MARGARET O'CONNOR KIELKOPF, PH.D.,LCG:MY BLOG

Notes Towards Finding God in Everyday Life

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Blog Post December 10, 2017, Second Sunday of Advent

I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord – for he proclaims peace to his people. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Psalm 85:8-9

Friday, December 8th we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The last time this Feast Day fell on a Friday was in 2006. The next time will be in 2023. For me, to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on a Friday is a special gift that helps me draw together the birth of Jesus with the crucifixion and the obedience of Mary. I see in it a beautiful wholeness that enfolds the mystery of God’s love for us in a way I do not pretend to understand, but that moves me just a little bit farther along on my spiritual journey.

In the gospel we hear the story of how the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary's response, "Let it be done to me according to thy word."(Luke 1:26-38) Someone once wrote that unlike all the others, Mary’s soul was perfectly empty of self – of the false self that was the result of Adam’s sin. It was this that made it possible for God to fill her perfect emptiness with Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas called Mary: “totius Trinitatis nobile triclinium, the noble resting place of the Holy Trinity”.

Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception as dogma in 1854 with these words: "The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but our mother as well. St. John Vianney (The Cur d’Ars) wrote, “Mary is our mother twice. She gave birth to humanity twice – once at the Nativity and then again at the foot of the Cross.” These are the thoughts I will try to keep close to my heart as we enter this Second Week of Advent.

John the Baptist appeared in the desert…And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:4,7-8

Email your your thoughts on whether or not Mary's freedom from sin and her freedom from succumbing to all temptations took away a freedom to sin.

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Blog Post December 3, 2017, First Sunday of Advent

A bright light will shine to all the ends of the earth; many nations will come to you from far away, the inhabitants of the remotest parts of the earth to your holy name, bearing gifts in their hands for the King of heaven. Tobit 13:11

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. As we light the first candle in our Advent wreath I think of how during the weeks ahead we are meant to prepare our hearts for the gift of our redemption.

From ancient times many believed (and continue to believe) in the cyclical nature of time. Nietzsche called it the "eternal return of the same." But as Christians we know time is linear, moving forward with purpose. The past unfolds into the future purposefully, steadfastly, toward the end of time which will come as God wills it.

We enter this holy season knowing it is sacred ground that stretches from the promises of the Old Testament to the birth of the Child, our Redeemer. At our house the Advent wreath helps remind us that Advent has a penitental dimension that accompanies its joyous anticipation.

The Advent wreath has been used since the middle ages as part of the spiritual preparation for Christmas. The evergreens of the wreath signify continuous life while the circle signifies the eternity of God and the immortality of the soul. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent – the three purple candles symbolize prayer and penance – the rose candle symbolizes rejoicing and is lit on the third Sunday to celebrate the midpoint of Advent. The lighted candles remind us that Christ is the light of the world.

Below is the traditional prayer for the Blessing of the Advent Wreath:

Lord our God,
we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.
Lord God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light
be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My Advent resolution this year is to begin each morning of Advent with a little prayer about what it is I am preparing to celebrate.

So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:42,44

Email your your thoughts on whether or not we are moving towards there being more perfect human beings who would be more pleasing to God than people before the perfection of humanity.

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Blog Post November 26, 2017, Feast of Christ the King

Put no trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no help. Take their breath, they return to clay and their plans that day come to nothing. Psalm 146: 3-4

When Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 it was partly in response to a growing secularism. I wonder what our Holy Father would think about the state of things today. His words in 1925 were impassioned:”... not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds…in our wills…in our hearts...He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…”

Pius XI ended his encyclical with the message: "The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.” With this exhortation we celebrate the last Sunday of Ordinary time. These are fitting words to keep in our hearts as we approach the beginning of Advent next Sunday.

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10-11

Email your your thoughts about what Pius XI might think of the secularism of things to day. Do the womens' current expressions of outrage about male sexual misbehavior indicate a revolt against secularism?

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Blog Post November 19, 2017, Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

O Lord, you have probed me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. Psalm 129:1-3

Have you ever wondered how old you will be when you die?

I’m always amazed at The New York Times obits listings of so many people in their eighties and nineties – and on Friday the death of Eric Newman at 106! On the other hand, the next listing was for Gustav Ahr, a twenty-one year old musician.

Over time the actuarial tables for life expectancy have added years to our life expectancy, mostly due to better health care and medical advances. But that doesn’t tell us anything about the time of our own death. For many the idea of living to a ripe old age is not a happy thought. A friend once said, “it’s not fair. Therese of Lisieux was a great saint but she died at 24. She didn’t have to try to be holy for sixty or seventy years”. On Friday we celebrated the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a princess of the royal court known for her kindness to the poor, who also died at age 24. For most of us the journey will be much longer – and for some it will stretch into an old or even a very old age.

Last Sunday’s gospel cautioned us with the parable of the ten foolish virgins – five of whom had not made provisions to meet the bridegroom. Since we know “neither the day nor the hour”, it’s up to us to be prepared every hour of every day. I think those of us who live our lives into old age have been entrusted with a special calling. Old age is a gift and a responsibility. It is up to us to be examples of faith and prayer in a world that strays farther from God at every turn.

For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3

Email your reflections on whether or not your death will be a bad last event of your life.

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Blog Post November 12, 2017, Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed; God will help it at the break of dawn. Psalm 46:4-5

Thursday we celebrated the feast of the dedication of the first church in Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. It is the pope’s basilica, consecrated in 324 AD and known as the most ancient church in the world – but its history has been turbulent. In 410 the basilica was pillaged by the Visigoths and in 455 by the Vandals. In 896 an earthquake collapsed its central roof, and in 1308 and 1361 it was ravaged by fire. But always it was rebuilt.

The ancient basilica reminds me of the Church itself that has suffered trials and persecutions throughout the centuries but endured no matter what the obstacles. I think about how we are the Church, each one of us is part of the whole. Each of us then must do our part to keep it strong and holy, especially in these troubled times.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he compares himself to “a wise master builder” who laid a foundation to be built on by others and tells us that we are God’s building. Then in case we still don’t get he says: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:9,10,16)

So our work is laid out for us, to take great care each day to build on the foundation of our faith so that each of us will be the temple that God envisioned us to be.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19

Email your interpretation of the pronoun "you" in the passage from 1 Corinthians 3 in my post. Is it 2nd person singular or 2nd person plural? Or should we read it both ways?

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Blog Post November 5, 2017, Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. Wisdom 3:1-3

Wednesday was the feast of All Saints Day. The 8:30 Mass at our church was packed not only with the school kids but with all the parents and grand-parents who came to see their first-graders dressed up as their favorite saints. There were many Josephs and Marys, Thereses and Patricks, and a St. Francis with a bird on his shoulder.

Father talked about the saints and their relationship to God then asked the kids “who wants to be holy?” Every hand shot up. Then he asked the grown-ups at the back of the church, and the response was the same – all of us want to be holy. The thing is, between wanting and doing the chasm is formidable. I wonder how many hands would have shot up if the question had been “Are you trying as hard as you can to be holy every day?”

We know we are all called on to “be holy as your heavenly Father is holy”. But I think most of feel a little like Augustine:”I want to be holy, but not just yet.” Thérčse of Lisieux writes, “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.” So the first step in the pursuit of holiness may be to pray for the desire to be holy.

On Thursday we celebrated All Soul’s Day – the day set aside to remind us to pray for our beloved dead and to ask them to pray for us. To remember the dead is part of an ancient tradition but it wasn’t until the 11th century that St. Odilo of Cluny decreed that it should be celebrated November 2nd in all of his Benedictine monasteries. Over the next two centuries other monasteries began to follow suit until it finally became a part of the official Liturgical year. Now the whole month of November is devoted to prayer for the souls in purgatory, which the Church refers to as the “Holy Souls”.

Pope Benedict XVI tells us, “I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God. And yet we don’t want to be… ‘a pot that has turned out wrong,’ that has to be thrown away…Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again…”

So what does this mean for us – All Saints Day, All Souls Day? For me it’s a great reminder that we are on this journey together, working our way through life in the pursuit of holiness. But most important is that we need to work at it each day, knowing our time is limited. I’m inspired by the words of Mother Teresa: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:1-2

Email why you are not trying as hard as you can every day to be holy.

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Blog Post October 29, 2017, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in distress. Tears have wasted my eyes, my throat and my heart. For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighs. Affliction has broken down my strength and my bones waste away. Psalm 31:9-10

At Mass on Friday the first reading was St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (7:18-25) where he tells us it is impossible to resist temptation without the grace of God. “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” We can all join in that declaration. Our nature is fallen – we are sinners. And so we pray for God’s grace and deliverance.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us “…a thorn was given me in the flesh”. He says he prayed not once, but three times that it would leave him. Yet instead of the cure he sought the Lord told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

This is a hard lesson. Even Paul in all his holiness did not have his prayer answered in the way he wanted. Yet God wills only the best for us – clearly we do not know what that is and so we don’t know what to ask for. Then how do we pray? When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he responded “Pray then this way” and gave them the words of the “Our Father”. (Matthew 6:9-13).

In St. Augustine’s letter to Proba* (a widow in a religious community in Carthage) he answers her request about what it is right to prayer for. He starts by telling her that that even such a great man as St. Paul did not know what he should pray for. Then he instructs her to use the Lord's Prayer as a model for all her praying. He tells her to use few words, but says words are necessary because:”They recall to our minds what we are praying for, and allow us to consider it. We shouldn't believe that they inform the Lord or persuade him of anything.”

The point is we do not pray to change God’s mind, but to change ours. As we consider what it is we are praying for we remind ourselves that the bottom line is to pray that our hearts will be transformed – that in the end we can truly declare: “Not my will but thine be done.”

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

*This is probably Augustine's best-known letter. Known as Letter 130, it was written in the year 412, by which time he had been a bishop for about seventeen years.

Email your speculation about what St. Paul's thorn in the flesh was.

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Blog Post October 22, 2017, Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:1-2

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) Jesus was talking about his own death when he said this, but the words are meant for us also. I think we would all like to produce an abundance of fruit – it’s the dying part that frightens us. Yet Jesus is telling us we must die to our selfish, self-centered, false selves if we would bear much fruit. It is an invitation to transformation. But transformation means leaving behind our old ways.

Change is never easy. I think of the fortitude required of Abraham when at age 75 God told him to leave the well-established city of Haran and head out into the desert to a place that God would show him. All of his friends, his familiar way of life, all had to be left behind. (Genesis 12) There is no way Abraham could have done it without an unwavering trust in God. Trust is the key for us too if we are to follow the path that God has laid out for us.

Twenty years ago I made my first retreat at Gethsemani Abbey where a monk suggested I find a mantra that would help me keep my spiritually on track. I remember saying, skeptically, that what I really needed was to be able to trust in God. I’ll never forget the way his eyes lit up at that. “So there you have it,” he said. “Trust in God”.

For twenty years that has been my mantra. Father was right – Trust in God is all I really need.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Email how you would complete the phrase Trust God to. . . .

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Blogpost October 15, 2017,Twenty Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time,

I called to the Lord in my distress; he answered and freed me. The Lord is at my side; I do not fear. What can man do against me? The Lord is at my side as my helper; I shall look down on my foes. Psalm 118: 5-7

On Friday we heard Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is accused of driving out a demon “By the power of Beelzebul” and he replies that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand –that the devil doesn’t fight against himself. (Luke11:15-26) That part of Jesus’ teaching is pretty straight forward, but then he says something I struggle to understand.

Jesus tells the crowd that when an unclean spirit goes out of someone and doesn’t find rest he tries to go back to that place. “But upon returning, he finds it swept clean and put in order. Then he goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than himself…and the last condition of the man is worse than the first.”

I think Jesus is telling us our heart was not made to be empty – one way or the other it will be occupied. It is not enough to rid ourselves of some sin or bad habit. The space must be filled with God’s presence – with our will turned decisively to his will. We fool ourselves if we think that we are good because we have no great sin to confess. To be lukewarm in our spiritual life is to risk the return of demons seven fold. We read in Revelations: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot… So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelations 3:15-16)

There is an old joke about a psychiatrist who asks his patient if he has trouble making decisions. The patient says in response, "Well, doctor, yes and no."

My prayer this week is that I will not to be like that patient when it comes to inviting God into my heart.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Email whether or not your experience has shown you that people who have overcome a sinful practice but get careless and do not avoid occasions of sin fall back into the sinful way to sin even more seriously.

