Friday, October 31, 2014

Nov. 1, 2014 Saturday: All Saints Day

I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. (Revelation 7:9)

Today we honor all the saints, who form “so great a cloud of witnesses” for us and for the whole Church (Hebrews 12:1). We don’t often think about it, but millions of holy men and women are in heaven right now, praying for us and cheering us on. If you could hear them, they might be saying, “Don’t give up! Stay close to Jesus! It really is worth it!”

For the most part, these saints are people just like us—only now, they’re in heaven. Their lives mirrored ours: our desires, our doubts, and our struggles to follow Jesus. Are you a wife, a mother, or a teacher? Then look to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Are you praying for family members who have fallen away from the faith? Ask St. Monica to pray for them also. Do you struggle dividing your time between prayer, work, and play? Let St. Benedict help you.
Today’s feast reminds us that the saints in heaven aren’t just the famous ones like Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, or Anthony of Padua. The list includes our deceased parents, grandparents, old friends, and former pastors. Those who were closest to us in life are also close in spirit to us now—a sort of heavenly support group! They’re looking down on us with love and concern, and they want nothing more than to see us grow into the fullness of Christ’s love.

To increase your appreciation of the saints, you may want to read about some of them. Or maybe make a list of those whom you especially want to pray for you, and call it your own Litany of Saints. Then take time each day to ask for their help. Remember: they are in the best position to do just that!

Thank you, Lord, for all the saints who are praying for me and helping me every day. I praise you for preparing me a place with them, where I can worship you for all eternity.”

Word Among Us

Oct. 31, 2014 Friday: 30th Week in Ordinary A

Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” Luke 14

Jesus must really be filled with joy when he hears Pope Francis, or the Synod Fathers, talk about compassion and mercy. In our day, too, there are some who are more concerned about the rules than about who needs comfort and support. Francis has described the Church as a "field hospital," and has reminded us that no one was drawn closer to Jesus or this faith community with a scolding finger. Francis has called us, like Jesus did, to reach out to those on the margins and to embrace them with mercy.

Why is mercy so feared? I suspect there can be a sincere fear that it implies "laxity" or even a denial of what we believe. A recent headline shouted, "The Synod plea for mercy is called heresy!" While the fearful religious leaders of his day feared that Jesus might be breaking the law, he changes their focus on the law: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" His focus is on healing. He has no intention of breaking the law. Jesus came to fulfill it. Jesus was intent that a focus on the law alone did not blind us to those who suffer and did not become a reason for not healing those we can comfort.

To offer mercy and healing does not mean that there wasn't any sin or brokenness. Mercy means we forgive sins. It means we love the sinner as Jesus did. As he loves all of us.

The gospel images of Jesus become more vivid for us, while we, as Church, are discussing how we can appropriately serve families who are struggling. It seems clear that Jesus' first instinct was compassion. When the paralyzed man was lowered into the house where Jesus was teaching, the first thing he said to the man is, "Your sins are forgiven."

A number of Synod participants reminded us that growth is gradual. Our teaching and our laws don't say, "You either reach this level of perfection or you are out." Our teaching and our laws set before us a path for holiness and greater union with our God, communion with our brothers and sisters, and the way to salvation. Some of the Synod fathers asked us to reflect this year on how we include, respect and serve those who might be on the beginning of that path, those who might have strayed from that path, those who got knocked off that path by things out of their control, and those who are only partly there.

I felt very consoled by the Synod speakers, who without denying anything we hold sacred, urged us all to reflect upon how we can get better at accompanying people along the way, without judgment.

Paul showed that affectionate care for the community at Philippi:

"I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. "

He prays for their growth in ways that we can pray for each other:

"And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."

Creighton Daily Reflection

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Oct. 30, 2014 Thursday: 30th Week in Ordinary A

Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with . . . the evil spirits in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12)

“Life would be so much easier if my spouse would stop being so irritating. And that annoying co-worker! If she would just shape up, I wouldn’t get so mad. While we’re at it, I wish my neighbor would stop showing off his new car. You know, I would be so much happier if I had one too.”

How often we blame our issues on someone else! But St. Paul reminds us not to lose sight of the real battle. It’s not with the other person but with the devil himself, who wants to separate us from each other and from Jesus.
When you have resentful thoughts about your spouse or envious thoughts about your neighbor, who do you think planted them? It’s not your co-worker’s fault; it’s a temptation from the devil! He’s the one whispering the divisive words to you.

Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about how the devil works to cut us off like this. In a homily last April, he asked, “What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? First, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Second, it grows and infects another person; it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads, and it justifies itself.”

What an insidious strategy! It’s easy to feel justified in our complaints, in sharing them with other people, and in presenting a case for why we’re right. But we don’t have to go along with the temptation. Pope Francis continued, “Our Christian life is a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness. We mustn’t be naïve, right?”

Don’t be naïve. Remember that you aren’t fighting against flesh and blood—your annoying co-worker, your boundary-pushing teenager, or your bragging neighbor. So don’t take it out on them. Rather, engage your real enemy the best way you can—by staying close to Jesus, King of kings, who has conquered the devil.

“Jesus, help me see the true battle lines—and to trust in your victory!”

Word Among Us

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oct. 29, 2014 Wednesday: 30th Week in Ordinary A

Creighton University Daily Reflection

Today's first reading to the Ephesians contains good advice to this early Christian community about establishing a social order that will lead to a peaceful existence. There is wise guidance for families regarding respectful behavior towards one another, both parents and children. The directives given to slaves and their masters contain the same expectations we have today of the workplace. It might read something like this: "Employees, give your employer your best efforts always, not just when they are watching; don't hang out in the break room for long periods of time. Employers, treat your employees honestly and fairly; give them a just wage and do not take advantage of them." Why? Because in God's eyes we are equal. It all seems straightforward and reasonable.

The gospel passage from Luke describes a conversation Jesus has with followers about who will be "saved". He uses the image of a "narrow gate", saying many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough, and many others will be turned away when they knock on the door. In the context of today's first reading, there is a keen sense that Jesus is "upping the ante.” Yet he doesn't tell his followers what is necessary. He leaves them with more questions than answers. "What is the narrow gate and who will have the strength? What do I need to do to pass through safely? If it is not enough that we know you and follow your teachings, what else is required? Who are the last, who are the first, and where am I?" And then it dawns on them, "wait a minute, you've been talking about a God of great mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness all these weeks and months that we have followed you....we are good people.. What could we possibly do that would incur this judgment and cause us to be "cast out" and denied salvation?” What is the "narrow gate"? It can be a metaphor for many things, all challenging. Perhaps a reminder that we can never be complacent in our faith. We may have made a commitment to follow Jesus but that means we are on "the way”; we can never say "I have arrived; I'm done.

Or, it may refer to the responsibility we each have for the life we have been given. "Going along with the masses" will not enable me pass through the "narrow gate".

Or, a reminder for continual alertness to the “narrow gate” that is the result of discernment for the many decisions of life....merely following the rules of custom and culture will not lead to salvation. We need to give up our programmed way of making decisions, e.g. always choosing the “harder” thing, following the letter of the law, always saying “yes” to others, or whatever other ways we avoid the sometimes tough work of listening for God.

Or this: the “narrow gate” of the surprise revealed when we attend to the present moment; not bound by resentment from the past nor fears of the future.

Perhaps Jesus was simply tired of people following him wanting answers and wanting to be told what to do...perhaps he wanted to shake them up and invite them to reconsider the mystery of God and God's ways, and leave them with puzzlement. A good way to our start our day; pondering the mystery of God and holding many questions.

