Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent Music Concert at Ascension Catholic Church, Dec. 5, 2013, 6:30PM

Nov. 29, 2013 Friday: 34th Week in Ordinary C ("Black Friday")

My wife Christina and I always get up early to shop the day after Thanksgiving. This year we drove to a hotel that evening so that we could get up at 3:00 A.M. to get in line at Toys ‘R’ us to catch the door buster sales that morning.

This is something that we started doing years ago when we lived in Arizona and we have made it a sort of tradition in our family. In fact, one year Christina and I were on the news in Minneapolis because we were at the very front of the line at the KB Toy Store at the Mall of America. 

In case you were unaware, something like that is a big deal to the more ardent Black Friday shopper!

That morning at Toys ‘R’ us I watched the most ridiculous scene unfold. There were a lot of people in line that morning. I was near the front of the line as I waited in the cold just to get in and I was behind at least 100 people.

The store had encouraged people to make a line that wrapped like a coil all the way through the store. Several people had grown weary of waiting in the very long line and had started forming their own line much to the dismay of one particular man.

The man and a couple of other people in the line pointed out to the manager that people were forming their own line. They did so in the kindest manner possible, I assure you! When they felt that their complaint was not being addressed with as much zeal as it required the man made it very clear how he felt about the slow to action store manager.

With his fist clinched high in the air he said, “You’re stupid!” The store manage apologized to the unhappy patron of Toys ‘R’ us and the man again said in the same tone and again with his fist held high, “You’re stupid!” 

Another patron spoke up and assured the store manage that he was doing a good job. This displeased the man and he once again told the store manager what kind of job he thought the manager was doing.

As all of this was going on I was standing just a few feet away waiting to check out enjoying the spectacle of it all. 

The woman standing between the man and myself said – very loudly – “maybe some of us have forgotten why we are here at the toy store this morning!” The good news is that it all ended quietly and nothing serious occurred.

But the words of the woman standing in line behind me have reverberated my thinking for the past couple of weeks – “Have we forgotten why we are here?”
- Chris Surber

Do you recognize the signs of God's presence and action among us today? Jesus used the image of a fig tree to teach his disciples an important lesson about reading the "signs of the times." The fig tree was a common and important source of food for the Jews. It bore fruit twice a year, in the autumn and in the early spring. The Talmud said that the first fruit came the day after Passover. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would usher in the kingdom of God at Passover time. The early signs of a changing season, such as springtime, summer, or autumn, are evident for all who can see and observe the changes. Just so are the signs of God's kingdom and his return in glory on the day of judgment. The "budding" of God's kingdom begins first in the hearts of those who are receptive to God's word. Those who trust in God's word will bear the fruits of his kingdom. And what are the fruits of that kingdom? "The kingdom of God righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The Lord gives the firstfruits of his kingdom to those who open their hearts to him with expectant faith and trust in his word.

We do not know the day nor the hour when the Lord Jesus will return again in glory. But the Lord does give us signs, not only to "wake us up" as a warning, but also to "rouse our spirits" to be ready and eager to receive his kingdom when he comes in all his power and glory. The "Day of the Lord" will strike terror in those who have ignored or rejected God, but it will be a day of joy and rejoicing for those who long to see the Lord face-to-face. The Lord Jesus wants us to be filled with joyful anticipation for his coming again. While we wait for the Lord's physical return in glory, we can know his presence with us through the work and action of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts. The Lord Jesus comes daily and frequently to those who long for him and he speaks tenderly to our hearts like a lover who whispers in the ear of the beloved.

Don Schwager,

Nov. 28, 2013 Thursday: Thanksgiving Day (USA)


With all the traditions, travel, and food preparation that occur around Thanksgiving Day, much attention is given to make sure our celebrations go well. We want the experience to bring families and friends closer together, and it may be that the smallest gestures of our time and thoughts will be most productive in forming our desired bonds with one another.

Adena Duffy, a contributing author to Seeing the Everyday Issue 23, shares the influence of a simple Thanksgiving Day ritual her mother started. With all the smells, foods, wonders, and comforts of Thanksgiving Day, the simple tradition of miniature pies stands apart in her mind as a tradition that bound her and her sisters to their mother.

“At some point in my youth Mother decided that even on this notable day she would create a space and ritual to unite with each of her daughters by helping us to make our own individual pie. To look back at this now, as an adult, I find it intriguing and very inspiring. Thanksgiving Day in the kitchen is not necessarily one that holds any extra time or counter space and with a large family—the idea of taking time with each child to make their own individual pie was no small feat.

“Mom would save the tiny pie tins that came from frozen potpies (a rare treat in and of themselves) so that we would have the perfect size to make this little dessert. Helping in the kitchen, I felt so big and important. I remember putting on my apron, trying to look just like Mom. I remember the weight of her hands on top of mine as we rolled the dough into a circle, and her fingers as they carefully transferred the dough and helped fix the cracks when I pulled too hard or too fast.

“Deciding which pie to make was difficult, but as I promised to trade bites and slices with my sisters and their pies, I was assured a little taste of everything. I sat in front of the oven door with the mitts on my hands, feeling anxious as I watched it bake, hoping it would turn out alright—all the while having the mouthwatering smell of pie wafting through the kitchen.

“As I reflect back, I am sure the dinner was delicious—somehow that memory is a little unclear—but I do remember how it felt to enjoy the prize of our labors. I felt like a queen as I got to cut and serve my own tiny pie and share it with my sisters, who felt equally pleased with their own creations. Dad was the best to share with as he pronounced each one a success and the most delicious of its kind.

“I love the smell of fall. The smell brings memories of working together, laughing, and creating interactions that have shaped my life as an adult. I have carried on this practice in my own home— even the making of tiny pies with my children. Could mother have known how her selfless actions—in making time and space for each of us, even on a bustling Thanksgiving morning—would build our souls and bind us to her? This bounteous gift of giving oneself is annually relived as we make these tiny, thoughtful pies.”

We see from Adena’s thoughts and from many other experiences shared in issue no. 23 how intentional traditions have connected parents and children to one another. Participating side by side, knowing the outcome and purpose of our labors are for the good of the whole, can allow honest investment through conversation with the one right next to us.

