from you.
O God, judge of all humankind, help us to be included among your chosen ones on the last day.
O God, Author of peace and justice, give us true joy and authentic love, and a lasting solidarity among peoples.
Give us your everlasting gifts. Amen.
— Bl. Pope John Paul II

Extraordinary Encounters with Blessed John Paul II

Giving a country new hope
The year was 1983, I was 14 years old, and in Nicaragua, the Sandinista revolution had pretty much destroyed any semblance of illusion, hope, and expectations for the future of the nation. My brother was dead, and the youth of the country was faced with a stark choice, to fight for the communist government, via a draft, or to fight against it, with the Contras. All political opposition had been crushed, and in the midst of this desperation, of this suicidal youth march, we are told that Pope John Paul II would visit Nicaragua. As a non-practicing Catholic, I was aware of who the pope was, but I was not prepared for the enormous impact this man, with his humble yet forthright countenance, would unleash on the totalitarian regime. That day, the pope held mass in front of over one million faithful, the mass of people completely awestruck and in trance, for nobody had ever meant so much to so many. On that sunny afternoon, He was the voice of justice, reason, hope and love, to a depressed youth, that had lost faith in the future of a nation. John Paul II gave Nicaraguans a reason to hope, a reason to live, and a reason to continue the fight for freedom, against totalitarian rule. On one sunny, warm, afternoon, and in one fell swoop, this pope gave us back our faith, and let us know that freedom is God's greatest gift to mankind. As he well put it: "Be Not Afraid". May God hold you in his stead, John Paul II, forever.
—Lionel Quinteros, Cape Coral, Fla.

‘Being in his presence was breathtaking’
When my daughter was attending college during her sophomore year in Rome I had the opportunity to visit her and attend the Holy Father's Wednesday outdoor audience one beautiful spring day. Through the intervention of close friendBein who knew a Swiss guard my husband and I were able to obtain some very good seats near the Pope. One of the images that will always remain with me is of him bestowing his blessing upon recent brides and grooms. As so many people have expressed, just being in his presence was breathtaking!
—Donna Andrews, Oakton, Va.

Goodbye rain, hello sun
When he came to Yankee Stadium in New York City so many years ago I was there with my ten year old son who had just become an alter boy at our parish. The weather was horrendous with wind and heavy rain. As we waited for the arrival of Pope John Paul an announcement was made on the loud speakers for all of us to pray that the weather would clear for the Pope. The thousands of us prayed outloud and to ourselves and as the motorcade approached and the rains continued to beat down we all felt sad. They stopped outside the gate and seconds before Pope John Paul entered the rain stopped, the sun shown through the clouds making the rain on the field glitter like gold. It was absolutely breathtaking and you could hear the gasp from the crowd for what we had witnessed. The Pope came through the gates and the sun continued to shine. When he left and went out of the gates the rain came down. I will never forget that day and I will forever remember the beloved Pope John. Although he is no longer of this earth I think of all of the gloriously happy people in Heaven rejoicing in his coming home. May he rest in peace.
—Kathy Pallotta, Morristown, N.J.

Heavenly feeling
I was blessed to be in the Pope presence two times. My first was in New York at the racetrack in Queens. I was so overwhelmed I felt this was Jesus on earth. The tears came down my eyes uncontrollably. The next time I was at the Vatican for the beatification of Mother Teresa. I was on the tenth row seat from the Pope's podium. It was awesome. I felt warmth, beauty and a profound feeling of oneness with all those thousands of people who were there. Being in the presence of the Pope John Paul II makes me feel heavenly. I could not believe my eyes. I was really looking at him. He is indeed a precious gift to us Catholics and to the world. Tonight, I shall look at my photo album with pictures of the Pope that I took at the Vatican and reflect upon the life of this Holy Man.
—Marie Morgan

Eye contact
I was assigned to the security detail for the Pope's visit to Newark. At the time, my daughter was being treated for Nueroblastoma, a very nasty pediatric cancer. As the Pope mobile passed the area that I was assigned, he was blessing the crowd that had formed to meet him. As I made the sign of the cross, he looked briefly at me and we made eye contact for just a second. I felt that my daughter would be alright. Now, some nine years later, she is considered "cured". I began to walk parallel to the Popemobile for about 20-25 yards as it approached the front of the cathedral. I looked at the jumbotron Television screen that was erected and saw that I was on TV with the Pope. I went home and luckily a friend had recorded the news coverage. SO now I have a video of the Holy Father and me.
—Bill Whitley, Basking Ridge, N.J.