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Blog Post October 8, 2017 Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13

I‘m always a little uncomfortable when I hear Jesus’ directions to the seventy-two disciples he sent out in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals, and greet no one along the way.” He also tells them to eat and drink what is offered and not to move about (looking for a better deal) but to stay in the same house. (Luke 10:1-12)

What is this gospel saying to us? If you’re like me your closets are full of clothes, your kitchens sport every appliance and when you travel your suitcases can hardly hold your essentials. I ask myself how we can get untangled from these ties that bind. For me the first step is to ponder this message of Jesus to his disciples, to think about what it means for us in our everyday lives. We may not be one of those seventy-two, but we too are called on to be his disciples. If we take Jesus’ words into our hearts we see that the simpler we are able to make our lives, the more time and energy we have to follow him.

Jesus’ words to the seventy-two are not just about travel to those towns of his time, but about a way of life. Do not be greedy, do not waste your time in gossip and small talk, do not squander your energy by looking for better deals in your life, be satisfied with what has been given to you – and above all remember those words from Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34

Email how you decide that a material good or attachment to it is an obstacle to your spiritual growth.

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Blog Post October 1, 2017, Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I will give thanks to you,, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple and give thanks to your name. Psalm 138:1-2

On Friday we celebrated the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. I firmly believe in the presence of angels among us. Jesus himself talks of angels when he tells Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:51)

So the question is what do angels mean to you and me in our everyday life? Personally I see them as a bridge to God – the thought that I have my own guardian angel makes me think about channels of grace flowing from God into my heart.

I love The Guardian Angel poem I learned in grade school:
Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light and guard to rule and guide. Amen

A few days ago I visited a hospice patient who was very anxious. We talked about her guardian angel who is watching over her and when I recited the little poem she smiled as though a cloud had been lifted.

I’m inspired by these words of Jennifer Hubbard who lost a child at the Sandy Hook shooting: “We need not summon; we need simply to rest in knowing the angels are among us all the days of our lives. They are our guardians, our guides, and our constant companions. Surely I can feel the rush of their wings ever so slightly brush my cheek and know they are in this space.”

The Lord has put angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways. With their hands, they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:11- 12

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that angels are messengers of God to humans. Email if you have ever had a good thought which just comes into your head for no reason inexplicably. Would you be willing to attribute the arrival of this thought as the action of an angel?

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time,

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Psalm 100:2,4

This weekend I will be on retreat at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. This Sunday’s gospel about the landowner who gave all the workers the same wage (no matter what time of day they went into his fields) will have a special meaning for me as I think about my work as a follower of Christ. Any time I’m tempted to draw comparisons with others or to say “it isn’t fair”, I need to remind myself the only person I need to judge is myself and the only question I need to ask the Lord is “am I doing the work you want me to do in your vineyard?”

A retreat is a perfect time to get centered on the things that matter and to do a kind of check list about my spiritual life. The only problem is that I usually begin my retreat thinking,”I’m not doing too badly”, and come away from it feeling like I have to start all over again.

I’m comforted by Jesus word to the Pharisees who asked his disciples, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus’ reply, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:30

Email how you would calm the following anxiety. Once, long ago, I was a terrible sinner and felt the call of Jesus to return. I responded to the call but now that I am righteous, God is not looking for me.

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Blog Post September 17, 2017, Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Who is like the Lord, our God, and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? He rises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor. Psalm 113:5-7

As I watched the news on the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, it reminded me how little control we have over our lives from moment to moment. Disaster hits from out of the blue. One moment all is well and the next water is sweeping through the streets and winds are tearing the roofs from our houses. It’s a stark reminder of how fragile we are as human beings.

The one thing we can turn to over and over is our faith in God and his love for us. The best preparations we can make for whatever might befall is to strengthen our faith bit by bit, day by day. Jesus told his followers: “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the rivers burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built.” Luke 6:46-48

In the midst of the hurricane reports was the story of "Harvey the Hurricane Hawk" who flew into a taxi cab in Houston to take shelter. The driver brought the bird to his apartment where they waited out the storm until rescuers took her to a wildlife refuge. For “Harvey the Hurricane Hawk” it was a leap of faith that saved her life (despite the name she was a young female).

Friday was the memorial Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows which commemorates the seven sorrows of our Blessed Mother beginning with the prophecy of Simeon and ending with the burial of Jesus. Mary is the perfect model of how we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus with unwavering faith. It’s not an easy task, but when things get tough I think of Caryll Houselander’s words: “Suffering is the most precious coin of all. Suffering of body, suffering of mind, paid down willingly for Christ in man, enables him to carry his redeeming cross through the world to the end of time.”

As best you can, email how you think about Jesus and yourself if you think of your suffering as being combined with Jesus' suffering in the redemption.

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A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

Blog Post September 10, 2017, Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Come, let us bow down and worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. Psalm 95:6-7

At our house we like to celebrate Labor Day with a backyard cookout – the last of the season. On Monday we gathered around the picnic table with our hamburgers, brats, baked beans and potato salad to lament the passing of summer. Vacations are over, the days are shorter, the kids are back at school, and we begin to think more seriously about work for the coming year.

In Monday’s Gospel we read about the beginning of Jesus work of salvation. Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Then Jesus told the Jews that this day the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. At first they “spoke highly of him” until he reminded them that the miracles of Elijah and Elisha were done for foreigners, not Jews – and that no prophet is accepted in his own land. Then they tried to kill him. (Luke 4:16-30)

For me this is a sobering reminder of what lies ahead as the seasons begin to unfold. Even as we look forward to the lavishness of fall with it abundant harvests and begin to anticipate the Birth of the Child at Christmas, we are faced with the reality of Jesus’ mission. I find it hard to balance the joy of our salvation with the knowledge of the crucifixion. It helps me to think of the example of Mary whose joy was forever tempered by the prophecy of Simeon.

So this week I will think about my work, about how to balance the good with the bad, how to be grateful for the gift of still being able to work, and how to offer up the hard stuff when it comes – as it surely will.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

Email how you prepare to take up your cross.

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Blog Post September 3, 2017, Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thus will I bless you while I live; lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name. You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. Psalm 63:4,7

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples he must go to Jerusalem to suffer greatly and be killed and we hear Peter’s protest that such a thing should happen. My sympathies are with Peter. Even now, all these centuries later, even knowing the Lord is risen – the crucifixion is hard to contemplate. When I read this gospel I think about how hard it must have been for Peter to hear from Jesus’ own lips that he must suffer and die.

The fact is not only must Jesus be crucified, but we are told that to be a follower of Jesus we too must take up our cross and follow after him. (Matthew 16:21-27) The transformation of Peter from a stance of protest and denial to a willingness to suffer and die as a follower of Jesus shows us such transformation is possible. So what can we do to make that happen?

Consider these words of instruction from Peter: Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

All of us are called on to be holy. The end result would be great for us – it’s getting there that is the problem. Holiness is something we tend to put off. Maybe we’ll pursue it tomorrow or the next day – maybe in a New Year’s resolution – maybe next year. Fortunately God never lessens his pursuit of us.

This is the will of God, your holiness…Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 8

Email how you connect taking up your cross with your pursuit of holiness.

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Blog Post August 27, 2017, Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

I will walk with blameless heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes whatever is base. I will hate the ways of the crooked; they shall not be my friends. Psalm 10:2-3

Charles and I are in San Diego visiting grandkids this weekend, but I’d like to leave you with this thought from my post on the Twenty-First Sunday of 2013:

A friend of mine in her forties was lamenting the fact that she is growing old – little by little. She said she was fifteen pound lighter twenty years ago and could eat whatever she wanted. Now she is finding a few gray hairs and has less energy than she used to.

It made me think about aging and that our spiritual self, unlike our physical self, is designed to grow and flourish over time. This is the biggest advantage of growing old, time to work out our failings. But that assumes our spiritual health is a priority.

Remember Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray in which the handsome young man sells his soul so that the portrait of him will age but he will not? He then pursues a decadent life, retaining an appearance of youth and innocence while his portrait becomes more grotesque with each sin. When Dorian Gray tries to destroy the portrait it returns to its original beauty, but all of its ugliness, accrued over years of debauchery, returns to his face. What if we had a picture like that of our soul?

I like to think that the older we get, the more we are able to view our inner selves, that even as time reduces our outer vision, our inner vision is sharpened. Much like physical exercise this inner vision takes effort and works best when it is trained to become a habit. This is a good argument for taking a few minutes at the end of each day to see how our spiritual life is doing – we used to call it ‘examination of conscience’.

But the one who listens and does not act, is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed. Luke 6:49

Email how you might use the Beatitudes in an examination of your conscience.

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Blog Post August 20, 2017, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

May God have pity on us and bless us, may he let his face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon the earth; among all nations, your salvation. Psalm 67:1-2

I’ve been thinking about Matthew’s gospel where Peter asks Jesus how many times we need to forgive and Jesus responds, “seventy-seven times.” Then Jesus tells us the story of the servant whose master forgives him a huge debt. But after he is forgiven the servant seizes a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller debt and has him thrown into prison. The result is that the master has the servant whose debt he forgave handed over to the torturers until he would pay what he owed. (Matthew 18:21-35)

Mercy has two parts – the giving of it and the acceptance by the receiver. If we are the givers of forgiveness it makes us feel empowered, we are on top of things, in the driver’s seat. On the other hand, when we are the receivers of forgiveness, of mercy, it reminds us of our need, that we are wanting and dependant.

Sometimes I think of mercy as a pecking order. If you’re at the top of the heap it’s easy to show mercy to those below and to feel good about your generosity. But what about when you’re on the receiving end of another’s mercy? Sometimes it’s hard to even acknowledge mercy from others – sometimes we can’t even admit we need their forgiveness. The lurking sin is our pride.

We know pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Pride cast Adam from the garden, pride cast Satan from heaven. To meditate on God’s mercy to us, reminds me of how great a gift is his forgiveness, and how that is what is expected of us, to show the same mercy to others – How many times? “seventy-seven”.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

How do you connect mercy and forgiveness? Email your experience of cases such as: showing mercy and forgiveness, showing mercy without forgiveness, forgiveness without mercy, and no mercy and no forgiveness

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Blog Post August 13, 2017, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise. Psalm 138:1-2

I’ve been thinking a lot about Angels lately. It started a few days ago when I visited an Alzheimer's patient and recited this familiar childhood prayer for him:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this day, be at my side,
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

It made Ted’s face light up to hear this little prayer again and we began to talk about angels. I told him my husband Charles says that Angels are thoughts from God that help us in our daily life.

Ted said that sounded right because people are so different from each other that special thoughts would need to be sent to each of them. I was amazed at the discussion that followed since Ted is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s. He usually repeats the same stories from his past every visit and forgets important events from a few hours before. But when it came to Angels he was animated and talking about them made him happy. Fr. Alfred Delp, the German Jesuit who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, may have shared Charles’ idea of angels. He wrote from prison: “if the angels murmured word does not simultaneously shake us to the depths and lift up our souls – then it is over for us. Then we are living wasted time, and we are dead, long before they do anything to us.”

In a meditation on Guardian Angels, Pope John XXIII wrote: “We must remember how admirable was the intention of divine Providence in entrusting to the angels the mission of watching over all mankind, and over individual human beings, lest they should fall victims to the grave dangers which they encounter.”

So whether Angels are thoughts from the Divine sent to guide and inspire us, or winged representatives in our midst, they are manifestation of God’s great love for each one of us – upfront and personal.

He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5.

Email your reflections on the following question. If God created angels to be messengers of his thoughts to humans, God offered angels the choice of whether or not to be faithful conveyers of his messages but some angels made the choice of conveying their own messages to humans, what would those defiant angels be and what kind of messages would they bring to human thinking?

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Blog Post August 6, 2017, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time , Feast of the Transfiguration

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:1-2

I posted my very first blog in November of 2008 to share some of my spiritual thoughts and insights. I thought I had something to say and something to teach – but the fact is that writing my blog every week for over the last nine years has been my own greatest teacher. Year after year I hear the daily Mass readings repeated in their three year cycle and ponder them for something to share. In the process I have learned more than in any lecture or classroom. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that all that seems so new to me has always been there only waiting to be seen.

On Thursday I was lector at Mass and as usual checked the reading from the night before. (Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38) This is the reading where Moses is given precise directions about how to erect the Dwelling – how to place its pedestals, set up the boards, put in its bars, and set up its columns. We are told in great detail how he carried out all as the Lord commanded him. Then we are told the people would not set out on their journey until the cloud rose from the Dwelling, and if it did not lift, they did not go forward. We are told it was thus “in all the stages of their journey”.