Nov. 27, 2013 Wednesday: General Audience, Pope Francis

Pope Francis Promotes Year of Faith ‘Spiritual Medicine’
At the end of the Holy Father’s Angelus address, volunteers distributed small boxes containing rosaries and Divine Mercy prayer cards to the assembled pilgrims.

At the close of his Angelus address today, Pope Francis encouraged those in St. Peter’s Square to pick up a little box of spiritual medicine on their way out.

“I would like, now, for all of you to consider a medicine. But some may think, ‘The Pope is being a pharmacist now?’ It is a special medicine to make the fruit of the Year of Faith that is coming to a close more concrete,” said Pope Francis Nov. 17, as he raised a little box for the crowd to see.
The boxes, packaged to resemble actual medication, contained rosaries and Divine Mercy prayer cards.
“This little box contains the medicine, and some volunteers will distribute it to you as you leave the square. Take it! It’s a rosary with which one can pray also the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, spiritual help for our souls and for spreading love, forgiveness and brotherhood everywhere.”
“Don’t forget to take it,” he repeated as the crowds cheered. “Because it does good, eh?  It does good for the heart, for the soul, for all of life.”

Pope Francis had earlier emphasized the need for faith and trust in God in the face of life’s difficulties.
Like the apostles in Sunday’s Gospel, many people find themselves worried about losing faith in the last days. But Jesus reminds his followers, “First: Don’t let yourselves be deceived by false messiahs, and don’t let yourselves be paralyzed by fear. Second: Live the time of waiting as a time of witness and of perseverance,” recounted Pope Francis.

“This discourse of Jesus is always current, even for those of us who live in the 21st century,” the Holy Father reflected.  “We are in a time of waiting, of waiting for the coming of the Lord.”
“We remember that we are totally in the hands of the Lord!”
“The adversities that we meet for our faith and our adherence to the Gospel are occasions for witness; they must not distance us from the Lord, but push us to abandon ourselves again and more to him, to the power of his Spirit and his grace,” he encouraged.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nov. 25, 2013 Monday: Pope Francis, Daily Mass, 34th Week in Ordinary C

Christians are called to trust in the Lord, even in the most extreme situations. These were the words of Pope Francis at Mass on Monday morning in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis focused his homily on those characters from the daily readings who testify to the importance of trusting in God, even in extreme situations. In the Book of Daniel, the young Jewish men living as slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar remain faithful to the Lord, even at risk of their own lives. In the Gospel of Luke, the impoverished widow who puts two small coins into the offering box is praised by Jesus, who says: “Those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood”.

The Lord, Pope Francis says, is everything, and they trusted in the Lord. They didn’t do so because of some fanatical force, but because they knew that the Lord is faithful. They trusted in that faith which is always there, the Pope said, because the Lord cannot be unfaithful, cannot deny Himself.

Choosing to be faithful to the Lord, Pope Francis continued, is equally important in the little things and in the most difficult situations. He remembered the men, women, elderly and young people who every day choose to be faithful to the Lord, who live as martyrs, and as an example to us all. When we read in the newspapers about Christians who are persecuted in our own times, the Pope explained, we must take their lives as an encouragement to offer the Church everything we have, our whole livelihood.

Let us think, Pope Francis said, about the brothers and sisters who have made courageous, definitive choices throughout history, and continue to do so today. But let us also think about the many mothers and fathers who make small but definitive choices of faith every day, with their families and with their children. Let us ask the Lord, Pope Francis concluded, for the grace of courage, the courage to go on with our Christian lives, in everyday life and in the most extreme situations.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nov. 24, 2013: Solemnity of Christ the King

What percentage of people in America do you think believes in God? Since the 1940’s, Gallup organization has been asking Americans, “Do you believe in God,” and consistently more than 9 in 10 Americans still say “yes” to this question. So it is popular in America to say that “I believe in God.” But I wonder if the same percentage of people would still say “yes” if they were asked, “Do you believe in God who asks you to abandon your name, your reputation, your health, your possessions, those you love, and remain faithful to Him? Do you profess this God to be your Lord and your King?”

A few days ago, I spoke with Kitty Cleveland, a beautiful singer from Mandeville, about coming to our parish and sing one of the Divine Mercy masses during Lent. Her spiritual songs are inspired particularly by her late father, Carl Cleveland who was a well-known attorney in New Orleans and an ordained Catholic deacon. He was arrested and convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was removed from serving as a deacon and disbarred. Kitty wrote a song titled, “Surrender,” about his ordeal and what her family went through.

I had it all: fortune, power, acclaim,
Worldly success, a respectable name;
But then they vanished, illusions of safety,
My spirit was crushed, nothing worldly could save me.

How could this happen? They’ve taken my life.
No justice found, hope barely alive.
My heart was broken, my spirit despairing,
I cried out, My God, why have You forsaken me?

On this feast day of Christ the King, the Church asks us to place ourselves at Calvary. Here Jesus is stripped of all earthly reputations and even his life. On each side of Jesus is crucified two thieves who in reality represent each of us.
At the end of our lives, we are stripped of everything that we worked so hard for--our name, our reputation, our possessions, our health, our loved ones. We come face to face with the stark truth; although we call ourselves Christian or Catholic, we lived all of our lives for ourselves and not for God. We may be like the unrepentant thief and say, “I attended mass every day, I gave my money to the church, I gave money to the poor, I tried to be nice to others...I deserve to be saved. I deserve Heaven.” But the repentant thief on the other side of Jesus says, “I have done all those things, but I can’t fool God! I know who I lived for… myself! I don’t deserve Heaven. Jesus, it’s only your mercy that can save me. Forgive me of all my sins. Look kindly upon me.”

It is in our nature to want a kind of God who who will always be on our side--to come to bless our projects, bless our dreams, and miraculously heal us whenever we are sick. We forget the image of God that Prophet Jeremiah saw, where a potter took a lump of clay and shaped it into a vessel. The potter then collapsed the vessel and reshaped it to something else. St. Paul reiterates this when he says, “A potter has the right to do what he wants to with his clay, doesn't he? He can make something for a special occasion or something for ordinary use from the same lump of clay.” (Rom. 9:21) We have the tendency to refuse to be mastered by anyone. The stark truth is that we are not the potter -- Heavenly Father is. Whatever the Father does with us, is for His greater glory and not for ours. There is a Catholic hymn about the potter and his clay and the lyrics to the first verse are:

Abba, Father.
You are the potter; we are the clay, the work of your hands.
Mold us, mold us and fashion us
into the image of Jesus, your Son, of Jesus, your Son.