Powerful blessing
In September 1987, my husband of two months and I went to San Antonio to see Pope John Paul II. We were lucky to be at the end of our row, where the Pope would be going past to get to the altar to celebrate mass. As the Pope passed by us, his procession stopped and he looked out into the crowd. He seemed to look directly into my eyes, and I remember the love and gentleness emanating from him. He passed a blessing on to me and smiled, and at that moment I looked at my husband and told him that I thought I might be pregnant, even though I had had no symptoms.
The next week my doctor verified that I was indeed about two weeks pregnant. My son was born in June 30, 1988, nine months and two weeks after seeing the Pope. To this day my son is an extremely devout Catholic, and is a very strong and loving person. He seems to have the same love and gentleness is his eyes as he was blessed with so long before his birth.
I have always felt that my son would have a calling for the church, but have never stated this to him. In the past two years he has several times asked me questions about joining the seminary, which I would be so proud for him to do. So I honestly feel that not me, but by son was truly blessed by the Pope on his visit to San Antonio in 1987.
--Becky Mullican, Baytown, Texas

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oct. 21, 2013 Monday: 29th Week in Ordinary Time C

Have you ever tried to settle a money dispute or an inheritance issue? Inheritance disputes are rarely ever easy to resolve, especially when the relatives or close associates of the deceased benefactor cannot agree on who should get what and who should get the most. Why did Jesus refuse to settle an inheritance dispute between two brothers? He saw that the heart of the issue was not justice or fairness but rather greed and possessiveness.
The ten commandments were summarized into two prohibitions do not worship false idols and do not covet what belongs to another. It's the flip side of the two great commandments love God and love your neighbor. Jesus warned the man who wanted half of his brother's inheritance to "beware of all covetousness." To covet is to wish to get wrongfully what another possesses or to begrudge what God has given to another. Jesus restates the commandment "do not covet", but he also states that a person's life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions.

August of Hippo (354-430 AD) comments on Jesus' words to the brother who wanted more:

Greed wants to divide, just as love desires to gather. What is the significance of guard against all greed, unless it is fill yourselves with love? We, possessing love for our portion, inconvenience the Lord because of our brother just as that man did against his brother, but we do not use the same plea. He said, Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. We say, Master, tell my brother that he may have my inheritance. [Sermon 265.9]

Jesus reinforces his point with a parable about a foolish rich man. Why does Jesus call this wealthy landowner a fool? Jesus does not fault the rich man for his industriousness and skill in acquiring wealth, but rather for his egoism and selfishness it's mine, all mine, and no one else's. This parable is similar to the parable of the rich man who refused to give any help to the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich fool had lost the capacity to be concerned for others. His life was consumed with his possessions and his only interests were in himself. His death was the final loss of his soul!

In the parable of the rich fool Jesus gives a lesson on using material possessions. It is in giving that we receive. Those who are rich towards God receive ample reward not only in this life but in eternity as well.

Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century church father, comments on Jesus' word to be rich toward God:

It is true that a persons life is not from ones possessions or because of having an overabundance. He who is rich toward God is very blessed and has glorious hope. Who is he? Evidently, one who does not love wealth but rather loves virtue, and to whom few things are sufficient. It is one whose hand is open to the needs of the poor, comforting the sorrows of those in poverty according to his means and the utmost of his power. He gathers in the storehouses that are above and lays up treasures in heaven. Such a one shall find the interest of his virtue and the reward of his right and blameless life. [Commentary on Luke, Homily 89]

In this little parable Jesus probes our heart where is your treasure? 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. What do you treasure above all else?

"Lord Jesus, free my heart from all possessivness and from coveting what belongs to another. May I desire you alone as the one true treasure worth possessing above all else. Help me to make good use of the material blessings you give me that I may use them generously for your glory and for the good of others."

Don Schwager,

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Oct. 20, 2013: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

This past week, I visited a man who is dying of a cancer that has affected his brain. I was ready to introduce myself when he said to me, "Hi, Father Brou"; he was referring to Fr. Hubert Brou who passed in 1997 while serving St. Aloysius parish. I joked with him that we priests all look alike, even though Fr. Brou was caucasian and I am Asian. Incidentally, I served at St. Aloysius for eight months as my first assignment after ordination, and Fr. Brou was buried at our Ascension Church Cemetery. Our former pastor, Fr. Phil Spano had a similar experience while visiting a local hospital. A lady greeted him as he was entering the hospital, "Hi, Fr. Louis." Fr. Phil replied with his typical dry humor, "Hi, my name is Fr. Phil. I can see why you would find striking resemblance between Fr. Louis Oubre and I. We both are heavy set. We both have beards. But, I'm caucasian, and Fr. Louis is African American." That story was told at Fr. Louis' funeral a few days ago.

