Monday, February 27, 2017

Feb. 27, 2017: Monday, 8th Week of Ordinary Time

Feb. 27, 2017: Monday, 8th Week of Ordinary Time

What gives hope and satisfaction to our desire for happiness and security? A young man who had the best the world could offer - wealth and security - came to Jesus because he lacked one thing. He wanted the kind of lasting peace and happiness which money could not buy him. The answer he got, however, was not what he was looking for. He protested that he kept all the commandments - but Jesus spoke to the trouble in his heart. One thing kept him from giving himself whole-heartedly to God. While he lacked nothing in material goods, he was nonetheless possessive of what he had. He placed his hope and security in what he possessed. So when Jesus challenged him to make God his one true possession and treasure, he became sad.
Misplaced hope and treasure
Why did he go away from Jesus with great sorrow and sadness rather than with joy? His treasure and his hope for happiness were misplaced. Jesus challenged the young man because his heart was possessive. He was afraid to give to others for fear that he would lose what he had gained. He sought happiness and security in what he possessed rather than in who he could love and serve and give himself in undivided devotion.

The greatest joy possible
Why does Jesus tell his disciples to "sell all" for the treasure of his kingdom? Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. The Lord himself is the greatest treasure we can have. Giving up everything else to have the Lord as our treasure is not sorrowful, but the greatest joy. [See Jesus' parable about the treasure hidden in a field in Matthew 13:44.] Selling all that we have could mean many different things - letting go of attachments, friendships, influences, jobs, entertainments, styles of life - really anything that might stand in the way of our loving God first and foremost in our lives and giving him the best we can with our time, resources, gifts, and service.

Those who are generous towards God and towards their neighbor find that they cannot outmatch God in his generosity towards us. God blesses us with the priceless treasures of his kingdom - freedom from fear and the griping power of sin, selfishness and pride which block his love and grace in our lives; freedom from loneliness, isolation and rejection which keep his children from living together in love, peace, and unity; and freedom from hopelessness, despair, and disillusionment which blind our vision of God's power to heal every hurt, bind every wound, and remove every blemish which mar the image of God within us. God offers us treasure which money cannot buy. He alone can truly satisfy the deepest longing and desires of our heart. Are you willing to part with anything that might keep you from seeking true joy with Jesus?

Don Schwager

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Feb. 26, 2017: 8th Sunday Ordinary A

Feb. 26, 2017: 8th Sunday Ordinary A

I venture to say that there is one thing that most of do quite well--that is, to worry. Whether it’s about our health, wealth, safety, security, responsibilities, or the future, we know how to worry. What is at the very heart of our worry? It’s trust, isn’t it? We worry about our lives ultimately because we do not really trust God. This is the point that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount in today’s gospel.

Jesus teaches how the disciple should approach material possessions and the basic necessities of life. Those who seek first the kingdom have a peaceful confidence in the Father to provide for their lives. They serve God alone, not wealth or possession, and are full of light, storing up treasures in heaven. Those who do not make the kingdom their top priority are like the pagans, who do not know the Father’s love and so are anxious about their lives. Seeking security in wealth prevents them from serving God single-heartedly. They store up treasures on earth and thus do not radiate Christ’s heavenly light, for “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Jesus ultimately asks each of us, “Where is your heart?” The heart is the center of one’s life, from which one’s attentions and commitments flow. So how would you respond to that question? In a dialogue God had with St. Catherine of Siena, He said to her: “Why do you not put your trust in me your Creator? Because your trust is in yourselves. Am I not faithful and loyal to you? Of course I am. . . . But it seems they do not believe that I am powerful enough to help them, … or rich enough to enrich them, or beautiful enough to give them beauty, or that I have food to feed them or garments to re-clothe them. Their actions show me that they do not believe it.”

