Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31, 2014 Monday: 4th Week of Lent A

Do you approach the Lord Jesus with expectant faith for healing, pardon, and transformation in Christ-like holiness? Isaiah prophesied that God would come not only to restore his people, he would also come to recreate new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17). Jesus' miracles are signs that manifest the presence of God and the coming of his kingdom of power and glory. When a high ranking official, who was very likely from King Herod's court, heard the reports of Jesus’ preaching and miracles, he decided to seek Jesus out for an extraordinary favor. If this story happened today the media headlines would probably say: "High ranking official leaves capital in search of miracle cure from a small town carpenter."

It took raw courage for a high ranking court official to travel twenty miles in search of Jesus, the Galilean carpenter. He had to swallow his pride and put up with some ridicule from his cronies. And when he found the healer carpenter, Jesus seemed to put him off with the blunt statement that people would not believe unless they saw some kind of miracle or sign from heaven. Jesus likely said this to test the man to see if his faith was in earnest. If he turned away in irritation or with discouragement, he would prove to be insincere. Jesus, perceiving his faith, sent him home with the assurance that his prayer had been heard.

It was probably not easy for this man to return to his family with only an assuring word from Jesus that his son would be healed. Couldn't Jesus have come to this man's house and layed his hands on the dying child? Without a moment's hesitation, the court official believed in Jesus and took him at his word. He began his journey back home with renewed faith and hope - ready to face whatever might await him - whether it be the anguish of his distraught family and or the scorn of unbelieving neighbors. Before he could even make it all the way back to his home town, news reached him that his son had recovered. What astonishment must have greeted his family and friends when they heard that his son was instantly restored to health at the very moment when Jesus had pronounced the words - your son will live!

Jesus' miraculous healings show his generous kindness and extravagant love - a love that bends down in response to our misery and wretched condition. Is there any area in your life where you need healing, pardon, change, and restoration? If you seek the Lord with trust and expectant faith, he will not disappoint you. He will meet you more than half way and give you what you need. The Lord Jesus never refused anyone who put their trust in him. Surrender your doubts and fears, your pride and guilt at his feet, and trust in his saving word and healing love.

"Lord Jesus, your love never fails and your mercy is unceasing. Give me the courage to surrender my stubborn pride, fear and doubts to your surpassing love, wisdom and knowledge. Make be strong in faith, persevering in hope, and constant in love."

Don Schwager,

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 30, 2014: 4th Sunday of Lent A

A mom and dad were bickering in the kitchen when their 6-yr old daughter came in and said, “You guys should get counseling.” After a surprise pause, the mom said, “out of the mouths of babes.” There was another 6-yr old who asked his mom, “Do you love me or God?” The mother, a self-professed atheist,  replied, “You, of course.” Her child replied, “I think that’s your big mistake.” Out of the mouths of babes...

Sometimes there are occasions when someone unexpectedly shows us how blind we are -- just as those 6 yr. old children demonstrated -- and then we remember that it is not only with the eyes that we see, but also with our mind, our heart, and our imagination. A narrow mind, a small heart, an impoverished imagination--all of these lead to loss of vision and shrink our world. This is especially true when we, the educated, grown adults, refuse to see and believe Jesus.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus command a man born blind, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man washes in Siloam and is cured of his physical blindness, but the Lord does much more for him. The man has not only been physically blind from birth, he has been spiritually blind as well; he has not believed. Jesus gives the man the opportunity he needs, allowing him to recognize the presence of God. Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man is obviously hungry to believe. I wonder if we have that kind of hunger to believe. Even though we may have been raised in a Catholic household where certain spiritual disciplines were emphasized since we were children, we may not have the desire to go further. In this way, are we like the Pharisees who refuses to believe, perhaps because it would disrupt our own comfortable notion of where religion should be in our lives? Is religion relegated to only children, women, and consecrated religious (e.g. priests, nuns).

When each of us were baptized, the priest handed to our godparent a lighted candle and pronounced the words, “Receive the light of Christ.” The priest tells the parents and godparents that they have been entrusted with this light so it will be kept burning brightly. Having been enlightened by Christ, the child is to always walk as a child of the light. The flame of faith which is in his heart is to be kept alive at all time so when the Lord comes, the child will go out to meet the Lord with all the saints of the Heavenly Kingdom. When we look at our lives, have we kept this flame of faith alive in our hearts? Or have we in some way kept this light hidden in a closet somewhere, hiding our identity and vocation as the one who was created, chosen, and sent by God to spread this light?

When we look around, the world desperately needs the light of Christ to shine brightly. Do you see how many different ways people can be blind? Selfishness blinds us to the needs of others. Insensitivity blinds us to the hurt we’re causing to others. Snobbery blinds us to the dignity of others. Pride binds us to our own faults. Prejudice blinds us to charity. Materialism blinds us to spiritual values. Who is going to shed the light on the blindness? We are. By growing growing daily in our belief, trust, and love for Jesus, we continue to bear the light of Christ. What a joy it would be for us at the end of our lives to learn that we have fulfilled our mission in life given to us by our Heavenly Father!

At this point in our Lenten journey on this Laetare Sunday, we need to rejoice that we have worked hard to get in touch with our own inner blindness. This week let us ask ourselves: what keeps me from seeing God in my life? What keeps me from seeing the needs of my neighbors?

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28, 2014 Friday: 3rd Week of Lent A

A complex or lengthy subject matter becomes easier to understand and distill when stated in a simple, summarizing statement. The teacher's question to Jesus seemed to be a sincere effort to try to understand the complexities of Jewish laws and regulations. And so to the question, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus gives a direct and simple answer and summary: There is only one Lord and God. Love Him "with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." These are the two greatest commandments.

God created us out of love and for no other reason. In fact, sin made man very unlovable but God did not give up on us and still accepts and loves us, faults and all, except for sin. It is only right that we love Him back with all our being: our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus also tells us to go beyond our self-love and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love is the foundation of everything that's good. We build this foundation by loving God and our neighbors. We show our love for God not just through words but by caring for and taking care of others. Lord, help me learn to love You and others as you love: unconditionally and with a generous and compassionate heart for service and sacrifice.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 27, 2014 Thursday: 3rd Week of Lent A

From the beginning, the original sin of Adam and Eve, our first parents, have cast us out from the purity of God's grace. We, the descendants have since been haunted and possessed by demons, or what we now call capital sins such as self-love, inordinate love of money, illicit sex, hate, jealousy, over-indulgence and laziness. Life is such - a continual struggle between being possessed either by God of by demons! As we all know, God willingly gave us free will to choose between both of them. Jesus said "If you are not with me, you are against me." So true... if we are not in God's graces, our fortress to protect our soul from the devil's temptations is weak! The demons KNOW when we are vulnerable, and they attack full force with most if not all the demons together! What to do? A simple-YES everyday to surrendering our mind, soul and body to our good Creator, our God! This means adapting a life style of Jesus our model: a life of prayer (i.e. adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and petition) and a growing relationship with Him as our constant confidante and journey friend!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014 Wednesday: 3rd Week in Lent A

Sometimes we consider the Law as something that imposes on us, that limits us. Thus the Law becomes something constricting and undesirable. But Moses tells us in today's first reading that if we observe the Law that God had enjoined us to follow, we are to have life and take possession of the land. Then the Law does not put a heavy burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, it frees us, for it teaches us how to have life. And what is this land that we are to possess? This land is the kingdom of God; and we are in the kingdom if we possess Christ.