The second time I visited that dying man, he apologized profusely for calling me by the wrong
name. As I was blessing him, he was clutching on to a cross he purchased at Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Shrine. He has a great devotion to Father Seelos. When I was blessing him, I put my relic of Blessed Seelos on him. This dying man is a man of prayer. Throughout his life he has attended mass daily, prayed his rosary faithfully, and served his parish church diligently. After the blessing, I told the family waiting outside his room, "I wonder if he actually saw Fr. Hubert Brou when I walked in last time. I wonder if God heard his fervent prayers at the hour of his need and sent his two favorite priests, Fr. Brou and Fr. Seelos. I do think that God answered his prayers. This week's Responsorial Psalm comes to mind about his answered prayer:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains--where does my help come from?
My help comes from The Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber;
The Lord watches over you--the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The Lord will keep you from all harm--he will watch over your life;

Let me ask you a very practical question. What does prayer do for you, personally? I ask this question because many of us have given up on prayer. In the gospel today, Jesus asks us to pray continually and never grow discouraged. But the reality is that we do give up on prayer and we grow discouraged as we face life's challenges. We feel at times tired of persevering in prayer, like Moses who grew tired of keeping his arms in the air. Sometimes we are ready to “throw in the towel”, and abandon the faith because our prayer isn't answered immediately. Is there a way to pray that is practical and not tiring?

A few days ago I explained to the seniors at Ascension Catholic School how to make their prayer practical. First you have to recognize that you have a need or a desire. With the seniors, I discussed about the moments when they felt ashamed. Shame is a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace. All of us experience shame – that feeling which comes from committing a wrong, or exposing something that was intended to be private, personal or hidden. They all remembered the book Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne that they read during Junior year.  In the story, Hester Prynne, a young woman, was found guilty of adultery and was forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" (as a symbol of adultery and affair) on her dress as a sign of shame. Furthermore, she had to stand on the scaffold for three hours, exposed to public accusation and humiliation. I asked the seniors what other letters they could think of that could stand for shameful experiences. Some said, "D" for drugs, "A" for alcohol, "G" for gossip, "P" for pre-marital sex, and "U" for unfaithfulness. Then I asked, who or what can take away these events of shame? One answered, "time," and another answered, "Jesus."

The second step in making our prayer practical is scripture. Scripture names the feelings we experience--distress, anguish, the temptation to rebel, but also peaceful confidence and exultant joy. Scripture also provides us a way to experience real encounters with God through
our imagination. I led the seniors in a meditation on the scripture passage of the women caught in adultery. In that scripture story, the religious leaders who brought her before Jesus were ready to cast their stones on her. Let me walk you all through that same meditation.
Close your eyes and keep them closed until I tell you to open them.  Take a breath in and then exhale slowly.
Recall a shame that you have experienced, something that you were caught doing or something that was done to you.
Imagine a crowd of accusers around you, ready to throw their stones at you.
Imagine Jesus saying to the crowd, "Let those without sin cast the first stone."
Hear Jesus say to you, "Nor do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."
Now open your eyes.
When I finished the meditation with the seniors, I asked what they felt from the prayer experience. One said, "I felt Jesus protecting me." Another said, "I felt forgiven." And another said, "I feel set free from shame."
How is prayer practical? Prayer leads us to an encounter with Jesus who stands up for us, forgives us, and sets us free from shame and guilt. That is why Jesus urges us to keep praying and not to lose heart. If we stop praying, we are likely to lose heart and give up.
The dying man whom I visited continues to pray because even in the midst of suffering, his prayer brings him face to face with Jesus who watches over him. How many of us could use that right now? When trials and setbacks disappoint you, is prayer your first resort?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Oct. 18, 2013 Friday: St. Luke the Evangelist

St. Luke came from Antioch, was a practicing physician and was one of the first converts to Christianity. He accompanied St. Paul, who converted him, on his missionary journeys and was still with him in Rome when St. Paul was in prison awaiting death. We hear no more of him afterwards and nothing is known of his last years. The Church venerates him as a Martyr.

St. Luke's Gospel is principally concerned with salvation and mercy; in it are preserved some of our Lord's most moving parables, like those of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. Dante calls St. Luke the "historian of the meekness of Christ." It is also St. Luke who tells us the greater part of what we know about our Lord's childhood.

"According to tradition he was an artist, as well as a man of letters; and with a soul alive to all the most delicate inspirations, he consecrated his pencil to the holiest use, and handed down to us the features of the Mother of God. It was an illustration worthy of the Gospel which relates to the divine Infancy; and it won for the artist a new title to the gratitude of those who never saw Jesus and Mary in the flesh. Hence St. Luke is the patron of Christian art."