Kitty Cleveland’s father also came to that understanding before he died with cancer. Kitty finished her song, “Surrender” with the following words:

Then came the peace touched so deeply by Your mercy,
I lost my pride and found
You’re all I need.
You rescued me, felt Your love in my surrender,
I reached my greatest height down on my knees.

Nov. 23, 2013: Pope Francis Daily Mass

(Nov. 22, 2013) A temple is a place where we meet to pray, praise and thank the Lord, but above all, it’s a place where we gather to worship God. At his morning Mass in the Santa Martha Chapel on Friday, Pope Francis focused his homily on both the temple as a building and St Paul’s understanding of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.

The temple is the central reference point of the whole people of God, Pope Francis said, as he reflected on the Old Testament reading about the re-consecration of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Speaking about the beauty, music and ritual of our liturgies, the Pope said the main focus of the community gathered around the altar must be our adoration of God. Recalling how Jesus chases away those who tried to do business in the temple, he asked whether our churches and our liturgical celebrations today help us to worship and adore God?

But the Pope also spoke of the inner life of each individual as a temple where we can worship God and try to follow his commandments in our daily lives. Recalling St Paul’s words about our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, he said God’s Spirit is in us so we must listen and follow him.
Following God’s word, the Pope went on, requires a continual purification, since all of us are sinners. We do this through prayer, through penitence, through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. In this way, he concluded, in both the material building where we worship and in the spiritual temple of our hearts, our attitude must be one of adoration and attentive listening, an attitude of prayer, penitence and praise.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nov. 22, 2013 Friday: St. Cecilia

"My house is meant for a house of prayer." Luke 19:46

In today's first reading, the people of Israel rededicated the house of God, the Temple, with a spirit of holiness and joy. God's house was filled with prayer and rejoicing (1 Mc 4:54ff). First, however, they had to empty it of unholiness (1 Mc 4:43ff).

A mere two centuries later, the people of God, and particularly their leaders, treat the house of God not much differently than the marketplace which surrounds it. God's house and its environs are full of commerce and busy-ness. Jesus had to empty the Temple of merchants and animals and fill it with teaching and prayer (Lk 19:45ff).

Most of us belong to parishes with a church building less than two centuries old. When first constructed, these church buildings were dedicated and blessed, undoubtedly with joy and a measure of holiness. Years after the dedication, how do our churches compare with the Temple of Jesus' time? Have we filled the house of God with unholiness, busy-ness, and commerce, either through the hearts of the people or the actions of the leaders? Do we still treat the house of God, the church building where Jesus dwells in the tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament, as a place of prayer? Have we fallen from our first love? (Rv 2:4) After beginning in the Spirit, will the people of our church end at the level of the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

Jesus wants His house to be full of prayer (Lk 14:23). Repent of any behavior or attitude which fosters the decline of prayer in church, and lead the way in filling the house of God with prayer.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nov. 21, 2013 Thursday: Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary in theTemple

Religious parents never fail by devout prayer to consecrate their children to the divine service and love, both before and after their birth. Some amongst the Jews, not content with this general consecration of their children, offered them to God in their infancy, by the hands of the priests in the temple, to be lodged in apartments belonging to the temple, and brought up in attending the priests and Levites in the sacred ministry. It is an ancient tradition, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was thus solemnly offered to God in the temple in her infancy. This festival of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, or, as it is often called by the Greeks, the entrance of the Blessed Virgin into the Temple, is mentioned in the most ancient Greek Menologies extant.
By the consecration which the Blessed Virgin made of herself to God in the first use which she made of her reason, we are admonished of the most important and strict obligation which all persons lie under, of an early dedication of themselves to the divine love and service. It is agreed amongst all masters of Christian morality, that everyone is bound in the first moral instant of the use of reason to convert his heart to God by love; and if divine faith be then duly proposed to him (which is the case of Christian children) by a supernatural assent to it, he is bound then to make an act of faith; also an act of hope in God as a supernatural rewarder and helper, and an act of divine charity. Who can be secure that in the very moment in which he entered into his moral life and was capable of living to God, did not stain his innocence by a capital omission of this duty? How diligent and solicitous are parents bound to be in instructing their children in the first fundamental mysteries of faith, and in the duty of prayer, and in impressing upon their tender minds a sense of spiritual things in a manner in which their age may be capable of receiving it. These first fruits of the heart are a sacrifice of which God is infinitely jealous, an emblem of which were all the sacrifices of first fruits prescribed in the old law, in token that he is our beginning and last end. Such a heart, adorned with the baptismal grace of innocence, has particular charms. Grace recovered by penance is not like that of innocence which has never been defiled; nor is it the same happiness for a soul to return to God from the slavery of sin, as for one to give him her first affections, and to open her understanding and will to his love before the world has found any entrance there. The tender soul of Mary was then adorned with the most precious graces, an object of astonishment and praise to the angels, and of the highest complacence to the adorable Trinity, the Father looking upon her as his beloved daughter, the Son, as one chosen and prepared to become his mother, and the Holy Ghost as his darling spouse.

Her first presentation to God, made by the hands of her parents and by her own devotion, was then an offering most acceptable in his sight. Let our consecration of ourselves to God be made under her patronage, and assisted by her powerful intercession and the union of her merits. If we have reason to fear that we criminally neglected this duty at the first dawning of our reason, or, if we have since been unfaithful to our sacred baptismal engagements, such is the mercy and goodness of our gracious God, that he disdains not our late offerings. But that these may be accepted by him, we must first prepare the present he requires of us, that is, our hearts. They must be washed and cleansed in the sacred laver of Christ's adorable blood, by means of sincere compunction and penance; and all inordinate affections must be pared away by our perfectly renouncing in spirit, honours, riches, and pleasures, and being perfectly disengaged from creatures, and ready to do and suffer all for God, that we may be entirely his, and that neither the world nor pride, nor any irregular passion may have any place in us. What secret affections to this or that creature lurk in our souls, which hinder us from being altogether his, unless they are perfectly cut off or reformed! This Mary did by spending her youth in holy retirement, at a distance from the commerce and corruption of the world, and by the most assiduous application to all the duties and exercises of a religious and interior life. Mary was the first who set up the standard of virginity; and, by consecrating it by a perpetual vow to our Lord, she opened the way to all virgins who have since followed her example. They, in particular, ought to take her for their special patroness, and, as her life was the most perfect model of their state, they ought always to have her example before their eyes, and imitate her in prayer, humility, modesty, silence, and retirement.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nov. 20, 2013 Wednesday: 33rd Week in Ordinary C

