Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aug. 31, 2014: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
A few days ago contractors were cleaning up after painting our parish hall. I asked them to rehang the large crucifix back above the entrance. One of the contractors, who used to be Catholic but now attends a Baptist church said, “Fr. Paul, I still hang a crucifix in my house, but the church I’m attending says that we should not hang a crucifix. They explained that Christians serve a Risen Christ, not a bloody, suffering victim as seen on Catholic crucifixes. Can you explain why we hang a crucifix instead of a cross?”

A 4-yr. old attending mass for the first time with his maw maw turned to her and asked, “Maw maw, who is that man? Why is he on that thing? He looks scary.” The child had his first encounter with crucifixion, a cruel and horrible method that Romans devised to execute criminals. So naturally, any person seeing a crucifix for the first time would likely react negatively. We hear a similar reaction in Peter in today’s Gospel. Peter did not understand what Jesus was about to do as he entered Jerusalem. Jesus, peering ahead with prophetic vision, foresaw a chain of events that would cause him to suffer greatly and ultimately be killed on the cross. The disciples were shocked by what Jesus had revealed to them, and even though Jesus mentioned being raised from the dead on the third day, they did not understand. Peter would have none of this talk about doom and gloom awaiting Jesus as he said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter’s words were not a result of spiritual discernment;  instead, Peter yielded to human dislike for suffering. Then Peter was struck by thunderous words from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Recently I visited a parishioner at a hospital room in the newly-built section of Our Lady of the Lake. On the wall of the hospital room hung prominently a crucifix. I wondered what the patient was thinking as she lay there looking at the crucifix. Have you done that recently, to sit and meditate looking at the crucifix? Who is Jesus for me? Who put Jesus there on the cross? Why did he choose to suffer and what does his suffering mean for me? What is he inviting me to?

When we pray with a crucifix, we receive a special invitation from Jesus. First, Jesus invites us to reflect on our own life; he reminds us of seriousness and consequences of our sins--consequences which he willingly took on by carrying the cross and sacrificing himself on it. Yet he did this for us because he considers us an intimate friend whom he loves so much. We know from St John’s gospel that on the night Jesus was to be arrested and taken away to be crucified he said to his disciples, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) So clearly we need to read into this passage Jesus’ own sacrifice -- his own love for his disciples, and indeed all of humanity, for which he was willing to lay down his life.

Second invitation:  the crucifix inspires us to bear our suffering patiently.  Heavenly Father chose suffering for His Son from His birth to His death and Jesus reminded us that the servant is not above the master. If He, as God-Man had to suffer in order to enter into His Glory, then we too must suffer in order to prepare ourselves for our glory. The sufferings of this life not only make our temperament more like the Divine Personality of Jesus, but detach us from the things of this world. This Divine preparation opens our souls to the working and pruning of the Father.

Third invitation: crucifix shows us the model of true love. Crucifix doesn't hide the reality that love is sometimes painful, for true love requires forgiveness. St. John Vianney instructs us, "O what inspiration there is in the Crucifix! Who could find it hard to persevere at the sight of a God who never commands us to do anything which he has not first practiced himself?" If Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” are we not also invited to do the same, to forgive those who did not know what they were doing as they hurt us?

These invitations are a few of the reasons why we place a crucifix and not a plain cross in the center of our faith life. Pope Pius XI explained, “A plain cross has no blood and no nail holes - it has no trace of suffering - yet It was the love of a suffering God that saved the world. When a cross is plain, we are deprived of seeing this truth...we are deprived of being reminded of how much God loves us and how He has proved his love...we are deprived from the comforts of seeing this and we may turn in towards ourselves rather than to our Crucified Lord.”

Jesus made this invitation to love in today’s Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We follow Christ on the cross in order to get to the resurrected Christ. The crucifix is a reminder that it alone is the way of life that brings us ultimate happiness. It reminds us that the path to resurrection requires us to love as he loved.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Aug. 29, 2014 Friday: Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Are you prepared to be a witness, and if necessary, a martyr for Jesus Christ? John the Baptist bridged the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets who pointed the way to the Messiah. He is the first of the New Testament witnesses and martyrs. Jesus equated the coming of his kingdom with violence. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force (Matthew 11:12). John suffered violence for announcing that the kingdom of God was near. He was thrown into prison and then beheaded.
Whose pleasure do you seek?
King Herod, the most powerful and wealthy man in Judea, had everything he wanted, except a clear conscience and peace with God. Herod had respected and feared John the Baptist as a great prophet and servant of God. John, however did not fear to rebuke Herod for his adulterous relationship with his brother's wife. John ended up in prison because of Herodias' jealousy. Herod, out of impulse and a desire to please his family and friends, had John beheaded.

Why did Herod put John to death when he knew him to be a righteous and holy man? Herod's power and influence were badly flawed. He was more bent on pleasing others and making friends than on doing what was right and just in the sight of God. He could take a strong stand on the wrong things when he knew the right. Such a stand, however, was a sign of weakness and cowardice.

God is our help and our strength
Where do you get the strength of will and heart to choose what is right and to reject what is wrong and sinful? The Lord Jesus gives strength and courage to those who humbly acknowledge their dependence on him. The Lord knows our weaknesses better than we do. He pardons and heals those who ask for his mercy and forgiveness. In whatever situation we find ourselves the Lord is there to guide and direct us. Do you seek the Lord's strength and wisdom? Ask with expectant faith and trust in the Lord's help and grace.
-Don Schwager,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug. 28, 2014 Thursday: St. Augustine

Prayers of St. Augustine
From Confessions

Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand
Whether I must first pray to you before I praise you,
Or whether I must first know you before I pray.
Is it possible to pray without knowing you first?
Those who do not know you could be misled into praying to others
But what if to be known you have to be invoked?
How can people pray to one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe
In one of whom they have not heard?
Those who seek the Lord will praise him
Because he who seeks him finds him,
And he who has found him
Cannot help but sing his praises.
May I seek you, O Lord, as I call upon you,
And call on you as I believe in you,
Because at last we have heard the good news of you.
My faith calls to you O Lord,
The faith that you have given me
And instilled in me,
Through your Son made man,
And thanks to him
Who has preached the good news of you to us. I.1.

I was so slow to love you, Lord.
Your age-old beauty is still as new to me:
I was slow to love you!
You were within me,
Yet I stayed outside
Seeking you there;
In my ugliness I grabbed at
The beautiful things of your creation.
Already you were with me,
But I was still far from you.
The things of this world kept me away: I did not know then
That if they had not existed through you
They would not have existed at all.
Then you called me
And your cry overcame my deafness;
You shone out
And your light overcame my blindness;
You surrounded me with your fragrance
And I breathed it in,
So that now I yearn for more of you;
I tasted you
And now I am hungry and thirsty for you;
You touched me,
And now I burn with longing for your peace. (X.27.)

Here is my heart, O God,
Here it is with all its secrets;
Look into my thoughts,
O my hope,
And take away all my wrong feelings:
Let my eyes ever be on you
And release my feet from the snare. IV.6.

O Lord my God, how eternally great are your hidden depths
And how far have the consequences of my sins dragged me from them!
Heal my vision that I may rejoice with you in the light.
Indeed, if there existed a mind so gifted
In abundant knowledge as to know all things, past and future,
As I know all things, past and future,
As I know all the notes of a song,
It would be wonderful thing and to be held in awe,
Because nothing past or future would be concealed from it;
Just as when I sing
I know how much I have already sung since the beginning
and how much remains until the end.
Nonetheless, I would be in a sorry state if I thought that you,
the creator of the universe, Creator of our minds and bodies,
Had no more knowledge than this of things to come and of those past!
You are far more wonderful, far more mysterious!
For you, who are eternal and unchanging, the everliving creator of our minds,
it is not merely a successions of impressions or prolonged sensations,
As for someone who sings or listens to music.
Just as you knew heaven and earth in the beginning,
without any change in your knowledge,
So you created heaven and earth in the beginning
without any change in your actions.
Whoever understands this exalts you,
but so too do those who do not understand.
How great you are! Even the most humble are part of your family:
You indeed, lift those who have fallen, and those
Whose place their own greatness in you never fail. XI.31

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Aug. 27, 2014 Wednesday: St. Monica

A Tribute to Motherly Love
The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you know that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, "forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead.." We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth - for you are the Truth - what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man." We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said, "Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?"