St. Luke did not personally know our Lord, and like St. Mark, the author of the second Gospel, he is not included among the apostles. For this reason the Gospel chosen for their feast is the account of the sending forth of the seventy-two disciples. According to St. Jerome, St. Luke died in Achaia (Greece) at the age of 84, and it is unknown whether or not he died a martyr's death. His name means "bringer of light" (= luke).

Excerpted from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oct. 17, 2013 Thursday: St. Ignatius of Antioch

God, make us more like Jesus.
Help us to bear difficulty, pain,
disappointment and sorrow
knowing that in your perfect working and design
you can use such bitter experiences
to shape our characters
and make us more like Christ.
We look with hope for that day
when we shall be wholly like Christ,
because we shall see him as he is.
— St. Ignatius of Antioch

"I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire." -St. Ignatius of Antioch

A letter to the Romans by St Ignatius of Antioch

“I am God's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of wild animals. I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God. No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.

The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish. You will sympathize with me because you will know what urges me on.

The prince of this world is determined to lay hold of me and to undermine my will which is intent on God. Let none of you here help him; instead show yourselves on my side, which is also God’s side. Do not talk about Jesus Christ as long as you love this world. Do not harbor envious thoughts. And supposing I should see you, if then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you. For though I am alive as I write to you – still - my real desire is to die. My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: “Come to the Father.” I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish.

I am no longer willing to live a merely human life, and you can bring about my wish if you will. Please, then, do me this favour, so that you in turn may meet with equal kindness. Put briefly, this is my request: believe what I am saying to you. Jesus Christ himself will make it clear to you that I am saying the truth. Only truth can come from that mouth by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God. If I am condemned to suffer, I will take it that you wish me well. If my case is postponed, I can only think that you wish me harm.”
-St. Ignatius of Antioch

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oct. 16, 2013 Wednesday: St Margaret Mary Alocoque

O Heart of love,
I put all my confidence in you,
for I fear everything
from my own wickedness and frailty,
but I hope for all things
from your goodness and bounty.
Let your pure love
imprint itself so deeply on my heart,
that I shall never be able
to forget or be separated from you. Amen.
— St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

On May 25, 1671, at the age of 23, Margaret entered the Order of the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial. She pronounced her final vows on November 6, 1672 and took the name Mary. During her retreat before her profession, she had a vision of Jesus in which He said, "Behold the wound in my side, wherein you are to make your abode, now and forever." The Lord continued to appear to her in visions and on December 27, 1673, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, as she knelt at the grill before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, she experienced a vision in which the Lord told her to take the place that Saint John had occupied at the Last Supper, and that she would act as His instrument. Jesus revealed His Sacred Heart as a symbol of His love for mankind, saying, "My divine Heart is so inflamed with love for mankind ... that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its burning charity and must spread them abroad by your means." She described that His Heart was on fire and surrounded by a crown of thorns. Our Lord told her that the flames represented His love for humanity, and the thorns represented man's sinfulness and ingratitude. Jesus informed her that her mission was to establish the devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, and He revealed twelve promises that He would bestow upon all those who practice the devotion.

The Twelve Promises of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque
for those who practice devotion to His Sacred Heart

I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
I will establish peace in their families.
I will console them in all their troubles.
They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
Tepid souls shall become fervent.
Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under my displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oct. 15, 2013 Tuesday: St. Teresa of Avila

Is there anything that you are worried about?

Has something preoccupied you for the past few days?

Have you lost your interior peace? Have the surface of the still lake of your soul been disturbed by something lately?

Are you afraid of something that's going to happen?

Do you feel fear in your heart?

St. Teresa of Avila offers us this following prayer to calm our soul and restore the interior peace that we long for:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

-- St. Teresa of Avila

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oct. 14, 2013 Monday: Pope Francis, Homily on Marian Day

The Pope celebrated mass in St Peter’s square this morning in honor of the Marian Day, an event organized as part of the Year of Faith on the anniversary of the final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima (13th of October 1917). He also consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

God surprises us. The story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, is remarkable. In order to be healed of leprosy, he turns to the prophet of God, Elisha, who does not perform magic or demand anything unusual of him, but asks him simply to trust in God and to wash in the waters of the river. Not, however, in one of the great rivers of Damascus, but in the little stream of the Jordan. Naaman is left surprised, even taken aback. What kind of God is this who asks for something so simple? He wants to turn back, but then he goes ahead, he immerses himself in the Jordan and is immediately healed (cf. 2 Kg 5:1-4). There it is: God surprises us. It is precisely in poverty, in weakness and in humility that he reveals himself and grants us his love, which saves us, heals us and gives us strength. He asks us only to obey his word and to trust in him.

This was the experience of the Virgin Mary. At the message of the angel, she does not hide her surprise. It is the astonishment of realizing that God, to become man, had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth. Not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things, but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). That was her answer. God constantly surprises us, he bursts our categories, he wreaks havoc with our plans. And he tells us: trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me!

Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do I let myself be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do I remain caught up in my own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual or ideological security, taking refuge in my own projects and plans? Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?
-Pope Francis, 10/13/13

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Oct. 13, 2013: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Earlier this week, all of our priests in our Diocese were at our annual retreat at a Jesuit retreat house. At lunch I sat across from a couple of priests--Fr. Louis Oubre and Fr. Phil Spano--who have served either as an associate or as pastor at Ascension Catholic Church. Fr. Louis mentioned that Fr. Cleo and Fr. Vincent were both in his middle school class at Ascension Catholic School. How remarkable, I thought, to have three priests come out of a single class. They must have been taught by a nun, I surmised. Fr. Louis said, “I spent a lot of time sitting in the corner of the class because I caused a lot of trouble for the sister.” I’m sure at the time, that sister who taught Fr. Louis wished that he would be transferred to another class. But I wonder if that sister, upon reflecting on her past, was grateful to God for having the opportunity to shape the life of a young boy who would be a future priest. I’m also sure that Fr. Louis didn’t like the discipline at the time, but later on as he reflected back on those days, he was grateful that someone cared enough to shape his character by discipline. A few days ago, Fr. Louis died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 56. I was grateful to have shared one of the last meals that Fr. Louis had on this earth.

There is an old spiritual song based on Hebrews 12:11-12 that goes like this:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful, Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace, for those who have been trained by it,
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful.
Strengthen up your feeble arms, strengthen up your weakened knees,
Make level paths for your feet, straighten out your feeble mind
So he can make it heal, so he can make it heal,
Fix your mind on things above, above where he is king, above where we are free.

All of us here will agree that no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. However we know by experience that later on, it produces a harvest of spiritual fruit that we did not expect. We see examples of this in both the First Reading and in the Gospel. In the First Reading, we see Naaman, the commander-in-chief of the mighty Syrian army. He had all the trappings of worldly success--wealth, power, and fame. He had no need of God; religion played no part in his life. He is typical of a some successful people today who seem to have no need for God in their lives. However, at the height of his power, he contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy. All of a sudden his world began to crumble. He was looking for a quick fix so that he could go back and resume his old life exactly as before.

Don’t we sometimes find ourselves in Naaman’s situation as well? Things are going so smoothly, and all of a sudden, something hits us--causes us tremendous anxiety, stress, and suffering. We look for a quick fix, but there is none to be found. An illness or other circumstances bring us to our knees, and we are suddenly face to face with our poverty, weakness, and mortality. We realize how flimsy is the foundation on which we have built our hopes.

If the humiliation, pain, or suffering brings us closer to God, and makes us more spiritual, it will prove to be a blessing in disguise. For Naaman, he learned to be humble and patient. He had to learn to take orders for a change, be obedient. Naaman’s humiliation, pain and suffering proved to be well worth it because he had conversion of heart and found the true God. So in the end, he had reason to give thanks for his leprosy, because through it he received the gift of faith. Likewise, the Samaritan leper in the Gospel--the only one of the ten lepers who were healed to return to give thanks to Jesus--was the only one who grew closer to God through his illness and recovery. The other nine were healed, but their recovery from their illness did not bring them closer to God. Why? Because they lacked gratitude to God.

Everything that we face day to day, whether we perceive it as positive or negative, all are really calls from God: calls to change, grow, mature, enlarge our hearts and our horizons, and leave behind hardness of heart and narrow-mindedness in order to welcome reality in a larger and more confident manner. The big and little happinesses of life are first and foremost calls to thanksgiving, and the happiness will be even greater if we respond. It is a joyful thing to receive a gift but even more joyful to give thanks for it. Giving thanks is beautiful because it is just, because it deepens our relationship with the giver, and also because it expands one’s heart, making it receptive to still more graces.

Sorrowful events also contain calls, though with a different content. They can be invitations to faith, to hope, to patience, to courage, to acts of forgiveness, to acceptance of our limits. But there is always some particular point, and it does not necessarily become clear to us all at once. When someone is in a difficult situation, the most important thing to do, and the most liberating, is not to resolve the situation—something often beyond the person’s capacity—but to understand and follow the call present in the situation. It is not always readily discernible at first, but it will be revealed little by little to one who consents to the situation and sincerely asks what God wants.