As I read these words for the Liturgy it suddenly struck me how much this tells us about listening for God’s will in our lives and for following it in the smallest detail. The reward for doing this is that God will be with us in all the stages of our journey. It takes prayer and discipline, but at the end is ‘the pearl of great price’.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white...then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17:1-2, 5

Email reasons whether or not you ever had an experience of really understanding a truth of faith or biblical passage when you tried to explain it to someone else.

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Blog Post July 30, 2017, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity. Turn to me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant. Psalm 86:15-16

We are all familiar with Jesus’ parable of the sower. Last Sunday we heard the details once more in Matthew (13:24-43), then parts of it again on Wednesday. But there was still more to come. On Friday we heard Jesus’ explanation of the seed sewn on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns. (Matthew 13:18-23) Then Jesus tells us, “Whoever has ears, ought to hear”. What does Jesus mean by this? What are we supposed to be hearing and doing?

Jesus makes it clear that it’s no accident if our hearts have become like hardened paths or rocky ground or thorns. He tells us we are responsible for that inner place where the word of God is strewn like seed – we are responsible in our thoughts and in our words and in our deeds. Every day we live and breathe we are cultivating the soil of our hearts.

Bishop Barron reminds us that it takes work to bring our faith to its most fruitful place – but the reward is great. He writes: “When we understand the faith, when we take the time to read theology, to study the Scripture; when we persevere, discipline ourselves, and practice the faith; when we have our priorities straight, then the seed will take root in us.”

Think about that. Getting the soil to be fruitful doesn’t just happen. It takes work – hard work on a daily basis. So the question is how much Scripture do you read and how much discipline do you exert in your daily life? Jesus makes it clear that we will be held responsible for the quality of our soil. He tells us, “Whoever has ears, ought to hear”.

It’s a little frightening to think about how easy it is to drift along in our lives and let our spiritual inclinations wither. I’m reminded of the classic story of the old devil Screwtape who told his nephew Wormwood: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” *

I think one of the best antidotes to slipping down “the gentle slope” is a daily examination of conscience with the simple question: Where have I been, where am I going, is this where I want to be?

As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:23

* C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Email reasons for your program for cultivating yourself so that your faith can grow.

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Blog Post July 23, 2017, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your sight and what is right according to your commandments. 1Wisdom 9:9

We all know we’re going to die one day – sometimes we think about it, sometimes we talk about it. My friends’ death preferences fall into two categories: Those who want to die in their sleep, and those who want some warning, some time to prepare for their death before it happens.

My friend and gym partner always said she wanted to die in her sleep. From time to time we would debate the issue (my preference is time for preparation). Last Saturday night my friend died in her sleep, peacefully, in her own bed. She had been at the gym on Friday, on the treadmill and the bikes as usual. All was well.

At my friend’s funeral Mass I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was thinking it was a good time to take stock of my own life. A sudden death is a stark reminder that we know ‘neither the day nor the hour’ when the bridegroom with come for us. So my friend leaves us with that lesson: time is short, live each day as if may be your last.

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. Bishop Barron Writes of the resurrection of Jesus:”The stone had been rolled away. The stone blocking entrance to the tomb of Jesus stands for the finality of death. When someone that we love dies, it is as though a great stone is rolled across them, permanently blocking our access to them…” But the prophet Exekiel assures us of God’s plan, "I will open your graves and have you rise from them."

The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; 2 Timothy 2:11-12

Email reasons for your stance on the question of dying without warning or having time to prepare in a period when you know that death is imminent.

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Blog Post July 16, 2017, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Show your wondrous mercies, O savior of those who flee from their foes. Psalm 17:6-7

Tuesday, July 11th was the Feast of St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism. Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy around 480. He was 20 years old when he left his studies in Rome and became a hermit for three years. He then founded twelve communities for monks before moving to the mountains of southern Italy where he established the monastery at Monte Casino around 529. It was here that he wrote the “Rule of Saint Benedict”, a practical guide for monastic life that is still in use today. Both St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica are buried at Monte Cassino in the reconstructed cathedral.

As a Lay Cistercian of Gethsemani Abbey, this day has a special significance for me. Part of the LCG commitment ceremony states the intent is “…to live a lifestyle in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict and the Cistercian charism, and within my family, at my place of work, and in my community.” The “lifestyle” is one of trying to maintain an inner silence and to keep our hearts fixed on prayer as much as possible as we move through our day. Fr. John Main writes that Benedict’s way urges its followers to look for “…what is eternally real, the new creation and seek the purity of heart that will open your eyes.” *

The amazing thing about the monastery of Monte Cassino is its endurance. It was demolished for the first time by the Lombards in 580 and rebuilt. In 884 the Saracens sacked it and burned it down. Again it was rebuilt. In 1944 Monte Cassino was destroyed by Allied bombing, and once more it was rebuilt, a tribute to faith and perseverance.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30

*From Silence and Stillness in Every Season p.194

You have an image or mental picture of a monastery. It might be Mt. Cassino or of some cloister walk. Email the reflections set off when you consider your monastery image.

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Blog Post July 9, 2017, Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people. Visit me with your saving help, that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, rejoice in the joy of your people, and glory with your inheritance. Psalm 106:4-5

I have dozens of religious books in my little library, accumulated over the years, but I find myself reading them less and less. Not only that, when someone recommends a new spiritual book, I no longer am motivated to seek it out. I used to be on a determined quest for something that would inspire me to be closer to God. I thought if I just read the right book or heard the right speaker, I would be on my way to holiness. But all that happened was that I was driven to read more books and to wonder when I might find the one that would lead me where I needed to go.

We can always persuade ourselves to put off any serious spiritual effort until we know a little more – read a few more books – are better prepared. I never thought of it as procrastination before, but that’s exactly what it was. At one point I needed to go from thinking to doing. What does “doing” mean in the spiritual life? The answer is a little different for each of us.

In a recent homily about the different approaches of the four Evangelists, Father said the way to Jesus is a little like traveling to New York City – you can get there by car, by boat, by train or by air. So it is in our spiritual journey – there is not a single path. It is up to us to be attentive to the way that is best for us.

A few weeks ago representatives of a number of third order and associate groups gave a presentation about their spirituality. The purpose was to dispense information for lay people who may be interested in joining them. We heard about Third Order Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Lay Cistercians, each with a slightly different emphasis – for some it was preaching, for others charitable works or contemplation. It was a beautiful reminder of the many paths to holiness and how it is up to us to find the best fit.

Sometimes we forget that we have an obligation to become holy. St. Paul tells us that God “…chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy…” (Ephesians 1:4) But holiness isn’t something we can decide to get like a college degree. It’s a grace from God and the best way to obtain a grace is to ask for it – and to be watchful for the answer, which often comes in unexpected ways.

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. Matthew 8:25-26

Email what would be for you a sign that you should stop seeking various ways and means for spiritual growth but commit yourself to a specific method.

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Blog Post July 2, 2017, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored. Psalm 128:1-2

The month of July is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus. The feast of the Precious Blood was instituted in 1849 by Pius IX, but the devotion is as old as Christianity. The early Fathers said that the Church was born from the pierced side of Christ, and that the sacraments were brought forth through His Blood. In the first letter of St. Peter we read: “You know that you were redeemed from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers, not with perishable things as silver or gold but with the Precious Blood of Christ as the Lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The trouble is we are separated by so many centuries from the crucifixion and death of Jesus that sometimes our hearts grow cold to the reality of the human suffering of Jesus as he shed his Blood for our redemption – and the fact that he would have gone through the same agony and pain if there was only one of us to be redeemed.

June 27th was the feast of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help”, the title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 15th-century Byzantine icon legend says is a copy of a painting by Saint Luke. Here we see the child Jesus clinging to his mother’s hand in fear – he has run to her so quickly one of his sandals has fallen off and is dangling from his foot. Why is he so afraid? He is gazing up at an angel holding the lance and cross and nails of his passion.

As I meditate on this icon of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” I feel more connected to the humanity of Jesus. It helps me to pray for a greater awareness and thankfulness for the gift he bestowed on us in the shedding of his Precious Blood. No wonder the Church dedicates an entire month to this holy gift.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

The bible passages for this post tell us that the Christian life is a hard road to take and that we should walk it in fear of God. Email how meditation on the precious blood might give us strength to stay on this road while fearing God.

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Blog Post June 25, 2017, Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The designs of his heart are from age to age, to rescue their souls from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33: 11.19

Friday was the feast of the Solemnity of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Benedict XVI tells us: “His divine Heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him…”

Private devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be traced back to the eleventh century but the first official liturgical Feast of the Sacred Heart did not occur until August 31, 1670 in Rennes, France, through the efforts of Saint John Eudes. The Mass and Office he composed were adopted especially for the spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart. In 1856 Pope Pius IX established the Feast of the Sacred Heart as obligatory for the whole Church, to be celebrated on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, 19 days after Pentecost. In 2002 the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was established to also be a special Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.

Today devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most widely practiced Catholic devotions. Not surprising when you think about the fact that we are celebrating our Creator’s endless Divine love for us. Any day you pick up the paper and read the headlines, the gift of that love becomes even more astonishing.

On Thursday Charles and I toured the St. Gabriel Catholic Radio Station during its open house here in Columbus, Ohio. The station began broadcasting out of Marysville in 2005 – the first and only Catholic Radio station in central Ohio. The AM broadcast range wasn’t very far-reaching, but it was a start.

In 2008 the station was able to secure a broader signal and finally, in 2011, they purchased their present AM 820 spot – formerly WOSU-AM. St. Gabriel’s resources and popularity continue to grow by leaps and bounds. I think about that as I write this blog because the jewel of that little radio station is its Sacred Heart Chapel with its simple altar and the Crucifix imported from Italy. We were told that every afternoon at 3:00 pm the little bell by the altar is rung summoning the staff and volunteers to pray together the “Chaplet of Divine Mercy”.

The image I take away from my tour of St. Gabriel Catholic Radio is an inspiring one of great dedication and prayer, of workers in whom the words of Benedict XVI must resound: “His divine Heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him…”

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Email what you think the relevance of Catholic radio, TV and publications is for your spiritual life.

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Blog Post June 18, 2017, Feast of Corpus Christi

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all of my being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:1-2

The feast of Corpus Christi is one of five occasions in the year on which a diocesan bishop is not to be away from his diocese except for a grave reason. By tradition Catholics take part in a procession following Mass in which the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a monstrance and held up by a member of the clergy as the people follow behind with prayers and hymns. The procession usually ends with benediction. At our church it also ends with a picnic on the church grounds to thank all those who have taken part in our perpetual adoration during the year.

The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast was the result of many years of work by Juliana de Cornillon, a 13th century Norbertine canoness born in Ličge, Belgium. Orphaned at the age of five, Juliana and her sister Agnes were put in the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon, where Juliana developed a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

In 1208 Juliana had a vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years until she finally told her confessor, who told the bishop. The result was in 1264 Pope Urban IV instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in a papal bull “Transiturus”, which established it as a universal feast of the Church to be celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday.

In many countries the feast of Corpus Christi continued to take place on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday,but in March, 2017 Pope Francis officially moved the feast from Thursday to the Sunday following Trinity Sunday (which is when Italy and the United States celebrate it).

This hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas provides a beautiful meditation for the Feast of, Corpus Christi:
O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim)

O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.

To thy great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee.
Amen.

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John 6:51

Catholic who are living in a civil marriage are said to still be Catholics in good standing. But they are advised not to receive the Eucharist unless they abstain from sexual relations.. Email what you think they miss in their spiritual life even if they faithfully attend mass and keep the commandments at least as well as other good Catholics.

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Blog Post May 28, 2017, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Celebration of The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness. For the Lord, the most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. Psalm 47:1-2

Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord – but in most dioceses in the U.S. it is celebrated on the following Sunday – as it will be celebrated today at Immaculate Conception Church.

The blog I wrote for the Ascension last year expresses my thoughts on this celebration so well, that I am repeating it today. I hope it will give you something to think about, as it does me.

I’ve always thought of the Ascension as the public triumph of Jesus proving to the world he was indeed the Son of God. Even as I write these words “triumph” and “proving”, I realize how much I’m affected by the same values as those of the people who crucified him.

What is the real meaning of the Ascension? What does it mean for you and me?

Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.”

St. John Paul II wrote:”And renew your faith today in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us so that he can come back again and take us to himself.”