Heavenly Father,
You returned Your people to the Promise Land after 70 years of exile and restored their independence through the courage of the sons of Mattathias'the Maccabees'who hammered Judah's foes and reclaimed the Temple for the Covenant people.  Help us to remember Father, that we are also a Covenant people and that we also have a kingdom'it is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the Holy Roman Catholic Church and we are called to serve her just as the Maccabees were called to serve Judah.  Judah Maccabeus cleansed Your earthly Temple but we are continually called to cleanse our souls which are now the Temples of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Grant us O Lord, a pure heart to serve You, and a joyful heart that is appreciative of Your many blessing.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. (

Shortly before the revolt of Judas Maccabeus (2 Maccabees 8), Antiochus IV Epiphanes arrested a mother and her seven sons, and tried to force them to eat pork. When they refused, he tortured and killed the sons one by one. The narrator mentions that the mother "was the most remarkable of all, and deserves to be remembered with special honour. She watched her seven sons die in the space of a single day, yet she bore it bravely because she put her trust in the Lord."[4] Each of the sons makes a speech as he dies, and the last one says that his brothers are "dead under God's covenant of everlasting life".[5] The narrator ends by saying that the mother died, without saying whether she was executed, or died in some other way. (

The Ballad of Hannah and her Seven Sons
I am Hannah. Listen to my speech, and look what happened to me.
I had seven sons, whom I cherished and honored and pampered.
Among them was a baby whose face brightened the night.
But they fell into the the unbeliever's hands who feared not Almighty God.
It is proper for us to weep all our nights and days!

Nebuchadnezzar spoke gently to them and said: "Worship my idol.
Come forward the eldest, intelligent Jew.
Worship my idol, and you will not be slaughtered and laid low.
Listen not to what others say, and disobey not my intent,
For if you disobey, woe to you. You will fall like a bird from the sky.
It is proper for us.

He answered him scornfully: "Listen, king,
I worship only God, creator of mankind.
You are nothing by comparison, for soon you will be in the dust.
Your idol does not profit, nor money, nor images."
He said: "Kill the unbeliever by my leave and on my responsibility."
It is proper for us.

They grabbed and held the poor man, and tied his hands behind him.
They pulled off his clothes, and threw him into a pit.
They brought his mother to see his severe torture.
He cried out: "Mother, have pity on me by enduring,
For where is the love we bore, Mother who pampered me?"
It is proper for us.

They brought the second one weeping, his tears running like a flood,
But his heart was strong in the Lord, creator of mankind.
Four men grabbed him, and dragged him to the king.
He said to him: "My child, obey me, get up, worship the image.
Do not listen to what other people tell you."
It is proper for us.

He answered him: "King, do not prolong your speech.
What are you, you miserable man, and what is your status?
Soon you will perish, and your affairs will be in disarray.
He will destroy all your wealth, and make nothing of your officers."
He said: "Kill the unbeliever, and do not annul my words."
It is proper for us.

They took the boy, and slaughtered him in his mother's presence.
She cried: "My child" and pressed him to her bosom.
She threw herself upon him, and wallowed in his blood.
She found no one to be close to her and exhort her to patience in her trouble.
"Be sad for me and dwell on my trouble and grief."
It is proper for us....

And the king said to the servants: "Bring Hannah before me."
"O Hannah, urge your child to do obeisance to my images.
And we shall make him chief minister, he will be chief of my counsellors.
You shall live, your child shall live, only do not disobey my words.
Hannah, tell your child to listen to my commands."
It is proper for us.

She gave answer to the king: "Include me with my children."
"Precious, do not obey them, my breath, my life,
Look how you were nine months in my womb, my child,
I brought you up and reared you and fed you in my house
Day and night, year after year."
It is proper for us.

He answered her: "Mother, let me go to them.
Let them do what they want, and what their heart desires.
I am more precious to you than my brothers, so is my death than theirs.
I worship none save one God who is exalted over all others."
It is proper for us.

She clasped him to her breast, and wept and said:
"My child, my little one, accept the decree of your Lord.
Your place in paradise with all your forefathers is assured.
Our God will judge Nebuchadnezzar, and punish him severely."
It is proper for us.

They took him from her, and she wept and said: "My little one,
What are my sins, what my deeds, what my behavior?
My Lord has left me neither oldest nor youngest.
Fate has deprive me of them and taken my babies from me."
It is proper for us.

They slaughtered him in her presence, and she saw it with her eyes.
She fell upon him, and stamped her foot, and her spirit went up to God.
She died for what she underwent, and what happened to her children.
Praise be to Him who desired this. To him is the command and the action.
It is proper for us.

A voice went out from Heaven: "Happy are you, Hannah,
Paradise is open to you and your seven sons."
Soon he will build our sanctuary, and we shall dwell in it as we were.
All our enemies will perish, and he will pity all our people.
Elijah will come with good news, with Messiah, son of David!
It is proper for us to rejoice all our nights and days!

Nov. 19, 2013 Tuesday: 33rd Week in Ordinary C

O Lord, love me intensely,
love me often and long!
For the more often you love me,
the purer I become.
The more intensely you love me,
the more beautiful I become.
the longer you love me,
the holier I become. Amen.
— St. Mechtild of Magdeburg

Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies. The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, “You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.” The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing. … He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of “silly fruit.” As the apostle says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.” Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, “What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?” What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. “The wisdom of this world is folly with God.” No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush. As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”[Sermon 174.3.]
-St. Augustine of Hippo

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nov.18, 2013 Monday: 33rd Week in Ordinary C

Referring to the first Reading of the day, the Pope spoke of the passage which portrays the effort by the Jews to regain their cultural and religious identity after Antiochus IV Epiphanes suppressed the observance of Jewish laws and desecrated the temple after having convinced the people of God to abandon their traditions.
Lord, the Pope prayed, give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.
During his homily, Pope Francis warned the faithful against what he described as a “globalized uniformity” which is the result of secular worldliness.