Even before Christ came as man, the Law had the purpose of carrying out the divine plan for humanity. And then Christ came - to complete the Law, bringing it to perfection. It is basically still the same Law but brought to a higher realm. We will understand this with greater clarity when we read the rest of this chapter of Matthew, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, Jesus gives us the same Law of love but introduces to us the love for the enemy. Aside from this, he imparts to us the Law with the accompanying grace to fulfill it. Therefore, let us not be afraid if Christ gives us the Law, which, seemingly, is impossible to fulfill for he grants us his Spirit. And if we possess his Spirit, the law can be accomplished in our lives.
We Christians are blessed to be given the new Law by Christ. As Ps 147 says, "He reveals his word to Jacob, his statutes and rulings to Israel." He did not reveal them to others but to us, the new Israel, his chosen ones. When we discover the sweetness of the Law and consider it a delight, then we will understand why we are blessed to possess it. Many times, however, it still seems like a burden to us, something too demanding considering our weakness.
Let us not be disheartened whenever we fail to keep the law, for as St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, "However great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater." We can count on Christ's infinite mercy which is accompanied by his grace. That is why, for Christ, the Law is not one of moralizing but of giving freedom.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014 Tuesday: Divine Mercy Week 5

A couple of days ago, I baptized a beautiful, little baby boy. He was a couple of months old. His cousins all wanted to hold him. I noticed that his daddy gave good instructions to his little cousins before they were allowed to hold him. They were told, “Be gentle with him.” Each soul is fragile like a tiny, infant baby. Even the seemingly rough and tough person who ends up in prison, when you look deep in their heart, is a delicate, wounded soul. Needless to say, each soul needs to be handled with much gentleness.

This week, we are praying for the gentleness in priests, for priests are often with people who are at their most vulnerable time of their lives--death of a loved one, marriage conflicts, and personal crisis. At such times, we need more than ever priests who take to heart Jesus’ instruction, "Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” We also hear from Prophet Isaiah about Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break.”

To be gentle means that the priest must recognize the vulnerabilities of the other and the ways in which his arrogance or ego can threaten those weaknesses, even when he bears no malice to the other. Take the example from today’s Gospel. Did you notice how the mighty Archangel Gabriel approached the young teenager Mary? Although Archangel Gabriel was powerful and mighty, he protected the littleness and weakness of Mary from the danger implied by his own bigness and power. When he spoke to Mary, “Hail full of grace,” his tone was not that of forceful urging to submit to God’s will, but a gentle invitation in which the Almighty God gave the lowly, human girl plenty of freedom to choose.

A priest is considered an expert in spiritual matters. It’s really important that he is gentle in his approach. Consider for example, the computer expert, who knows exactly what silly mistakes someone is making and could put him in his place with a well-chosen sneer or two. The computer expert, if he is not to overwhelm and
demoralize the inexperienced user, must instruct him gently. How much more does the priest pose a kind of threat to those who may not have the theological background! These truths strike much more closely to the heart of a person’s self-understanding. Those who may have just started to turn their lives toward Jesus may find themselves embarrassed and foolish when a priest takes a condescending approach with them or belittles them to a point that they do not even understand their own deepest commitments. Such persons are likely to abandon the pursuit of deeper understanding, seeing it at best as an irrelevancy and at worst as a calculated attempt at the priest’s self-aggrandizement. Since priests ultimately strive to bring others to an encounter with Christ that results in conversion of life, the truths they teach touch the center of their hearers’ ways of life. Those who are not already committed to these truths quite reasonably perceive them as a threat to their self-identity. That sense of danger prompts almost impenetrable defenses.

We must pray that priests have a devotion to the Sacred Heart, for Jesus’ heart contains the key to cultivating this necessary virtue. Gentleness comes from growing in union with the Heart of Jesus, as they love, trust, and imitate him more.

March 25, 2014 Tuesday: The Annunciation of Our Lord

Rather crucial in understanding the event of Annunciation is the person of Mary who may well have been a young lady, possibly not over twenty years old. Like most women getting married at an early age during her time, she had been engaged to Joseph (who himself must have been a young man, and not quite like the old images we have of him as an elderly man). And we need to understand her from a human frame of mind - something that the bible leaves to us to imagine and spell out for ourselves.

How did she feel when the angel told her that she was going to become the mother of the child of the Most High? There must have been questions that any ordinary woman like her would ask. Who me? Why me? I'm just an ordinary girl from Nazareth. Who am I that the Lord should consider me at all? And what will happen to my boyfriend Joseph? What a great embarrassment to my folks and to his folks if we would have to break our engagement! And what will happen to me, when I become pregnant, without a husband? They will not only wonder why, they will probably stone me to death for such a scandal! No wonder Mary was disturbed, and that was why the angel assuaged her of the inner turmoil she was undergoing.

But through this unusual unsettling development in her life at that moment, she must have realized the sheer significance of God's plan for His people: this was now the coming to fulfillment of God's promise of salvation, as promised long before her time. For this great awesome occurrence about to take place, and with her at the center of it, she must have felt overwhelmed, with a sense of being so privileged, that she must have felt humbled. Her response to the angel's proposition? "Who am I to refuse? I am only a servant, at the service of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say." That was quite a great leap of faith, as she probably did not know how exactly the mystery of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her would happen, and what the consequences would be from thereon. All she knew perhaps was God now entering into history, in actual human time, and she was humbly ready to participate in it. In effect, she simply opened her heart and her body to God's plan, and entrusted herself completely to the Lord. And so, the birth of Christ nine months later happened.

But this event was not just all about Mary. Even more importantly, it was really about God who deemed it now time to pierce through human history. It is said that suddenly the infinite God seemed to have become finite, as though stopping and obligingly waiting for Mary'sfiat - those special moments of waiting for her final assent to His divine plan. If Mary was a humble human acceding to the divine request, all the more God humbled Himself to become human. And the rest is history, divine and human history merging together in the birth of the Emmanuel, the God who is with us, one of us.