This seems pretty straight forward until I read in St. Augustine: “For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.”

I’m filled with awe as I think about these words even though I don’t understand them. I guess that is part of the human condition – to endure the lack of clarity and keep trying. I take comfort in the words of St. Anselm of Canterbury, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.”

They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11

When you take the Anselmian approach of believing in order to understand, you have to be continually trying to formulate doctrinal statements in your own words - as you understand them. You keep formulating and re-formulating doctrines even though you realize none will "get it just right."Email one of your formulations of Benedict's claim that in the ascension humanity has entered God's inner life.

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Blog Post May 21, 2017, Sixth Sunday of Easter

Deep is calling to deep in the roar of your torrents. All your waves and breakers sweep over me. Psalm 42:7

On Friday I returned from my retreat at Gethsemani Abbey which was of special significance for me this year. Twenty years ago I made my first retreat at Gethsemani and have made it an annual event ever since.

This year Fr. Carlos gave a talk on salvation where he described a commercial by a Catholic organization. It opens with a man walking down the stairs to the subway with a sandwich in his hand. He sees a beggar huddled in a corner, looks from his sandwich to the beggar and walks over to give him the sandwich. As the man hands the sandwich to him he sees the beggar’s face has become the face of Christ. In the next shot the beggar is taking the sandwich from the man and as he takes it he sees in the man’s face the face of Christ. Fr. Carlos says this is the crux of salvation, the way we minister to each other, the give and the take, seeing each in Christ.

The drive from Columbus to Gethsemani is about 4 1/2 hours – enough time to make the transition from the bustle of my secular world to the silence of the monastery. The transition on the way back is a little harder, but I always come away from my retreat with something special. This time it will be Fr. Carlos’ image of Christ in each of us – in everything we say and do. When you think about it, it’s a big responsibility, but one that raises us from the ordinary to the divine.

Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. John 15:1-2

Email your opinion on this question.. Someone who is justifiably angry with you is shouting at you with a rage filled face. To try to control your temper you look for Christ's face in that angry face. If you succeed would you see Christ expressing anger?

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Blog Post May 14, 2017, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day

Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup; it is you yourself who are my prize. The lot marked out for me is my delight; welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me! Psalm 16:5-6

Mother’s Day is a good time to remind ourselves that Jesus gave us Mary, his mother as a final gift as he suffered on the cross. Even before that when God gave the message of his love to the human race, he chose motherhood to express it: “Can a mother forget her infant…even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15).

A few days ago I was struck by a comment from a hospice patient regarding the impact his mother had on his life. His said his work had taken him all over the country with many trips to New York City but wherever he was, his mother was always with him. He smiled and tapped his head. “Here”, he said, “and she saved me from a lot of trouble”.

Mothers do that - and just as our mothers did that for us, so we must do that for our children.

May this Mother’s Day bring expressions of love and gratitude to all the mothers in our lives.

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:25-27

Email a significant memory of how your mother fostered your spiritual or religious development.

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Blog Post May 7, 2017, Fourth Sunday of Easter

I was hard pressed and was falling but the Lord came to help me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he is my savior. There are shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the just. Psalm 118:13-15

On Saturday the second graders at Immaculate Conception Church made their First Communion. Parents and grandparents were there to celebrate the event and afterwards there were festive parties at home with cards and gifts. On Wednesday the children will wear their First Communion dresses and suits again at the school Mass, for all to admire.

Religious educators admit it is often a challenge to get both kids and parents to understand this is about more than a pretty white dress and a party, but they work at it. In one parish they hold a retreat just for the children called “a Jesus Day” that focuses entirely on Jesus and the gift of the Eucharist.

How much do they really understand about the significance of Holy Communion? According to one educator, “It’s hard to say. We instruct the kids as much as we can, but sometimes we have to leave it up the Holy Spirit. It’s a journey for them. They’re not going to get it all now. We’re just planting the seed and giving them the tools, information and experience to help it grow.”

I find that a very comforting response. When I think of my own first communion years ago I’m embarrassed to say what I remember most is my beautiful white dress and worrying about whether I would be able to swallow the host. But it was a beginning – without that first time at Jesus’ table there wouldn’t be a second and a third – and a lifetime of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is up to us who have traveled this path for many years to see to it that these children who are at the beginning of their journey are encouraged to receive the Eucharist as often as possible and to be reminded of the grace and blessings of it.

I was saddened when one pastor told us that he sees some children receive their First Communion with all the joy and celebration their family can muster and on the next Sunday neither child nor parents come to Mass.

The Church teaches us that God's whole plan for our salvation is directed to our participation in the life of the Trinity – the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our sharing in this life begins with our Baptism, when by the power of the Holy Spirit we are joined to Christ, thus becoming adopted sons and daughters of the Father. In being united to the humanity of Christ we are at the same time united to his divinity.

The Eucharist is a mystery we cannot fathom, but for which we are ever grateful as we contemplate Jesus’ promise to us: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:53-57)

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. John 6:53-56

Email your thoughts on the following attempt to understand Jesus' presence in the Eucharist. During his life on earth Jesus was true God and true man. Similarly when Jesus comes to earth at a consecration, He is true God and true bread and true wine

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Blog Post April 30, 2017, Third Sunday of Easter

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth. Psalm 47:1-3

In today’s gospel we hear once more how Jesus walked along with the two men on the road to Emmaus. Despite the way he explained every passage of the scripture that related to him (there are 300 regarding the messiah) they did not recognize him – not until the breaking of the bread at their table. (Luke 24:13-35) I ask myself how that was possible. Jesus was right there with them and they did not recognize him.

There’s a shaggy dog story about a man who visits a number of cathedrals in Europe. At each he sees a marble column with a golden telephone on it and a note: “direct line to heaven: $1,000”. His last stop is Ireland where he visits another cathedral with the same marble column and golden telephone, but this one reads: “direct line to heaven: 25 cents.” When he asks the priest why, he answers: “Because you’re in Ireland now. It's a local call."

Why does this remind me of the Road of Emmaus? Jesus on the road to Emmaus was a direct encounter with the Lord. Think of it as the $1,000 call to heaven. But we have something even closer to God than that – we have God within us – the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. It’s better even than the twenty five cent call on the golden telephone – we’ve got a direct line, available 24 hours a day and it’s free.

Pope Benedict XVI tells us: “… the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, is henceforth as it were the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, from which an impulse of prayer rises ceaselessly to God, whose words we cannot even begin to explain.”

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:30-33

Email your thoughts on whether or not the inability of the disciples to recognize the risen Christ until he performed a religious ritual indicates that God intends for us to relate to Him via rituals of religion and not only via spiritual longings.

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Blog Post April 23, 2017, Second Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday

Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say: His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say: His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 118:2-4

The celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection continues in the Church for the eight days known as the Octave of Easter. Each day of the Octave is ranked as a Solemnity in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the highest ranking of liturgical feasts.

Why do we continue the celebration of Easter? Our attitude about most things in our life is ‘that was yesterday, let’s move on.’ We’re always looking for something new to grab our attention and as a result often miss the best of what is right in front of us. In a recent homily Father pointed out that while Jesus was alive he performed many astonishing miracles but when he rose from the dead he did not perform any more miracles. Father waited a moment for that to sink in before repeating – “He rose from the dead.”

All week long the gospels have been recounting the appearances of the risen Christ – Mary Magdalene’s meeting with Jesus in the garden, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appearance to his disciples in the locked room. What strikes me most about these readings is that Jesus was not recognized by those who knew him so well when he walked the earth – it makes me wonder how often we encounter him in our daily lives and fail to recognize him.

Today, the Second Sunday of Easter marks the end of the Octave. At the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska in the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II declared that from then on the Second Sunday of Easter would also be called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. He noted this was fitting since “Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity…” In today’s gospel we are reminded of that gift as Jesus appears to his disciples despite the locked doors, and gives them the power to forgive our sins with the Sacrament of Penance. (John 20:21-23)

The closing of Easter Octave does not mean an end of Easter. The Easter season continues for 50 days, through the Ascension of Our Lord to Pentecost Sunday. Saint Augustine shares this perspective: "The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future.” Something to think about.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life – for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us. 1 John 1:1-2

Email your thoughts on whether or not the ease with which one can gain a plenary indulgence makes the notion of purgatory irrelevant. Participation in Divine Mercy Sunday ceremonies leaves one as "ready for heaven as if just baptised."

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Blog Post April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday

I am the Resurrection and the life says the Lord; whoever believes in me shall never die. John 11:25

An early name for Christians was “the Easter people”. The celebration of Easter began sometime in the fourth century, replacing an old pagan festival in which colored eggs were exchanged.

The Venerable Bede (672-735), Benedictine monk and English historian, tells us the name Easter is taken from the Teutonic goddess, Estre – goddess of the rising light of day and spring.

What does it mean for us, to be an Easter people? In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ first words after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” To be an Easter people is to live in the peace of Christ – to be at peace within ourselves, our families and everyone around us. To be an Easter people is to be a people of eternal life and union in the love of God.

We are an Easter people. Let us celebrate and enjoy the triumph of this wondrous day.

You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)

Email a statement of how much of your spiritual reflections focuses on your resurrection.

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Blog Post April 9, 2017, Palm Sunday

Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty. Isaiah 53:11-12

As I hear the Palm Sunday readings I am reminded of Palm Sunday a few years ago, at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. That evening a friend who lives near the monastery invited me to go with her to a Passion Play at St. Paul Church in Louisville, about an hour away. The enactment had over 20 musicians and both an adult and children’s choir, all very dedicated to this ministry.

The church that night, it was packed. It’s not a very big church, but fortunately half the congregation participated in the play. It’s an important spiritual event for them that they perform with enthusiasm. At the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem parishioners filled the aisles cheering and waving lush green palms – people of every shape and size, young and old, dressed in the robes of Jesus’ time. And when the mood turned angry at the Passion they were just as engaged and believable. It was riveting. Suddenly it was over 2,000 years ago and we were in Jerusalem with the angry mob crying “Crucify him! Crucify him”.

I was suddenly stricken with a sense of my sinfulness – that it was my sins for which Jesus died on the cross. And that is what I am thinking about on this Palm Sunday morning, that it was my sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. This is what I want to keep before me as we enter the solemnity of this week.

If we have let our Lenten practices slide, now is the time to renew our efforts – to prepare for the Triduum beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and ending with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

May your week be filled with reverence and prayer as we approach these holy days.

Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-7

Email your opinion on what is more important for your spiritual growth. (a) Understanding why Jesus had to suffer and die for our sins, or (b) Having a vivid sense of Jesus having actually suffered and died for our sins.

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Blog Post April 2, 2017, Fifth Sunday of Lent

O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have your rise from them, O my people. Ezekiel 37:12-13

On this Fifth Sunday of Lent we hear the beautiful story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has raised others from the dead – the daughter of Jarius, the son of the widow of Nain – but Lazarus was different. Lazarus was dead for four days before Jesus raised him up. The rotting of the flesh had already begun. But there is more to this event than meets the eye. (John 11:1-44)

Saint Augustine wrote in a homily on the raising of Lazarus: Everyone who sins, dies. Every man fears the death of the flesh, few the death of the soul. Lent is a season that reminds us to labor to avoid sinning. This is the point of our Lenten penance and sacrifices: interior conversion.

My cat Mr. Jinx went into hiding this morning. It’s his habit to leap from the floor to my desk to a ledge where he sleeps during my morning prayers. This morning there was a stack of folders on my desk so when Mr. Jinx landed he slid, bounced to the floor and disappeared. He’s embarrassed. I won’t see him again until he figures we both forgot about the incident. Sometimes our sins are a little like that – we want to forget about them – we don’t want to admit we are at fault.

Bishop Robert Barron writes: “…at the end of the day it (sin) kills us spiritually and buries us. But nothing is impossible for God. Even those who are dead and in the ground, even those for whom, it seems, no hope remains, can be summoned back to life.”

Jesus opened Lazarus’ grave and restored him to life even as he himself was drawing closer to his own death in on the cross. Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25-26

Email your reflections on similarities between sin and death.

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Blog Post March 26, 2017, Fourth Sunday of Lent

Cry to God, and he will deliver you from the power and hand of the enemy. For I have put my hope in the Everlasting to save you, and joy has come to me from the Holy One, because of the mercy that will soon come to you from your everlasting savior. Baruch 4:21-22

Saturday was the Feast of the Annunciation, the first step in our redemption. My heart is moved by the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “In Jesus, God has placed, in the midst of barren, despairing mankind, a new beginning which is not a product of human history but a gift from above.”