Often he said, the people of God prefer to distance themselves from the Lord in favour of worldly proposals. He said worldliness is the root of evil and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God who is always faithful. This – the Pope admonished – is called apostasy, which he said is a form of “adultery” which takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord.
And he spoke of the contradiction that is inherent in the fact that we are not ready to negotiate values, but we negotiate loyalty. This attitude – he said – “is a fruit of the devil who makes his way forward with the spirit of secular worldliness”.

And referring again to the passage in the Book of Maccabees, in which all nations conformed to the king’s decree and adopted customs foreign to their culture, the Pope pointed out that this “is not the beautiful globalization, unity of all nations, each with their own customs but united, but the uniformity of hegemonic globalization, it is – he said - the single thought: the result of secular worldliness”
And Pope Francis warned that this happens today. Moved by the spirit of worldliness, people negotiate their fidelity to the Lord, they negotiate their identity, and they negotiate their belonging to a people that God loves.

And with a reference to the 20th century novel “Lord of the World” that focuses on the spirit of worldliness that leads to apostasy, Pope Francis warned against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “What do you think?” – he said bitterly – “that today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them”.
What consoles us – he concluded – is that the Lord never denies himself to the faithful. “He waits for us, He loves us, He forgives us. Let us pray that His faithfulness may save us from the worldly spirit that negotiates all. Let us pray that he may protect us and allow us to go forward, leading us by the hand, just like a father with his child. Holding the Lord’s hand we will be safe”.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nov. 17, 2013: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary C

Funny things happen when you're put on the spot. For instance, you forget things that you know so well. If I asked you at this moment to recite the Act of Contrition, can you do it? Better yet, can you tell me what is your favorite phrase out of the Act of Contrition? Is your mind drawing a blank? That's what happened to the second graders who were making their First Reconciliation a few days ago. They practiced and memorized their Act of Contrition, but when I asked them to recite it, inevitably they needed to go back to the beginning because they lost their train of thought.
Remembering is difficult when you're under stress or when going through challenges. I'm sure the disciples of Jesus were at a loss as to what to make of the Roman soldiers plundering and destroying the beautiful temple in Jerusalem around year 70 AD. Can you imagine a building complex the size of 29 football fields being destroyed? Eventually some disciples remembered what Jesus said to them almost 37 years prior to that destructive event. When Jesus arrived at  Mount Olive, which overlooked the city of Jerusalem and its beautiful temple, he wept and said, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Later on Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. [But] I tell you, you will not see me until [the time comes when] you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
I wonder though as Jesus looked over the fate of Jerusalem, if he saw each of our lives before his eyes as well. Each of us is a beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit, and it is more beautifully adorned than the jewels and gold that adorned the Jerusalem temple. Yet, at times, we do not recognize how holy, beautiful, and precious our soul is. Do we not allow, at times, this beautiful temple of God to be disfigured with selfishness, worldly pursuits, or no longer allow the Lord to be worshipped or praised there. We all have been there. That is why my favorite phrase of the Act of Contrition is, "O my God I'm heartily sorry for having offended you...most of all because my sins offend you my God who are all good and deserving of all my love." How forgetful we become to the goodness of our Lord!
The other morning I was having breakfast with a parishioner who has cancer and was told that her length of time on this earth is uncertain. The day before our breakfast, she received her first chemo treatment. Although she felt okay that morning, she knew she was going to feel awful from the treatment soon and potentially face losing all of her hair. On the dining table was a statue of Blessed Mother and Jesus and a picture of St. Padre Pio. She said, "Father, do you know what my son told me the other day that really touched me? He said, 'Mom, it's really a gift from God that we are given this time to be with you.'" What a contrast in emotions for this family when compared to those of the wife and daughters I met with just an hour later. They were grieving the death of their beloved husband and dad who died suddenly, without even a chance for them to say a goodbye. How do you prepare for a moment like that? Isn't it a sobering thought for all of us that this temple God has given us, will not exist on earth as long as we think it will exist?
Jerusalem, the city which Jesus wept over, is also known as the City of David. King David, before the arrival of Jesus, composed this 103rd Psalm which speaks of what we should do as we prepare to leave this earthly temple behind and welcome the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my being, praise his holy name! Praise the LORD, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts, Who pardons all your sins, and heals all your ills, Who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with mercy and compassion, Who fills your days with good things, so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like the grass; he blossoms like a flower in the field. A wind sweeps over it and it is gone; its place knows it no more. But the LORD’s mercy is from age to age, toward those who fear him. His salvation is for the children’s children of those who keep his covenant, and remember to carry out his precepts. Praise the Lord, my soul!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nov. 15, 2013 Friday: 32nd Week in Ordinary C

What does Jesus mean when he says that one person will be taken and another left? God judges each person individually on how they have responded to his mercy and his gracious invitation to accept or reject his kingship – to either live as loyal citizens or as traitors of his kingdom. We cannot pass off personal responsibility and accountability for how we have lived our lives to someone else, such as a close friend, spouse, or family member. No one can discharge his or her duty by proxy or by association with someone else. The good news is that God gives grace and help to all who seek him with faith and trust in his mercy. The Lord Jesus freely gives us his Holy Spirit so that we may have the wisdom, help, and strength we need to turn away from sin and to embrace God's way of love, righteousness, and holiness. The Lord's warning of judgment is a cause for dismay for those who have not heeded his warning and are now unprepared, but it brings joyful hope to those who eagerly anticipate the Lord's return in glory.

God's judgment is good news for those who are ready to meet him. Their reward is God himself, the source and author of all that is good  – truth, beauty, love, and everlasting life. The people in Noah's time ignored the Lord's warning of impending judgment. They missed the boat, literally! Whose boat are you taking – the world's boat to short-lived success and happiness or God's boat to an eternal kingdom and bliss with him? Those whose hope is firmly anchored in heaven will not be disappointed when God's judgment comes. They rejoice even now that they will see the Lord in his glory! Is your hope firmly placed in God and his kingdom?