We could be like Mary in entrusting ourselves humbly to God's plan, to His will in our own lives. There are times when this could be very challenging. If that is so, pray to Mary! Ask her to show you how to trust and entrust. And that is how the Lord Jesus might be born Emmanuel and become present in your lives over and over again.

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014 Monday: 3rd Week of Lent A

Pope Francis: humility is the path to salvation

(Vatican Radio) Our salvation is not just in observing the Commandments, but in the humility to always feel the need to be healed by God. This was the message voiced by Pope Francis during Mass on Monday morning at the Casa Santa Marta.Pope Francis’ homily on Monday found inspiration in these words that Jesus addressed to his fellow citizens in Nazareth: “No prophet is accepted in his hometown”. It was a place where he never worked miracles because “they had no faith”. Jesus recalls two biblical episodes: the miracle of the healing of the leper Naaman, and the meeting of the prophet Elijah with the widow of Serapta who shared her last morsel of food and was saved from famine. “Lepers and widows – Pope Francis explained – in those days were the outcasts of society”. And yet, these two outcasts, welcomed the prophets and were saved, while the people of Nazareth did not accept Jesus because “they felt so strong in their faith”, so sure of their faithful observance of the Commandments, they felt they had no need for other salvation”.

“It is the tragedy of observing the Commandments without faith: ‘I save myself because I go to the Synagogue every Saturday, I try to obey the Commandments, I do not want to hear that the leper or the widow is better than me!’ They are outcasts! And Jesus tells us: ‘if you do not put yourself on the margins, if you don’t feel what it is to be an outcast, you will not obtain salvation’. This is humility, the path of humility: to feel so marginalized that we need the Salvation of the Lord. He alone saves us, not our observance of the law. And they did not like this; they were angry and wanted to kill him”.

The Pope observed that this was the same anger initially felt by Naaman, because he felt that Elisha’s invitation to wash himself seven times in the Jordan was ridiculous and humiliating. “The Lord asked him for a gesture of humility, He asked him to obey like a child, to be ridiculous”. Namman turned and went off in a rage, but afterwards his servants convinced him to do what the prophet asked of him. That act of humility healed him. “This is the message for today – the Pope said - in this third week of Lent: if we want to be healed, we must choose the road of humility”.
"In her Canticle Mary does not say she is happy because God was looking to her virginity, to her kindness or to her sweetness – all of them virtues that she possessed – no: because the Lord was looking to her humility, the humility of His servant, her smallness. This is what the Lord looks for. And we must take heed of this wisdom and put ourselves on the margins so that the Lord may find us. He will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us”.

“This – Pope Francis highlighted – is the path of humility”:
“Christian humility is not within the virtue of saying: ‘I am not important’ and hiding our pride. No, Christian humility is telling the truth: ‘I am a sinner’. Tell the truth: this is our truth. But there is another truth: God saves us. He saves us when we are on the margins; He does not save us in our certainties. Let us ask for the grace of having the wisdom to put ourselves on the margins, for the grace of humility so that we may receive the Lord’s Salvation”.

March 24, 2014 Monday: 3rd Week of Lent A

In today's Gospel, Jesus is rejected by the people of his home town of Nazareth because he is too familiar to them, coming from a simple family. Crab mentality! He cannot be better than they? Who is he to teach them? They do not accept the new image of God Jesus presented to them in his interpretation of Isaiah where he conveyed that God's people are not only the Jews but also the non-Jews. Not only did they ridicule him, but they rose up against him in anger, and wanted to throw him over the hill of the town. But Jesus patiently moved through their midst, and went away.

     Why did Jesus' town mates become angry and violent? They are envious because he came from a lowly family and yet here he is teaching them. They are jealous because he did not perform miracles in his hometown while in Capernaum he did. They are angry because they could not accept his new teaching that God's people includes the excluded, going beyond the limits of race.
 But what was Jesus' response to all this? He remained calm. He could not change the mentality of the people, so he let them be for the time being.
     Let us not be like the town mates of Jesus. We should not be too exclusive but be accepting of others even those who are outsiders of our group or our communities.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 23, 2014: 3rd Sunday of Lent A

When we think of California, what images come to mind: Beautiful palm trees, driving down Hwy 1 on the Pacific Coast riding a convertible, and thousands of acres of green farms planted with fruits, vegetables, and almonds. Have you seen the news of the parched and cracked earth all over California because of the 3-year drought? Water reservoirs and lakes which used to have a marina for boats have been reduced to small ponds. Vast farmlands are dusty and cracked. Wells have run dry. This scenario is unimaginable here in South Louisiana where water seems to be plentiful with the mighty Mississippi River, and the sugar cane always seems to grow tall. But lest we forget, Louisiana recently experienced some of the driest years. Drought, however, can happen even closer to us than where we live.

Have you ever experienced dryness in your soul? How would you describe what that dryness feels like? Perhaps it feels like emptiness, doubt, restlessness, anxiety, loneliness or even anger. Perhaps there is no desire to pray, we do not experience God’s presence, we get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is a little more than a childhood fairy tale. It’s not a good feeling to feel dry in our spirit. We wonder if we are at fault for causing this dryness in our soul and at times it is our own doing. Because we entertain the many desires we have -- overeating or drinking, spending endless hours watching TV or on the computer -- we get wearied and fatigued by indulging them. In fact, indulging in all the desires causes in us greater emptiness and hunger.

The Samaritan woman who comes to draw water at the well represents all of us, because like her, we often experience dryness in our spirit and look for something to quench it. She is deliberately coming alone at the hottest part of the day because it is likely that her lifestyle is a scandal to the women of the town. In her heart she feels the painful emptiness, doubt, and loneliness. She believes that her solution to filling void is to move from one relationship to another, always hoping that the next person will fulfill all her desires. We also look for a quick fix to our dryness; it could be a person, a thing, or a substance. But as Jesus tells the woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.”

At this time, we also have to mention about the dryness we experience which is not caused by us, but an experience that God permits in us to draw us closer to Him. We may have received confirmation from God that He is going to use us in a great way. But in the face of trials, tests, sudden interruptions, disappointments, sadness, failed opportunities, broken moments, we will likely think, ‘He’s through with me; He is finished with me,’ when in fact He is equipping us.