The willingness to give something back is a great sign of gratitude. When you are full of gratitude, there isn’t room for bitterness or resentment. We must try to see the guiding hand of a loving God in all that has brought us to where we are now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oct. 11, 2013 Friday: 27th Week in Ordinary Time C

Lord Reign in Me
Over all the Earth
You reign on high
Every mountain stream every sunset sky
But my one request Lord my only aim
Is that you reign in me again

Lord reign in me
Reign in your power
Over all my dreams
In my darkest hour
You are the Lord of all I am
So won't you reign in me again

Over every thought
Over every word
May my life reflect the beauty of my Lord
'Cause you mean more to me than any Earthly thing
So won't you reign in me again

When danger lurks, what kind of protection do you seek? Jesus came to free us from the greatest danger of all – the corrupting force of evil which destroys us from within and makes us slaves to sin and Satan (John 8:34). Evil is not an impersonal force that just happens. It has a name and a face and it seeks to master every heart and soul on the face of the earth (1 Peter 5:8-9). Scripture identifies the Evil One by many names, 'Satan', 'Be-el'zebul – the prince of demons', the 'Devil', the 'Deceiver', the 'Father of Lies', and 'Lucifier', the fallen angel who broke rank with God and established his own army and kingdom in opposition to God. Jesus declared that he came to overthrow the power of Satan and his kingdom (John 12:31). Jesus' numerous exorcisms brought freedom to many who were troubled and oppressed by the work of evil spirits. Jesus himself encountered personal opposition and battle with Satan when he was put to the test in the wilderness just before his public ministry (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1). He overcame the Evil One through his obedience to the will of his Father.

How can a strong person be defeated except by someone who is stronger? Jesus asserted his power and authority to cast out demons as a clear demonstration of the reign of God. Jesus' reference to the 'finger of God' points back to Moses' confrontation with Pharoah and his magicians who represented Satan and the kingdom of darkness (see Exodus 8:19). Jesus claims to be carrying on the tradition of Moses whose miracles freed the Israelites from bondage by the finger of God. God's power is clearly at work in the exorcisms which Jesus performed and they give evidence that God's kingdom has come.
What is the point of Jesus' grim story about a vacant house being occupied by an evil force? It is not enough to banish evil thoughts and habits from our lives. We must also fill the void with God who is the source of all that is good, wholesome, true, and life-giving for us. Augustine of Hippo said that our lives have a God-shaped void which only God can fill satisfactorily. If we attempt to leave it vacant or to fill it with something else, we will end up being in a worse state in the end. What do you fill the void in your life with? The Lord Jesus wants to fill our hearts and minds with the power of his life-giving word and healing love. Jesus makes it very clear that there are no neutral parties in this world. We are either for Jesus or against him, for the kingdom of God or against it. There are ultimately only two kingdoms which stand in opposition to one another – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness which is under the rule of Satan. If we disobey God's word, we open to door to the power of sin and Satan. If we want to live in true freedom, then our "house" (the inner core of our true being) must be occupied by Jesus where he is enthroned as Lord and Savior. The Lord assures us of his protection from spiritual harm and he gives us the help and strength we need to resist the devil and his lies (James 4:7). "Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways"(Psalm 91:9-11). Do you know the peace and security of a life submitted to God and his word?
Lord Jesus, be the ruler of my heart and the master of my home. May there be nothing in my life that is not under your lordship."

Don Schwager,

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oct. 10, 2013 Thursday: Pope Francis, Daily Mass

Pope Francis: we receive God Himself when we pray courageously

In prayer we must be courageous and discover the true grace that is given us: God Himself. That was the Pope’s message at Thursday’s morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. At the heart of the homily was Jesus’ insistence, in the day’s Gospel, that we pray with trusting insistence. The parable of the importunate friend, the friend who obtains what he desires thanks to his insistence, gave Pope Francis the opportunity to reflect on the quality of our prayer:

“This makes us think, in our prayer: how do we pray? Do we pray like this, out of habit, piously but unbothered, or do we put ourselves forward with courage before the Lord to ask for the grace, to ask for what we’re praying for? Courage in prayer: a prayer that is not courageous is not a real prayer. The courage to trust that the Lord listens to us, the courage to knock on the door . . . The Lord says: ‘For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’ But you have to ask, seek, and knock.”

“Do we get ourselves involved in prayer,” the Pope asked. “Do we know to knock at the heart of God?” In the Gospel Jesus says, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” This, the Pope said, “is a great thing”:
“When we pray courageously, the Lord gives us the grace, but He also gives us Himself in the grace: the Holy Spirit, that is, Himself! The Lord never gives or sends a grace by mail: never! He brings it Himself! What we ask for is a little bit like [laughing] . . . it is the envelope that grace is wrapped in. But the true grace is Him, Who comes to bring it to me. It’s Him. Our prayer, if it is courageous, receives what it asks for, but also that which is more important: the Lord.”