Don Schwager,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nov. 14, 2013 Thursday: 32nd Week in Ordinary C

Take away, O Lord, 
the veil of my heart 
while I read the scriptures. 
Blessed are you O Lord, 
teach me your statutes! 
Give me a word, 
O Word of the Father, 
touch my heart, 
enlighten the understandings of my heart, 
open my lips 
and fill them with your praise. Amen 

 Lancelot Andrewes

What can lightning tell us about the coming of the Lord and his kingdom? The Jews is Jesus' time were watching in great anticipation for some sign which would indicate when the Messiah would appear to establish the kingdom of God. The Pharisees' question on this matter was intended to test Jesus since they did not accept him as the Messiah. Jesus surprised them with the answer that the kingdom or reign of God was already here! Jesus spoke of the coming of God's kingdom as both a present event and an event which would be manifested at the end of time. The "Day of the Lord" was understood in the Old Testament as the time when God would manifest his glory and power and overthrow the enemies of his people, Israel. The prophet Amos declared that the "Day" also meant judgment for Israel as well as the nations (Amos 5:18-20). The prophet Joel proclaimed that at this "Day" those who truly repented would be saved, while those who remained enemies of the Lord, whether Jew or Gentile, would be punished (see Joel 2).
Why did Jesus associate lightning with the "Day of the Lord"? In the arrid climate of Palestine, storms were infrequent and seasonal. They often appeared suddenly or unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere, covering everthing in thick darkness. With little or no warning lightning filled the sky with its piercing flashes of flaming light. Its power struck terror and awe in those who tried to flee from its presence. Jesus warned the Pharisees that the "Son of man" (a title for the Messiah given in the Book of Daniel 7:13-15) would come in like manner, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, on the clouds of heaven to bring God's judgment on the "Day of the Lord". No special sign will be needed to announce his appearance. Nor will his presence and power be veiled or hidden, but all will recognize him as clearly as the lightning in the sky.

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nov. 13, 2013 Wednesday: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

O God, fortify me
with the grace of your Holy Spirit
and give your peace to my soul
that I may be free
from all needless anxiety,
solicitude and worry.
Help me to desire always
that which is pleasing
and acceptable to you
so that your will
may be my will.
— St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

The word mercy literally means "sorrowful at heart". But mercy is something more than compassion, or heartfelt sorrow at another's misfortune. Compassion empathizes with the sufferer. But mercy goes further it removes suffering. A merciful person shares in another's misfortune and suffering as if it were his or her own. And such a person will do everything in his or her power to dispel that misery. Mercy is also connected with justice. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a great teacher and scripture scholar, said that mercy "does not destroy justice, but is a certain kind of fulfillment of justice. ..Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; (and) justice without mercy is cruelty." Pardon without repentance negates justice. So what is the significance of these ten lepers asking for mercy? They know they are in need of healing, not just physical, but spiritual healing as well. They approach Jesus with contrition and faith because they believe that he can release the burden of guilt and suffering and make restoration of body and soul possible. Their request for mercy is both a plea for pardon and release from suffering. Jesus gives mercy to all who ask with faith and contrition.

Don Schwager,

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nov. 11, 2013 Monday: St. Martin of Tours

Blessed Saint Martin of Tours, You were born under pagan ways but since your childhood you were chosen to be a Prince of the Church and, as Bishop of Tours, many souls were redeemed and liberated from the evil forces through your prayers, austerities and blessings.


Oh Saint Martin, who cut your own cloak to clothe Our Lord disguised as a begger,

We humbly ask for you intercession before Our Lord Jesus Christ and help us to be worthy of the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit that lead us from darkness to light into the eternal kingdom, forever and ever. Amen.

What's the driving force in your life? Jesus speaks of two forces at work in our lives – the power of temptation to sin and cause harm and the power of faith to overcome obstacles and difficulties that stand in the way of loving God and our neighbor. The Greek word for temptation (scandalon) is the same as the English word scandal. The original meaning of scandal is a trap or a stumbling block which causes one to trip and fall. The scriptures warn us about the snare or enticement to go astray and to do what is evil. Keep me from the trap which they have laid for me, and from the snares of evildoers! (Psalm 141:9) Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling (1 John 2:10). The Jews held that it was an unforgivable sin to teach another to sin. If we teach another to sin, he or she in turn may teach still another, until a train of sin is set in motion with no foreseeable end. Jesus warns his disciples of the terrible
responsibility that they must set no stumbling block in the way of another, that is, not give offense or bad example that might lead another to sin. The young in faith are especially vulnerable to the bad example of those who should be passing on the faith.
-Don Schwager,

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nov. 10, 2013: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary C

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”

THE WIDOW of one of my best friends calls regularly to tell me how much she misses him, and inevitably she will break down in tears. After more than two years nothing is more important to her than the assurance that she and her husband will one day be together in heaven. She asks if I believe they will be, and I assure her it is so. The tender prayers at the funeral Mass remind us again and again, “We shall be reunited.”

We know that some of the persons dearest to Jesus were widows and orphans because, like the poor, they had, in Jesus’ culture, no one on whom to depend but God. The gospel today has the ring of theological debate, an argument over the truth of resurrection, but for the grieving among us the need now is not orthodoxy of dogma but compassion, a shoulder that absorbs tears, an ear that listens to funny old stories and laughs again and again, a friend who allows another’s grief its own dignity and time. My friend is just one of so many left behind at the hands of war, street violence, a flood or fire, an illness—it really doesn’t matter. There are so many who feel abandoned.
–Father Larry Janowski, O.F.M.

Nov. 9, 2013 Saturday: 31st week in Ordinary Time C

Jesus referred to the temple as his Father’s house which was being made into “house of trade” (John 2:16) or “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). That is why he used physical force to expel the money-chargers. The prophecy of Malachi foretold the coming of the Lord unexpectedly to his Temple to “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord” (Malachi 3:1-4). Jesus' disciples recalled the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This was understood as a Messianic prophecy. Here the disciples saw more clearly Jesus as the Messiah who burned with zeal for God's house. The Jewish authorities, however, wanted proof that Jesus had divine authority to act as he did. They demanded a sign from God to prove Jesus right, otherwise, they would treat him as an imposter and a usurper of their authority. Jesus replied that the sign God would give would be Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews did not understand that the temple Jesus referred to was his own body. The “tent of his body” had to be destroyed to open the way to the presence of God for us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only reconciles us with God, but he fills us with his Holy Spirit and makes us temples of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God's word enlightens our minds and purifies our hearts that we may offer God fitting worship and enjoy his presence both now and forever. Do you burn with zeal for the Lord’s house?

"Lord Jesus Christ, you open wide the door of your Father’s house and you bid us to enter confidently that we may worship in spirit and truth. Help me to draw near to your throne of mercy with gratitude and joy."