Whether we experience dryness due to our own fault or due to Divine purpose, Jesus offers himself as the answer to our dryness and thirst, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Christ meets us where we are. He knows our deepest thirst--the thirst of the heart, which ultimately only God can quench. The ‘water’ Jesus desires to give us is the life of God bubbling up inside. When we feel dry and thirsty in our spirit, we need to go to the well where Jesus sits. When prayer is dry and without consolation, we still need to make effort to go to the well--whether it is a few quiet moment in our car, a silent moment before the Blessed Sacrament, or at our prayer corner. We need to ponder at that quiet moment the words Jesus speaks to us, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

If you are feeling dryness, come join us for the Divine Mercy Mass on Tuesday evenings or just attend one daily mass during the week. The adoration chapel is also open for you to spend just a few minutes before you head to work or home. Also remember that the Way of the Cross on every Friday evening is a perfect way to unite your suffering to the suffering of Christ.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21, 2014 Friday: 3rd Week of Lent A

In the first reading, we read about Joseph and his brothers, how the latter hated him because of jealousy and how they threw him into a well before selling him to a group of Ishmaelites who brought him to Egypt. This reading shows how hatred can lead people to do horrible things to others, even to one's own kin. Cain killed Abel, Saul wanted to kill David, etc. There are so many similar stories of hatred and violence in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Pharisees hated Jesus and wanted to kill him. Eventually they were successful.
In the gospel, Jesus speaks about a parable in which the tenants of a vineyard kill the servants of the owner whom he has sent to collect the farm produce. Jesus was alluding to the prophets and holy men of the Old Testament who were killed by the faithless Jews. Hatred is a very serious and real emotion. We all have experienced it in our lives. Oftentimes we hate people who have mistreated us, those people we don't like or simply those whom we envy. Whatever the reason, hatred is a mortal sin. Once we realize that our hatred is destroying the image of God in us, we are called to repent of it. Man is called to love and not to hate. The owner of the vineyard did just that. He kept on sending his servants to make sure that the tenants will give fruits of goodness and holiness. But they just killed them. Finally, the owner sent His Son to them. God invites us to always reach out to our enemies, to the people we dislike or even hate. He does not want us to remain in our sins. He wants us to be free of grudges, animosity, jealousy and rancor. The question is do we want to let go of our hate and anger or do we want to continue with our sins? We must contemplate His love for us when He sent His Son to save us from our sins. God loves us. Do we want to remain in His love?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20, 2014 Thursday: 3rd Week of Lent A

This is a story we must have heard many times before. And by now, for the nth time, perhaps we have become numb, unaffected, indifferent. The beggars in our streets are so common we take them for granted. The small children deprived of their playful childhood to earn some money for the family by selling sampaguita flowers around the church makes no difference to us. The garbage collectors ask for some cold water to drink on a hot summer day and we do not even bother. Many times we experience the "rich man" in us. Our hearts have become "stony hearts." (Ez 36:26) And perhaps, we shall "see" with our hearts only when we find ourselves really poor like Lazarus.
When were those times we felt like Lazarus? When were those moments of the "rich man" in us? As we reflect on poverty in order to jolt us proactively, let us beg for the grace to "see" with our hearts that we may recognize the face of God in the guise of Lazarus and respond with a generous heart.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 19, 2014 Wednesday: St. Joseph

How would we describe qualities of St. Joseph?  He was content to stay in the background, or in the shadows, supporting his wife and son Jesus in so many ways. Throughout Jesus' entire life, Joseph remains a totally devoted, modest, and faithful father and husband. Yet, he is barely mentioned after Jesus' birth. He is the silent but steady and strong force behind every force behind every picture of Madonna and Child.

"Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You're everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be.
Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.
You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.
Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,
so high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you,
thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18, 2014 Tuesday: Divine Mercy Week 4, Pray for humility in priests

Have you eaten humble pie before? It doesn’t taste good at first, does it? But it certainly does our body and soul good afterwards, right? Let me ask you this question: What was our Lord’s favorite virtue? Was it Faith? … certainly high up there … Hope? … rank it near the top … Charity? … think how often the Master spoke of love. But all of these pale, and take second place to our Lord’s favorite virtue — humility. In the words of St. Therese the Little Flower, “The beginning of all holiness is humbly admitting that without God we can do nothing, but that, with, in, and through him, everything is possible!”

This week, let us pray for humility in our priests. For our priests to live a life of humility is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Why is humility so prized by Jesus? Maybe because his mission as our redeemer was precisely to save us from the opposite of humility — pride — the original sin by which our first parents felt they could get along just fine without God. As St. Augustine observed, “It was pride that caused the Fall…. If you ask me what are the ways to God, I would tell you the first is humility, the second is humility, the third is humility….”

There is a danger of Pelagianism in priestly life. Pelagianism says that we can achieve, or merit our own redemption, to think that salvation depends on us. It’s really the opposite of humility, an exaltation of human ability. Pelagianism is a danger in priestly life because priests are called to do so many spiritual duties — daily Mass, divine office, meditation, confession, spiritual reading, acts of penance, striving for virtue, exercises of devotion. Priests do them, though, not to earn or produce holiness — that’s Pelagianism — but to open ourselves humbly to the power of God’s love. Priests should never believe that the vigor, the orthodoxy, the salvation of the Church depends on them. Nor should priests insist on their own teachings apart from the Magisterium of the Church. One cardinal remarked, “I always worry about a young man who feels he is the Church’s savior. The Church happens already to have one!”

Humility teaches priests to admit that they really deserve nothing at all, and that, in the long run, honors, attention, and prestige are dangerous and better off avoided. In the words of St. Paul, “If I am to boast, I boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This exaggerated emphasis on personal rights is an overemphasis on the self, which is the opposite of the way it should be. Mother Teresa, in her characteristic simplicity, says the proper order of priorities in life is J-O-Y: J — Jesus O — Others Y — You.

The ways to humility for priests are intense and silent prayer, regular confession, and openness to criticism. Let us pray and encourage our priests to be open to humility.

(The reflection above was taken in part from Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Priests for the Third Millenium)

Litany of Humility
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Divine Mercy Mass & Chaplet with Kitty Cleveland, March 18, 6PM atAscension Church, Donaldsonville

Divine Mercy Mass & Chaplet

with Kitty Cleveland

at Ascension Catholic Church, Donaldsonville
March 18 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Come join us to celebrate mass and sing the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy with Kitty Cleveland, a nationally-known singer and song-writer. It will be held at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in Donaldsonville, LA.
(Free-will offering at the event)

716 Mississippi St.
Donaldsonville LA 70346,

March 18, 2014 Tuesday: 2nd Week in Ordinary Time A

The first reading reminds us of our social responsibilities as Christians. We cannot profess to be followers of Christ if we mistreat our workers, cheat the government and neglect the widows and orphans. Christianity has slowly made many peoples more humane and adopt laws that benefit the poor and the oppressed. But the world has forgotten its Christian roots and become godless, selfish, arrogant and unkind. We should reflect on our own lives and how we can become better Christians. It could be by sharing our blessings with the poor, giving more quality time to our families, not condoning unjust social practices, etc. We must be happy to be Christians and strive to bring justice and love to others.
The gospel is an indictment of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees during the time of Jesus. Their sin was not to practice what they preached. This is what we might also be doing. So people do not listen to us anymore, our children do not obey us, and our neighbors speak behind our backs. Therefore, we need to reevaluate our actions and behavior and then ask God's help to reform our lives. This is the purpose of the season of Lent: to convert to the Lord, to His ways of thinking and doing. We are called to humility, to accept corrections, and even humiliations and injustices. We are called to save men and bring love and forgiveness to the most hardened and unbelieving of men. Let us save the world by following the footsteps of the crucified Christ.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mar. 17, 2014 Monday: St. Patrick