I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side, but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: "Where was I?"

We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us, and spoke further: "Here you shall bury your mother." I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: "Look what he is saying." Thereupon she said to both of us, "Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be." Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.
--from the Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aug. 26, 2014 Tuesday: 21st Week in Ordinary A

Strength in the Lord
News headlines these days are filled with global conflict and neighborhood violence, murder and mayhem of many kinds. Photos abound of refugees fleeing, of neighbors wounded and killed. Is this the way our world is supposed to function? Against this challenging backdrop, we move forward with our lives. Vacation time ends; children return to school; our calendars fill up amidst the chores of daily working and living.

St. Paul lived in times much like ours. The people of Thessalonia whom he visited became concerned about the end of the world with all that might mean. Amidst their calamaties and questions, Paul urges them to keep their focus on Jesus and his teachings. Paul’s words give us hope amidst the challenges we face in late August 2014: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, may God our Father who loved us and in his mercy gave us eternal consolation and hope, console your hearts and strengthen them for every good work and word.”

—The Jesuit Prayer Team,

Monday, August 25, 2014

Aug. 25, 2014 Monday: 21st Week in Ordinary

When the Lord knocks on our door, are we ready to let him in? God offers each of us an open door to His kingdom, but sometimes we ourselves close it. Jesus declared that he is the open door and the way that makes it possible for us to reach heaven. In today's reading, Jesus laments as he issues a stern warning to religious leaders because they have misled the people. Oaths are binding but the Pharisees find clever ways to evade the obligation to their oaths. They forget that God hears and sees everything, even the person's heart.

How often have we made promises such as fasting and abstinence, but when the situation presents itself, we break our promise and say it's alright to eat beef steak because we can do a good deed or go to mass as a substitute. We take God's command lightly.

We shut the door of God's kingdom in our lives when we close our ears to Jesus. When we go to mass, do we pay attention to the readings and the homily? When we pray the prayer Jesus taught us: "Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," do we listen to the little voice inside us where God speaks to us? Do we seek his will in the silence of our heart?

Lord, your word is life to us. Help us not to close the door to your kingdom through disobedience, disbelief or indifference. Help us to listen to your voice and align our life more fully to your word.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aug. 24, 2014: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you ever feel that you’re being watched? Whether you are at a shop, a grocery store, or a mall, you may notice those small black globes attached to the ceiling that are really concealed cameras. Sometimes at the entrance of the store you may see yourself  on a security camera monitor. The cameras make you aware that you should not do anything foolish because someone is watching you. I recently watched a TV show -- the Undercover Boss - that takes surveillance to another level.  The episode followed a CEO of a Tex-Mex franchise who went undercover to observe his employees performance. The CEO began as a trainee and endured sarcastic remarks and criticisms from the 19-yr. old supervisor. The CEO had to bite his tongue as the young supervisor rudely treated and insulted the employees. What do you think was the reaction of that 19-yr. old when at the end of the show he met the CEO without the disguise?

All of us behave properly when we are aware that our boss is nearby. We follow the work place rules and regulations, we work diligently, and we treat our co-workers with respect. One of the rules mentioned in the show was a timeless golden rule, “Treat other people as you want to be treated.” This rule takes its idea from scripture where Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” However, Jesus expands upon this golden rule beyond what his listeners are comfortable with by adding, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.” Do these rules seem ‘above our pay grade?’

In today’s gospel, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Other disciples mentioned that the word on the street was that Jesus was a well known prophet from the scriptures. However, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then praised Peter for correctly identifying who Jesus was. But Jesus reminded us that it was not enough for us to know who he was: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” If Jesus showed up in our daily lives disguised as one of our coworkers, our acquaintances, or even as our friends, what would he observe in the way we live our life and the way we treat others? Jesus is Our Lord and our God--our ultimate boss of our life; we should take seriously his instruction to do more than just living for ourselves.  And we should go above and beyond to seek what Heavenly Father’s will is for us and place His will above ours.

Recently the Commentator featured interesting interviews with three of our priests who entered the seminary late in life after years in business and the  professional world. Fr. Al Davidson, who owned a construction company before entering the seminary, said, “Having been self sufficient for 40 years, and now I was signing my life over--that’s the transition that most concerned me--giving up control, and money was a controlling aspect of my life.” Fr. Al who is now 60 years old recounted how he lived without Jesus for 50 years of life, living a fast-paced life where he had money and women. He said, “You want to forget your sinful past, but God turned my past into wisdom that we can use to minister to his people.”

We learn during the course of our life that we can live our life serving ourselves or serving Our Lord. It’s so easy to forget who the boss is. All of us go through seasons of our life where we are preoccupied with ourselves; then unexpectedly God shines his light in our hearts. We then discover this secret: I must live this life through Jesus, with Jesus, and for Jesus.  There are only two things you have that Jesus really wants: your will and your sins. Give your sins and imperfections to Him. Jesus has come to call sinners, and once you respond, He will work with you and through you. Have you seen a t-shirt that reads, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!” May we need to wear one as a reminder to each other that we are here to serve the Lord.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Aug. 22, 2014 Friday: Queenship of Mary

As our Mother and Queen, "Mary's solicitude extends to all the details of our life. She follows maternally the progress of our soul. We may find our sanctification slow, but she knows that we are not strong enough to receive God's light and love, and that God will give us time. Let us therefore surrender ourselves completely to her; let us ask her to intercede for us in everything ... If we entrust to her our spiritual life, its growth will be faster and smoother." 
-Venerable Fr. Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, OCD
Mary is More Mother than Queen
by Marta Timar

One week ago, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th, when at the conclusion of her earthly life, Our Lady was assumed body and soul, into Heaven by her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Within the octave of this Solemnity is another beautiful Marian feast – the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Queenship of Mary. The Queenship of Mary was proclaimed as a new feast in 1954 by Pope Pius XII and was originally celebrated on May 31st. In 1969, Pope Paul VI transferred this feast to August 22nd, to draw special emphasis to the close bond between Our Lady’s queenship and her glorification in body and soul in Heaven. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also commemorated as the fifth of the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
As we enter the final months of the Year of Faith, it is fitting to draw inspiration from the entirety of Our Lady’s life as we continue to live the spirit of the Year of Faith in our own lives. From the moment Mary gave her assent – her assent of faith – at the Annunciation, she completely and perfectly submitted herself to the Will of God without any idea what He had in store for her – neither the sorrows nor the glories.
Throughout her earthly life, Mary’s heart remained open to and focused on God’s Will and doing what He asked of her and through it all, her faith remained steadfast, persevering to the end. Assumed into Heaven, Mary is now crowned with glory – the reward for her unwavering faithfulness. Our Lady’s crown is a symbol of the crown of everlasting life that awaits each one of us, if only we imitate her example, and remain steadfast in following her Son.

As Queen, the distribution of graces and favors has been entrusted to her hands by Jesus and it is with loving generosity that she bestows these graces on all her children. Although Queen, Mary is very approachable, as Saint Thérèse, the Little Flower, reminds us, “She is more Mother than Queen.” Pope Pius XII concurs, “…the Virgin Mother of God reigns with a mother’s solicitude over the entire world.” Thus, it is with trust and confidence we should approach her and ask our Blessed Mother for the graces we need during the journey of our earthly life, to help us stay focused on Jesus and on His promise of the reward of everlasting life.
It is also worthwhile to remember that Mary never fails those who seek her intercession. Blessed John Henry Newman’s wonderfully encouraging words to us, “No one has access to the Almighty as His mother has; none has merit such as hers. Her Son will deny her nothing she asks.” We need only recall the Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana to see the veracity of these words.