Oct. 28, 2014 Tuesday: Sts. Simon and Jude

What is God's call on your life? When Jesus embarked on his mission he chose twelve men to be his friends and apostles. In the choice of the twelve, we see a characteristic feature of God's work: Jesus chose very ordinary people. They were non-professionals, who had no wealth or position. They were chosen from the common people who did ordinary things, had no special education, and no social advantages. Jesus wanted ordinary people who could take an assignment and do it extraordinarily well. He chose these men, not for what they were, but for what they would be capable of becoming under his direction and power. When the Lord calls us to serve, we must not shrug back because we think that we have little or nothing to offer. The Lord takes what ordinary people, like us, can offer and uses it for greatness in his kingdom. Is there anything holding you back from giving yourself unreservedly to God?

Wherever Jesus went the people came to him because they had heard all the things he did. They were hungry for God and desired healing from their afflictions. In faith they pressed upon Jesus to touch him. As they did so power came from Jesus and they were healed. Even demons trembled in the presence of Jesus and left at his rebuke. Jesus offers freedom from the power of sin and oppression to all who seek him with expectant faith. When you hear God's word and consider all that Jesus did, how do you respond? With doubt or with expectant faith? With skepticism or with confident trust? Ask the Lord to increase your faith in his saving power and grace.
-Don Schwager,

St. Simon and St. Jude
These two apostles of Jesus are honored on the same day. St. Simon was called “the zealous one” because he had so much devotion to the Jewish law. Once he had been called by the Lord to be an apostle, he gave his heart and his energy to preaching the Gospel. With the other apostles, he received the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. Then it is believed that he went to Egypt to preach the faith. Afterward, he went to Persia with the apostle St. Jude, and the two of them were martyred there.

St. Jude is sometimes called Thaddeus, which means “the brave one.” He is known for the question he asked the Lord at the Last Supper. Jesus had said: “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” And St. Jude wanted to know: “Lord, how is it that you are about to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus gave him the answer: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).

St. Jude is sometimes called the saint of “desperate or impossible cases.” People pray to him when things seem hopeless. Often God answers their prayers through the intercession of this beloved apostle.
- Daughters of St. Paul

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oct. 27, 2014 Monday: 30th Week in Ordinary A

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God." (Luke 13:10-17)

Imagine how this woman’s affliction affected her everyday life. She couldn’t look up at the sky. She needed help to reach items over her head. It was next to impossible to find a comfortable spot to sit or sleep—but standing was also painful.

Much Jewish thinking at the time made a direct correlation between illness and sin (John 9:2). God rewarded a virtuous person with good health and punished sinners with misfortune of every sort, including disease. Since this woman bore an obvious disability, she must have done something terrible to deserve it. So people probably avoided her, not only because her appearance made them uncomfortable but because they feared contamination by contact with her unholiness.
Burdened by actual and imagined guilt, this woman must have searched her heart over and over, trying to find out what she had done to deserve this burden. At the same time, she also persevered in her faith and trust in God. Why else would she have been at the synagogue?

Seeing her faith, Jesus spoke words of freedom and touched her. Suddenly she was able to stand, and her immediate reaction was to praise God! Not only had Jesus straightened her back; he freed her from guilt and isolation as well.

So many things keep us from standing up and giving glory to God. It could be a physical illness for which we subtly blame God. It could be a fractured relationship on which we’ve given up or the memory of a past sin that we doubt God will forgive. Whatever it is, after carrying such burdens for years, we can get used to having them. We hardly notice that we are compensating for our supposed disabilities, maybe by avoiding new situations or withdrawing into ourselves.

Think of your most hopeless situation. Is it too hard for Jesus? Absolutely not! Is there a sin too big for Jesus to forgive? No. Is he punishing you for some past misdeed? Of course not. So follow this woman’s lead. Go to Jesus, in the “synagogue” of your heart and of the Church. Be where he is so that he can see you, touch you, and set you free.

“Father, you have created me to live in freedom. Release me from everything that burdens my spirit, especially shame and guilt.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Oct. 25, 2014: 30th Sunday in Ordinary A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you ever have the quirky urge, a funny tingle, or a little voice in your head? We call these gut feelings. These feelings could be a common sense perception of what is the right thing to do or an intense emotion that moves you to “go the extra mile.” Sometimes, though, the gut feelings tell you something opposite--”don’t do it,” “ get away,” or “don’t trust.” The question is, should you listen to your gut feelings?

Because gut feelings tend to be immediate reaction without a logical rationale, at times we do need to ponder what they are telling us before we comply. We are given a guideline in how to discern our gut feelings in our readings today. In the First Reading, God instructs the Israelites to be especially attentive to those within their community who are the most vulnerable, defenseless, and disadvantaged. He singles out the aliens--not merely those who are passing through the land--but those who live among people who are not their relatives or kin. This instruction goes counter to our natural gut feeling that tells us not to be trusting of those who are not of our kin or a member of our community. Then Jesus gives us the following maxim after someone asks him what is the greatest commandment in all of the Jewish laws: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It means that to God we must give total love, a love that dominates our emotions, a love that directs our thoughts, and a love that is the dynamic of our actions.  The Second Commandment points out that our love for God must issue in love for others. But the order is important. It is love of God first, and love of others second; it is only when we love God that other people become lovable. If we take away the love of God, then we can look at human nature and become angry at those who cannot be taught. We can become pessimistic about those who cannot make progress. We can become callous to those who are cold and calculating in their actions. We are called to have the same compassion that God has for us. Compassion means, to suffer with and to have the desire to alleviate the suffering. Mother Teresa offers us this advice, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them...Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Oct. 24, 2014 Friday: St. Anthony Claret

8 Tips for Catholics With Doubts

“I feel like I’m losing my faith,” an acquaintance told me the other day. This person explained that she used to have an intimate relationship with God, but now feels empty inside, and has even begun to question whether God exists at all. She wanted to know how I recommend that she proceeds.

Even though I’m neither a saint nor an expert on the spiritual life, I get asked questions like this fairly frequently. Perhaps it’s because I’m an atheist-to-Catholic convert, or because readers of my personal blog know that I’m a spiritual spaz and therefore am likely to have been through a variety of rough patches in my relationship with God. Whatever the reason, over the course of the past six years I’ve had dozens of conversations with people who are struggling with doubts. Through these conversations, as well as meetings with confessors and spiritual directors about problems I’ve faced in my own spiritual life, I’ve learned a lot about traveling the rocky road of doubt. So for my acquaintance who’s questioning her faith, as well as anyone else who might be struggling with beliefs that used to come naturally to them, here are the top tips I think you might find helpful:

1. Make sure that the problem is doubt

First, make sure that your main issue is doubt. Problems like clinical depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. can lead to a lack of closeness with God that might initially seem like doubts, but have a deeper root that would be best addressed with a qualified Catholic therapist. Similarly, in my own life there was a time when I said I was experiencing doubts, but when I took a closer look I realized that it was simply a lack of consolation (i.e. a spiritual dry spell) rather than serious questions about the validity of the teachings of the Faith. “Doubt” is often used as a catch-all term that covers a variety of spiritual problems, so it’s important to take a second look to make sure that you’ve diagnosed the situation correctly.

2. Confess your sins

Whenever I complained of problems in my prayer life, my spiritual director would always ask me if I’d made a good confession recently. Having doubts isn’t necessarily caused by being in a state of sin, but certainly our sins can fuel any existing feelings of distance from God. Visiting the confessional is a good first step to clear your spiritual slate before moving forward.