In today’s gospel Jesus cures the man who was blind from birth, but instead of acknowledging the power of God the Pharisees look for ways to deny it. Jesus tells his disciples “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:1-41) I ask myself what is this night ‘when no one can work’? I think Jesus is telling us that without him in our midst it is night, and without his presence we can accomplish nothing.

So the man who was born blind is made to see. And when the Pharisees question him he testifies, “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.” And he was right - only God could open the eyes of one who was born blind. And only God can open our eyes and keep them open as we make our way through each day.

During this Fourth Week of Lent I want to dwell on the words of the blind man for my own life: “I was blind, but now I see.”

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. Revelation 21:2,25

Recall Thomas Merton's well-known prayer which begins "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going."Email your reflections on whether or not faith as a type of sight about where we are going needs to be a gift from God.

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Blog Post March 19, 2017, Third Sunday of Lent

If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my works. Psalm 95:8-9

On Saturday we heard the story of the prodigal son and how his father ran to welcome the young man back after he had decadently squandered his fortune in a foreign land. The son returns home hoping only to be able to tend his father’s flocks as a shepherd to get enough to eat. To his dismay his father responds by dressing him in fine clothes and preparing a joyous feast to celebrate his return. (Luke 15)

At Sunday’s Mass we heard the story of the Samaritan woman. It also is a tale of love and forgiveness, but this time it is not a parable – this is a real life event in which Jesus, the Son of God, responds to a woman who has like the prodigal son, squandered her gifts in a wayward life. Jesus is sitting alone at the well when the Samaritan woman stops to draw water and he engages her in conversation. At first we feel her hostility, then, as Jesus replies with intimate details of her life she comes to believe that this is indeed the Messiah. The woman then abandons her water jug and rushes to town to tell everyone the good news. (John 4:5-42)

I think about the Samaritan woman as I continue my Lenten journey – how she was able to let Jesus enter her life which allowed her to see herself in her sinfulness. That was the first step in preparing herself for forgiveness, just as it is with us. So what does your life look like? How good are you really? Lent is a great time to clear our vision about ourselves and to do a reality check on how far we have wandered from the straight and narrow. It’s a time to remind ourselves that despite the distance we may have gone Jesus welcomes us back with love and forgiveness, just as the father welcomed his Prodigal son.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Email your reflections on the following question about a sense of God's presence. Would a sense of God's absence be a sense that your most secret thoughts and deeds were not known by any being besides you?

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Blog Post March 12, 2017, Second Sunday of Lent

The Lord said to Abraham: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:1-2

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. It’s interesting that this happens on the Second Sunday of Lent. Not only are Peter, James and John instructed by this wondrous event, but so are we. In the reading from Genesis God tells Abraham to go forth from the place where he is, to a land that God will show him. I think this is what God is telling us at the beginning of lent – that we are to travel these forty days from our self indulgence, from our selfishness and sinfulness to a place that God will show us – a place of goodness and virtue, the result of being at one with God’s will.

When Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain to see him transfigured before their eyes – “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” – it is to show them that even though the Son of Man will suffer much, this is what will be at the end of the journey when he is raised from the dead. (Matthew 17)

Today the message of The Transfiguration is just as relevant for us. In this revelation we are shown what the sacrifices and sufferings of our day to day life are meant to yield. If we are faithful in our journey, we too will be transfigured at the time of our resurrection. The voice that came from the cloud to the apostles offers us with the same message: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

As I begin this second week of Lent, I need to follow God’s command to “listen to him” and remind myself not to be discouraged at my failures, but simply to start over again with new resolve.

Behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him”. When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Matthew 17:6-7

The gospel message is general. It tells us "to listen up," be alert for,what He might tell us. Email a topic about which He may tell you to do something this second week of Lent 2017.

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Blog Post March 5, 2017, First Sunday of Lent

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. Psalm 51:1-2

It’s hard to believe Ash Wednesday has come so quickly and that we are already at the First Sunday of Lent. Once more I’m faced with the same question: What do I do to bring myself closer to God during this solemn season?

The more I thought about it the closer I came to my resolution that this year I won’t give up anything during Lent. Instead I will try to do the same things I do every day, except do them just a little bit better – to be more devout in my prayers, to be less distracted in meditation, to interact with others in a kinder, more generous way – the list goes on.

The problem is with such a collection of unspecifics, how do I gauge my progress? How do I know if what I am doing is good enough for Lent? When I asked my spiritual director if he approved he told me about a friend of his from many years ago. His friend decided to give up smoking and a beer at a local tavern with his friends after work. All during Lent his friend went to the tavern without having a drink and with a pack of unopened cigarettes in his pocket! Father said some people like to show off like that during Lent – it’s not until they fail in their resolutions that they get anything virtuous out of it.

That brings me back to the question, how do I know if what I am doing is making any spiritual progress? The fact is I don’t know –it’s not up to me to judge my progress – only God knows that. Giving up a few desserts or TV for the season is not going to be a ticket into God’s kingdom. That gift was already bought and paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross. For us the task is simply to follow after him in whatever path he lays out for us. That’s what I’m going to try to do for Lent this year.

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24

Via email argue pro or con: thinking of making progress in our spiritual life leads to applying unsuitable concepts from business or sport to our spiritual life.

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Blog Post February 26, 2017, The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures. All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat their blessings. Psalm 25: 8-10

The topic for our fifth Alpha session was “How does God Guide Us?” Nicky Gumbo, the lively presenter in the video, told anecdotes about his being guided by God in crucial decisions. But our brief discussion session was not so lively. The questions proposed for discussion boiled down to: Do you ask God to guide you in decision making? Have you had evidence of God guiding any of your decisions? Only one man at our table told of a series of three events which suggested that God intended for him to make a certain decision. No other members at the table were prepared to interpret past decisions as being guided by signs from God. Presumably they were not in the practice of looking for patterns of natural events as signs from God. No one volunteered to tell how they used prayer in their decision-making process. My husband Charles, who is supposed to guide the discussion, just couldn’t get a good discussion going.

It was better when we got home, sat down in our living room before a fire and de-briefed ourselves on the Alpha session. Charles told me his answers to the questions of the session. As table host he is supposed to speak just a bit less than whoever else speaks the least. He said that he does not look for patterns of events as fitting together to form a message from God. It strikes him as superstitious. He said that in decision-making he does not pray in the form of asking “God what should I do?” He prays by keeping God in mind.

How does he keep God in mind? Every day for several years we have been saying the morning and evening prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours. Morning Prayer begins with Psalm 95. Each day we come to the verse “If today you hear his voice harden not your heart.” Charles says he tries to keep that in mind throughout the day. He’s recently developed the practice each morning of saying the words of Samuel as he throws back the covers of his bed: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will”. He says his hope is to serve God well that day and as a Vincentian to find the face of Christ in every person he meets. He doesn’t think he’s very successful at that, but I strongly disagree.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up of one another. Romans 14:17-19

Email your answers to: Do you ask God to guide you in decision making? Have you had evidence of God guiding any of your decisions?

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Blog Post February 19, 2017, The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:103,105

The topic for the fourth session of the Alpha program last Tuesday was prayer. The question was, “How and why should I read the bible?” Catholics are often dismayed at the way some Protestants are able to quote the bible with book and verse. But that doesn’t mean Catholics do not read the bible. Part of every Mass is The Liturgy of the Word that includes readings from the Old and New Testament and the psalms. Plus the homily is usually tied to the readings so whether we go to Mass only on Sunday or daily, we get a portion of “Bible study”.

The Church not only presents the bible to us on a daily basis, but has always encouraged us to take its words to heart when we are alone. Lectio Divina is a way to read and meditate on Scripture even when we are by ourselves. One way Lectio helped me is with the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. I had heard the story countless times, how Jesus cured the ten lepers but only one came back to thank him. I used to feel a little smug thinking I would never be like those nine lepers who didn’t show up to thank him – until one day I was struck by all the times God had answered a prayer of mind and all I did was breathe a sigh of relief and get on with my life! Now when I hear the story of the ten lepers my response is one of thankfulness – and a little contrition for all those times I forgot to say “thank you”.

The 4th century deacon St. Ephrem writes this about scripture: “We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in man colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him.”
St. Benedict says meditating on scripture is “listening with the ear of the heart”.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. . Matthew 7:24-25

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Email whether or not your experience has shown you that older practicing Catholics who reached 18 before the end of Vatican II were ignorant of the major events, stories, teachings etc., of the bible even if most might admit that they never read the bible as a single book.

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Blog Post February 12, 2017, The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us. Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving and sing joyful songs to the Lord. Psalm 95:1-2

The topic for the third session of the Alpha program last Tuesday was prayer. There are lots of forms of prayer from adoration to thanksgiving, but I’m sure the one that gets employed the most is petition. We know that God hears all of our prayers and we are told he answers all of them as well – but not necessarily in the way that we want.

Prayer is an essential part of our relationship with God. It’s not just asking, it’s getting to know, and learning to be in the presence of God. I love the picture of Jesus standing outside of a door that has no knob, knocking to gain entrance. The artist tells us this is the door to our heart and it can only be opened from the inside. It’s a classic picture inspired by Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Saturday was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes celebrating her appearance to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Each year six million pilgrims flock to the site with their petitions for healing. There are some miracles, but most of their petitions seem unanswered. Yesterday we had a healing Mass at Immaculate Conception Church. I had a list of people to pray for who are in various stages of illness. It helped me as I finished my petitions to recall the words of Fr. James Sullivan: The true miracles of healing which take place in our lives are those that we could never even have imagined. We may not even realize that we have a need to be healed in a certain way. Our prayer is a simple plea: “Heal me, Lord, according to your will.”

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech...And taking him aside from the multitude he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:32-35

Email whether or not you have ever felt a desire, indeed a need, simply to pray. You can't really classify it as a desire to ask for something, adore God or ask for pardon. You simply want to do something which is pray - lifting your heart and mind to God.

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Blog Post February 5, 2017, The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your law. I am a pilgrim on the earth; show me your commands. My soul is ever consumed as I long for your decrees. Psalm 119: 18-20

For me the death of John the Baptist is one of the most disturbing accounts in the gospels. I think because it’s so senseless. Herod was fascinated by John the Baptist. We’re told “When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” We all know the story of Herodias’s daughter performing a dance at Herod’s birthday party that delighted him so much he offered to give her whatever she wished – and urged by her mother she asked for the head of John the Baptist. (Mark 6:14-29)

Religious scholars often view the death of John the Baptist in the light of what it meant to Jesus in the larger Messianic context. But the thing that sticks in my mind about John’s death is the fact that Herod ordered to have him killed even though he didn’t want to. Here he is throwing this party, he gets a little drunk, Herodias’s daughter performs an provocative dance and he’s enthralled – his mouth moves quicker than his brain, he blurts out the offer “Ask me whatever you wish…” and suddenly he’s stuck. I think to myself, he didn’t really have to do it – he could have said ‘not that. Name something else.’ But here’s where it gets so sticky. Why did Herod kill John when he didn’t want to? Because was afraid of looking bad in front of his court. He couldn’t stand the thought that they might criticize him – that they would say he didn’t follow through. And here we have the bottom line - it would be too embarrassing.

I think the reason I’m so disturbed by this story is that I see the same weaknesses in myself – caring too much about the opinion of others, failing to retract when I’ve made a wrong choice, not standing up for what is right no matter what the cost. For me Herod’s story is a cautionary tale – we do not know how far we might fall without God’s help – and so we pray.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father. Matthew 5:14-16

Email whether or not you have ever felt what could be called an identity temptation. Such a temptation would be a thought of the form if I do not do X, then I won't be considered a Y. Here X is an act you know is wrong and Y is a type of person you want people to think you are. For instance, X might be support gay marriage and Y be open minded and progressive.

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Blog Post January 29, 2017, The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Trust in the Lord and do good, that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will grant you your heart’s requests. Psalm 37:3-4

On Tuesday evening our church hosted its first session of the Alpha program, publicized as “a tool for the New Evangelization that is being used by thousands of Catholic parishes in over 70 countries around the world.” It’s also interdenominational and has had millions of people around the globe experience it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate in something that lasted for nine weeks, but the format was inviting. It starts with dinner at 6:30p.m. There are eight people at each table – tables are assigned and you keep the same table every week. At 7:00pm a video is shown, followed by discussion that ends no later than 8:30.