So that’s where our heart is -- lacking in trust. And yet, each of us desire to trust God more. How can we cultivate that trust? One of the ways is to practice prayer of surrender. A short prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola is an example: “Lord, everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”
This prayer involves the ongoing practice of opening our hands to God and releasing ourselves and others to him in a way that permits grace to move. It includes developing the habit of giving up our attempts to control people and events by intentionally giving them to God. And it encompasses yielding our will to God’s providential will through faith, inviting him to empower us to see our lives through his transcendent perspective instead of through the lens of our own limited human understanding. Learning the prayer of surrender is not a one-time effort. It takes much practice, perseverance, and patience, plus the example of those who have lived it extraordinarily well.

The Church in Her wisdom gives us the season of Lent so that we may ponder the deep love the Lord has for us. During Lent we have the opportunity to grow in holiness. The more we turn to the prayer of surrender and eliminate activities and distractions of our life, we will grow in our trust in Him who gives His whole Self to us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Feb. 22, 2017: Chair of St. Peter

February 22 2016 - Chair of St. Peter

In ancient Rome, families remembered their dead relatives and friends at a feast during the latter part of February in which an empty chair represented their deceased. Since the early Christians did not know the date of St. Peter’s death, they remembered him with a feast around his empty chair on February 22. Later, the Church would see the Chair of St. Peter as a symbol of his authority as the first bishop of Both Rome and of Antioch.

In the apse of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome there is a famous sculpture by Lorenzo Bernini, an ancient chair enclosed in sculpted bronze, with the holy spirit in the form of the dove hovering over the Chair. Just below the chair, are four theologians, Ambrose and Augustine from the west, Athanasius and John Chrysostom from the west. To show how the great theologians from both the east and the west teach how Peter and his successors lead and guide the holy Church of Christ.

Sculpted into the very chair itself is the image of Jesus feeding the sheep. This is also significant to the role Peter and the Pope’s have in the Church. Sitting in that chair, leading and guiding the Church, they are being faithful to the task Jesus himself gave to Peter, when he told him, “Peter, feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”

This is why, above the chair, along the apse is written "O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu omnes Christi pascis agnos et oves" (O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep

In our first reading, St. Peter himself exhorted the bishops of the church to tend to the flock of God, not lording their authority over the sheep, but serving with love. As Catholics we don’t resent the fact that we have popes and bishops in these leadership positions. They serve us, by teaching us, helping us to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, correcting us when we step out of line, for the sake of our souls.

We have been blessed during our lifetime, with very holy Popes. One of my favorite images is that of the Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis, side by side, with the words hope, faith, and love underneath. Pope John Paul taught us how to have hope in Christ when the world was filling with greed and violence. Pope Benedict taught us how to have clear and solid faith, when the world was filling with the darkness of error. And now Pope Francis teaches us to have love, when the world is filling up with selfishness and self-concern.

Today we certainly pray for the Pope and his successors, that they may continue to feed Christ’s flock, and we pray for ourselves as well, that we may be responsive to the voice of the Good Shepherd who speaks through Peter, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

-Fr. Kevin Estabrook

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feb. 21, 2017: Divine Mercy Week 1 - Speak Little of Yourself

Feb. 21, 2017: Divine Mercy Week 1 - Speak Little of Yourself

“Tell me about yourself.” It’s a common question asked of us, in job interviews, when encountering someone new, or setting up our profile on Facebook. What do you want the world or others to know about you? It’s now very easy to disclose to complete strangers on the internet who you are, what you’re thinking, what you love to do, and what your preferences are. We capture every thought and activity of our day via a photo or video and then post on the internet for everyone to see. Should we be concerned about how much of ourselves we disclose to others? There is certainly a danger of aggrandizing ourselves beyond who we truly are or even make ourselves appear as someone whom we are not.

In today’s Gospel the disciples were arguing about who is the greatest. Likely, each disciple was tempted to think too highly of himself. Then Jesus chills the whole conversation by saying, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Often times we are like the disciples too. We compare ourselves with others and desire their praise. The appetite for glory and greatness seems to be inbred in us. Who doesn't cherish the ambition to be "somebody" whom others admire rather than a "nobody"? Yet Jesus knows how detrimental seeking glory is to our spiritual life. Once we begin to focus on ourselves, our whole trajectory of life veers away from loving God with all our mind and heart.