3. Listen to the Church’s side of the story

This one seems obvious, but is surprisingly easy to overlook. When I talk to folks who have begun to embrace viewpoints that are contrary to Catholic teaching (such as those of the New Atheists), I often find that they have not spent much time listening to the Church’s counter-arguments. I see this most often among people who were raised Catholic: There’s a feeling of, “If there were a good response to this I surely would have heard it in Catholic school or in a homily at some point, and since I haven’t, there must not be a good answer.” The Church has a two-thousand-year-old body of wisdom that covers pretty much every aspect of human existence, so it’s perfectly possible that even someone raised in a faithful Catholic environment could have misunderstandings about exactly what the Church believes in certain areas. If you haven’t done so already, find faithful Catholic authors and see what they have to say about the areas in which you’re experiencing doubts.

4. Research your questions, but wait to do so until you’re in a place of peace

My spiritual director always used to say that we shouldn’t make big decisions when we’re feeling agitated, and never is this more true than in matters of faith. If you’re feeling stressed out, frazzled, angry, exhausted, resentful, or otherwise unsettled, try to regain a sense of calm before you begin seeking answers to your questions. As much as we like to believe that we can turn ourselves into truth-evaluating robots, the reality is that our abilities to assimilate and evaluate data are always impacted by our mental states—especially when it comes to those truths that cannot be deduced mathematically or through the scientific method alone.

5. Practice forgiveness

Per the above, there are a lot of things that could cause a person to be in an unsettled state. However, the one that I see most often in people with doubts is resentment. When I am able to have long conversations with people who are having serious questions about their faith, more often than not the subject will turn to some unresolved hurt in their lives. It makes sense: Since God is love itself, to seek the truth about God is to seek the truth about love; and, naturally, our view of love becomes clouded when we’ve been hurt by those who were supposed to love us. Forgiving those who have wounded us is much easier said than done, and may even take months or years of work with confessors, therapists and/or spiritual directors, but I’ve found it to be a necessary step for evaluating doubts with clarity.

6. Watch out for hidden payoffs

Another point that seems obvious, but is easy to overlook, is that the search for truth can be influenced by the payoffs that await different conclusions. For example, one person recently told me that she now believes that the main reason she lost her faith in college is because she secretly wanted to be “free” to live the immoral lifestyle that was popular on campus at the time.

7. Find a spiritual director

Going through a time of doubt can be an alienating experience. Especially if it seems that everyone around you has a rock-solid faith life, you might be hesitant to talk to your family or friends about what you’re thinking. This is where a spiritual director can be extremely helpful: He or she can help you analyze your questions in a relaxed environment, and you don’t have to worry about it leading to arguments or tension the way it might with people in your personal life. If you’re not sure how to find one, the Catholic Spiritual Direction Blog has a great post about that here.

8. Keep praying (and ask others to pray for you)

It’s a natural reaction to stop talking to God if you’re not even sure that he’s there to hear you, but keep doing it anyway. Tell him you have doubts. Ask for help. Ask him to guide you to the right people and resources—and don’t forget to remain open to any answers you might receive. Ask others to pray for you too; if you don’t want to tell them you have doubts, just say it’s for a special intention. This may be the most difficult step of all, especially if you’ve been questioning your faith for a long time, but it is also the most important step.

- - -

The good news is that many people I’ve talked to over the years have come through their times of doubt to have a faith more vibrant than ever before; in fact, it seems like the worst periods of spiritual confusion often precede the most amazing spiritual transformations. So to anyone who’s experiencing difficulties in your faith life: Keep searching, keep praying, don’t lose heart, and know that I’ll be praying for you as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oct. 23, 2014 Thursday: 29th Week in Ordinary A

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Lk 12:49)

Is your heart on fire with God’s burning love? If you desire a deeper relationship with God, a meaningful prayer life, and greater faith but struggle with creating the time or disciplined habits necessary for an on-fire spiritual life, what can you do?

"Evangelization takes place when people see how much we are in love with Jesus," said Father Gunn, as the young adults listened intently at their tables. "We are called to become the Word of God in human form - like Christ - and to witness the Gospel life with the possibility that other people might embrace the faith."

Therefore Catholics must preach through acts of service, healing, compassion and forgiveness - all while never giving off a hint of self-righteousness. We must answer Jesus' challenge to care for the poor around the world, Father Gunn said.

"We need to witness more by who we are, not by what we say," Father Gunn said. "St. Francis of Assisi advised followers, 'Preach. When necessary, use words.'"

When we do use words, we Catholics need to proclaim the Gospel boldly and without compromise of its core principles. We must be willing to identify with our faith and be courageous in educating others about the Gospel, Church teaching and the sacraments, most importantly, the Eucharist - all of which aid us in deepening our spirituality, he said.

Our Catholic faith also helps us sort out life's moral dilemmas. Therefore, we can't cower from talking about morality and the Church's call for all people to reach for high ideals that run counter to the 'bad values' regularly practiced in the world - among them abortion, war, materialism and non-marital sex, Father Gunn said.

Yet Catholics often find it difficult to speak openly about their faith and values in an age when young people avoid such conversations as not to offend anyone. But the need for conversations about Catholicism has reached a critical point today, when most young people don't identify with the faith, largely because they weren't raised in practicing families. So many young Catholics leave the Church; many of them, who have children don't attend Mass, the priest said.

"When young people don't find a spiritual benefit [to Catholicism], they go somewhere else," Father Gunn said.

Before we start preaching, we Catholics first need allow Jesus to light the fire of faith in our hearts. We need to strengthen our relationship with Christ through prayer; participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; and ongoing study of the Gospel. We can develop that stronger relationship with Christ by getting more involved in the spiritual, service and social aspects of our parishes, which are called on to cultivate an atmosphere of welcome and openness in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Father Gunn said.

"The Holy Spirit is leading us now to seize the opportunity to invite other people our journey in the Catholic faith," Father Gunn told the gathering young adults, taking in the priest's words that night without public comment. "God is waiting to pass on to other people His saving power," the friar told them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Oct. 22, 2014 Wednesday: St. John Paul II

October 22
St. John Paul II


“Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978.

Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology.

Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin.

Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong!

He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later.

Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations.

He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope.

“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, Redeemer of the Human Race. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.”

His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that.

One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier.

In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people.

In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.


Before John Paul II’s funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square, hundreds of thousands of people had waited patiently for a brief moment to pray before his body, which lay in state inside St. Peter’s for several days. The media coverage of his funeral was unprecedented.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then dean of the College of Cardinals and later Pope Benedict XVI, presided at the funeral Mass and concluded his homily by saying: “None of us can ever forget how, in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi [‘to the city and to the world’].

“We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”


In his 1999 Letter to the Elderly, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Grant, O Lord of life,...when the moment of our definitive ‘passage’ comes, that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope....Amen.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oct. 21, 2014 Tuesday: 29th Week in Ordinary A

Today we hear about waiting, something we don’t often hear or like to hear in our fast-paced, twenty-first century lives. We are so used to instant gratification today in our communication with family and friends, in the news we read, and in finding the answer to any question we might have. Most of the time, we want answers and we want them now!

But Luke’s Gospel today tells us we have to adopt an attitude of waiting and patience instead, for we know not when the master will return. We are asked to be ready and vigilant; in other words, to have patience and to be aware.

Oh no! Talk about an anathema for the modern world! Not only are we denied instant answers to all the questions we might have about the course of our own future, but when we take a step back and realize that those answers are not forthcoming immediately, we are also confronted with some uncomfortable truths about the reality of our existence. I often feel like all the devices, gadgets, and inventions that we interact with on a daily basis serve largely to help us escape our own inner life, our relationship with God, and the fact that we are limited creatures living a finite existence.