Therefore, on this feast of the Queenship of Mary, let us approach our Heavenly Mother with trust and confidence and prayerfully ask her to bestow on us the grace of increasing our faith and to aid us in opening our hearts to God’s Will as completely as she did. There can be no doubt that Mary will lovingly enfold in her mother’s embrace all her children who come to her because she only ever wants to lead us to her Divine Son – to Jesus through Mary.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Aug. 21, 2014 Thursday: 20th Week in Ordinary Time A

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come... The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find...Many are invited, but few are chosen. (Matt 22:1-14)

For those who love to eat, it's difficult to imagine anyone passing up a good meal, let alone an invitation to a feast fit for royalties. God invites everyone to His heavenly banquet. He excludes no one. But we must behave like invited guests and not as gate crashers. Even if God's invitation does not exclude anyone, we must honor it with our behavior of faith. In today's gospel, Jesus tells us that it is the Father that decides whom He will call, and only the Father chooses who will stay at the feast. As His servants, we have now become his friends because of Jesus. He welcomes all who choose to answer His call. The generosity of our King knows no bounds. God is a gracious King who wants to bless all of us, and bless us abundantly. All that He asks is that we accept His invitation, and that we "dress" for the occasion - by learning to live and to love like Christ. It is our choice. May we learn to hear His call to celebrate, to accept His blessings, to welcome those that the Lord sends our way in order to prepare us with our meeting with our King.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aug. 20, 2014 Wednesday: St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is clearly one of the greatest preachers of all time. Born to a noble family near Dijon France in 1090 AD, St. Bernard was inspired by the example of a new religious congregation, the Cistercians, who had abandoned the relative ease and security of Benedictine monasticism of that day to live according to the primitive pattern of St. Benedict through hard manual labor, solitude, and rigorous prayer. When St. Bernard decided to abandon the privilege of noble life to enter the monastery, he brought over 30 noble relatives with him. Once professed he was very soon made abbot and went on to found over 40 monasteries in his lifetime. St. Bernard's magnetic preaching and exemplary character changed the lives of thousands and his writing continues today to inspire Christians everywhere. His words were so sweet that he came to be known as the Melifluous ("full of honey") Doctor. St. Bernard died in 1153 and was later proclaimed a saint and a Doctor of the Church. His feast day in the Roman Calendar is August 20.

Amongst the Doctors of the Church he is known as the Marian Doctor; not that he wrote lengthy pages dedicated to Our Lady, or revealed new theological dogmas on the Virgin of Nazareth, as Bernard’s writings on Mary aren’t even that many. However, all his writings and his own life were impregnated with her. Even when Bernard doesn’t speak of her, Mary is always present. We can see this in his writings in which he exhorts his brothers to silence, humility, purity of heart, and filial obedience: these are all virtues which, according to the saint, not only shine in Mary but are dispensed by her.

He thus merited the title of Marian Doctor because of his great love and fi lial devotion for the Mother of the Saviour. His writings were so appreciated that the Church inserted them in the Sacred Liturgy. Ending the day with a Salve Regina or some other Marian antiphony was his idea. St. Bernard had so much trust in her powerful intercession that he said: “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.” For St. Bernard “Mary is our mediatrix”; and we receive the Holy Spirit that “overfl ows from her.”

“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may more surely obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal” (St. Bernard).

“Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son. There can be no doubt that whatever we say in praise of the Mother gives equal praise to the Son.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot, Doctor of the Church)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Aug. 19, 2014 Tuesday: St. John Eudes

"And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt 19:30)

Mother Teresa on the vow of poverty

Our poverty is our dowry.
With regard to God, our poverty is our humble recognition and acceptance of our sinfulness, helplessness and utter nothingness, and the acknowledgement of our neediness before Him, which expresses itself as hope in Him, as an openness to receive all things from Him as from our Father.

Our poverty should be true gospel poverty—--gentle, tender, glad and openhearted, always ready to give an expression of love. Poverty is love before it is renunciation. To love, it is necessary to give. To give, it is necessary to be free from selfishness.
Desirous to share Christ’s own poverty and that of our poor:

—We accept to have everything in common and to share with one another in the Society.
—We do not accept anything whatsoever from our parents, friends, or benefactors for our personal use. Whatever is given to us is handed over to our superiors for the common use of the community or for the work.
—We shall eat food of the people, of the country where we live using what is cheapest. It should be sufficient and wholesome so as to maintain good health which is essential for the work of our vocation.
—Our Houses should be simple and modest, places where the poor feel at home.
—We shall walk whenever opportunity offers, in order to take the cheapest means of transport available.
—We shall sleep in common dormitories without privacy like the poor.
—We and our poor will depend entirely on Divine Providence both for our material and spiritual needs. (70)

-Mother Teresa

Monday, August 18, 2014

Aug. 18, 2014 Monday: St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Jane Frances was wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old, and her father, head of parliament at Dijon, France, became the main influence on her education. She developed into a woman of beauty and refinement, lively and cheerful in temperament. At 21 she married Baron de Chantal, by whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. At her castle she restored the custom of daily Mass, and was seriously engaged in various charitable works.

Jane's husband was killed after seven years of marriage, and she sank into deep dejection for four months at her family home. Her father-in-law threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. He was then 75, vain, fierce and extravagant. Jane Frances managed to remain cheerful in spite of him and his insolent housekeeper.

When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales who became her spiritual director, softening some of the severities imposed by her former director. She wanted to become a nun but he persuaded her to defer this decision. She took a vow to remain unmarried and to obey her director.

After three years Francis told her of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.

The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. Francis wrote his famous Treatise on the Love of God for them. The congregation (three women) began when Jane Frances was 45. She underwent great sufferings: Francis de Sales died; her son was killed; a plague ravaged France; her daughter-in-law and son-in-law died. She encouraged the local authorities to make great efforts for the victims of the plague and she put all her convent’s resources at the disposal of the sick.

During a part of her religious life, she had to undergo great trials of the spirit—interior anguish, darkness and spiritual dryness. She died while on a visitation of convents of the community.

Quotes of St. Jane Frances de Chantal

About the reformation of the soul:
“It is true my dear daughters, it is lack of self knowledge that amazes us when we see ourselves so lacking and with defect, because we presume or boast so much of ourselves, that we always expect something good; we deceive ourselves, and Our Lord himself allows us to fall, many times in a stupid, clumsy way, so we can know ourselves better. This knowledge of self consists in that we should believe, with certitude and faith, that we are nothing, we can do nothing; we are weak, feeble and imperfect. Decide in your will to love your misery and poverty. The reformation of the soul starts in self knowledge and confidence in God; our self knowledge will let us know we have many things to correct and reform and it cannot be done by our own efforts; confidence in God will let us hope in Him, we can do all in Him, and with His grace all things are possible and easy.”

Charity and purity of intention
“Perhaps at some time it will occur that a sister has bothered us, or did something not pleasing to us, or that simply we don’t have a liking for her. Another sister will come to us and speak well of her, and we might answer with half words putting down all the good. This will produce the effect of a drop of oil that falls on fabric, an incurable spot on the heart of the sister we are talking to. All the bad the sister might have done in consequence of this bad impression we have caused will be on our conscience, and we will be guilty of it and punished severely. God said he hates six things, but the seventh he abominates: those who divide hearts and plant discord among brothers.”