Not Breaking the Bruised Reeds

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged. Instead of repairing them we say: "Well, I don't have time to fix it, I might as well throw it in the garbage can and buy a new one." Often we also treat people this way. We say: "Well, he has a problem with drinking; well, she is quite depressed; well, they have mismanaged their business...we'd better not take the risk of working with them." When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.
-Fr. Henri Nouwen

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 16, 2014: 2nd Sunday of Lent A

All of us are familiar with the word, metamorphosis, which means a profound change in form from one stage to next or profound change in appearance or character. One familiar example is the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly through the stage of cocoon (it s a great struggle for the butterfly to emerge out of a cocoon). Another familiar example of metamorphosis is the before and after photo of a couch potato who decides to buy a $100 boot camp exercise video and actually does the exercises for 90 days. Unfortunately, after spending $100, I haven’t experienced such change in my appearance. It was not the fault of the DVD or the DVD player. I simply refused to do the exercises after the first 15 minutes. All of us can resist change, even when the outcome seems so compelling and attractive. We fear that it’s too hard to change, so we may give up.

Last week we began our Lenten journey in the desert with Jesus who was tempted by the evil one. This week we find ourselves with Jesus on a high mountain, the Mountain of Transfiguration. Mount Tabor, the site traditionally believed to be the Mount of Transfiguration is approximately 1,886 ft high or about 0.4 miles. That doesn’t sound too bad of a climb. But one pilgrim who recently climbed Mount Tabor, walking on the nicely asphalt paved road to the top, reported that it took him an hour and 15 minutes. Imagine then, what it would have taken Jesus and his disciples to climb the rocky, unpaved terrain to reach the mountain top. And remember, there were no hiking shoes, plastic water bottles, or moisture-wicking hiking clothes.

Mass at Basilica of Transfiguration, Mt. Tabor, Israel
The mountain is a powerful image symbolizing majesty and freedom. On the mountain we become aware of God, the Creator of the universe. The only obstacle holding us back from becoming all that we can become is fear. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells his friends on the mountain, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus takes us up on the mountain to show us that we can not grow without going through an ongoing process of inner change. Throughout life we go through a series of changes and with each change we become new people.

This week, I celebrated mass with 12 men who have been challenged to change. The mass was said in a hallway about 18 feet wide and a folding table served as the altar. A portion of the hallway is taken up by a detention cage for men who instigate fights in the dorm rooms. Everyone attending mass was properly dressed, in their orange jumpsuits. During the homily, I read a reflection by Fr. Henri Nouwen. “Let us try to see the pain of our human and spiritual journey from above. The great art is to gradually trust that life’s interruptions are the places where God is molding you into the person you are called to be. Interruptions are not disruptions of your way to holiness, but rather are places where you are being formed into the unique person God calls you to be.” At that point, I asked the prison inmates, “Do you feel that this interruption in your lives is a place where God is molding you into the person you are called to be?” All the men nodded in agreement. I continued, “ You know you are living a grateful life when whatever happens is received as an invitation to deepen your heart, to strengthen your love, and to broaden your hope. You are living a grateful life when something is taken away from you that you thought was so important and you find yourself willing to say, ‘Maybe I’m being invited to a deeper way of living.’”

This week we look at the mountains that we are afraid to climb. We ask ourselves why we are afraid to go with the Lord to the top of the mountain. We find out why we resist the challenge to change. In that climb, God’s majesty and glory will shine in and through us as we are given the freedom to share the glory of God’s love, compassion, and peace with others. After all, we cannot experience the joy and ecstasy of the mountain unless we are willing to make the climb.

Where do I resist change? Do I believe that God gives me the power to change? Do I hear God’s invitation to change?

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 2014 Friday: 1st Week of Lent A

The scribes and Pharisees were admired for their zeal, concern for purity, perfection and devotion to oral tradition. But this made them arrogant because they looked down upon those who were ignorant of the Law, thus they avoided the company of sinners. Since they are men of the Law they think they deserve the love of God. It is, for them, their privilege.
We, too, are Pharisees when we present ourselves as just, good, religious yet blind to the situation of our reality that we are sinners. Of what use will our prayers be if we do not have compassion? We do not kill physically but our hearts are full of anger, hatred and judgments against others. We open our mouth to sing hymns yet that same mouth we use to gossip and destroy others. If we want to be upright externally, we have to be more zealous and perfect than the Pharisees. This is a herculean task. Legal observance is not enough. We may fall into arrogance because everything depends on our strength. Christ came for those who cannot help themselves. He died for sinners. If we are not sinners then the effort of Christ is of no value for us. Like the Pharisees we conduct ourselves as hypocrites.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13, 2014 Thursday: 1st Week of Lent A

Jesus shows us that we have to be open to a conversation with God when we are in need. However, we have to listen attentively while God does the talking. The Father knows everything, but initially, He allows us to pour out our heart to Him in prayer. Jesus taught his disciples and his listeners to ask directly from the Father and the promise of Jesus is that we shall receive what we ask from God. To ask is not enough, however. Jesus tells us to go further and be more concrete in our prayer. Jesus specifically tells us to seek, which means to go out, to look for, to search. We are to do our share. We have to seek. And Jesus promised that we shall find what we are searching for. Then he mentions a door and that is the third and final portion of the whole prayer. There is no key to open the door with. We must initiate another action that Jesus taught us which is to knock. God must be waiting behind the locked room. He is ready to open the door. That moment will be when God presents us the gift we are asking for, and we receive the gift from His hands. God always listens. He does not come empty handed. The wholeness in the three part petition prayers ends with God fulfilling His promise to answer our prayers. However, the answer of the Lord may not be our expected prayer.
Jesus makes a comparison of how earthly fathers do not cheat their children when they ask for something. Fathers do provide for their children. How much more with God? God loves His earthly children and gives unconditionally. We must not think that God short changes us if we do not receive a gift that is not to our liking. We might not accept God's answer or gift but God, the Father knows best. All the gifts from the Father are part of God's plan for us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12, 2014 Wednesday: 1st Week of Lent