Luckily for us, though, we aren’t just wandering around blindly and constantly in fear of what lies before us. God has given us a taste of the goodness, love, and compassion that awaits us. In the part of the Letter to the Ephesians that we read today, we are told that we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but instead have been pulled into God’s household. The letter is talking about Jews and Gentiles being brought together in Christ, but can’t the same be said about God generally? The Word became flesh and then the Holy Spirit was sent among us on Pentecost, so God has already initiated the process of tearing down the walls that keep us apart and bringing us into God’s dwelling place. This process may not be completed during our earthly existence, but even the taste of it that we have been given can powerfully impact our lives and help us live in the tension of our incompleteness.

Where have I experienced God recently? What have been moments of joy and consolation in my life, moments that provide light and inspiration despite the unknown and unanswerable that lies ahead? When have I felt the care and support of others, even if it comes in some of life’s most challenging moments? If we ask these questions and look for the answers, then we just might hear the echo of the master’s footsteps, in the here and now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Oct. 20, 2014 Monday: St. Paul of the Cross

The rich landowner in Jesus's parable sounds like so many of us – he is simply trying to save for a rainy day! Yes, there is a certain hyperbole at work here (is it not a bit ostentatious to tear down all your barns and build larger ones?). But if we're honest with ourselves (and our IRA plans), we would likely admit that we spend much of our lives seeking security. The temptation is so great – if only I can "store up good things for many years," I can then relax and enjoy life! The farmer has forgotten a crucial point, of course: his harvest is not his own, and neither is his life. We are not our own masters, nor do we have an "inalienable" right to "our" property. It is telling that in his rush to hoard the harvest, the farmer never thinks of sharing the surplus.

So this parable is clearly about the dangers of greed; Jesus says as much. But I also see another temptation: the propensity to plan. This is an ingrained habit in my American culture. As the maxim states, "those who fail to plan, plan to fail." Before my first trip to Africa a decade ago, I kept pestering my Ugandan mentor, "What will I be doing in Uganda?" He laughed. "Ahh, you are thinking like an American! The key question is one of being, not doing." And this is where today's reading from Ephesians is so illuminating. As Paul makes clear, the issue is not what we have done for God. Rather, the key point is what God's love and mercy have done for us. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ..."

At the end of the day, we have no ultimate security in this world; none of us gets out of here alive. In turn, our efforts to carefully choreograph our lives can give us false illusions of autonomy and control that occlude our fundamental dependency on God and each other. The good news, as Jesus reminds us, is that "our lives are much more than possessions." It is not "what we have" but "whose we are" that truly matters. As the Psalmist sings, "the Lord made us, we belong to him."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oct. 19, 2014: 29th Sunday in Ordinary A

Click to hear audio homily
Earlier this week, some very young parishioners visited Ascension Church for a tour of the church. They were so young that they could not reach the holy water bowls at the entrance. One of our parishioners had to take the bowl out and lower it so that our 5-year old kindergarten class could dip their fingers in the bowl to make a sign of the cross. One of students thought he was going to get very wet, so he rolled up his sleeve to put his finger in the bowl. When all were seated in the pew near the altar, I fielded random questions from them. Most of the questions were easy to answer. For example, “Fr. Paul, why do you wear that white thing on your neck?” The child was referring to my white collar. Then the same boy who rolled up his sleeve to dip his finger in the holy water bowl asked this question, “Who made God?” I hope he asked that same question to his parents when he went home. How would you have answered him?

As we ponder that question, a good place to start is with what God said in the First Reading through the Prophet Isaiah. “I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.” The Responsorial Psalm then explains what we must do since there is no other god than Our Lord. “Give the Lord glory and honor. Worship the LORD, in holy attire; tremble before him, all the earth; say among the nations: The LORD is king, he governs the peoples with equity.”

We give something to God that we do not give to any earthly ruler -- that is our worship. We are gathered here today, and for each mass we attend, to worship God, Creator of the universe and Lord of all. We Christians are in the world but are not of the world. We belong to God, and our home is heaven. What about our lives outside of the church? Do we live with this conviction in our daily lives? Sadly, in practice we don’t always put God first. Sometimes we put the world first and God second. So how are we to live out our dual citizenship in our daily lives?

The religious leaders in today’s Gospel wanted to trap Jesus with that very question. They ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" If Jesus says yes, they'll call him a Roman collaborator. If he says no, the Romans will see him as a rebel and a troublemaker. So Jesus asks for a coin stamped with the image of the Emperor Tiberius. Jesus then says “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Through that statement, Jesus does three crucial things. First, he acknowledges that Caesar does have rights; that a difference does exist between the concerns of God and the concerns of Caesar. Second, Jesus demotes Caesar by suggesting that Caesar has no rights over those things that belong to God. Only God is God, which means that Caesar is not God. And third, Jesus remains silent about what exactly belongs to either God or Caesar --figuring that out belongs to us.

Can our society survive without civil structure or without citizens who pay taxes and participate in our other duties as citizens? There was a little rural community in US that made the news when it won independence after seceding from the nearby township and its taxes. The small community’s celebration was short lived, though; a few days later, the residents noticed that their garbage was not picked up. The trash trucks belonged to the township and because the tiny community broke away from the township, they no longer had the benefits of the township.

Jesus says we can’t have it both ways–if we benefit from secular society, we need to support the infrastructure of society. This can take the form of taxes, military service, jury duty, and informed, conscientious voting. On the other hand, Jesus says that we need to give to God what is God’s. But there are also times when political rulers overstep their authority. Sometimes they attack human dignity, violating natural law that demands that innocent human life be respected and that liberty be protected. These are times when Christians have a duty boldly to insist that while Caesar is owed his due, we won’t stand by and silently watch him step on God’s toes.

St. Paul offers us this advice in the Second Reading, “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” We are here for a reason: to change the world, for the sake of the world, in the name of Jesus Christ. The work belongs to us. Nobody will do it for us. We have to accomplish it by engaging the laws, the structures, the public policies, the habits of mind, and the root causes that sustain injustice in our country. We need to act in this world in a manner that's true to who we are as Catholics, with lives of Christian service to the poor and afflicted – including the unborn child, the immigrant, the homeless and the elderly. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, our choices, our actions and our convictions, then the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oct. 17, 2014 Friday: St. Ignatius of Antioch

Fear and Faith
“Do not be afraid.” (Luke 12:17) We sing these words so often; I probably know them by heart:

If you pass through raging waters, In the sea, you shall not drown. If you walk amidst the burning flames, You shall not be harmed. If you stand before the pow’r of hell And death is at your side,Know that I am with you, through it all.

Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, And I will give you rest.

“Be not afraid.” What do these words mean in our daily lives? I was particularly struck recently by the faith of James Foley, Marquette ‘96, who was beheaded by ISIS members earlier this year. Foley’s words spoken when he was held prisoner several years ago in Libya resound in my memory: “Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic.

“I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.” What a testament to Foley’s faith in Christ, and how prayer, especially the rosary joined him with those praying for his release.

What fears do I face each day? How can my faith in Christ and prayers to His mother help me allay my fears, as they helped James Foley?