About self love and the harm it causes the soul
“When we have conquered ourselves we have done a good action, and feel some satisfaction and pleasure, this ruins everything, making us lose all if we are not careful. What a disgrace after making sacrifices, self denial of attitudes or words or any other thing, we end up satisfying ourselves! Never or rarely, is good done without some satisfaction and this is not bad in itself; what ruins all is to distract ourselves and to seek pleasure in it. What are we to do? We have to chase away and annihilate all thoughts of pleasure and vain satisfaction, humble ourselves and seek contempt, give God the glory for everything and recognize we can do nothing on our own. We are only to seek the Glory of God in everything and to do all to please Him.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aug. 17, 2014: 20th Sunday Ordinary in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
Recently I came upon an old clip of the British Got Talent on Youtube. A 12-old boy came out on the stage, with his single-mother looking on from the backstage with excitement. The boy faced three judges with an immense crowd behind them. When the boy began to sing a very upbeat song, the crowd began to cheer. Two of the three judges were quite impressed; but the last judge, Simon Cowell was not pleased at all. He waved at the boy to stop singing and said, “You got this all wrong.” The crowd and the two judges were dismayed. The boy was startled, too. Simon was well known for his blunt and often controversial criticisms, insults and wisecracks about contestants and their abilities. The audience was bracing for the worst. Then Simon asked, “What do you sing apart from that?” The boy said he could sing a Michael Jackson’s song. When the boy began to sing, the crowd went wild. Simon eased back into his chair, as if he knew this boy’s extraordinary talent all along.

There are various ways to draw out the best in people. One of the ways is through challenge. It’s not pleasant at the time when you are challenged, but it is a necessary way to grow. Martin Luther King spoke about this insight when he said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Perhaps this insight is a window into Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in a Gentile region. Even there, Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist had apparently preceded him, for a local mother whose daughter was afflicted by a demon identified him and pressed him to intervene. At first, Jesus gave no answer to her pleas, and the disciples grew annoyed that she kept calling out for his help. When he finally responded, he explained his reason for not getting involved: his ministry was directed not to the Gentiles but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then the mother renews her request with the words, “Lord, help me.” Accepting his lordship, she is confident that Jesus wields the divine power necessary to release her little girl from demonic oppression. Still, Jesus declines. It is inappropriate, he says, to toss the food of the children to dogs.

One religious sister had a difficult time with this passage. She reflected, “I have never heard Jesus speak this way. He was so compassionate with Mary Magdalene, with Matthew, with Zacchaeus. This woman seems to be a good woman who is not asking for herself, but interceding for another.” The sister went to prayer to ask Jesus to help her understand. She asked Jesus, “Is there a lesson for me in this strange conduct of Yours, in this seeming lack of compassion?” In prayer Jesus replied, “Yes, I knew this woman’s heart. Her deep faith and her compassion. But I wanted others to see it. I wanted her to be an example to all mankind of deep humility and perseverance. Even the rebuff she accepted in love. Even when she did not understand she kept asking and loving. Her faith increased each time I said no.”

Were there times when you were frustrated or angry when you received no answer from God for requests for yourself or others? After a while, did you remain frustrated, angry, or did your perseverance helped you grow? The same can happen to us in our daily dealings with other people. Did you ever feel ‘put off’ or ignored by others? The Canaanite woman was called by God to give an example of perseverance in time of challenge and an example of deep faith when faith can be shaken. Jesus praised the Canaanite woman for her faith and for her love. She made the misery of her child her own and was willing to suffer rebuff in order to obtain healing for her loved one. Her faith grew in contact with Jesus. She began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God.

When we are facing a challenge, do we go to Jesus with expectant faith, perseverance, and humility? Or, do we go to Him expecting Him to do exactly what we want? Our posture to the answer ‘no’ from Our Lord affects whether we will have peace or turmoil in our soul.  We will come to know that God permits challenges in our lives to draw out from our soul those hidden qualities that are unknown, even to us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Aug. 15, 2014 Friday: Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary

Several days ago, I went to Maryland to visit my sister’s family. My sister has three children, ages 9, 7, and 5 year-old. The weather was nice, so I took all the children to the neighborhood for a bike ride. The blue sky was dotted with cotton candy-like fluffy clouds. The 5-year old, Seelos, while pointing to heaven asked me, “How can I get up there in the clouds? I want to be up there in the clouds.” I sensed though, that he

wanted something more than to just be in the clouds. His father later told me of a fascinating conversation he had with with the 5-year old. Seelos asked his dad, “How can I go to Heaven now?” His dad replied, “One has to die in order to go to Heaven.” Seelos replied, “Well then, I want to die now.” His dad then said, “Well, we don’t want you to die now. Mommy and I will be very sad." Seelos then replied, “You and mommy can die now and come with me to Heaven.”

The 5-year old pointed out a profound desire that is innate in all of us. That desire is stirred up whenever we look up in the sky; when we look up, we get in touch with our deep longing to be at a place called Heaven which we do not yet grasp completely with our minds. Perhaps our minds find it easier to visualize it when it is called Paradise. It is as though we want to go back to the Garden of Eden from which our fore parents were expelled through the Original Sin. No human attempt was successful in allowing anyone to re-enter this paradise, until Jesus came and forged a definitive way back to Paradise through his passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.” And to Martha who was grieving the death of her brother Lazarus Jesus said, “Your brother will rise…I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” The one who believed Jesus’ words to the very core of her being was his mother, Mary.

Blessed Mother was given a privilege that no earthly human person has ever received—being created without Original Sin—or as she told St. Bernadette of Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” With this singular privilege, at the time of her death, Jesus not only fulfilled her ardent longing for Heaven by taking her soul but also took her body as well. It was with the resurrection of Jesus that we began to hope for our resurrection. And it was with her Assumption—that is assumption of both her body and soul-that we began to see concretely the promise of our own future bodily resurrection.

My 5-year old nephew is named after Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos who was a well-known and beloved Redemptorist priest in New Orleans. It is Seelos’ parents' hope that he share the same saintly life of Father Seelos, who courageously cared for his parishioners who were dying of Yellow Fever. Father Seelos had tremendous devotion to Blessed Mother. It was while he was the pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in New Orleans that he welcomed the invitation from Jesus to come Home. Perhaps Father Seelos is encouraging my nephew to desire Heaven, which prompted the little one to ask me about getting to the fluffy clouds.

We have a Mother in Heaven who loves us with a love that we cannot fathom. Her desire is for each of us to share her privilege to be in Heaven as saints. She longs for us to grow closer to her Son by imitating her humility and charity. As we pray the Rosary, we become aware of her presence in each moment of our day and her desire for us to do whatever Jesus tells us.

Blessed Mother, may the glory of your holy assumption move us to abandon ourselves to the Lord’s promises. May our minds and hearts always long to accomplish the will of Our Lord here on earth. May we desire to see the glory and the majesty of your Son in Heaven with you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Aug. 14, 2014 Thursday: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Those who pray never lose hope, even when they find themselves in a difficult and even humanly hopeless plight. Sacred Scripture teaches us this and Church history bears witness to this.

In fact, how many examples we could cite of situations in which it was precisely prayer that sustained the journey of Saints and of the Christian people! Among the testimonies of our epoch I would like to mention the examples of two Saints whom we are commemorating in these days: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, whose feast we celebrated on 9 August, and Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whom we will commemorate tomorrow, on 14 August, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both ended their earthly life with martyrdom in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Their lives might seem to have been a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brightness of Love which dispels the gloom of selfishness and hatred shines forth. The following words are attributed to St Maximilian Kolbe, who is said to have spoken them when the Nazi persecution was raging: "Hatred is not a creative force: only love is creative." And heroic proof of his love was the generous offering he made of himself in exchange for a fellow prisoner, an offer that culminated in his death in the starvation bunker on 14 August 1941.

.. "Hail Mary!" was the last prayer on the lips of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, as he offered his arm to the person who was about to kill him with an injection of phenolic acid. It is moving to note how humble and trusting recourse to Our Lady is always a source of courage and serenity. While we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, which is one of the best-loved Marian feasts in the Christian tradition, let us renew our entrustment to her who from Heaven watches over us with motherly love at every moment. In fact, we say this in the familiar prayer of the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us "now and at the hour of our death".
Pope Benedict XVI - General Audience, 13 August 2008 - © Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Testimonies of the those who lived in Auschwitz Concentration Camp with St Maximilian Kolbe

Sigmund Gorson, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, called him 'A prince among men':

"I was born in a precious family where love was abundant. All my family, parents, sisters and grandparents were murdered in the Concentration Camp. I was the only survivor. For me, it was extremely hard to find myself alone in this world, in the horror and hell that was lived in Auschwitz, and alone thirteen years old.