Don Schwager,

Friday, November 8, 2013

Nov. 8, 2013 Friday: 31st Week in Ordinary C

Ambrose, a 4th century bishop said: The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever. True wealth consists not in what we keep but in what we give away. Possessions are a great responsibility. The Lord expects us to use them honestly and responsibly and to put them at his service and the service of others. We belong to God and all that we have is his as well. He expects us to make a good return on what he gives us. God loves generosity and he gives liberally to those who share his gifts with others. The Pharisees, however, had no room for God or others in their hearts. The gospel says they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14). Love of money and wealth crowd out love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus makes clear that our hearts must either be possessed by God's love or our hearts will be possessed by the love of something else. What do you most treasure in your heart?

"Lord Jesus, all that I have is a gift from you. May I love you freely and generously with all that I possess. Help me to be a wise and faithful steward of the resources you put at my disposal, including the use of my time, money, and possessions."

Don Schwager,

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nov. 7, 2013 Thursday: 31st Week in Ordinary C

What does Jesus' story about a lost sheep and a lost coin tell us about God and his kingdom? Shepherds normally counted their sheep at the end of the day to make sure all were accounted for. Since sheep by their very nature are very social, an isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered and even neurotic. The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The housewife who lost a coin faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband's daily wage. What would she say to her husband when he returned home from work? They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin. Both the shepherd and the housewife "search until what they have lost is found." Their persistence pays off. They both instinctively share their joy with the whole community. The poor are particularly good at sharing in one another's sorrows and joys. What was new in Jesus' teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for. God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. Seekers of the lost are much needed today. Do you persistently pray and seek after those you know who have lost their way to God?

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Nov. 6, 2013 Wednesday: 31st Week in Ordinary C

Why does Jesus say we must 'hate' our families and even ourselves? The expression 'to hate' often meant to 'prefer less'. Jesus used strong language to make clear that nothing should take precedence or first place in our lives over God. Jesus knew that the way of the cross was the Father's way to glory and victory over sin and death. He counted the cost and said 'yes' to his Father's will. We, too, must 'count the cost' and be ready to follow Jesus in the way of the cross if we want to share in his glory and victory. What is the 'way of the cross' for you and for me? When my will crosses with God's will, then his will must be done. The way of the cross involves sacrifice, the sacrifice of laying down my life each and every day for Jesus' sake. What makes such sacrifice possible and "sweet" for us is the love of God poured out for us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle reminds us that "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). We can never outgive God. He always gives us more than we can expect or imagine. Do you allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the love of God?

Don Schwager,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nov. 5, 2013 Tuesday: 31st Week in Ordinary C

What does it mean to "eat bread in the kingdom of heaven"? In the ancient world the most notable sign of favor and intimate friendship was the invitation to "share bread" at the dinner table. Who you ate with showed who you valued and trusted as your friends. A great banquet would involve a lavish meal of several courses and a large company of notable guests and friends. One of the most beautiful images of heaven in the scriptures is the royal wedding celebration and banquet given by the King for his son and friends. We, in fact, have been invited to the most important banquet of all! The last book in the Bible ends with an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb and his Bride, the church: The Spirit and the Bride say, Come! (Revelations 22:17). The 'Lamb of God' is the Lord Jesus Christ and his bride is the people he has redeemed by his own precious blood which was shed upon the cross for our salvation.

Jesus' "banquet parable" must have startled his audience. If a great lord or king invited his friends to a banquet, why would the guests turn down his invitation? A great banquet would take many days to prepare. And personal invitations would be sent out well in advance to the guests, so they would have plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming event. How insulting for the invited guests to then refuse when the time for celebrating came! They made light of the King's request because they put their own interests above his.

Jesus probes the reasons why people make excuses to God's great invitation to "eat bread" with him at his banquet table. The first excuse allows the claims of one's personal business or work to take precedence over God's claim. Do you allow any task or endeavor to absorb you so much that it keeps you from the thought of God? The second excuse allows our possessions to come before God. Do you allow the media and other diversions to crowd out time for God in daily prayer and worship? The third excuse puts home and family ahead of God. God never meant for our home and relationships to be used selfishly. We serve God best when we invite him into our work, our homes, and our personal lives and when we share our possessions with others.

Don Schwager,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nov. 4, 2013 Monday: 31st Week in Ordinary Time C

Who do you honor at your table? The Lord is always ready to receive us at his table. As far as we can tell from the gospel accounts, Jesus never refused a dinner invitation! Why, in this particular instance, does Jesus lecture his host on who he should or shouldn't invite to dinner? Did his host expect some favor or reward from Jesus? Did he want to impress his neighbors with the honor of hosting the "miracle worker" from Galilee?

Jesus probes our hearts as well. Do you only show favor and generosity to those who will repay you in kind? What about those who do not have the means to repay you – the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged? Generosity demands a measure of self-sacrifice. It doesn't impoverish, but rather enriches the soul of the giver. True generosity springs from a heart full of mercy and compassion. God loved us first, and our love is a response of gratitude to his great mercy and kindness towards us. We cannot outgive God in his generosity towards us. Do you give freely as Jesus gives without expectation for personal gain or reward?

Don Schwager,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nov. 3, 2013: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time C

How many of you have less than five friends on your Facebook account? (Raise your hands) I include myself among those who raised their hands because I created an account just to see what a couple of priests are doing these days. We live in a world of contradictions, at least where friendship and social interactions are concerned. On one hand, we are connected in a blink of an eye by gadgets, emails, and Facebook with more than several hundreds in the “friends” list. On the other hand, we live in increasing isolation. The very technology that is supposed to make our lives closer, is actually cutting us off from face-to-face contact, leaving us with mostly virtual relationship that may give us some superficial satisfaction but does not satisfy our deeper need for something that touches the heart and soul. Do you experience that, that hunger and need for a real connection? If you jog your mind, is there a particular friend with whom you make such profound connection?

There is a scripture that speaks of this need inside of us. And it’s from the Book of Sirach:
“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He who finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving remedy; those who fear God will find them.” You may have such a friend already. These are the friends with whom you can be completely yourself, the friends who may disagree with you from time to time but never consider walking away. They are the friends who bring you dinner when you’re sick, pray for you when you’re struggling, and remind you that you are never alone. Ultimately, we seek a friend who understands us, accepts us, loves us, but moves us to strive closer to our God given mission.