―George Penman Sullivan, Jr.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Oct. 16, 2014 Thursday: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Sacred Heart Devotion

Daughter of Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn, Margaret was born on July 22, at L'Hautecour, Burgundy, France, was sent to the Poor Clares school at Charolles on the death of her father, a notary, when she was eight years old. She was bedridden for five years with rheumatic fever until she was fifteen and early developed a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She refused marriage, and in 1671 she entered the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial and was professed the next year. From the time she was twenty, she experienced visions of Christ, and on December 27, 1673, she began a series of revelations that were to continue over the next year and a half. In them Christ informed her that she was His chosen instrument to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart, instructed her in a devotion that was to become known as the Nine Fridays and the Holy Hour, and asked that the feast of the Sacred Heart be established. Rebuffed by her superior, Mother de Saumaise, in her efforts to follow the instruction she had received in the visions, she eventually won her over but was unable to convince a group of theologians of the validity of her apparitions, nor was she any more successful with many of the members of her community.

Up until this time Our Lord had made His will and presence known to Margaret Mary interiorly, but that was to change December 27, 1673. Margaret Mary was twenty-six years old. She had been professed for almost fourteen months. Her job in the Infirmary brought her nothing but rejection, insults and adversity. Her only solace was on her knees, her body pressed against the grill, as close to the Blessed Sacrament as she could get. She found herself enveloped by Our Lord’s heavenly presence. “He opened His Heart” to her “for the first time.”

He said, “My Divine Heart so passionately loves all men and you in particular that, no longer able to contain the flame of its burning charity (love), it has to pour forth through you, and it must manifest itself to them, to enrich them with its precious treasures, which I am revealing to you, and which contains the sanctifying and salutary graces necessary to snatch them away from the abyss of perdition (sin). And I have chosen you as an abyss of unworthiness and ignorance for the fulfillment of this great plan, so that everything may be accomplished by Me alone.”

“After that, He asked me to give Him my heart, which I begged Him to take, and this He did. He placed it within His own adorable Heart, in which He made me see my heart as a tiny atom being consumed in this flaming furnace, and then, drawing it out like an intense flame in the form of a heart, He put it back where he had taken it, saying to me: ‘Beloved, here is a precious pledge of My Love, which implants in your side a tiny spark of its most intense flames, so as to serve as your heart and consume you until the last moment;....its intensity will not die out or find refreshment except to a small degree in bloodletting,9 which I shall mark so completely with the Blood of My Cross, will bring you more humiliation and suffering than relief. That is why I want (you) to practice what is commanded of you by the rule, so as to give you the consolation of shedding your blood on the cross of humiliations. Although I have closed the wound in your side, you will feel the pain of it forever, and although you have taken only the name of My slave, I now call you the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart.’”

With this revelation of her future mission, Jesus made it plain to Margaret Mary that He had chosen her, but to save her from any slight possibility of pride in Him having chosen her, He revealed she was totally unworthy and ignorant. We hear again the message of Saint Bernadette when she said if the Blessed Mother could have found someone less worthy and more stupid, she would have chosen her instead of Bernadette.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oct. 15, 2014 Wednesday: St. Teresa of Avila

At the time that Teresa entered the Incarnation in 1535, the community consisted of approximately one hundred nuns. By 1552, the number had swelled to 180, and by 1565, it had increased to nearly 200 nuns. (Teresa left the Incarnation in 1562.)

The women who entered the Incarnation came from every strata of society, from the very poor to the very rich. Those from poor backgrounds slept in common dormitories. Those from aristocratic families were provided with a suite of rooms, including a kitchen and often a private oratory. They also brought with them maids and cooks. One of these more privileged nuns was Doña Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada—St. Teresa.

The cloister of the monastery, though prescribed, was rarely observed. Frequently, the nuns visited family and friends, sometimes for lengthy periods. Also, relatives and friends could enter the cloister, some of whom even took up residence in the monastery. For example, after their father died, Teresa’s sister, Doña Juana de Ahumada, lived in Teresa’s cell for nine years. Visiting in the monastery’s front parlor was a daily occurrence, a pastime to which Teresa became very attached. The keeping of silence, though valued by the nuns, was difficult to maintain because of the size of the community and the constant traffic of laypeople.

The prayer life of the community consisted of reciting the Divine Office and daily Eucharist. However, there was no designated time set aside for mental prayer in the monastery’s daily schedule. There are also indications that novices were not given any instruction in mental prayer. Teresa attests to this fact. She says that until she had read Osuna’s The Third Spiritual Alphabet, she “did now know how to proceed in prayer or how to be recollected” (L. 4. 7.).

The impact of Osuna’s book on Teresa was immeasurable. It was as if she had found the spiritual master whom she needed. “I began to take time out for solitude, to confess frequently, and to follow that path, taking the book for my master” (L. 4. 7.).

Teresa lived in the Incarnation for twenty-seven years, which constituted sixty percent of her religious life. During this time, she grew in virtue, and God awakened within her a deep desire to live a life marked by silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer. However, Teresa’s gregarious temperament was also drawn to wasting time in the front parlor, visiting friends and relatives. “I began to go from pastime to pastime . . . and I began to lose joy in virtuous things and my taste for them” (L. 7. 1.). Teresa was torn. “On the one hand God was calling me; on the other hand I was following the world . . . It seems I desired to harmonize these two contraries” (L. 7. 17.). This struggle lasted for years. “Thus I passed many years, for now I am surprised how I could have put up with both and not abandon either the one or the other” (L. 7. 17.).

Finally, Teresa accepted the fact that she could not live the life that God was calling her to in the Incarnation. She needed a different environment, a different structure of life in which she would not be sorely tempted. “I was a nun, there was no vow of enclosure” (L. 4. 5.). “That’s why it seems to me it did me great harm not to be in an enclosed monastery. For the freedom that those who were good were able to enjoy in good conscience . . . would have certainly brought me to hell, if the Lord . . . had not drawn me out of this danger” (L. 7. 3.). It is important to note that Teresa was not disparaging the nuns of the Incarnation. She was simply accepting the fact that she could not live the life that God was calling her to if she remained in the Incarnation. “What was a danger for me was not so much for others” (L. 7. 6.).

Consequently, in 1562, Teresa left the Incarnation where she had lived for twenty-seven years. She founded St. Joseph’s convent in Avila so that she could live the life that God had called her to. It was neither Teresa’s intention nor desire to found a new religious order. However, God had different plans for her. The Book of Her Life ends with the founding of St. Joseph’s. The Foundations takes up the narrative of Teresa’s life five years later.
-Fr. Marc Foley OCD, St. Teresa of Avila: Her Book of Foundations

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oct. 14, 2014 Tuesday: St. Callistus I

"as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:41)

One of the great early companions of St. Ignatius was Jerome Nadal. His responsibility was that of promulgating the Ignatian charisma to other Jesuits. Nadal, suggested that the true prayer of a Jesuit includes the other. Nadal stressed, again and again, in his talks to Jesuit communities all around Europe in the 1550´s that Ignatius even wanted our prayer to be about others.

This is good news! This is what Jesus is suggesting to the Pharisee with whom he is dining. Jesus bluntly suggests that he go outside of himself and be helpful. Rather than worry about whether we are exteriorly good or interiorly pure, Jesus proposes a way forward: be helpful and give of yourself to another.

Let us then in this moment of prayer ask for the grace that Ignatius received from the Lord: the grace to pray with reverence and love for the persons in our life who most need our help.

—Christopher Staab, S.J.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oct. 13, 2014 Monday: 28th Week in Ordinary A

Signs from God
Do we live as if we have seen a miraculous sign from heaven?

In today’s reading we see Jesus reprimanding those who had seen great signs and yet refused to change their lives. The generation he is speaking to had already been privy to numerous miracles. Jesus had healed the sick and lame. He fed 5,000 with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a few fish. He changed water to wine and even walked on water to calm his anxious friends. Yet still, we are told, they wanted more. They wanted one more over-the-top sign to be sure that Jesus was who he said he was, the son of God.