Many youth like myself lost all hope of survival, and many jumped into the high voltage barbed wires to commit suicide. I never lost hope of finding someone among the immense mass of people who would have known my parents, a friend, a neighbour, so that I wouldn’t feel so alone.

This is how Father Kolbe found me, to put it in simple terms, while I was looking for someone with whom I could make a connection. He was like an angel for me. Just like a mother hen takes in her chicks, that’s how he took me into his arms. He would clean my tears. I believe more in the existence of God ever since then. Ever since the death of my parents, I would ask myself, Where is God? I had lost all faith. Father Kolbe gave me back my faith.

Father Kolbe knew I was a young Jew, but his love would embrace everyone. He gave us lots of love. To be charitable in times of peace is easy, but to be charitable the way Father Kolbe was in that place of horror is heroic. I not only loved Father Kolbe a lot in the Concentration Camp, but I will love him until the last day of my life."

Mieczyslaus Koscielniak relates how Saint Maximilian had attempted to create a school of saints in Niepokalanow, and how he attempted to do the same
amidst the horror of Auschwitz:

"Saint Maximilian would encourage us to persevere with fortitude, “Do not allow yourselves to break down morally,” he would say to us, promising that God’s justice existed and that the Nazis would eventually be defeated. Listening to him, we would forget about our hunger and the degradation which we were subjected to constantly.

One day, Saint Maximilian asked me for a favour. He said, our life here is very insecure, one by one we are being taken to the crematoriums, maybe I will go next, but in the meanwhile, can you do me a favour? Could you make me a drawing of Jesus and Mary, to whom I am very devoted? I drew it for him in the size of a postage stamp, and he would carry it with him all the time in a secret space he had on his belt.

Risking his own life or at least a good beating, between the months of June and July, he secretly met with us, almost every day, to instruct us. His words meant a lot to us. He would speak to us with such great faith about the saints who were celebrated each day, and how much they had to suffer. He would speak to us with great ardour about the martyrs who had totally sacrificed their lives for God’s cause. On Pentecost, he exhorted us to persevere, not to lose hope. Even if we don’t all survive, he said, we will all for sure triumph.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aug. 13, 2014 Wednesday: 19th Week in Ordinary Time A

What's the best way to repair a damaged relationship? Jesus offers his disciples spiritual freedom and power for restoring broken or injured relationships.

Don't brood over an offense - speak directly and privately
What can we learn from this passage (Matthew 18:15-20) about how to mend a damaged relationship? If you feel you have been wronged by someone, Jesus says the first step is to speak directly but privately to the individual who has done the harm. One of the worst things we can do is brood over our grievance. This can poison the mind and heart and make it more difficult to go directly to the person who caused the damage.

Seek the help of wise Christians
If we truly want to settle a difference with someone, we need to do it face to face. If this fails in its purpose, then the second step is to bring another person or persons, someone who is wise and gracious rather than someone who is hot-tempered or judgmental. The goal is not so much to put the offender on trial, but to persuade the offender to see the wrong and to be reconciled. And if this fails, then we must still not give up, but seek the help of the Christian community. Note the emphasis here is on restoring a broken relationship by seeking the help of other Christians who hopefully will pray and seek a solution for reconciliation based on Christian love and wisdom, rather than relying on coercive force or threat of legal action, such as a lawsuit.

Pray for the offender - for healing and reconciliation
Lastly, if even the Christian community fails to bring about reconciliation, what must we do? Jesus seems to say that we have the right to abandon stubborn and obdurate offenders and treat them like social outcasts. The tax-collectors and Gentiles were regarded as "unclean" by the religious-minded Jews and they resorted to shunning them. However we know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus often had fellowship with tax-collectors (as well as other public sinners), ate with them, and even praised them at times! Jesus refuses no one who is open to receive pardon, healing, and restoration.
- Don Schwager,

Aug. 12, 2014 Tuesday: St. Stanislaus Kostka

St. Stanislaus Kostka, S.J.

Stanislaus Kostka was only 18 years old when he died, and had been a Jesuit novice for less than a year. He is one of the popular saints of Poland and many religious institutions have chosen him as the protector of their novitiates.

He was born in 1550 at the family estate in east-central Poland. His father was a local governor and military administrator, and a senator of the Kingdom of Poland. His mother was the sister and niece of Polish dukes. According to the standards of those times, all this meant Stanislaus was a Polish noble destined for public life.

When he was 14, his father enrolled him and his older brother Paul in a new Jesuit college in Vienna that was especially favored by the nobility. Paul, who always had an eye for comfort, found them rooms in the house of an Austrian senator.

Stanislaus was a serious and quiet person. He avoided all unnecessary contact with visitors, applied himself to his studies, dressed plainly for a noble, and spent so much time in prayer that Paul derisively nicknamed him “the Jesuit.” Paul interpreted Stanislaus’ natural meekness and humility as a reproach to his own worldly and carefree way of life. Whatever Stanislaus did either offended or irritated him. So, he harassed his younger brother, abusing him physically and verbally. Stanislaus didn’t crack under pressure. He just became more virtuous and determined to become a Jesuit.

In December 1565, Stanislaus received some heavenly help. Feeling ill and close to death, he asked to receive Holy Communion. Paul kept putting him off, saying the illness wasn’t life-threatening. (Their landlord was a staunch Lutheran and wouldn’t allow a priest into the house). Stanislaus prayed to St. Barbara to somehow receive Communion, and soon Barbara and two angels appeared to him in his room, bringing him Communion. They left, and then Our Lady carrying the baby Jesus appeared, and told him he was to enter the Society of Jesus. Stanislaus regained his health and returned to college.

Now really resolved to be a Jesuit, Stanislaus asked the Jesuit provincial of Vienna for admittance, only to be told he needed his parents’ consent. Stanislaus knew they wouldn’t give it, and decided to ask further away from home. In August 1567, he walked the 450 miles to Augsburg, Germany. Paul heard of it and started after him. Stanislaus was dressed as a simple pilgrim, and the angry Paul went right past him on the road without recognizing him and gave up the chase.

Stanislaus reached the Augsburg provincial, Fr. Peter Canasis, S.J., and together they agreed that Stanislaus ought to get even further away from his father’s political influence. They decided on Rome. In September 1567, he and two Jesuits went on foot, south through Germany and over the Alps to Italy. It took a month to reach Rome.

There Stanislaus presented himself to the head of the Society of Jesus, Father General Francis Borgia, S.J., and entered the Jesuit novititate. For the next ten months, his prayer was purified and his union with God grew more intense.

In early August 1568, Stanislaus had a premonition that he would die on August 15. He took sick on the 10th, and on the 14th he told the infirmarian that he would die the next day, but this Jesuit shrugged it off; the patient didn’t seem critically ill. Then suddenly he worsened. After receiving Holy Communion and the Last Rites, he chatted cheerfully with his fellow novices until nightfall. After they left, he prayed often, “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready!” About 3:00 a.m. his face lit up joyfully. He said Our Lady was approaching with her court of angels and saints to take him to heaven. Then he died — on August 15, the feast of Our Lady’s own assumption into heaven.

Only 36 years after his death, he was beatified. He was canonized on December 31, 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. His feast day is November 13.

Excerpted and edited from Jesuit Saints & Martyrs: Short Biographies of the Saints, Blessed, Venerables, and Servants of God of the Society of Jesus by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Aug. 11, 2014 Monday: St. Clare of Assisi

O blessed poverty,
who bestows eternal riches on those who love and
embrace her!

O holy poverty,
to those who possess and desire you
God promises the kingdom of heaven
and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life!

O God-centered poverty,
whom the Lord Jesus Christ
Who ruled and now rules heaven and earth,
Who spoke and things were made,
condescended to embrace before all else!

The foxes have dens, He says, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man, Christ, has nowhere to lay His head, but bowing His head gave up His spirit.