What can we do to ground ourselves in humility? We can begin with prayer and scripture, to spend quality time with the Lord, seeking only His approval. Mother Teresa offered her sisters a guidance in the practice of humility. She said, “Speak as little as possible about yourself.” Her advice grounds us from desiring approval and admiration of others by not speaking so much about ourselves. The one who truly knows us is God who dwells within us. He knows the truth of who we are. We need to speak to Him who can safeguard us from temptations of pride.

The theme of this year’s Divine Mercy masses will be humility. Why humility? Because as we have learned from the Saints, humility is the gate and the path toward Heaven. Jesus says in the scriptures that we will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become like a child. A little child knows how little she is, so she always has an attitude of dependence on others.

How do we cultivate humility? During this 9-week Divine Mercy mass and chaplet, we will ask Our Lord for the gift and the virtue of humility. Before every mass, we will recite together the Litany of Humility. This litany touches on how we desire to be esteemed and loved by others at the expense of humility.

Let us now recite the Litany of Humility.

Litany of Humility

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

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

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Feb. 19, 2017: 7th Sunday Ordinary Time A

Click to hear Audio Homily
Many of us have been to funerals where a family member gives a eulogy of the deceased person’s upbringing, education, work, hobbies, and relationship. What impresses me the most is whenever the family member says, “there was not a mean bone in his body; he always treated everyone with kindness," or "she had no enemies; she loved everyone as a friend." Why is this more impressive than the wealth the person accumulated, the influential role he played in the organizations, or the honor he gained from others? Clearly the deceased person understood Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful; for they will be shown mercy.” Our Lord told us that we are blessed or happy when we respond to evil in the world, to injury inflicted on them, to other people’s needs with radical generosity; not with vengeance, not with retaliation, nor with violence, but with generosity, that is mercy. St. Paul puts it in another way, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In being merciful, we are imaging God whose greatest attribute is mercy.

Jesus calls us to, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In saying this he calls us to, “Love your enemies and pray for those persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Which is easier, to be friendly to those who are good to us, or to be kind to those who mistreat us, who take us for granted, or those who hate us? When you think about it, often times the “enemies” are not the ones who live in far away places, but they are our spouse, our siblings, our children, or our dear friends who betrayed our trust or hurt us deeply. When Jesus said, “love your enemies,” he used the word for ‘love’ that means ‘choosing or willing the good for another.’ In other words, Jesus’ command to ‘love’ is not an emotion; rather, it is an act of will. Then what are we to do when we are so angry or resentful of those who hurt us or betrayed us?

Jesus commands us to “pray for those who persecute you.” No matter what you feel about someone who hurt you, if you pray for him, if you ask the Lord to bless him and give good things to him, then that is an act of love. To pray for someone else is to use your precious time for the benefit and good of another person. Often times we confuse love and like; we confuse an act of will and emotion. To love your enemy does not mean that you have to have feelings for your enemy. We are called to will the good to that enemy,especially, by praying and interceding for them and by offering penance and sacrifices for them. In doing so Jesus says, “you’ll be like the Father in heaven…[who] makes the sun shine on the evil and the good.”

In less than 10 days we begin Lent. Let us ponder in what ways we can use the 40 days of Lent as acts of love for others, especially those we consider our enemy.

(Photo: Bishop Stanley Ott visiting a death row inmate at Angola Prison)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feb. 12, 2017: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Feb. 12, 2017: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear Audio Homily
“We are so blessed.” This is not the kind of response you would expect from people who had just been through a tornado that destroyed their homes and property. Yet, that was their first response when Fr. Joe and I visited folks amidst their damaged homes. They remarked how they were touched by neighbors and strangers who showed up to patch the roof with blue tarps, to clean up the yard, and to offer a comforting presence. With the electricity poles and power lines twisted and mangled like twigs, many folks were without power for a couple of days. The loud hum of the generators in our area was reminiscent of the days of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav.