Many of us find it difficult to believe that we need to repent of our sins and change our lives; we are like the Pharisees who were looking for more signs than what they had already seen throughout Jesus' ministry. Probably, if we see Jesus Christ appear in front of us, calling us to repent then that's the only time we will convert; or if we see a cross appear in the sky, or something to that sort, we will tremble with fear and turn to Jesus. In that case, we are a "wicked generation" for we will only believe in Christ if we see a sign. You may say, "but I do believe in Jesus Christ." If we do believe, then we should be like the people of Nineveh who repented when Jonah preached to them. Christ comes to help us with a sign.
In another Gospel, Jesus said, "For as Jonah was in the belly of a sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. Christ is alluding to himself, to the period he would spend in the tomb. Just as Jonah came out of the belly of the whale, Christ also came out of the tomb. This is the sign that Jesus had given us and continues to be the sign for us today. In times when you find yourself in a tomb, believe that Christ, who already entered into death and came out of it with a new life, will not leave you in your tomb and will bring you out of it to experience his new life. Whether this tomb is a heavy trial, a serious sin, a vice or any sort of death, you can experience Christ's resurrection. He is always ready to manifest his glory by performing this sign in your life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mar. 11, 2014 Tuesday: Divine Mercy Week 3, Pray for priests who face loneliness

There is an essential felt loneliness in the priesthood because there is an essential loneliness in the Cross, the Cross that stands at the very center of the priesthood. We priests feel the sting especially in celibacy, and understandably we struggle to come to terms with it. Nothing happens to us at the time of entering the seminary that eliminates normal human needs, feelings, or desires. Like all people, priests integrate these feelings and express our love for others in a wide range of means other than those physical expressions restricted to marriage. As celibates, our love is focused on the church community, and to be available to all who are in need. We know the terrifying loneliness that comes crashing in, the coldness of walking back into the rectory – certainly exhausted and tired of people – but lonely because there does not seem to be anyone to share it with or who understands our hearts. A pious thought would be to pray, but prayer in those moments may well seem dry and distasteful.

Some try to numb this longing through careerism in the Church, food, drugs, alcohol, illicit relationships, pornography; probably the most common forms of numbing are through the television or Internet. This feeling of loneliness is an invitation for the celibate priest to enter more deeply into precisely this mystery of caring for the Church at the foot of the Cross and becoming united to her. The priest must struggle in accepting being co-crucified with Jesus and entering the compassion of Our Lady. She for her part comes to the aid of the priest by engaging his masculinity as a husband and father to help bring about his union with the Church—not in sexual union but through crucifixion, by dying for her. The priest, in his loneliness, becomes attuned to the Church's loneliness in this world.

A priest busily filling his social calendar is not a solution to his loneliness. It is a different kind of loneliness, and it is difficult for his congregation to understand. A priest can find joy in being united to the Cross through the help of the Mother of God. Joy is not found in the lack of suffering or on the other side of suffering but in self-giving love. Thus joy can flow clearly and directly from suffering. This is joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and thus something indestructible, something the world cannot give. (As we continue to pray for the priests in our Diocese, please pick up the sheet in the entrances of the church and pray for the priests for the week).

March 11, 2014 Tuesday: 1st Week of Lent A

In the first reading, Isaiah likens the Word of God to the rain which comes down from heaven and waters the earth. We know how much the soil needs rain to make plants grow and to keep it fertile. It is the same for us whose thirsting souls need the Word of God to give us life and direction. We need our daily dose of the Word of God from Sacred Scriptures and listen to people talk to us about Jesus. This is the spiritual food that truly nourishes us and will bear fruit in us if properly taken and constantly received with love and obedience to God.

The gospel talks about the Lord's Prayer. The Word of God we receive every day should make us aware of the holiness of God and make us desire that His kingdom be established here on earth as quickly as possible. We understand that as Christians we belong to heaven, and therefore, let us pray that God's reign be firmly established in the hearts of men which is full of confusion, lawlessness, deceit, worldliness and immorality. Then we ask God to provide us our daily bread, which is not only our immediate material needs but also the daily guidance and inspiration to be faithful to God's commands. One of these commands is to forgive those who sin against us. We do this by loving them, by understanding them, by helping them to correct their attitudes and behavior. "To err is human, to forgive divine." So we need divine help to forgive others. Lastly, we ask God our Father to save us from the evil one, and that is Satan. Satan is among us constantly tempting us to go against God's commands. We implore God's help to fight against his suggestions and resist him by being solid in our faith.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mar. 10, 2014 Monday: 1st Week of Lent A

"I tell you the truth" Jesus says," when you gave food, when you offered a drink, when you clothed someone, when you visited the sick, when you visited those in prison you did it to me."

Jesus tells us, shows us who in reality he is who is God, how to find and be one with him, this God who is truly alive, this God called Emmanuel And the Lord warns us, that even the good and saintly people would have difficulty recognizing him in their day to day life.

Today, everyday, anywhere, everywhere, he comes to us in the guise of the poorest of the poor, of the suffering unwanted brethren of ours, asking for our help, most of the time not even daring to beg for help from us. Do you see, do you sense? The thought that it is Emmanuel in front of me makes heaven and earth tremble. It makes me tremble. "Extend! Extend! Extend! The king of Siam commands in the movie, The King and I. God literally commands us to "Extend! Extend! Our hands, our hearts, our whole being, if we want the Lord to "welcome us into his kingdom on the last judgment.

Lord, Emmanuel, may I help you here? Now?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

March 9, 2014: 1st Sunday of Lent A

We now have a new Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge -- it was dedicated in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2013, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the outside, the front facade looks like the Alamo, the historical mission church located in San Antonio, Texas where the brave Texans fought to the end against Mexican troops. The church interior is decorated with beautiful art. The backdrop of the altar is a huge mural of Calvary with Blessed Mother, John, and Mary Magdalene standing below the Crucified Christ. The Stations of the Cross were individually hand-painted as well, each depicting a full array of emotions, captured in vibrant colors.

The artist who painted the the Third Station of the Cross said, “My inspiration was, I fell for the first time and I see Jesus and the cross fall for the first time. It’s part of my life.” The artist is 63 years old, and he is serving his 33rd year of a life sentence for a second degree murder conviction. Each of the beautiful 14 Stations of the Cross were painted by different inmate artists at the Angola Prison. It took the inmates of Angola only 38 days  working 12-hour shifts to complete the new Catholic Church inside the prison compound. One inmate said, “This is a place where you can come and forget about your life and your life sentence. It is a place of fellowship and peace.”

What motivated Jesus to spend 40 days and nights of solitude, prayer, and fasting in the Judean wilderness? The desert landscape was largely uninhabitable and was full of dangers for anyone who dared to venture in it. Danger from scorching heat by day and extreme cold by night, danger from wild animals and scorpions, plus the scarcity of food and water. It was an uninhabitable environment much like the Angola prison many years ago when chaos was prevalent. The prison environment was chaos because each inmate lived with only a couple of rules of survival--don’t trust anyone except yourself and always think of what’s in it for me.