If so great and good a Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin's womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want and in absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! Be filled with a remarkable happiness and a spiritual joy! Contempt of the world has pleased You more than [its] honors, poverty more than earthly riches, and You have sought to store up greater treasures in heaven rather than on earth, where rust does not consume nor moth destroy nor thieves break in and steal. Your reward, then, is very great in heaven! And You have truly merited to be called a sister, spouse, and mother of the Son of the Father of the Most High and of the glorious Virgin.
-a letter from St. Clare to Blessed Agnes of Prague

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Aug. 10, 2014: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
Now that our students are back to school, they will have to soon face something they did not have to face during this summer--tests. There is nothing like a test that raises the anxiety level and stress in students. Sometimes pop quizzes are the worst. A student faced the following question on a social study pop-quiz: “Explain the phrase, ‘free press.’” We all know what that means, but sometimes under stress we just can’t think. So this particular student wrote down, “When your mom irons your pants for you.” His answer received a big, red ‘X’ mark, but the teacher also wrote, “cute.” The paradox is that although we dislike tests, we put our best effort forward and learn more while preparing for the test.

Have you ever been tested in your faith? Several times, Peter was tested in his faith. When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter strongly believed and trusted that Jesus was the Son of God. What about you? Is this your faith as well? Do you believe and trust that Jesus is your Lord and your God? But what happened to Peter in today’s
Gospel? While in the boat tossed by violent wind and waves, Jesus walked on water toward the boat. Peter was ready to believe Jesus, but he wanted to test Jesus--if he really was the Lord, he could give Peter the power to walk on the water. Jesus indeed gave Peter power and while his faith in Jesus lasted, he walked on the water. But when Peter saw the large waves approaching him, his trust wavered and he began to sink. Jesus reached into the water to pull Peter out and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Peter had the intellectual trust and belief, but not the trust and belief from the heart--that is, the living faith.

We have a tendency to think that if we love God, and He loves us, He’s going to bless us with the “good things of life.” And He does. The problem lies in our definition of the “good things of life.” Testing or trials of life are sometimes as much of a good thing as are a new car or health. It is important to realize that the test flows from God’s love for us. God tests our faith sometimes for our good and the good of others. The test makes our faith real and personal. If everything had gone smoothly, just as we envisioned, wouldn’t we have become very complacent? Would we have depended on and trusted the Lord so much? Would we really have known that He’s the one doing it all? We might think we could have done without those setbacks and problems and persecutions—but we’re wrong. We needed the testing.The test purifies our faith of selfishness and pride; it deepens our radical trust in His goodness and divine providence. The test prepares us for other crosses that we will face down the road in our lives.

What should we do when we are tested in our faith? Sometimes we feel like all is lost. We’ve all felt that. We’ve all felt like “it’s finished,” “we’re bankrupt.” Some of us are spiritually bankrupt. What should we do at those moments? Jesus showed us what he does--prayer in solitude. Jesus never began or ended anything without spending time alone in prayer with his Father. He was always equipped to handle anything because he was a man of prayer. We, too, should get on our knees. Although we do not see God with our eyes, which is the lowest kind of vision, in prayer we become aware of His presence in our heart and soul. This is what God was trying to teach Elijah in the First Reading. A crisis or a test may seem like an earthquake, a hurricane, or a forest fire; it overwhelms our senses. It’s such times as these that we need to kneel in prayer because prayer affords us time to gaze at Jesus to cry for help. Peter sank because he took his eyes off Christ. Our response toward testing times must be guided by assurance we have of the invisible reality: the presence of the Lord in our soul. It is in prayer that Jesus whispers to us,  “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Aug. 8, 2014 Friday: St. Dominic

What is the most important investment you can make with your life? Jesus poses some probing questions to challenge our assumptions about what is most profitable and worthwhile. In every decision of life we are making ourselves a certain kind of person. The kind of person we are, our character, determines to a large extent the kind of future we will face and live. It is possible that some can gain all the things they set their heart on, only to wake up suddenly and discover that they missed the most important things of all. Of what value are material things if they don't help you gain what truly lasts in eternity. Neither money nor possessions can buy heaven, mend a broken heart, or cheer a lonely person.

The great exchange - my life for His Life
Jesus asks the question: What will a person give in exchange for his or her life? Everything we have is an out-right gift from God. We owe him everything, including our very lives. It's possible to give God our money, but not ourselves, or to give him lip-service, but not our hearts. A true disciple gladly gives up all that he or she has in exchange for an unending life of joy and happiness with God. God gives without measure. The joy he offers no sadness or loss can diminish.

True freedom and gain
The cross of Christ leads to victory and freedom from sin, despair, and death. What is the cross which Jesus Christ commands me to take up each day? When my will crosses with his will, then his will must be done. Are you ready to lose all for Jesus Christ in order to gain all with Jesus Christ?

"Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will, all that I have and possess. You have given them to me; to you, O Lord, I restore them; all things are yours, dispose of them according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for this is enough for me." (Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556)
-Don Schwager,

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Aug, 7, 2014 Thursday: 18th Week of Ordinary Time A

Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!

...professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ—I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy—“Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups—there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.
-Pope Francis, Mar. 14, 2013

Aug. 6, 2014 Wednesday: Feast of Transfiguration

Are you prepared to see God's glory? God is eager to share his glory with us! We get a glimpse of this when some of the disciples see Jesus transfigured in glory on a high mountain. Jesus often went to a lonely place to pray - to seek solitude and sanctuary away from the crowds. But on this occasion, the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus was transfigured ..and his garments became glistening, intensely white (Mark 9:2,3).

When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (see Exodus 34:29). Paul says that the Israelites could not look at Moses' face because of its brightness (2 Corinthians 3:7). In the Gospel account Jesus appeared in glory with Moses, the great lawgiver of Israel, and with Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, in the presence of three of his beloved apostles - Peter, James, and John.

What is the significance of this mysterious appearance? Jesus went to the mountain knowing full well what awaited him in Jerusalem - his betrayal, rejection and crucifixion. Jesus very likely discussed this momentous decision to go to the cross with Moses and Elijah. God the Father also spoke with Jesus and gave his approval: This is my beloved Son; listen to him. The Father glorified his son because he obeyed. The cloud which overshadowed Jesus and his apostles fulfilled the dream of the Jews that when the Messiah came the cloud of God's presence would fill the temple again (see Exodus 16:10, 19:9, 33:9; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Maccabees 2:8).

The Lord Jesus not only wants us to see his glory - he wants to share this glory with us. And Jesus shows us the way to the Father's glory: follow me - obey my words - take the path I have chosen for you and you will receive the blessings of my Father's kingdom - your name will be written in heaven. Jesus succeeded in his mission because he went to Calvary so that Paradise would be restored to us once again. He embraced the cross to obtain the crown of glory that awaits each one of us, if we will follow in his footsteps.

Origen, the great 3rd century bible scholar, shows us how the transfiguration can change our lives: "When he is transfigured, his face also shines as the sun that he may be manifested to the children of light who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, and are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the sons of day, and walk honestly as in the day. Being manifest, he will shine unto them not simply as the sun, but as demonstrated to be the sun of righteousness."

Luke's gospel tells us that while Jesus was transfigured, Peter, James, and John were asleep (Luke 9:32)! Upon awakening they discovered Jesus in glory along with Moses and Elijah. How much do we miss of God's glory and action because we are asleep spiritually? There are many things which can keep our minds asleep to the things of God: Mental lethargy and the "unexamined life" can keep us from thinking things through and facing our doubts and questions. The life of ease can also hinder us from considering the challenging or disturbing demands of Christ. Prejudice can make us blind to something new the Lord may have for us. Even sorrow can be a block until we can see past it to the glory of God. Are you spiritually awake? Peter, James, and John were privileged witnesses of the glory of Christ. We, too, as disciples of Christ are called to be witnesses of his glory. We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Lord wants to reveal his glory to us, his beloved disciples. Do you seek his presence with faith and reverence?

"Lord Jesus, keep me always alert and awake to you, to your word, your action, and your daily presence in my life. Let me see your glory."