I decided to participate and in the program and was impressed by the detailed organization and the quality of the presentation. There was a mix of age and gender at the tables which made for interesting discussions. People who had come with some reluctance, not knowing what to expect, or if they would want to come back, were enthusiastic about the experience. I think the popularity of Alpha is a response to what feels like a cultural war where Christian values are under attack on every front – from marriage and sexuality to the value of human life.

In his letter to the Hebrews St. Paul wrote: You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36) It’s up to each of us to seek out and engage in those things that will help us to endure – on Tuesday I’ll attend the second session of Alpha.

The Alpha program has a website http://alphausa.org/catholic/

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

One of the discussion questions for the first Alpha session is "Who do you think Jesus is?" Email your answer.

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Blog Post January 22, 2017 The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. Isaiah 9:2, 4

Saturday we read the astonishing statement in Mark’s gospel that when Jesus’ relatives heard about his work and the crowds gathering around him they wanted to seize him saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21) Then Sunday’s gospel begins with Jesus hearing that John had been arrested. When he heard the news he withdrew to Galilee and called his first apostles – Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John. From that time on he began to preach. (Mt.4:12-23)

When I consider this part of Jesus’ life I’m struck by the overwhelming obstacles he encountered at every turn. Imagine at the start of this great work having your own relatives trying to stop you because they think you are out of your mind. Then you hear that the one person who had some idea of your mission has been arrested. On top of that you are scorned at every turn by the most respected spiritual leaders of the day, the Pharisees and the Sadducees – and even accused of being a blasphemer, an enemy of God.

The amazing thing about this sequence of events is Jesus response to them. In the face of these obstacles, which must have been so disheartening to his human nature, he moves forward in his work. He chooses his apostles and begins, from that time on, to preach the good news. He knows by now that it will not be accepted by the movers and shakers of his Jewish culture. Still, he will preach the good news – he will heal the sick and befriend the outcasts – and he will be crucified for our sins.

These are the things I will dwell on this week to lift my spirits when I get discouraged.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20

Email whether family or friends thought that you were out of your mind because of your spiritual and religious pursuits.

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Blog Post January 15, 2017, The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3

On Monday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. In today’s gospel we delve more deeply into the mystery as John the Baptist calls out for all to hear: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and one of the five major milestones in his life (with the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension). Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River marks the start of his mission of redemption that will lead in a direct course to the crucifixion. The descent of the dove symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus receives as the Christ, Greek for “the Anointed One.”

What does the Baptism of Jesus mean for the rest of us? Recently I read:”Just as Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son at the Jordan, so, too, we receive a new identity in baptism as adopted children of the Father.” This is true for each one of us. I remind myself that I received this ‘new identity’ when I was baptized as a baby so many years ago. I ask myself, what have I done with this gift – how has this indwelling of the Holy Spirit that marks me as a child of God been manifested in my life?

This is a fitting question to mull over at this start of “Ordinary Time” as we follow Jesus on his journey toward the crucifixion. It’s a good time to reflect on our own lives and ask ourselves if they are truly the living expression of our baptism.

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ John 1:29-30

Do you know the date of your baptism? Email your assessment of the following assignment for improving your spiritual life. Look up the date of your baptism and make plans to commemorate it each year, by letting friends and family know, as the beginning of your life after being born again.

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Blog Post January 8, 2017, The Feast of the Epiphany

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Isaiah 60:1-2

In the West, Christians began celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany in the 4th century, associating it with the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew we read that the three kings found baby Jesus by following a star across the desert to Bethlehem. (Mt. 2:9)

As a child I had beautiful images of these three kings coming to the stable in Bethlehem to kneel down before the baby Jesus. What a great event! But I was a little confused that everyone else didn’t know this baby was the Son of God – king of the universe. How could such recognition by foreign dignitaries be ignored by the rest of the world? But the fact is the Birth of the Child is still ignored by much of the world. I’m reminded today that it is up to each of us to seek the meaning of the Epiphany deep in our hearts. I’m inspired by these words: “The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star” (Pope Benedict XVI). In this New Year my resolve is to journey through the coming days with a new awareness of what I am seeking – to truly follow the star.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Matthew 2:1-2

Email how you deal with the following issue. The revelation of Jesus to the non-Jewish kings was the beginning of Christianity and a great blessing for the whole world. Yet we must appreciate this blessing while still valuing and respecting Judaism as it was and still is today.

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Blog Post January 1, 2017, Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God


May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Psalm 67:1-3

This New Years Day we celebrate the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is also World Day of Peace. May this year bring Peace and Blessings for us all.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Galatians 4:4-7

Email in your own words the spiritual significance for you of thinking of yourself as an adopted child of God.

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Blog Post December 25, 2016,Christmas Day, The Feast of the Nativity of the Lord

For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed… and touched heaven while standing on the earth. Wisdom 18:14-15

On this day that celebrates the wonder of God’s love for us, I am moved by two passages.
The first is from Fr. John Main: “Christmas is the feast of the divine explosion, the love of God revealed in the poverty of Christ.”*
The second is from Thomas Merton: “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God... This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us…It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.” *

The great joy of Christmas is that without the birth of Christ there is no “divine explosion”, no God blazing in us with “the invisible light of heaven”. Without the birth of Christ we would be forever relegated to an eternal ash heap – and for this we are forever grateful.

May you have a Happy and Blessed Christmas, and may the Child touch your heart in a special way this day!

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12

*From Silence and Stillness in Every Season p.360
* Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, James Finley, Ave Maria Press 2003.

Email in your own words what you think either John Main or Thomas Merton were saying about the birth of Christ. Or are their words the most apt?

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Blog Post December 18, 2016, Fourth Sunday of Advent

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel”. Isaiah 7:13-14

The fourth candle of our Advent Wreath is lighted. The waiting is almost over. Just one more week and it will be Christmas Day. So how are we preparing ourselves during this last week of Advent? It’s hard not to get caught up in the frantic activity of the countdown – trying to get everything done in time to celebrate the great event. There is shopping to finish, menus to prepare, cards that still need to be sent. Those are all good things. But during this last week of Advent it is even more important to focus on the main event – the coming of Christ.

I find it useful to pay special attention to the daily readings as we draw closer to Christmas. During the past weeks the liturgy has been filled with the messages of the prophets and the promise of a redeemer. A few days ago we heard Jesus words that when John the Baptist announced his presence, the chief priests and the elders did not believe him. Even though it was all there before them – the words of the prophets, the teaching and miracles of Jesus himself, the Pharisees did not believe in him.

It’s easy to separate ourselves from those who didn’t believe in Jesus all those centuries ago – but what about us in our world today? I think of the rich man who ignored Lazarus suffering at his gate and when he died called to Abraham from the great divide, asking him to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. He said if someone from the dead went to them, they would surely repent. Then we hear Abraham’s words, as true today as they were then: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither shall they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

The liturgical countdown started at Mass yesterday with Matthew’s gospel of the genealogy of Christ. (Mt 1:1-17) In the coming week we will hear stories of God’s remarkable plan going forward in the birth of Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. These stories are beautiful reminders that God has a special plan for each of our lives. This week I will think about the many ways God’s plan has evolved in my own life – and pray for the courage and insight to cooperate with it.

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

Email why you think that Joseph was right in not asking God for a sign that the angel in his dream really told him of God's plan for him.

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Blog Post December 11, 2016, Third Sunday of Advent

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3

The power went out at our house around 5:00 am on Friday. I knew something was wrong when I glanced over at the digital clock just as it went dead. The temperature was in the 20s with the forecast of a high temp of 29. Gone were the bright Christmas decorations that lighted the houses up and down the street when I went to bed. It was suddenly a cold dark world.

We take light and warmth so much for granted these days that we have forgotten what it is like to be without it. Christmas is a beautiful reminder of this – Christ coming to us as the light of our sin-dark world.

Our power came back on after about three hours and suddenly my world was warm and bright again. But I will take the lesson with me for the rest of Advent - of how quickly all of that can change. The Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word "Rejoice", marks another week of our journey. As we light this candle I’m reminded of that not only is Christ the light of the world, but as his people, we are also meant to be the light of the world. (Mt 5:15) My resolution this week is to try to make my little world a little brighter during this Third Week of Advent.

Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light. John12:35-36

Email one way you can be a light in the world in this coming week.

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Blog Post December 4, 2016, Second Sunday of Advent

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

Today we light the second candle on our Advent wreath and note with a bit of a shock how quickly the first week has flown by. Isaiah reminds us that as we wait for the Lord to come we need to be about the business of preparation, to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. This is the work of Advent – to make straight a highway for God through the desert of our sinful self.

The readings this past week have been ones of invitation and encouragement to help us along the way, starting with Monday’s gospel where Jesus cured the centurion’s servant. We still hear the words of that centurion’s remarkable faith at every reception of the Eucharist: “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” (Mt.8:5-11)

On Tuesday we were taken a step further, to hear the effect of the Lord’s coming on a fallen world:”Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” (Luke 10)

When I was a kid I used to wonder why all these beautiful things did not happen when Jesus was born into the world. But now I see the answer is pretty obvious – these wonderful things are promised only to a world that embraces the coming of the Lord.

In this week’s readings Jesus also called the apostles to help with his work – a reminder for us that we too are called not only to be followers but to evangelize – if not by words of persuasion then by the witness of our daily lives. In today’s gospel we hear the account of John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. His voice echoes through the centuries for each one us, in this year of 2016 – “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Mt 3:1-3

As we begin this second week of Advent, let us make a special effort to meditate on this exhortation of John the Baptist.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38

In the developed world secular humanism is replacing Christianity in the West. Christendom is history! Christianity is rapidly receding as a cultural force throughout the whole world. Of course the church will not pass away. Email how the remaining Christians can "make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

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Blog Post November 27, 2016, First Sunday of Advent

In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in our ways, and we make walk in his paths.” Isaiah 2:2-3

Today is the start of that journey “to the mountain of the Lord’s house” that we make each Advent. According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Advent formally began yesterday evening with First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) and will end on Saturday, December 24th. It is up to us to make the most of it. In today’s gospel Jesus tells us to be prepared “for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Mt. 24) We are reminded of the dual themes of Advent – the birth of the child Jesus and the perousia, the second coming of Christ.

Advent offers us 4weeks of spiritual preparation and anticipation of the birth of Jesus even as it competes with a climate of over-the-top consumerism. When I was a kid there was a concentrated move to “Put Christ back into Christmas”. It seemed to work for a few years and then disappeared. I didn’t realize how much the Christian celebration of Christmas has given way to the secular world until I paged through my catalog from the Metropolitan Museum of art to check out the Advent Calendars. The count-down to the birth of Jesus has been replaced by a “Waiting for Santa” pop-up calendar, and a “Gather around the Christmas Tree” with twenty-four birds. In addition, the “special card assortment” no longer offers the choice of all religious cards in the mix.

I feel the loss even more this year as we’re reeling from the political fall-out of the election, bubbling in our midst like a witch’s cauldron. The fact is it is up to each of us to be mindful of the message of this holy season – to anticipate the birth of our Redeemer and to be alert for his Second Coming. Today we light the first candle of the Advent wreath on our dining room table, the Patriarch’s Candle, reminding us of the Old Testament patriarchs who anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises.

From his prison cell Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest executed by the Nazis in 1945, wrote about the First Sunday of Advent: “Man must learn once again the fundamental character of this time is not one of activity. We, increasingly busy, seeking to have and to possess, easily gamble away the meaning. The human being we are must realize that he is a wayfarer, a scout, hungering and restless. He is dependent upon an angel approaching and touching him with the wing stroke reminder of a higher message.”

I pray that this Advent all of us will have the grace to take these words to heart as we enter this holy season.

You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12

Email how you include the notion of perousia in your spiritual life. Do you?

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Blog Post November 20, 2016, Feast of Christ the King

Put no trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no help. Take their breath, they return to clay and their plans that day come to nothing. Psalm 146: 3-4

When Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 it was partly in response to a growing secularism. I wonder what our Holy Father would think about the state of things today. His words in 1925 were impassioned:”... not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds…in our wills…in our hearts...He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…”

Pius XI ended his encyclical with the message: "The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.” With this exhortation we celebrate the last Sunday of Ordinary time. These are fitting words to keep in our hearts as we approach the beginning of Advent next Sunday.

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10-11

Email your your thoughts what Pius XI might think of the secularism of things to day.