In the First Reading we are reminded that Adam and Eve had everything they needed in the Garden of Paradise. However, they ate of the forbidden fruit because they trusted in themselves rather than in God, and thus were cast out of Paradise and driven into the wilderness. The Israelites also spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness with Moses. They complained to the Lord of hunger (Exod 16:3), they put the Lord to the test (Exod 17:7), and they committed idolatry (Eox. 32:1-6). Jesus, however,  freely entered the wilderness in order to regain Paradise for those who lost it. Jesus refused food to show his dependence on the bread of heaven, the word of God, that sustained him not only in his physical hunger, but in his hour of temptation as well.

In this wilderness we call life, we are tempted by the evil one just as Jesus was tempted.  The tempter seduces us to seek what we perceive as finer things in life, but in reality they are like the stone which cannot feed our soul. The tempter seduces us to seek advancement in this life and to climb the ladder; however, such effort leaves us ever more unsatisfied. Finally, the tempter seduces us to seek influence and control over our life, but it is like trying to grasp the fog that vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.  

Where did Jesus find the strength to survive the desert's harsh conditions and the tempter's seduction? He fed on God's word and found strength in doing his Father's will. Satan will surely tempt us and he will try his best to get us to choose our will over God's will. If he can’t make us renounce our faith or sin mortally, he will then try to get us to make choices that will lead us, little by little, away from what God wants for us. Jesus was tempted and he overcame sin not by his own human effort but by the grace and strength which his Father gave him. He renounced his will for the will of his Father. He succeeded because he wanted to please his Father and he trusted that his Father would give him the strength to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way.

In our time of temptation, we are to cling to the Father, to His Word, and Our Lord. Jesus from the cross left us His mother to be our mother to shelter us. I don’t think the new church inside the prison was named by accident. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose name, Guadalupe, is a translation of the native Aztec word that means, “the one who crushes the serpent.” As we face the temptations and fears in this life, we are reminded to trust the tender words that Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to the Aztec indian St. Juan Diego, “My little one. Do not be distressed and afraid. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?”

Friday, March 7, 2014

March 7, 2014: Friday after Ash Wednesday

Generally speaking fasting is to deprive ourselves of food and drink. Occasion and motives may vary. One may fast out of personal devotion, mourning or ascetism. In the Church, fasting, together with prayer and almsgiving, is one of the expressions of man's humility before God. Christ denounces fasting or any good deeds done out of pride that is " in order to be seen by men." Fasting should be practiced with perfect discretion.

     The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees fasted twice a week as defined by the Law and the prophets which was also one of the elements of justification. However, this practice can become ostentatious, a public show of one's piety. We cannot become justified by our own merit and goodness. Christ insists more on detachment from wealth and self-renunciation because he came to fulfill our justification.

     There is yet another reason for fasting, the one Jesus mentions in the Gospel. It is the fasting of the faith, the absence of the bridegroom and the continuous search for him. While waiting for the return of the bridegroom, penitential fasting has its place in Church practice.
Thus to fast can mean not only because we are repentant of our sins but also we want to feel closer to God by the presence of Jesus in our lives. We fast because we love him and we long for his presence.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014: Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Suffering is part of being alive. We are called in life to love. But to love is also to suffer. Knowing our human tendency to avoid pain and suffering, our Lord reminded his followers of the inevitability of suffering in life and the relationship between love and pain. The ancient Chinese in some way understood this reality. That is why like the Greeks of old, they have more than one word for love. One such word could also be translated as pain. Even if pain and suffering are essential elements in the reality of living and loving, joy and contentment are as much part of loving and living. However, the meaning of carrying one's cross is not just bearing our burdens or sufferings, it has a mission part. Loving is very much the mission of the cross. We learn the value of being human beings created to love and be loved and that makes sharing Christ's yoke light because as we participate in that mission we are being redeemed from our sinful inclinations. As our Lord Jesus had said the Son of Man must suffer and die but on the third day will be raised to life. This is a great consolation for all of us who are suffering one way or another. Our Lenten practices are reminders for us that to be able to live and love as followers of our Lord, we have to die to our selfish desires. But we can all look forward with hope for we all know that the resurrection of our Lord follows after his passion and death. Even so, when we are faced with setbacks and various forms of suffering in our lives, can we still have the joy and hope of Easter in our hearts? On the other hand, given a choice, shall we choose the rough and difficult road which is the way God wants us to take to be able to reach him? Or shall we choose the easy and smooth road leading us away from the Lord?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 5, 2014: Ash Wednesday

Recently, we had a funeral for a mentally challenged parishioner. She was only 44 when she died, but she had the intellect and motor skills of a 2-year old. She spent most of her life sitting in a wheel chair. In the Eulogy, her brother called her sinless, perfect, an angel, and a saint. All she knew was how to smile, to laugh, and to dance. He said she taught the rest of the world how to be joyful in the midst of suffering. To an unsullied soul like her’s, what does Ash Wednesday and Lent mean? What would be the reason for her to pray, fast, and give alms? Her brother may argue that she was already a saint, that she didn’t need Lent. This brings to question, why do we need Ash Wednesday and Lent?

What keeps you from smiling and from feeling joyful like that parishioner? Is it a pain, a sorrow, or an anxiety?  Our Lenten journey is a process of growth and, as such, presumes movement from one state of being to another state. For example, some of us may find ourselves troubled and anxious at the beginning of Lent as a result of a life choice, unanswered question, or grief after a loss. At the end of Lent, we may expect a sense of conversion, a sense of peace, or perhaps simply understanding and acceptance.

In the First Reading, we hear Our Lord call  to us, “Return to Me with your whole heart with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.” All of us have to admit that, in one way or another, we have turned away from him since last Lent. Perhaps we have not been faithful in our attendance at Mass or to daily prayer. Maybe we have not been kind to our family or friends, or we have rejected assisting the poor. Perhaps we have been struggling with impure thoughts or actions. Our Lord personally shows us how to return to the Heavenly Father--to follow Jesus  to the desert, to Jerusalem, and to Calvary. It will be a path of rejection, self-denial, and self-control. It will be more challenging than just giving up our sodas, sweets, and cursing.

I still remember the day when my class at the seminary received a tour of the Lake Lawn Metairie funeral facility. The tour included the embalming room and the crematorium.  We were shown a box about the size of a shoe box where one person’s ashes were contained. What a sobering reminder…. "Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." It was also a reminder to me that we cannot cling to things of this earth. Nothing that we think is valuable while we are alive goes with us into the next life. Fr. Donald Blanchard has a saying, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it!”