Many who were in the path of the tornado said the tornado only lasted a few seconds to a minute. Yet, they learned invaluable lessons that they wanted to share with all of us after their traumatic experiences. They recognized that material things can be easily replaced, but not people. As a result, even those who have experienced great loss are thankful to God for the miracle of being alive. The loss of material things helped them to evaluate what they should really treasure. They recognized that as they received their neighbor’s compassion and care during this time of need, they are also called to be that kind of compassion in the future.

A sudden misfortune in our lives reminds us of the words of scripture, “Everything is vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2).” Everything passes--health, beauty, possessions, even people. God alone remains. Misfortunes in our lives can make the time for us to choose God anew as the one and all of our life, and thus live the way he commands: to love. This is the wisdom that St. Paul spoke of in our Second Reading: “Brothers and sisters: We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden…” (1 Cor 2:6-10) The reading from Sirach today reveals succinctly this hidden wisdom of God, “If you trust in God, you too shall live.” (Sirach 15:15) God knows the road we should take at every point of our lives. Do we? Do we love and trust our God enough for Him to to manage our life and guide it?

(Photo: Courtesy of The Advocate)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Feb. 8, 2017 Wednesday: 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Bringing Jesus to Suffering People

The Jesus who becomes bread to satisfy our hunger also becomes that naked person, that homeless and lonely and unwanted person, that leper or drunkard or drug addict or prostitute, so that we can satisfy His hunger to be loved by us through the love we show them. Bringing the presence of Jesus to people suffering like this makes us contemplatives living right in the heart of the world. The people are asking for spiritual help, for consolation; they are so afraid, discouraged, in despair; so many commit suicide. That’s why we must concentrate on being God’s love, God’s presence, not by words, but by service, concrete love, listening. I am praying much for you that you may make use of the ability and suffering that have come into your life as means to real holiness. Let us thank God for His love for you, for His presence in you, and for the grace with which you have accepted your affliction as a gift of God. It must be hard— but the wood of the Cross was hard too. Do not ever think your life is useless because you cannot do what others do. The Cross of Jesus and the suffering of our Blessed Mother and of so many Christians are the greatest wealth of the whole world. You too are a part of that wealth. May you allow Jesus to live more fully in you, and may the Passion He shares with you be a sign of His tender love for you. -Mother Teresa

(Photo: Tornado damage in the St. Jude subdivision near CF Plant in Donaldsonville. Courtesy of Fr. Joseph Vu)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Feb. 7, 2017: Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Feb. 7, 2017: Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time

 "God created man in His image." Genesis 1:27

God created the light and saw that it was "good" (Gn 1:4). He created dry land and sea and termed that "good" (Gn 1:10). Likewise, the plants, sun, stars, and animals were all "good" (Gn 1:12, 18, 21, 25). When God created man and woman, "He found it very good" (Gn 1:31). God obviously takes great delight in people, and considers them the crown of His creation.

The man and woman could eat from any fruit tree "except the tree of knowledge of good and bad" (Gn 2:17). Before man and woman knew what was good, they simply were "very good." To the core of their being, they were pure and good. "The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame" (Gn 2:25). What a good, holy innocence!

Then the man and woman preferred TO KNOW what was good rather than TO BE GOOD. So they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (Gn 3:6). Sadly, now that they believed they knew what was good, they lost God's grace and power to be good. Before long, man fell so far from his original good nature that he no longer could distinguish good from evil, and even could "call evil good, and good evil" (Is 5:20). This warped sense of what is good continues to the present day.

Thus, "Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God" (Mk 1:14). God created man originally; Jesus re-created man (2 Cor 5:17). Now, in Jesus, we can know what is good (1 Cor 2:16). In the Holy Spirit, we can be good (Gal 5:16ff). Make a good decision today. Accept Jesus as Lord of your life.

 Prayer: Father, I repent of my sins. "Have mercy on me, O God, in Your goodness" (Ps 51:3)