Don Schwager,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Aug.5, 2014 Tuesday: Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome

Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome
The history of the Basilica is a charming tale of a popular tradition, of an assured theology and of a healthy devotion.

On the night of August 4-5, 358, snow fell on the Esquiline, one of the seven Hills of Rome. Advised in a dream to build a church in that place in honor of the Virgin Mary, Pope Liberius and a rich and pious layman devoted themselves to this mission. In memory of that, in the course of Vespers of the feast, petals of white roses fall from the vault, to the great joy of the faithful who hurry to gather them, as if they were gold louises. That is the popular tradition.

The early church, undoubtedly modest, disappeared to give way to the splendid Basilica whose dedication we recall today. It was built under the pontificate of Pope Sixtus III (432-440). Now, in 431, at the time of the ecumenical Council held at Ephesus, the Church declared it legitimate to give Mary the name “Mother of God.” It was not, at first, about honoring the Virgin, even less so of transforming her into a goddess, but, rather, to go to the bottom of the Christian faith in the Incarnation. God became man in the person of His Son. He is called Jesus, “God saves,” Emmanuel, “God with us.” He was borne and given birth to by a woman, Mary. She certainly is not the source of his divinity but she is the one through whom the Son, who merits the name “God” as the Father, was really united to humanity. An infinite honor was bestowed on her and also on us. A woman of our race merits being called “Mother of God,” as we say in the “Hail Mary,” Theotokos, the name preferred by the Orientals to designate the Virgin Mary.

The Roman Basilica is the monumental homage that the Church of Rome wished to render without delay to the Mother of God.

However, after having culminated in the most assured theology, let us return to concrete things. Mary gave birth to her Son. This happened at Bethlehem. “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a crib.” This is why Saint Mary Major includes a representation of the crib and, it is said, a relic of the authentic manger. Regardless of the effective historicity, it is beautiful and profoundly Christian, to express the realities of the faith in the very visible signs: it is a “sound devotion.”

This Basilica is very dear to Romans. They invoke the Mother of God there as “salvation of the Roman people.” She is, therefore, dear to the Bishop of Rome. On the day after his election, Pope Francis went there to entrust his ministry to her whom his predecessor, Paul VI, proclaimed, during Vatican Council II, “Mother of the Church.” He returned there just before leaving for the World Youth Day in Brazil. That twofold pilgrimage of Pope Francis is added reason to celebrate fittingly this year the dedication of the Basilica dedicated to the Mother of God.

Come To Me

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew juxtaposes the prayerful serenity of the mountain on “high” with the roaring chaos of the sea. For many of us, our lives can feel like the restless sea. We constantly encounter all kinds of movements every day that may take us to uncharted waters. Unfortunately we do not always have the advantage of having a mountain top view. Like Peter we look down at the water and the fear sets in. We stop moving forward. We stop taking risks.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s second rule discernment [315] cautions that a common tactic of the evil spirit is to “bite, sadden, and place obstacles [...] so that a person might not go forward.” He advises that if we are hindered from moving forward because of feelings of fear, weakness, unrest, and distrust, then we should continue moving forward toward that which will lead us to generosity, peace, love, and care for others. In other words, he advocates that persistence overcomes resistance.

Can you locate places in your life where fear has kept you from walking towards God? What might you want to ask of God to help you continue walking towards him?

—Jeffrey Sullivan, S.J.,


Lord, in many ways we, too, are like Peter. When we take our eyes off of you, life can become overwhelming. Help us to refocus on you and therein remember what really matters in life. We know the waves will come and torrential winds will shake our foundation. There is no escaping this.

But through it all we have your assurance that nothing can separate us from you. Though you might seem so distant, we will not claim this as our truth. Instead you seek us in the dark of night and promise to bring us into the light.

—The Jesuit Prayer Team

Monday, August 4, 2014

Aug. 4, 2014 Monday: St. Jean Vianney

Sermon by St. Jean Vianney: On Lukewarm Souls

In speaking to you today, my dear brethren, of the dreadful state of the lukewarm soul, my purpose is not to paint for you a terrifying and despairing picture of the soul which is living in mortal sin without even having the wish to escape from this condition. That poor unfortunate creature can but look forward to the wrath of God in the next life. Alas! These sinners hear me; they know well of whom I am speaking at this very moment.... We will go no further, for all that I would wish to say would serve only to harden them more.

In speaking to you, my brethren, of the lukewarm soul, I do not wish, either, to speak of those who make neither their Easter duty nor their annual Confession. They know very well that in spite of all their prayers and their other good works they will be lost. Let us leave them in their blindness, since they want to remain that way....

Nor do I understand, brethren, by the lukewarm soul, that soul who would like to be worldly without ceasing to be a child of God. You will see such a one at one moment prostrate before God, his Saviour and his Master, and the next moment similarly prostrate before the world, his idol.

Poor blind creature, who gives one hand to God and the other to the world, so that he can call both to his aid, and promise his heart to each in turn! He loves God, or rather, he would like to love Him, but he would also like to please the world. Then, weary of wanting to give his allegiance to both, he ends by giving it to the world alone. This is an extraordinary life and one which offers so strange a spectacle that it is hard to persuade oneself that it could be the life of one and the same person. I am going to show you this so clearly that perhaps many among you will be hurt by it. But that will matter little to me, for I am always going to tell you what I ought to tell you, and then you will do what you wish about it....

I would say further, my brethren, that whoever wants to please both the world and God leads one of the most unhappy of lives. You shall see how. Here is someone who gives himself up to the pleasures of the world or develops some evil habit.

How great is his fear when he comes to fulfil his religious duties; that is, when he says his prayers, when he goes to Confession, or wants to go to Holy Communion! He does not want to be seen by those with whom he has been dancing and passing nights at the cabarets, where he has been giving himself over to many kinds of licentiousness. Has he come to the stage when he is going to deceive his confessor by hiding the worst of his actions and thus obtain permission to go to Holy Communion, or rather, to commit a sacrilege? He would prefer to go to Holy Communion before or after Mass, that is to say, when there is no one present. Yet he is quite happy to be seen by the good people who know nothing about his evil life and among whom he would like to arouse good opinions about himself. In front of devout people he talks about religion. When he is with those who have no religion, he will talk only about the pleasures of the world. He would blush to fulfil his religious practices in front of his companions or those boys and girls who share his evil ways....

This is so true that one day someone asked me to allow him to go to Holy Communion in the sacristy so that no one would see him. Is it possible, my brethren, that one could think upon such horrible behaviour without shuddering?

But we shall proceed further and you will see the embarrassment of these poor people who want to follow the world without -- outwardly at any rate -- leaving God. Here is Easter approaching. They must go to Confession. It is not, of course, that they want to go or that they feel any urge or need to receive the Sacrament of Penance. They would be only too pleased if Easter came around about once every thirty years. But their parents still retain the exterior practice of religion. They will be happy if their children go to the altar, and they keep urging them, then, to go to Confession. In this, of course, they make a mistake. If only they would just pray for them and not torment them into committing sacrileges. So to rid themselves of the importunity of their parents, to keep up appearances, these people will get together to find out who is the best confessor to try for absolution for the first or second time

"Look," says one, "my parents keep nagging at me because I haven't been to Confession. Where shall we go?" "It is of no use going to our parish priest; he is too scrupulous. He would not allow us to make our Easter duty. We will have to try to find So-and-So. He let this one and that one go through, and they are worse than we are. We have done no more harm than they have."

Another will say: "I assure you that if it were not for my parents I would not make my Easter duty at all. Our catechism says that to make a good Confession we must give up sin and the occasions of sin, and we are doing neither the one nor the other. I tell you sincerely that I am really embarrassed every time Easter comes around. I will be glad when the time comes for me to settle down and to cease gallivanting. I will make a confession then of my whole life, to put right the ones I am making now. Without that I would not die happy."

"Well," another will say to him, "when that time comes you ought to go to the priest who has been hearing your confessions up to the present. He will know you best." "Indeed no! I will go to the one who would not give me absolution, because he would not want to see me damned either."