What attitudes do we already have about Lent and its purpose?  We so easily fall into the notion that Lent is some teeth-gritting, miserable discipline to be endured for the days of Lent and then abandoned immediately on Easter morning. Lent is, rather, for particular attention to an aspect of ourselves that we would like to see changed--preferably a change that would endure. The Church offers us a special season to reflect lovingly on the trials of Jesus’ life so that we will feel his companionship in our efforts to become more like him. Whatever we practice during Lent is to be aimed at a permanent change.  It’s purpose is not merely “sticking it out” but to become more Christ-like. Let us take these forty days of Lent to embrace the abundance of gifts that God has given to us and return to God with our whole hearts – hearts that truly desire reconciliation with God so that intimacy with Him, once again, may be restored.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 4, 2014 Tuesday: Divine Mercy Week 2, Pray for the Fervor for Jesus

Imagine in the wee hours of the morning, outside your window you hear a rustling. You peer through the window, and you see a man donning a ski mask. Wouldn’t you want to call the police? Fortunately, the police cruiser had been following that suspicious man for several blocks. That’s what happened to Fr. Frank Uter, the pastor of Immaculate Conception in Denham Springs, one morning in the church neighborhood as he was making his routine morning walk. It was a very cold morning. He felt he was lucky to find a ski mask thrown away in front of a house he was passing by. He had to explain to the policeman who was following him that he was really a Catholic priest. What do you think my reaction was when he was telling me all this over breakfast that morning?

Why was Fr. Frank Uter out there at 4:30 in the morning, walking with a ski mask on? He has an admirable daily routine where he begins his day at 3:30AM with an hour of adoration at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel. While in prayer, he asks the Lord for the wisdom and strength to serve His people faithfully and diligently. He is  already a couple of years past his retirement age, but he doesn’t want to retire. He has a burning desire to serve the Lord and His people.

What all of us desire is a priest with a heart after Our Lord Jesus. Having given up marriage, promising to live a simple life, and promising to obey their bishop, priests have given up everything to follow Jesus. All of them are capable of being set on fire for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. On this second week of Divine Mercy, that’s our prayer intention, that the Holy Spirit would set aflame the hearts of our priests to have the desire to serve the Lord and His people with zeal and great fervor. At this mass, we implore our Blessed Mother, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to assist her ordained sons to become the ministers of Divine Mercy for our Diocese.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mar. 3, 2014 Monday: St. Katherine Drexel

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

St. Katharine Drexel

Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858. Her mother died when she was just a baby. Not long after, her father, a very successful banker, got married again to a kind woman named Emma. Emma was very loving to Katharine and her older sister Elizabeth. In a few years another baby girl was born into the family. Mr. and Mrs. Drexel named her Louise. The three Drexel sisters had a great time growing up together.

Katharine’s parents were very religious. The family prayed together every day before an altar they had set up in their home. Mrs. Drexel devoted much of her time to helping the poor, and Katharine and her sisters learned from her the joy of sharing their wealth with those who were in need. This was how they could show their love for God.

When Katharine grew up, she was a very active Catholic. She was generous with her time and her money. She realized that the Church had many needs. She directed her energies and her fortune to helping the poor and forgotten. Her work for Jesus would be among the African American and Native American people.

In 1891, Katharine began a new religious community of missionaries. They were called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Katharine became known as Mother Katharine.

Mother Katharine inherited her family’s great fortune. She used the money for wonderful works of charity. She and her sisters built schools, convents and churches. In 1915, they established Xavier University in New Orleans. During her long, fruitful lifetime, Mother Katharine spent millions of dollars of her inheritance to provide education and assistance to African Americans and Native Americans who were in need. She found Jesus truly present in the Eucharist and in all the people whom she so lovingly served.

Mother Katharine died on March 3,1955, at the age of ninety-seven. She was declared “blessed” by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988, and canonized on October 1, 2000. She is the second native-born United States citizen to be declared a saint.

St. Katharine teaches us a special lesson. We could spend our lives being concerned only about ourselves and our own needs. But how much better it is to imitate Mother Katharine and do as much as we can to help others. This will make us more like Jesus!
-Daughters of St. Paul

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 2, 2014: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Do you remember a little more than a month ago when everyone stayed off the highways and roads when the winter chill froze the Sunshine Bridge and the Interstate? On one of those days, I was in the church office when a young man knocked on the office door looking for a place to volunteer and a place to sleep. He had pedaled his bike from Mississippi and was headed to Corpus Christi. He was not looking for a handout. He emphasized that he needed to do volunteer or charitable work. Your generosity to our parishes allowed us to put him up in a motel for a couple days so that he could be out of the frigid weather. His bike pilgrimage reminded me of what the Jesuit order requires of all their novices. The novices must take a 30-day pilgrimage without money, begging from door to door, to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging. How would you like to be handed a one-way bus ticket to an unfamiliar destination with only $35 in your pocket, and told that you are to return back home 30 days later for dinner at 4PM?

One Jesuit novice got on a bus from Detroit to Atlanta with only $35. From there he planned to walk 20 miles to a Trappist monastery to spend his pilgrimage in prayerful solitude. Within minutes his plans changed. The first person he stopped to ask for directions had just been released from prison. After they chatted a bit, the novice was so moved that he gave the man $10 for train fare. Next, he met a homeless man, and the Jesuit gave him the remainder of his money so that the man could eat. With no money in his pocket, the Jesuit spent the rest of the time in a homeless shelter. He said, “The point of the pilgrimage is to spend the month letting go of our typical securities of home, money, community, and in doing that, come to trust more fully in God,”
What is one of our deepest fears? That we would not have enough to live on. Our Lord addresses this deep anxiety we all have. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?... Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” We may question Jesus, “But Jesus, do you know how much Catholic School costs to educate our children, how much it costs to run a household and pay bills? How can we not worry?”

A couple of days ago, we celebrated the funeral mass for a 98-yr. old mother who had 13 children, 29 grandchildren, and 50 great grandchildren. These days we worry when we have more than two children. How could a couple ponder having 13 children? She and her husband had one secret: they trusted day-by-day that God would provide what they needed, not what they wanted.

Ash Wednesday is just a few days away. The Church gives us this wonderful season of Lent to help us make those changes in our lives that keep us from trusting God and loving the way we are called to love.  Lent is a time to let go of our desire for unnecessary wants and to cultivate a desire for only what we need. Let us ponder Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel through the words of a song written by Kitty Cleveland who will be with us in few weeks to sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well as share her testimony.   

God will provide all we need.
He’ll never leave or forsake us.
He lovingly tends all his sheep.
We believe God will provide.

He clothes the grass in splendor, and feeds the birds of the air.
If such as these he cares for, how much more will the Father care for us?
We know that God will provide all we need.
He’ll never leave or forsake us.
He lovingly tends all his sheep.
We believe God will provide.