Are we like that generation wanting constant reassurance, or do we live as if we have seen miraculous signs? We are invited to trust in the goodness all around us. If we look hard at this goodness: the beauty of nature; the love between a parent and child; forgiveness bestowed on someone who has done something unforgivable; if we dwell on these things, then we will certainly see the sign of God’s love within and among us. And isn’t the news of this love, which Jesus announced as the Kingdom of God, what he lived, died and rose to share with us?

What goodness can I notice today? What miraculous events can I trace back to God?

—Judy Henry McMullan,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Oct. 12, 2014: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
Over the years, how many wedding invitations have you received? What percentage of those invites did you turn down? Were you able to find a tactful way to turn down the invite? Today even though the technology makes it easy to send the invitation electronically, most couples send paper invitation. Recently, I saw an invitation with a very clever RSVP. It had five check boxes. 1) Gladly attend, 2) Regretfully decline, 3) Regretfully attend, 4) Enthusiastically decline, 5) Will decline to respond but ultimately attend. I do wonder how the host would feel if you checked the "Regretfully attend" box.

The mere fact that you received an invitation indicates that you are important to the person who sent it. To lightly dismiss or ignore the invitation is to dishonor the host. Wedding receptions can be expensive these days, epspecially with some of the fancy local plantation houses cost upwards of $100 per person!

With this in mind, we can begin to unfold the meaning of the parable of the wedding feast that Jesus told us today. The setting is a wedding feast prepared by a king for his son. One can hardly imagine a happier occasion than a marriage celebration. In biblical times, this was an opportunity for family, friends, and even whole villages to set aside the drudgery of daily duties for several days of feasting and merriment. One important detail in this parable is who is issuing the invite -- a king. If we were to receive an invitation to the Governor's Mansion or to the White House, we probably would not ask ourselves if we can make it; we probably would clear our calendar to make sure we could be there. But in the parable, some of those who were invited ignored the call and went about their business. Some even mistreated the king's messengers and had some of them killed. The king was enraged by all this, for they insulted him by their defiance and also failed to give the respect that was due the king and his son. Then the king invited those who had no claim on him and who would never have considered getting such an invitation. The place was packed, but the king noticed one who was not dressed for the occasion. This was an insult to the king as well.

The parable of the wedding feast is about our response to God’s call. The parable cautions us first of the dangers of indifference. When the Father invites us into a relationship with his Son, we can either choose to respond or we can quietly decline the invitation and go back to our personal pursuits as though nothing has changed and no new demands have been placed on our lives. Another danger brought to our attention is indignation. Many people fight the idea that we are all sinners in need of salvation. In such cases, the good news and its call for repentance can seem like a threat to our happiness and our deepest desires for fulfillment in life. This can put us on the defensive and even provoke a hostile response toward those who challenge us with the claims of Christ. Finally, the parable warns us against incomplete conversion. The man without the wedding garment had neither ignored nor refused the invitation to the feast. But his yes to the call of God was not carried through in his life. He wanted the good things of the kingdom, but not enough to break with his sinful ways and live as a committed disciple.

Many are invited, Jesus says, but few are chosen. The point is that all are called to the kingdom, but not all will be found worthy to possess it. Some will decline the invitation and so exclude themselves from its blessings; others will accept it but will not follow through in putting its demands into practice. Those found acceptable are those committed to directing their lives by the gospel. They clothe themselves in the garments of true repentance and Christlike righteousness.

This week, let's ponder the invitation God has given each of us. How have we responded? Have we received the sacraments and then not been Christlike in all that we do? Do we remember our baptismal promises when we interact with our family, friends and co-workers? Do I love as Christ loves? We have received undeserved, unmerited favor and kindness from God; do we take seriously the responsibility that is demanded of this gracious gift?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Oct. 9, 2014 Friday: 27th Week in Ordinary A

Blessed to Have Faith
As we celebrate the feast of St. Francis Borgia, S.J., I recall that he, after marrying and fathering a family and being widowed, made provision for his children, resigned his hereditary dukedom in favor of his eldest son, and became a Jesuit priest. He was elected eventually as the third Father General of this new order. Thus did his faith lead him from a life at the court to a commitment to the Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In each of our lives, faith can open us to new opportunities, make different demands, and call forth latent talents. After practicing finance law for 30 years, I left my legal career to help found the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in Chicago. Instead of drafting indentures, I was pounding the pavement in Chicago and visiting social service agencies and schools as I sought placements for this nascent chapter of Ignatian volunteers committed to serving the materially poor and marginalized.

As Chicago Archbishop-designate Blase Cupich commented recently, Christians should be prepared to “step into the unknown…because it is in the very unknown that we really do encounter Christ.”

My own “step into the unknown” greatly enriched my faith, enhanced my spiritual journey, and helped serve those at the margins of society. Today let us reflect: how am I being called now by my faith in Christ, to “step into the unknown”?

―George Penman Sullivan, Jr. is a Jesuit-educated lay leader who helped found Chicago’s Ignatian Volunteer Corps. He and his wife, Dorothy, live in Wilmette IL, and have four children and three grandchildren.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oct. 9, 2014 Thursday: 27th Week in Ordinary A

With Paul's utter frustration at the backsliding in faith and understanding of his dear "stupid Galatians" ringing in our ears, Jesus challenges us with his response to the question of intercessory prayer.

In time, we all face the question of whether we really believe our prayer changes things. We don't doubt God; we are just not sure how God works with us in our world. Like the Galatians, we want to be sure we get this right. It's important that we know how to "work

" this God of ours. But that's not how God "works."

Jesus is stressing that friendship is the God-given relationship we have with his Father that enables our trust in prayer. This relationship is not so much from our side; it is God who wants to give good things to us in our need.

- Sr. Mary Kay Oosdyke, Give Us This Day, October 2014 Issue

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Oct. 8, 2014 Wednesday: 27th Week in Ordinary A

LORD God, Holy Father, may You be blessed now and in eternity. For as You will, so is it done; and what You do is good. Let Your servant rejoice in You -- not in himself or in any other, for You alone are true joy. You are my hope and my crown. You, O Lord, are my joy and my honor.

What does Your servant possess that he has not received from You, and that without any merit of his own? Yours are all the things which You have given, all the things which You have made.

I am poor and in labors since my youth, and my soul is sorrowful sometimes even to the point of tears. At times, also, my spirit is troubled because of impending sufferings. I long for the joy of peace. Earnestly I beg for the peace of Your children who are fed by You in the light of consolation. If You give peace, if You infuse holy joy, the soul of Your servant shall be filled with holy song and be devout in praising You. But if You withdraw Yourself, as You so very often do, he will not be able to follow the way of Your commandments, but will rather be obliged to strike his breast and bend the knee, because his today is different from yesterday and the day before when Your light shone upon his head and he was protected in the shadow of Your wings from the temptations rushing upon him.

Just Father, ever to be praised, the hour is come for Your servant to be tried. Beloved Father, it is right that in this hour Your servant should suffer something for You. O Father, forever to be honored, the hour which You knew from all eternity is at hand, when for a short time Your servant should be outwardly oppressed, but inwardly should ever live with You.

Let him be a little slighted, let him be humbled, let him fail in the sight of men, let him be afflicted with sufferings and pains, so that he may rise again with You in the dawn of the new light and be glorified in heaven.

Holy Father, You have so appointed and wished it. What has happened is what You commanded. For this is a favor to Your friend, to suffer and be troubled in the world for Your love, no matter how often and by whom You permit it to happen to him.