In the Gospel, the Pope noted, “some people receive the grace and then go away”: of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only once returned to thank him. Even the blind man of Jericho found the Lord in the healing, and praised God. But we must pray “with the courage of faith” Pope Francis insisted, prompting us to ask even for those things that prayer does not dare hope for — that is, God Himself:

"We ask for a grace, but we don’t dare say, 'But come Yourself to bring it to me.' We know that a grace is always brought by Him: It is He Himself who comes and brings it to us. Let us not embarrass ourselves by taking the grace and not recognizing Him who brings it to us, Him who gives it to us: The Lord. That the Lord may give us the grace of giving us Himself, always, in every grace. And that we might recognize Him, and that we might praise Him as did the sick people in the Gospel who were healed. So that, in that grace, we might find the Lord."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oct. 9, 2013 Wednesday: General Audience, Pope Francis

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In the Creed, we profess that the Church is “catholic”; in other words, she is universal. We can understand this catholicity in three ways. First, the Church is catholic because she proclaims the apostolic faith in its entirety; she is the place where we meet Christ in his sacraments and receive the spiritual gifts needed to grow in holiness together with our brothers and sisters. The Church is also catholic because her communion embraces the whole human race, and she is sent to bring to the entire world the joy of salvation and the truth of the Gospel. Finally, the Church is catholic because she reconciles the wonderful diversity of God’s gifts to build up his People in unity and harmony. Let us ask the Lord to make us more catholic – to enable us, like a great family, to grow together in faith and love, to draw others to Jesus in the communion of the Church, and to welcome the gifts and contributions of everyone, in order to create a joyful symphony of praise to God for his goodness, his grace, and his redemptive love. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
-Pope Francis, Oct. 9, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oct. 8, 2013 Tuesday: Pope Francis, Daily Mass

Pope Francis: Prayer opens the door for God

In his homily at daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis explained that a Christian is a person who has a heart that knows how to pray and knows how to forgive. The Gospel of the day was dedicated to the story of Saint Martha, the titular saint of his residence. The Pope took the Gospel story as the starting point, reminding us that “prayer works miracles” as long as it is not a purely mechanical act.

The very human figures of Saint Martha, from the New Testament, and the Prophet Jonah of the Old, the central characters of the day’s readings, are united by a common incapacity: they did not know to pray. Pope Francis built his homily on this aspect, beginning with the famous scene in the Gospel where Martha asks Jesus, in an almost critical tone, to have her sister to help her do the serving, rather than sitting at His feet listening to Him. Jesus replied, “Mary has chosen the better part.” This part, Pope Francis said, is “that of prayer, that of the contemplation of Jesus”:

“To the eyes of the sister, this was time lost, it even seemed, perhaps, a bit of a fantasy: gazing upon the Lord as if she were a awestruck child. But who wants that? The Lord: ‘This is the better part,’ because Mary heard the Lord and prayed with her heart. And the Lord tells us: ‘the first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord. We know that prayer works miracles.”

And prayer produces a miracle even in the ancient city of Niniveh. Jonah, on God’s instructions, had preached the imminent destruction of the city; the city, though, was saved because the inhabitants, believing the prophet, were converted, and from the greatest to the least called upon the divine forgiveness with all their strength. However, even in this story of redemption, the Pope took note of the erroneous attitude of Jonah, who was more disposed to justice without mercy. His attitude was similar to Martha’s, inclining to service that excludes interiority:

“And Martha does this. Does what? But she didn’t pray! But there are others like this stubborn Jonah, who are the executioners. He went, he prophesied, but in his heart he said: ‘But if they deserve it. If they deserve it. If they were asking for it!’ He prophesied, but he didn’t pray! He didn’t ask the Lord to forgive him. Only to beat them. They are executioners, those that believe themselves to be just! And in the end, the book of Jonah continues, it is seen that he was a selfish man, when the Lord saved Nineveh through the prayer of the people, he was angry with the Lord: ‘You are always like that. You always forgive!’”

And so, the Pope concluded, prayer that is only a formula, without heart, as well as pessimism or the desire for justice without forgiveness, are the temptations a Christian must always guard against in order to be able to choose “the better part”:

“And we ourselves, when we don’t pray, what we’re doing is closing the door to the Lord. And not praying is this: closing the door to the Lord, so that He can do nothing. On the other hand, prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity, is opening the door to the Lord so that He will come. So that He builds things, He knows to arrange things, to reorganize things. This is what praying is: opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. But if we close the door, God can do nothing! Let us think on this Mary who has chosen the better part, and makes us see the way, as the door is opened to the Lord.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Oct. 7, 2013 Monday: Our Lady of the Rosary