"My word, aren't you good! That means nothing at all. They all have the same power."

"That is a good thing to remember when we are doing what we ought to do. But when we are in sin, we think otherwise.

One day I went to see a girl who was pretty careless. She told me that she was not going back to Confession to the priests who were so easy and who, in making it seem as if they wanted to save you, pushed you into Hell."

That is how many of these poor blind people behave. I "Father," they will say to the priest, "I am going to Confession to you because our parish priest is too exacting. He wants to make us promise things which we cannot hold to. He would have us all saints, and that is not possible in the world. He would want us never to go to dances, nor to frequent cabarets or amusements. If someone has a bad habit, he will not give Absolution until the habit has been given up completely. If we had to do all that we should never make our Easter duty at all. My parents, who are very religious, are always after me to make my Easter duty. I will do all I can. But no one can say that he will never return to these amusements, since he never knows when he is going to encounter them."

"Ah!" says the confessor, quite deceived by this sincere sounding talk, "I think your parish priest is perhaps a little exacting. Make your act of contrition, and I will give you Absolution. Try to be good now."

That is to say: Bow your head; you are going to trample in the adorable Blood of Jesus Christ; you are going to sell your God like Judas sold Him to His executioners, and tomorrow you will go to Holy Communion, where you will proceed to crucify Him. What horror! What abomination! Go on, vile Judas, go to the holy table, go and give death to your God and your Saviour! Let your conscience cry out, only try to stifle its remorse as much as you can.... But I am going too far, my brethren. Let us leave these poor blind creatures in their gloom.

I think, brethren, that you would like to know what is the state of the lukewarm soul. Well, this is it. A lukewarm soul is not yet quite dead in the eyes of God because the faith, the hope, and the charity which are its spiritual life are not altogether extinct. But it is a faith without zeal, a hope without resolution, a charity without ardour....

Nothing touches this soul: it hears the word of God, yes, that is true; but often it just bores it. Its possessor hears it with difficulty, more or less by habit, like someone who thinks that he knows enough about it and does enough of what he should.

Any prayers which are a bit long are distasteful to him. This soul is so full of whatever it has just been doing or what it is going to do next, its boredom is so great, that this poor unfortunate thing is almost in agony. It is still alive, but it is not capable of doing anything to gain Heaven....

For the last twenty years this soul has been filled with good intentions without doing anything at all to correct its habits.

It is like someone who is envious of anyone who is on top of the world but who would not deign to lift a foot to try to get there himself. It would not, however, wish to renounce eternal blessings for those of the world. Yet it does not wish either to leave the world or to go to Heaven, and if it can just manage to pass its time without crosses or difficulties, it would never ask to leave this world at all. If you hear someone with such a soul say that life is long and pretty miserable, that is only when everything is not going in accordance with his desires. If God, in order to force such a soul to detach itself from temporal things, sends it any cross or suffering, it is fretful and grieving and abandons itself to grumbles and complaints and often even to a kind of despair. It seems as if it does not want to see that God has sent it these trials for its good, to detach it from this world and to draw it towards Himself. What has it done to deserve these trials? In this state a person thinks in his own mind that there are many others more blameworthy than himself who have not to submit to such trials.

In prosperous times the lukewarm soul does not go so far as to forget God, but neither does it forget itself. It knows very well how to boast about all the means it has employed to achieve its prosperity. It is quite convinced that many others would not have achieved the same success. It loves to repeat that and to hear it repeated, and every time it hears it, it is with fresh pleasure. The individual with the lukewarm soul assumes a gracious air when associating with those who flatter him. But towards those who have not paid him the respect which he believes he has deserved or who have not been grateful for his kindnesses, he maintains an air of frigid indifference and seems to indicate to them that they are ungrateful creatures who do not deserve to receive the good which he has done them....

If I wanted to paint you an exact picture, my brethren, of the state of a soul which lives in tepidity, I should tell you that it is like a tortoise or a snail. It moves only by dragging itself along the ground, and one can see it getting from place to place with great difficulty. The love of God, which it feels deep down in itself, is like a tiny spark of fire hidden under a heap of ashes.

The lukewarm soul comes to the point of being completely indifferent to its own loss. It has nothing left but a love without tenderness, without action, and without energy which sustains it with difficulty in all that is essential for salvation. But for all other means of Grace, it looks upon them as nothing or almost nothing. Alas, my brethren, this poor soul in its tepidity is like someone between two bouts of sleep. It would like to act, but its will has become so softened that it lacks either the force or the courage to accomplish its wishes.

See, before God, my brethren, on what side you are. On the side of the sinners, who have abandoned everything and plunge themselves into sin without remorse? On the side of the just souls, who seek but God alone? Or are you of the number of these slack, tepid, and indifferent souls such as we have just been depicting for you? Down which road are you travelling?

Who can dare assure himself that he is neither a great sinner nor a tepid soul but that he is one of the elect? Alas, my brethren, how many seem to be good Christians in the eyes of the world who are really tepid souls in the eyes of God, Who knows our inmost hearts....

Let us ask God with all our hearts, if we are in this state, to give us the grace to get out of it, so that we may take the route that all the saints have taken and arrive at the happiness that they are enjoying. That is what I desire for you...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

August 3, 2014: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear Audio Homily
The other day as I was driving past the Powerball billboard I noticed that the jackpot was up to $70 million. Many of us say, “If I won the lottery, then I would…fill in the blank.” So my question to you is, if you won the lottery, would you treat everyone here in the church to dinner? You may say, “Yeah, why not!”  Would you say such gesture is generous? What does is it mean to be generous? It is showing a readiness to give more of something, such as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected. Is it considered generous when we give away something that we won’t really miss? Is it considered generous when reaching out to others doesn’t cause us much inconvenience? Somehow we know that being generous involves sacrifice and forgetting ourselves.

Let’s see if Jesus was generous in today’s gospel.  In today’s passage, Jesus learned that his cousin, John, had been murdered and he sought out a place for peace and quiet to grieve. He and the apostles crossed to the far side of the lake, but when he stepped out of the boat he found a throng of people waiting for him. He could have gotten angry and sent them away, but instead he had compassion on them and gave himself completely to their needs. He saw the hunger in their bellies as well as their hearts. Not only did Jesus feed them, but he saw to it that each person got as much as he wanted, and yet, there were twelve full baskets left over.

In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus showed us how to be generous. Being generous is not always about giving money or items to persons or organizations. More often, being generous is about giving of ourselves -- of our time, and or our gifts -- which is difficult. Before giving himself as food and drink in the Eucharist, Jesus gave of himself in so many ways. Once we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus himself inspires in us to be generous as he was. But we may say to ourselves, “I don’t have time to give… What if the person doesn’t appreciate me? What if I am kind and am not acknowledged for my gesture?”

Fr. Marc Foley, OCD, a carmelite priest, shared the following insight based on the life of St. Therese of Lisieux: What allows us to live in a sane state of mind is not looking at our choices for a reward. By focusing on what God is asking us to do, while not being concerned with the results of our actions, we will free ourselves from much worry and heartache. 

As T.S. Eliot said,  “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” Put in another way,  if the goal is the trying, then we meet our goal in the trying. By letting go of the desire that our efforts will bear fruit, we let go of what was not in our control. Often times we cannot make others accept what we say or do. The more we expect people to appreciate our efforts, the more we make ourselves vulnerable to feeling hurt. We will less likely get hurt by the ingratitude of others if we do not attach strings to our charity. When we have inwardly decided to give freely, before we are asked, the feeling that something is being taken from us disappears because we have already made a choice to give it away.

St. Paul gives us a great advice, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” What do we have to lose in being generous and kind to others? We certainly will not lose the love that Jesus has for us even when others are not grateful or worse,  accuse us of ulterior motives. Also God reminds us through Isaiah, that He himself is the reward for all of our efforts. Let’s not forget that everything we do, we don’t do it for our own conception of what success should be. Whether we fail or succeed, we make the effort all for God.