Nothing happens in the world without Your design and providence, and without cause. It is well for me, O Lord, that You have humbled me, that I may learn the justice of Your judgments and cast away all presumption and haughtiness of heart. It is profitable for me that shame has covered my face that I may look to You rather than to men for consolation. Hereby I have learned also to fear Your inscrutable judgment falling alike upon the just and unjust yet not without equity and justice.

Thanks to You that You have not spared me evils but have bruised me with bitter blows, inflicting sorrows, sending distress without and within. Under heaven there is none to console me except You, my Lord God, the heavenly Physician of souls, Who wound and heal, Who cast down to hell and raise up again. Your discipline is upon me and Your very rod shall instruct me.

Behold, beloved Father, I am in Your hands. I bow myself under Your correcting chastisement. Strike my back and my neck, that I may bend my crookedness to Your will. Make of me a pious and humble follower, as in Your goodness You are wont to do, that I may walk according to Your every nod. Myself and all that is mine I commit to You to be corrected, for it is better to be punished here than hereafter.

You know all things without exception, and nothing in man's conscience is hidden from You. Coming events You know before they happen, and there is no need for anyone to teach or admonish You of what is being done on earth. You know what will promote my progress, and how much tribulation will serve to cleanse away the rust of vice. Deal with me according to Your good pleasure and do not despise my sinful life, which is known to none so well or so clearly as to You alone.

Grant me, O Lord, the grace to know what should be known, to praise what is most pleasing to You, to esteem that which appears most precious to You, and to abhor what is unclean in Your sight.

Do not allow me to judge according to the light of my bodily eyes, nor to give sentence according to the hearing of ignorant men's ears. But let me distinguish with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and always seek above all things Your good pleasure. The senses of men often err in their judgments, and the lovers of this world also err in loving only visible things. How is a man the better for being thought greater by men? The deceiver deceives the deceitful, the vain man deceives the vain, the blind deceives the blind, the weak deceives the weak as often as he extols them, and in truth his foolish praise shames them the more. For, as the humble St. Francis says, whatever anyone is in Your sight, that he is and nothing more.
- Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 3 Chapter 50

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oct. 7, 2014 Tuesday: Our Lady of the Rosary

Our Lady of the Rosary
We become Christian not through lofty ideas or ethical choices, but through an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and his saving events. The more we return to those events in meditation and self- surrender, the more we grow in holiness. If we are humble, we recognize our inability to do this worthily and well, for sin clouds our reason and weakens our will. We need a blessed companion Our Lady who enables us to rise above our faults and limitations so as to penetrate the mysteries of the Gospel. God gives us all this in the Rosary.

The Rosary is a way we continue to live out the graces we receive in the liturgy since it contains all the depth of the Gospel in its entirety. The Rosary opens us to the depths of the heart of Christ so that we can enter into his heart more profoundly. The design of the Rosary, with its cycles of meditation, awakens in us an always- increasing thirst for a deeper inner knowledge of the mystery of Christ.

While serving as a unique and most effective means of fostering contemplation, the Rosary also sheds light on the mystery of being human, for the mysteries of the Rosary mark the rhythm of human life. God communicates himself to us according to those rhythms. The Rosary thereby shapes our existence and conforms us ever more closely to Christ through a kind of training in holiness by which we are changed into his likeness. And since no one has ever been as devoted to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary, Our Lady plays an indispensable role in our meditation of the Rosary.

The Mother of God constantly sets before us the mysteries of her Son with the desire that our devout contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. Mary acts to train us and to mold us, making us sensitive and alert to Jesus able to “read” him until Christ is fully formed in our Christian life. United with Our Lady of the Rosary, we encounter the beauty of Christ’s face and experience the profoundness of his love.
- Fr. Peter Cameron, Novenas for the Church Year

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Oct. 5, 2014: 27th Sunday in Ordinary A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you like hot sauce? Do you like to sprinkle hot sauce on your meals? Have you ever tried Tabasco ice cream? With the first bite, you taste the sweet and creamy ice cream, but with the second bite, you taste the mild and tangy jalapeno pepper. Does that sound good to you? Last year I visited Avery Island where Tabasco Hot Sauce is made and took a tour of the Tobasco plant. It was a fascinating tour and I learned that Tabasco Sauce is also known as Cajun ketchup. Another remarkable fact I learned is that one family for five generations has been running the Tabasco Company since 1868. They say that most family-owned businesses do not survive beyond the second generation. The current CEO's great-great-grandfather founded the company 146 years ago, and somehow the next generations have kept the founder's original vision as they expanded the company. They haven’t sold out to another company, nor has the company been embroiled in in-fighting and division. That's quite remarkable.

If you were to inherit a family business, what would you do to ensure that the business would thrive through the next generation? You would need to instill the mission of the founder upon the next generation; without being connected to that mission, the next generation loses the purpose of why the organization exists. Often what happens in a family business is that different family members vie for leadership; the unity is lost as they fight for what they think is the right direction. Jesus challenges us to be connected to him and live out our Heavenly Father's mission for us. However, what happens when we disconnect from that mission? We can easily adopt the principle, "I want what I want."  Even when what we are doing is good and praiseworthy, if we become entrenched in our will instead of following the Father’s will for our lives, then we become disconnected from our true mission.  That's what happened to the people of Israel and the religious leaders. Through the parable, Jesus showed the people that their will--which was disconnected from the Father's will--failed to produce the good fruits for the Kingdom of God. They promoted their personal agenda at the cost of fulfilling the Father's will.

In many ways, this parable is a reflection of our own faith life. At the beginning of our life, we are baptized and the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in our hearts. Each of us is given a guardian angel to guide us on our journey toward God and to protect us from harm during our earthly pilgrimage. Each of us is given a unique mission to make Jesus known to others through our life--our life of humility, charity, and faith. When we live a life of prayer where we listen to God and carry out his will for us, we bear fruit for his kingdom. Galatians 5:22 describes these fruits, "love, joy, peace,patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." We are then like the good tenants in God's vineyard, helping to produce good fruits. But somewhere along the way in our faith life, we become distracted, preoccupied, and anxious about earthly concerns. We get quite busy, busy producing much earthly fruits--money, respect, comfort, success. Yet, these earthly fruits can spoil and vanish in an instant. Those of you who are daily checking the persimmon trees in your yard know this; those pesky birds and squirrels come and eat your delicious persimmons that you've been waiting to ripen. And how many of you who daily watch the stockmarket have to take blood pressure medicine to keep yourself calm?

I shared with you before how I was raised Catholic but my prayer life and faith went out the window
in high school. When I didn't pray, I no longer listened to Jesus; eventually, I forgot what his voice sounded like. I no longer believed that God had a vision or a plan for my life. Then other impostor voices began to inspire me, through my fascination with New Age beliefs. One of my classmates, who was a Christian, approached me to talk about Jesus. I vehemently rejected him and his message. It was a personal crisis that brought me back to praying again to God. With my heart humbled--without arrogance or pretension--I began to hear God speak to me again about his plan for my life.

Prayer is our way to know and understand the Father's will. It is through prayer that we begin to see God's mission for us and whether we are carrying out that mission. This is how Blessed Mother and saints of our Church came to know the truth and to trust the Father. Father has chosen each of us to continue the work of His Son, and the He has given us every gift necessary to do His Will. We allow the distractions of our world to keep us from our true calling--to be His Son's presence in the world. Just as the Tabasco Company kept their founding vision for over 146 years, we need silent, intense prayer life to allow God's vision to bear fruit in our lives. We also need to call on Blessed Mother, our guardian angel, and saints to assist us; they are ready to help us if we call upon them and trust.