That was what Zacchaeus in today’s gospel was looking for. We can identify with him. At times, we feel like an odd duck in a group; at times, we feel like nobody is our friend. Zacchaeus had heard a lot of good things about Jesus, but he wanted to see for himself. First, he wanted to see what Jesus looked like. More importantly, he wanted to see what kind of person Jesus was. Zacchaeus did not expect Jesus to notice him; he merely wanted a passing glimpse of him. Yet, Jesus surprised him. Jesus stopped under the tree and looked up at him; Jesus showed Zacchaeus that he was interested in him. Then Jesus spoke to him, face-to-face. Zacchaeus not only discovered what Jesus looked like but also what his heart was like. Zacchaeus experienced the melting of the heart. His heart came to life like a desert landscape after a rainfall.

Few days ago, I saw such a moving and powerful exchange between two friends. I visited a parishioner who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Initially, the parishioner and I sat in the living room without speaking many words, listening to a song entitled, “Now You Come to Me,” a spiritual song based on the last words that Pope John Paul II uttered before he died. Then her husband sat down. We didn’t exchange many words, for there were no words to adequately describe the sadness. Then I turned to the husband and asked, “What have you been praying for?” He paused and looked away. His eyes were filled with tears. He then stretched out his hand to reach for his wife’s hand. When their hands were joined, he said, “I pray every day that I would have the cancer instead of her. I would rather take it than have her suffer.” It was a heart melting moment.

If you think about it, this is what Jesus did for each one of us. He couldn’t stand for us to suffer, so he chose to take our ultimate suffering from us. Zacchaeus found the one friend he was looking for. Pope John Paul II found the one friend he was looking for all his life. Have you found in Jesus the one friend you’ve been looking for all your life?

I have looked for you all my life
and now you come to me.
What wonder, what glory
My Lord You are Mercy.

You’ve come for me this wondrous day.
Oh finally here you are
Such beauty, such majesty, the King of my heart.

Jesus Christ, my Lord, my God, my All.
I’ve been looking for you all my life
And now here you are.
Jesus Christ, my God, my destiny
I will glorify Your mercy for all eternity.

This song is written and sung by Kitty Cleveland, a singer and songwriter from New Orleans. You can purchase this album from her website:
Here is a clip of this song sang by her: play clip of the song "Now You Come to Me"

Nov. 2, 2013 Saturday: All Souls Day

Those of you who are hard of hearing can appreciate this little story. A man came to a conclusion that his wife was hard of hearing. So he called his doctor for an advice. The doctor advised him to try an informal test on his wife, to speak to her 40 feet away, 20 feet away, 10 feet away, and right next to her to see how she responds. So in the house, in the living room, while she was in the kitchen, he asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” No response. He walked into the dining room and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” No response. He walked in the kitchen near the refrigerator and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” No response. He then walked right behind her in the kitchen and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” She said, "For the fourth time, I told you, CHICKEN!”

This story reminds me of an experience of a parishioner who recently brought communion to a dying man. He was in the advanced stage of active dying and had been in an out of consciousness. The family gathered together around him for a communion service and they all received communion except the dying man. Then the parishioner said to the dying man, thinking that he could not respond, “We ask Blessed Mother to wrap you in her mantle. For many years you have clung to the Rosary and prayed it faithfully.” Just then, unexpectedly, everyone heard, “Uh huh,” from the dying man. The family members looked at each other in disbelief. The parishioner continued, “When Blessed Mother comes to take you to our Heavenly Home, cling to her hands.” Again unexpectedly every one heard, “Uh huh,” from the dying man. The family members began to well up with tears.

I wonder if we here on earth are hard of hearing of the promptings of Heaven. What do I mean by that? Is our hope in this present life only? What about the life to come after our death? God puts in the heart of every living person the desire for unending life and happiness. While death claims each of us at the appointed time, God gives us something which death cannot touch – his own divine life and sustaining power. One of the greatest testimonies of faith and hope in the midst of great suffering and pain is that of Job: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:25-27).

To live, grow, and persevere in faith to the end we must nourish it with the word of God. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) said: I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe. Jesus promises that those who accept him as their Lord and Savior and submit to his word will be raised up to immortal life with him in the Day of Judgment. Do you know the inexpressible joy of belief and hope in the resurrection?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nov. 1, 2013 Friday: Solemnity of All Saints

They say that friends are the people that know all about you and still put up with you. A priest took that saying and made it more Christian: a friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway.

I think C.S. Lewis had the best quote about friendship when he said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'"

When you really think about it, all of us are meant to have partners to journey with us through different phases of life. Whether we are married or single, we need solid connections in our lives that go deeper than meeting for coffee once a week or catching a movie after work. We call them friends, but I'd like to make a distinction between friends and spiritual friends. Spiritual friends walk with us--like the two disciples traveling together on the road to Emmaus--talking with us, teaching us, praying with us, bringing us closer to God and, helping us reach our fullest and truest potential. Spiritual friendships may develop slowly over months or even years. That's true, too, of the spiritual friends we call saints. We may not know much about them, other than someone telling us that we should pray to them when trying to find something that is lost, or that we should ask that person to pray for us when we have a particular illness. I’m sure many of us have prayed, ‘Toni, Toni look around! Something’s lost and must be found.” And how many of the women here prayed, ‘St. Anne, St. Anne, send me a man!’

The other day, I visited with someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer. On her coffee table was a drawing made by her granddaughter. It was a picture of a man with a bleeding leg, and on the back of the picture was written, "St. Peregrine: Patron Saint of Cancer Victims. Peregrine was afflicted with cancer in the foot. The night before his surgery to have his leg amputated, Peregrine prayed all night. His case was considered hopeless. The next morning he was cured. Peregrine turned to God and was rewarded for his faith. He was able to lead many others to the truth.” It was signed, ‘we love and support you!’

Saints are the spiritual friends who traveled the road of challenges and difficulties themselves. They desire to help us because they care and love us. We are not praying to a static statue or a picture. They are living spiritual friends who can offer insights and prayers, comfort and encouragement when we are struggling with our children or a problem at work. Such companionship can bring us a deep sense of peace that comes from knowing that we are loved in a particular way and that we are not alone. Do you have a saint as a spiritual friend? If not, what’s keeping you from seeking one?