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The passage from Revelation presents the vision of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. The figure of the woman, representing the Church, is, on the one hand, glorious and triumphant and yet, on the other, still in travail. And the Church is like that: if in heaven she is already associated in some way with the glory of her Lord, in history she continually lives through the trials and challenges which the conflict between God and the evil one, the perennial enemy, brings. And in the struggle which the disciples must confront – all of us, all the disciples of Jesus, we must face this struggle - Mary does not leave them alone: the Mother of Christ and of the Church is always with us. She walks with us always, she is with us. And in a way, Mary shares this dual condition. She has of course already entered, once and for all, into heavenly glory. But this does not mean that she is distant or detached from us; rather Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil. Prayer with Mary, especially the rosary – but listen carefully: the Rosary. Do you pray the Rosary every day? But I’m not sure you do [the people shout “Yes!”]… Really? Well, prayer with Mary, especially the Rosary, has this “suffering” dimension, that is of struggle, a sustaining prayer in the battle against the evil one and his accomplices. The Rosary also sustains us in the battle.

Mary also experienced the martyrdom of the Cross: the martyrdom of her heart, the martyrdom of her soul. She lived her Son’s Passion to the depths of her soul. She was fully united to him in his death, and so she was given the gift of resurrection. Christ is the first fruits from the dead and Mary is the first of the redeemed, the first of “those who are in Christ”. She is our Mother, but we can also say that she is our representative, our sister, our eldest sister, she is the first of the redeemed, who has arrived in heaven.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, with all our heart let us too unite ourselves to this song of patience and victory, of struggle and joy, that unites the triumphant Church with the pilgrim one, earth with heaven, and that joins our lives to the eternity towards which we journey.

Castel Gandolfo, 15 August 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Oct. 6, 2013: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Can you think of a song that you listened to this week? Did it have a good beat, melody, and may be even a catchy lyric? Now, would you let your priest listen to it? Why not? I asked the same question to the seniors at our Catholic school. Each had their favorite, but they all said, “No, Father, we can’t let you listen to it!” Now mind you, these are songs played on our ordinary radio. I asked if the songs helped increase their faith, and they all said, “no.” I remember, too, in my high school days when I would play loudly the songs of my favorite bands on cassette tapes, over and over again. None of those increased my faith. Really, they helped me ‘lose’ my faith.

Of course, faith is not a thing. So when we say we lose our faith, we don’t lose it like a key or a purse. Faith is not a thing that one loses; we merely cease to shape our lives by it. Faith is not a thing, but a relationship with God. Can you live your life in such a way that your relationship with someone strengthens? Think of various ways in which you strengthen your relationship with your parents, children, grandchildren, and friends. Your relationship depends on openness to connect with them, your care and concern for them, and your desire to be close to them. Likewise, you can live your life in such a way that you can harm or even sever that relationship. We call that sin.

Someone described faith as a window through which we can see something. What matters is not whether the window is six inches or six feet high; what matters is the God that your faith is looking out on. If it’s God you’re looking on, then the tiniest little peep-hole of a window will still give you access to power like you never dreamed of. In the gospel Jesus said that even the faith the size of a tiny mustard seed would accomplish great things in God.

What is this power that one receives through faith, this relationship with almighty God? It’s not a power that you use for your own whim, pleasure, or influence. Sometimes we say, “I’ve done all this. I’ve given all that money, I’ve worked so hard--surely God will be satisfied with that?”  Some people think that God owes them something. They imagine God as being like the typical employer. If we do the work, then our employer owes us our wages. Therefore, God owes us a reward in heaven provided we serve him faithfully on earth, as the thinking goes. The stark truth is that we can never put God in the position where he is in debt to us. Jesus says that even when we have done all we are expected to do, we still can’t make any demands on God.

This brings us to what increases our faith--this relationship of trust with Jesus. The disciples openly asked Jesus in today’s gospel, “Lord, increase our faith.” For us to enjoy an increase of faith requires that we must see and do things God’s way. To increase our faith we must diminish our willfulness. If we ask for our hearts to be opened to see God through the window of faith, we must first be emptied of everything not of God.
That is the insight that St. Francis of Assisi discovered. How many of us have felt, one time or another, sadness, betrayal, a hurt, despair, and even hatred for someone? How can we see God through these lenses of darkness? We can’t. Imagine that someone is experiencing a darkness in his life at this time. What can we do? We draw, through our faith, the power from Heavenly Father, to sow love, to forgive, to give hope, to give light, and to give joy. St. Francis said that we shouldn’t ask first for what’s in it for us. Rather we give first, and like the servant that Jesus mentions in the gospel, be satisfied that even when we think we’ve given all we can, we still owe God so much more. God’s sheer goodness to us cannot be repaid. Ask Jesus today to increase your faith to become a better instrument of his love, his hope, his light, and his joy.