Oct. 4, 2014 Saturday: St. Francis of Assisi


It is one of the wonders of life that we meet souls compatible with our own in places and circumstances unexpected and surprising. This fact never so thoroughly overwhelmed Francis as in his audience with Pope Innocent III. This magnificent man had Francis’ own suspicions and mistrust of anything that smacked of fanaticism, and in Francis’ first meeting with the Pope, he had sensed the Pope’s mind working intensely behind the fixed and penetrating gaze. His eyes were like shafts of light illuminating the dark corners of Francis’ soul. And when the audience was over, Francis had no idea what the Pope really felt. Everything was in abeyance.

That night, as Innocent later related to Francis, the Pope dreamed that the Church of St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, began to lean on its side and topple to the ground. Then, just as the nightmare was pounding most loudly in the Pope’s brain and the church was crashing to the ground, a little beggar leaped from the shadows and supported the falling building on his own shoulders. The Pope, waking with a shudder of relief, recognized the beggar as Francis, the poor man from Assisi.

Now Innocent never put much stock in nightmares, but there was about this dream the power and persuasion of a vision, and he resummoned Francis and the brothers the following day. It was at this audience that Francis saw in Pope Innocent a heart like his own. The Pope’s whole personality radiated the intensity and seriousness of a child. And unlike most other people to whom Francis had stretched out his hands in supplication, this man looked straight into his eyes. Francis would never forget their complete candor and innocence. How fitting the name Innocent!

As Francis slowly and deliberately explained the Dream, the Pope’s eyes grew moist, and he loved Francis with his eyes. At that moment Francis knew that the Dream was from God and that this soft man with the hard exterior would stand by the Dream and write it down in the Book of the Visions of the Church of God.

Innocent in fact did more. He rose from his throne and embraced Francis, and Francis felt through the rich papal garments the beating of a poor and ragged heart like his own, who longed to change places with any one of these beggars and fools of Christ. Francis wept aloud, not only for joy that the Dream was real, but because the touch of this man was the softness he had always longed for from his own father. The Pope had become more than the tangible representative of Christ. He was the father he had lost, given back a hundredfold. In their embrace Francis felt that he in turn was for Innocent the son he had given up for Christ, returned again a hundredfold.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, looked on in astonishment at the tender scene being enacted shamelessly in full view of the whole Papal Court. Some of them grumbled at the melodrama of it all, but others, their eyes moist as well, understood.

Then Pope Innocent simply and humbly proclaimed for all to hear, “Go with God, little brothers, and announce salvation for all, as the Lord reveals it to you! And when the Almighty has multiplied your number, then come back to me and I will charge you with a greater inheritance.” A greater inheritance! What he had felt in the Pope’s embrace was true: Francis had been restored to his father’s house, and a new and spiritual inheritance was his. From that day on the bond between Francis and Innocent was ever that of son and father, and Francis always included Pope Innocent among the Lesser Brothers of Jesus.

- Murray Bodo OFM, Francis: The Journey and the Dream

Friday, October 3, 2014

Oct. 3, 2014 Friday: 26th Week in Ordinary A

Nothing is so beautiful as a pure soul . . . Purity comes from heaven; we must ask for it from God. If we ask for it, we shall obtain it. We must take great care not to lose it. We must shut our heart against pride, against sensuality, and all the other passions, as one shuts the doors and windows that nobody may be able to get in. What joy it is to the guardian angel to conduct a pure soul! . . .The more pure we have been on earth, the nearer we shall be to Him in heaven . . . My children, we cannot comprehend the power that a pure soul has over the good God.
- St. John Vianney

But how can I please God? Even when I pray, many things interrupt and distract me.
“Don’t worry if you feel cold when you meditate and pray . . . and if you see yourself still surrounded by weakness, because given that this takes place against your every will, there is no fault, and is nothing but a source of merit for you. “These are the trials of chosen souls whom God wants to put to the test when he sees they have the necessary strength to sustain the battle. . . . “Continue to practice meditation and all the other devout practices, always renewing your upright intentions, and do not be at all upset if you are unable to do all this with that perfection you would desire. “Be certain of God’s love for you and of his complete and total pardon for your errors. Believe this firmly and do not wrong divine goodness by doubting this.”
- St. Pio of Pietrecina (Padre Pio)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Oct. 2, 2014 Thursday: Guardian Angels

The word angel is derived from the ancient Greek word aggelos which means messenger. The angels are God’s instruments or messengers whom he uses to communicate his will. References to the celestial or non-corporal beings better known as angels, are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament and more than 150 times in the New Testament. From the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation, scriptures speak of the existence of angels.

Among the angelic beings, the role of the guardian angel is one of great importance. The Church teaches that the special work of the guardian angel is to guide an individual on his journey toward God and to protect him from harm during his earthly pilgrimage. The Church celebrates the feast of the Guardian An-
gels each year on October 2.

Padre Pio and the Guardian Angel

(The following is extracted from a spiritual letter written by Padre Pio to his spiritual daughter Raffaelina in 1914.)
"Beloved daughter of the heavenly Father,
May the Grace of the Divine Spirit completely possess your heart and that of all those who wish to belong to Jesus! May Jesus also reveal to you the mystery and power of His Cross, completely inebriating you. May His Virgin Mother be the very one who obtains for you the strength and courage to fight the good fight; may your good angel be for you a breastplate to shield you from the blows which the enemies of our salvation fire against you.
O Raffaelina, how consoling it is to know that we are always under the protection of a heavenly spirit, who never abandons us, not even (most admirable fact!) in the very act by which we displease God! How sweet this great truth is for the believing soul! What can the devout soul fear that is diligent in loving Jesus, and that always has such a distinguished fighter present by its side? Oh, was he not perchance among those many who, together with St. Michael the Angel there in the empyreal heights defended the honor of God against Satan and all the other rebellious spirits, finally reducing them to perdition and casting them into hell (Cf. Dan. 10,13; 12, 1; Apoc. 12,7)?
Well then, know that he is still powerful against Satan and his satellites. His charity has not grown less, nor will it ever fail to protect us. Form the beautiful habit of thinking about him always. How close to us stands one of the celestial spirits, who from the cradle to the grave never leaves us for an instant. He guides us, he protects us like a friend, like a brother. This ought to be, moreover, a constant consolation for us, especially in our saddest hours.
Know, O Raffaelina, that this good angel prays for you: he offers to God all your good works that you accomplish, as well as your holy and pure desires. In the hours in which you seem to be alone and abandoned, do not complain about not having a soul-mate to whom you can open (your heart) and to whom you can confide your sorrows: - for the love of God, do not forget this invisible companion who is always present to listen to you and always ready to console you.
O delightful intimacy, O blessed companionship! Oh, if only all men knew how to understand and appreciate this very great gift that God, in the excess of His love for men, has assigned to us this celestial spirit! Recall frequently his presence: you ought to fix your mind's eye upon him. Thank him, pray to him. He is so finely mannered, so discreet: respect him. Have continual fear lest you offend the purity of his gaze.
Invoke frequently this (your) Guardian Angel, this benefactor angel. Repeat often the beautiful prayer: "Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom the heavenly Father's bounty entrusts me here; enlighten me, guard me, guide me now and forever." How great, my dear Raffaelina, will be the consolation, when, at the hour of death, your soul will see this angel, who is so good, who has accompanied you throughout your life, who was so ample in his maternal care! Oh that this sweet thought may make you, may render you continually more fond of the Cross of Jesus! This is namely what your good angel desires! ? May the desire to see this inseparable companion of your entire life enkindle in you that charity which moves you to desire soon to leave the body.