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Blog Post November 13, 2016, Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Praise the Lord for his goodness, and bless the King of the ages, so that his tent may be rebuilt in you with joy. May he gladden within you all who were captives; all who were ravaged may he cherish within you for all generations to come. Tobit 13:10

I think we’re all pretty much in shock over the results of the presidential election on Tuesday. The bone-crunching rift in our country played itself out in a race that was thought to be pretty much an open and shut victory for the democrats – until it wasn’t.

I’m reminded of our prayers at church the Thursday before the election - prayers that God would bless our country in this election process. Perhaps the greatest blessing was forcing us to face the deep anger and discontent gripping so much of our country. We’ve left a lot of good people behind while the economy has surged forward in its recovery. Now is the time to stop and see what we can do to heal the wounds that we allowed to fester.

Recently I read an essay by a poet about her husband’s long and painful illness that was infused with deep inspiring faith. Rita Simmonds ended her essay with an image that stirs my soul and gives me hope: “When Frank drew his last breath on January 19, 2015, the instant exploded into eternity.”

So we go forward blind but hopeful, struggling and staggering, sinful and wounded, knowing our country is in God’s hands as his plan unfolds.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

Email your your thoughts on interpreting Trump's election as God's wrath blazing up against the secular humanism as the de facto religion of the the governing class of the United States.

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Blog Post November 6, 2016, Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nations are in tumult, kingdoms are shaken; he lifts his voice, the earth shrinks away. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Come, behold the works of the Lord. The redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth. Psalm 46:6-8

Our presidential election is only two days away. Much as I hope it will bring some peace and closure to the political chaos we’ve endured for months, some say it will continue no matter who wins. This has been a hard time for our country – we’ve all felt it. It’s incited arguments and divisions in families and among friends and neighbors.

At church last Thursday our parish began a 24 hour prayer vigil and Exhibition of the Blessed Sacrament to pray that we would elect leaders that are best for our country. On Friday afternoon I drove to an early voting site to cast my vote, hoping to put thoughts of the election behind me. I guess I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. A line stretched outside the whole length of the building and there was a traffic jam in the parking lot, so I decided to cast my vote on Tuesday instead. In the meantime I’ll keep praying for our country.

The first reading at Mass this morning was the story of the cruel torture and execution of seven sons and their mother for refusing to forsake the laws of their ancestors during the suppression of Judaism. (11 Maccabees 7) It’s a frightening tale of political oppression and power gone wrong. It reminds me that history unfolds in much the same pattern over and over, nations rise and fall – from one century to the next. I think of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee after he heard of John’s arrest. We are told from that time on he began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17) I think that’s pretty good advice for us these days.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. Thessalonians 2:16-17

Reflect on today's readings and then email your your judgment on the following proposal. Those who fail to save their souls in this life simply vanish at natural death. Hell is nothing in God's creation. For hell would be evil and God neither creates nor holds in being anything which is evil

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Blog Post October 30, 2016, Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20

At Mass this morning we heard the gospel story of Zacchaeus, the “short in stature” tax collector who was so determined to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree to see him as he passed through the crowd. It’s a pretty astonishing story. Tax collectors were despised as traitors who worked not for their Jewish community but for the Roman Empire and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any tax collector, but the “chief tax collector” – a man of great wealth and power in Jericho. Yet something drove this man to ignore the crowd and climb up a tree like a kid, just to get a look at Jesus. That look and the following encounter forever changed his life.

When Jesus said to Zacchaeus “come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house”, his response was a total change of heart. He immediately says “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from any one I shall repay it four times over.” (Luke 19:1-10)

Think for a moment about Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus compared to that of “the rich young man” from another parable. We are told the rich young man had come to ask Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. It sounds like he was already a pretty good fellow – that he had observed the commandments even from his youth. “And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22)

I’ve written about the rich young man before and wondered what happened to him as the years went on. I’ve always seen Zacchaeus as an older guy in the midst of a successful career – maybe the rich young man had a change of heart by the time he also reached middle-age. Maybe he remembered that encounter from his youth, that look of love on Jesus’ face – maybe then he gave what he had to the poor and set out to follow him.

A few days ago I read this thoughtful commentary on Sunday’s Gospel:
“For us, the Sycamore tree is a symbol of that place in our own lives which enables us to have a clear vision of Jesus. Zacchaeus did not hesitate. With the same lack of caution which he had demonstrated in climbing the tree, he came down to stand in the presence of God Incarnate. There he heard the call that would forever change his life. So may it be with all of us.”

Most important, it’s never too late – if that call came when we were young and we failed to respond the way we think we should have, just keep listening. God will never stop calling.

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20

Email your your reflections on the following question. At your particular judgment when you die, will your net worth be something for which you need to plead for mercy?

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Blog Post October 23, 2016, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the most high responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay. Sirach 35:17

I’ve had the same spiritual director for years and because he is a priest, I’ve had the advantage of confession at the end of each session. But our last meeting was cancelled because Fr. J, who has lived in an assisted living facility for the past few years, was hospitalized. His illness kept him in and out of the hospital for a number of weeks and when we finally met, he was still very weak.

During Fr. J’s illness I went to confession to a different priest for the first time in years. I know it is the same sacrament, the same forgiveness, the same grace – but somehow it felt odd to confess to someone who knew nothing of my history. I remind myself that Fr. J is almost ninety and that I should be grateful for the blessing of his direction instead of worrying about trying to find someone else.

Why is spiritual direction so important? Consider these points from the Ingatian Spirituality website*:

1. Spiritual direction focuses on religious experience. It is concerned with a person’s actual experience of a relationship with God.

2. Spiritual direction is about a relationship… It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God. Most often this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer.

3. Spiritual direction is a relationship that is going somewhere. God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service. The spiritual director asks not just “what is happening?”ť but “what is moving forward?”

ť 4. The real spiritual director is God. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship.

If you can’t find a personal spiritual director, some alternatives are spiritual friendships and companionship. The most important thing is to keep trying to improve your relationship with God. Having a regular confessor can offer some help as well as the bible study groups many parish host these days, or Catholic book clubs. The point is we aren’t meant to be alone in our faith. Other people can encourage and strengthen us in our journey.

The role of other people in our spiritual life reminds me a little of the story of the little boy who cried for his mother during a nighttime thunderstorm. When she came she told him he didn’t need to worry because Jesus was there with him. “I know,” said the little boy clutching his pillow, “but I want someone with skin on.”

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6.7

* http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/spiritual-direction

Email your your explanation of why some people, perhaps yourself, may find themselves unable to "open up" to anyone as a spiritual director.

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Blog Post October16, 2016, Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

All those you protect shall be glad and ring out their joy. You shelter them; in you they rejoice, those who love your name. Psalm 5:11

Recently I read this thought-provoking quote in Magnificat magazine: “The kingdom of God is something that the individual from the age of reason to the end of life has to be continually realizing for himself. He has to be continually hammering away at the truths of faith, endeavoring to get more meaning out of them, to find in them the help and guidance that daily life continually demands.” (Fr. Bede Jarrett, Magnificat)

Fr. Jarrett made me think about the daily Mass I attend each morning and how, although I’ve heard the same beautiful gospels and readings hundreds of times, there is always something new to discover in them. So the question is how well have I used those readings to “continually hammer away at the truths of faith” in my life. I have to admit I haven’t profited to the degree I might have with a little more effort, a little more awareness. The danger with any spiritual practice, even Holy Mass, is to take for granted its blessings without exerting much effort on our part. This is not to be taken lightly. It’s a little like going to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. True, we’re all invited, but Jesus makes it clear that something is expected in return. (Matthew 22:1-11)

Saturday we celebrated the feast of St. Therese of Avila, one of my favorite saints. The thing I find so inspiring about St. Theresa is the fact that her ardent spirituality did not kick in until she was over 40 and inspired to found the first convent of the reformed Carmelites. From that time until her death in 1522 at age 67, Therese was a woman on fire with energy for God. In her dramatic reform of the Carmelites She went on to found fourteen more monasteries of nuns, returning the order to its practice of penance and silence. St. Therese reminds me that with God it is never too late to start anew.

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession. Ephesians 1:13-14

Email your your diagnosis of a truth of faith which has grown stale in you but which you should refresh for your spiritual growth.

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Blog Post October 9, 2016, Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord has made his salvation known; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel. Psalm 98:2-3

Friday was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Parishioners of Immaculate Conception church met at the grotto at 7:00 pm to say the rosary together. We’ve been paying special attention to the Marian feasts in this year of our One Hundredth anniversary.

At Mass Father reminded us that according to tradition the rosary was given to St. Dominic in an apparition by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214. But the idea of praying with a rosary predates St. Dominic by centuries. Long before his time the rosary was used by monks to say the Our Father, which depending on circumstances, was said either 50 or 100 times. The rosaries were used to keep count and were known then as Paternosters (“Our Fathers”).

After Vatican 11 the rosary as a devotion fell out of favor – perhaps it was considered an old-fashioned way to pray. But it came back full force with Pope St. John Paul 11 who was deeply devoted to the rosary. He wrote:”The rosary does indeed ‘mark the rhythm of human life’, bringing it into harmony with the ‘rhythm’ of God’s own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life’s destiny and deepest longing. Through the rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the redeemer.”

In his devotion to the rosary Pope St. John Paul 11 was inspired to make the first change to it in centuries by adding the Luminous Mysteries to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious ones. At first I was uncomfortable with this tampering with the mysteries of the rosary that were established as far back as the 16th century (its earliest beginnings are found somewhere in the 12th century). But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the Luminous Mysteries as the missing piece in our meditation on the life of Christ.

When we pray the Luminous Mysteries we meditate on that piece of Jesus’ life we did not consider before in the decades of the Rosary. The Luminous mysteries fill in the space in Jesus’ life between the Finding in the Temple (the fifth Joyful Mystery and the Agony in the Garden (the First Sorrowful Mystery).

Think about this for a moment: in the Joyful mysteries we have Jesus’ infancy and early years until the age of 12. In the Sorrowful Mysteries we have his Passion and Death on the cross. In the Glorious Mysteries we have Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death. But it is the Luminous Mysteries that dwell on Jesus’ adult life and ministry.

In the first Luminous Mystery we have the Baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his public life. In the second Luminous Mystery we have the Wedding Feast at Cana, which is Jesus’ first miracle. The Third Luminous Mystery is the Proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus’ preaching throughout the gospels. The Fourth Luminous Mystery is The Transfiguration of Jesus where his is revealed in all his glory. The Fifth Luminous Mystery is The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The more I think about it, the more I think the real question is not why do we need the Luminous Mysteries, but why has it taken so many centuries for them to become a part of the Rosary.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

Email your your judgment on whether or not "luminous" is a good term for these new mysteries of the rosary.

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Blog Post October 2, 2016, Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. Psalm 139:9-10

Friday was the feast of St. Jerome (347-420 A.D.) who translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin. We know it as the Vulgate. Jerome began in 382 by correcting the existing Latin language version of the New Testament which was based on the Septuagint (translated from Greek). For fifteen years, from 390 to 405 A.D. Jerome worked at his translation (mostly from Hebrew) into Latin. Added to that were his writings on theological controversies, historical works and many letters. I can’t imagine how he managed with only ink and parchment as his tools.

On the surface we seem to have made great progress in gathering and dispensing information – from the proliferation of books with the printing press, to the instant information of the internet. But some argue there is so much to pay attention to, that we no longer pay attention – at least not past the first sound bite. Educators fear kids are losing their ability to concentrate and to learn by sticking with and thinking through problems. I think about St. Jerome and the courage he must have had to undertake that massive task of translating the bible from Hebrew into Latin. He knew he had to prepare his mind and will if he was to succeed and so he withdrew to a cave in Bethlehem to concentrate his whole self on that one true thing – that pearl of great price. He knew the avoidance of distractions was essential.

Today we live in an age of distractions. In his 2010 book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” Nicholas Carr wrote, “The Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. We focus intensively on the medium itself on the flickering screen, but we’re distracted by the medium’s rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli.” For me the problem runs deeper than the scattering of our attention and the rapid fire delivery of competing messages. It threatens the development of the most important thing of all, that stillness of heart where God dwells in each one of us.

What to do about it? One writer suggests ”The only antidote to this culture of interruption technologies is for us to take back control of ourselves… to restore good human capacities—thinking, meaning-making, discerning … to shut off the computer, put the phone down, make time for casual conversations, sit patiently, and listen.” Sounds like great advice.

Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
Psalm 46:10

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. Matthew 14:23

Email your your way of or plans for not dumbing yourself down by letting electronic media give you an attention deficit disorder.

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Blog Post September 25, 2016, Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Woe to the complacent in Zion. Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortable on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall. Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with. Amos 6:4,7

In this morning’s gospel we hear the story of Lazarus and the rich man who ignored him as he lay at his door covered with sores. We’re not told the rich man interacted with Lazarus at all. There was no hand raised for begging, no whimpering cry for help. The rich man did Lazarus no harm – he didn’t even try to chase him away – he just ignored him.

But when the rich man died, we see the heavy price he paid for that omission, crying out to Abraham from the netherworld in the midst of his torment. I ask myself, was the penalty too great? After all, the rich man did Lazarus no harm. Yet even as the words rise to my lips I hear Jesus saying to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mt 16:23).

Like Peter, I’ve heard Jesus’ message over and over – a message that only takes root when it becomes a part of our daily life and as such mediates our actions. We are called on to check out even our small actions each and every day to make sure we are following the right path. The danger is that small sins lead to big ones and soon we no longer see them as sins at all.

I need to remind myself of this when I get a little tired of the homeless with their signs at the freeway exits and the calls for St. Vincent de Paul from people who can’t meet their rent or whose utilities will be turned off if the bill isn’t paid by the next day. I think the greatest temptation is to think the problem is so big that nothing we do makes any difference. The goal of St. Vincent de Paul speaks well to this – that the purpose of its members is not to change the poor but to change themselves.

In his commentary on this morning’s gospel, Cardinal Schonborn writes, “Sins of commission are usually the poisonous fruit of previous sins of omission”. Then he quotes from the Catechism “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.” (CCC 1859).

We may not have a Lazarus lying at our doorstep, but his problems are still with us, inviting us to be the hands of Christ - to do our part little by little, each and every day.

Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Luke 16:31

Email your your confession of how sins of omission have lead to sins of commission. Venial sins are real sins and all sins are serious since they are offences against God.

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Blog Post September 18, 2016, Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; Jeremiah 29:11-13

I’ve been thinking about hope in what feels like a hopeless world these days. Yesterday I read, “Hope is anchored to reality through Jesus' resurrection”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing, and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God’s love and of incurring punishment.” (ccc 2090)

St. Paul exhorts:” So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8)

Hope is the theological virtue that gives us the courage to act and to persevere. For me a good way to think about the value of hope is to think about its opposite – hopelessness. I think of one of those down days when I could hardly pick my spirit up off the floor. What if every day was like that? What if our whole world was like that? We need to pray for hope, just as we pray for any other virtue. But especially hope to energize our will and our imagination.

I take heart from St. Paul’s prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 15:13)

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25

Email your your reflections on the following questions. If you believed that after your death you were nothing in the way you were before you were conceived, would your life be hopeless?

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Blog Post September 11, 2016,Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Psalm 51:10-12

As I consider those words in the psalm, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”, I think to myself: if only it would be that easy. If only we could just pray for that ‘clean heart and new spirit’ to make it happen. I think we all fall into the trap now and then of mouthing the words and expecting God to do the rest.

But the fact is prayer is just the beginning. Prayer articulates for us the basics that we need for our journey. We know the ‘clean heart and right spirit’ are necessary for us to conduct our lives according to God’s plan, but that is truly just the beginning. It reminds me a little of college students training for their future careers. First they need to know what it is they want to be – the sort of work they want to do, the profession they want to enter. From there they select the list of courses they have to master, knowing that much hard work lies ahead of them if they are to attain their final goal.

Jesus has given us so many practical examples of the importance of work and planning in our lives – from the parable of the wise virgins who had enough oil when the bride groom came in the middle of the night, to the man who dug deeply and laid the foundation of his house on rock so when the flood came it stood firm. Prayer sets our eye on the goal and gathers the grace – it’s up to us to persevere with action and to remember: "From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. Luke 6:47-48

Email your overview of planning for your spiritual growth. Would you focus on plans for actions to perform or would you focus on building your character so that you could act rightly under any cirumcstances?

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Blog Post September 4, 2016, Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans....who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? Wisdom 9:13-17

Today Mother Theresa of Calcutta will be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Eighteen months after her death in 1997 Pope John Paul II waived the traditional five year waiting period, so the process could begin.

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in 1910 in Skopje, Yugoslavia where she grew up in a devout Catholic family. At eighteen she joined the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin, Ireland, an order of nuns dedicated to the education of girls. She was assigned to India where she taught at Saint Mary's High School For Girls where the students were from the city's poorest Bengali families.

There Sister Teresa learned to speak both Bengali and Hindi fluently. At the school she taught geography and history, hoping education would give the girls a way out of poverty. It was a noble cause – she worked hard and eventually became principal at St. Mary’s. Yet, it was not enough. She saw the misery of the poor outside the walls of the clean and orderly convent and could not turn away. The call came to her on September 10, 1946, as she traveled by train from Calcutta to Darjeeling. An interior voice invited her to a new mission. She said: “To fail would have been to break the faith.”

Shortly after this experience of “a call within a call” she was granted permission to live as an independent nun who would be known as Mother Teresa. After six months of basic medical training Mother Teresa moved into the slums of Calcutta to aid "the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for." She said “God was calling me to give up all and to surrender myself to him in the service of the poorest of the poor in the slums.” In 1950, the Vatican granted Mother Teresa permission to establish the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order that began with only 12 women.

It’s a pretty astonishing story, the accomplishments of Mother Teresa – but more astonishing than her deeds is the fact that she accomplished them despite a spiritual darkness that lasted through the last fifty years of her life. Mother Teresa came to see her vocation was, in part, to suffer the Passion of Christ. She was moved to write: “If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”

When the story of Mother Teresa’s ‘dark night of the soul’ was revealed in her letters, some felt dismayed and betrayed that she felt such spiritual darkness over all those years. How could she pretend to be so close to God with all those good works and love of the poor – was it all a sham? It was as though her critics had forgotten all the saints that spoke of their ‘dark night of the soul’ - and even Jesus’ words of abandonment on the cross.

To learn of this experience from Mother Teresa and to know she kept on despite those years of spiritual darkness is for me the greatest testimony to her sainthood. I see it as a loving gift for the rest of us – knowing that even the holiest among us may suffer feelings of abandonment, renews my courage.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Luke 10:2

Email your judgment on showing joy, loving concern and faith in God when you have no such feeling.

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Blog Post August 28, 2016, Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. Psalm 33:12-15

I’ve always been intrigued by the parable of the talents that we heard on Saturday. I ask myself: what are my talents? What do I do with them? Most of all, am I doing what I am supposed to be doing with the gifts I’ve been given? It’s a soul-searching question. Yesterday’s meditation in Magnificat added a new dimension to my view of this parable. Fr. Dajczer. A Polish professor of theology writes:
“A talent is a gift and a particular raw material…Christ, in giving you a talent, trusts you and waits for you to take proper advantage of it… A talent is not only receiving something, but it is also lacking something. In the light of faith, the good health you have is a talent, but bad health is also a talent. In each case Jesus poses the question, What are you doing with this talent? You can waste health and, even more so, a lack of health. Everything is a gift… God continuously bestows gifts on you.”
(Vol. 18, no.6.)

I ask myself, how can bad health be a talent? But Fr. Dajczer sees every moment of every day as a dispensing of God’s gifts on us – time – every moment of it – is a talent for us to use, and for which we must render an accounting.

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; soout of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here is it back.” His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant!” Matthew 25:24-26

Email an analysis of how one of your weaknesses may actually be a talent.

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Blog Post August 21, 2016, Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord. Ezekiel 37:13-14

On Wednesday we heard the troubling parable of the landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. Every few hours he returned to the marketplace for more workers. At five o’clock when men were still standing around because no one had hired them, he sent them to work in his vineyard for the rest of the day. The challenging thing about this parable comes at the end where Jesus tell us all the workers received the same pay – whether they were there at dawn or didn’t get to the vineyard until the day was nearly over.

When the early workers grumbled because they got the same pay as the guys who only worked an hour that day, they were rebuked for their envy of the landlord’s generosity and told he could do what he wants with his own money. I hate to admit it, but I tend to be on the side of the disgruntled early workers – it just doesn’t seem fair to me.

This is one of those parables that invites me to dig a little deeper. Who are those workers that came late to the vineyard? We are told they were waiting to be hired all day, without success. It makes me think of all of the people who have fallen on tough times today. How hard it must be to be unemployed, perhaps homeless, despite their best efforts – or those who have suffered abusive families or addiction and have come to the table late. The parable of the vineyard reminds me how quick we are to judge others and the pitfall of comparing our lot with theirs. The early workers would have been content if they didn’t pay any attention to how much the others were given. But we do it all the time, comparing ourselves to others, then being filled with discontent.

This week I will reflect on St. Paul’s bit of wisdom: "Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else." (Galatians 6:4 LB)

And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. Luke 13:29-30

If you think the landowner's wage payment policy is unfair, email your your statement of a principle of fairness which the landowner's wage payment policy violates.

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Blog Post August 14, 2016, Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. Psalm 40:2-4

A few nights ago a TV sit-com episode featured a charismatic black preacher. The lone white family in the audience was inspired by his ‘end of life’ question: “got your business done?” – thundered out like a prophet. The family went home determined to figure out what the business was that they were supposed to get done. The comedy revolved around how each member came up with goals that would make Mother Teresa look like a slacker. Then, after all their false starts, they decided, one by one, that maybe their “business” was just doing the best they could in their everyday jobs.

What surprised me was that for the next few days, out of the blue, the words of that dynamic preacher echoed in my thoughts: “got your business done?” That’s a great question. I thought that after all this time I would know what my business was, what it is God expects of me. But the more I consider it, the more I realize that my business isn’t something I can grasp like a mission statement, but is fluid – changing with the demands of each day. The only way to stay in touch with those changing demands is through prayer and vigilance – and most of all the desire to get ‘my business’ done they way God wants it done.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton writes: “The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will.” What a beautiful reminder of our purpose as we start each day.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” He will dwell with them and they will be his people.” Revelation 21:2-3

Email your your approach to the question "Got your business done?"

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Blog Post ,August 7, 2016, Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You turn man back to dust, saying, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night. Psalm 90: 3-4

Charles and I are in San Diego until August 9th, visiting grandkids. This blog is a repeat from August 11, 2013. I still find it thought-provoking.

A friend of mine was talking to his son about whether or not to care about other people’s opinion of him. His son said (in a somewhat accusing tone), “Well you don’t care what people think.” My friend said, “Of course I do, but I choose who those ‘other people’ will be.”

I thought about that, about those ‘other people’ and how much our behavior and values are formed by them. It’s not unusual to hear a teenager say “I don’t care what anyone thinks!”, usually it’s to justify something they really want to do that their parents don’t want them to do. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t care what their school buddies think.

The thing is, part of our existence as social beings is that we do care about ‘the others’ in our world. The old saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are,” reflects this universal bit of wisdom. Caring what others think can help increase our will and incentive to live up to our greatest ideals – to achieve our ultimate goal of holiness. It also reminds me of how important it is to choose who those others will be.

As a Lay Cistercian, I share the observation I often hear from other LCG members – that the more they follow the Lay Cistercian spirituality, the less they have in common with old friends and old ways. There is a certain sadness about this gradual separation that comes from a change in values once shared, yet it is the price of ‘growing up’ on our spiritual journey. It reminds me of the merchant who, when he found the pearl of great price, sold all he had to purchase it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

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Blog Post July 31, 2016, Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Charles and I will be in San Diego on Sunday, visiting grandkids, so I’m posting this early.

For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

On Tuesday Fr. Jacques Hamel, 86, was attacked and killed while celebrating Mass in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a working-class suburb of the cathedral city of Rouen, France. He was stabbed to death by two ISIS-linked assailants who took several nuns and worshippers hostage, then were themselves killed as they fled the bloody scene.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun was in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day, and immediately returned to Rouen to express his shock and grief at the attack. His parting words to the youth in Krakow were, “I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity. I ask them not to give in to the violence and to become apostles of the civilization of love.” And to the people of Rouen, “I cry out to God with all men of good will.”

It’s hard to digest the hate and horror of such an act. It feels like devils loose in our world. A friend emailed that she was utterly horrified by the news of that attack, but that she clung to these words by Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Then she reminded me that Rouen is the city where Joan of Arc was tried and burned at the stake.

The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time

Expect blog postings on Sundays. These posts offer suggestions on spiritual growth by reflection on the seasons of the liturgical year.