Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Who Will You Bump In To Today?

Have you ever been out minding your own business and had someone come up to you whom you were really not interested in talking to? It might have been someone asking for directions or a homeless person asking for change. It might have been someone in line at the checkout who for some reason tried to start up a conversation with you. Strangers can make us feel uncomfortable and suspicious. Our guard goes up because we are unsure what they might want from us. Most of the time, we prefer to be left alone.

That is the situation that Jesus and his disciples find themselves in in today’s gospel. They are outside the land of Israel in the pagan territories of Tyre and Sidon. As foreigners in a strange land, they would just as soon not have any attention drawn to them. If they had been in a car, they would have rolled up the windows and made their way straight to the next highway exit back to Galilee.

Then a pagan woman appears yelling out to them, asking Jesus to relieve her daughter of the demon that is tormenting her. They feel embarrassed and irritated. Trying to ignore her, they walk away as fast as they can. But she refuses to go away and only cries out the louder. Finally, Jesus is forced to speak with her.

What does He find? Is she just an ignorant, pagan woman? Does she have no idea to whom she is speaking or what she is asking for? On the contrary, Jesus finds in her a mother who is desperate to have someone help her afflicted daughter. And most of all, He finds a woman of great faith.

Jesus and His disciples took the time to speak with this foreigner, and they were deeply moved by what they found. They were so moved, in fact, that they have handed the story down to us over the centuries as an example of faith.

It is easy for us to write people off, especially those who are different than we are. We do not believe that we could ever learn anything from them. But every person - the stranger, the immigrant, the homeless - is made in the image and likeness of God. Each person is unique and loved personally by our Heavenly Father. Each person is endowed by God with gifts for a mission that only he or she can accomplish. And it could be that that person’s mission is to touch our hearts and teach us something about faith and love.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said that the poor are merely Christ appearing to us in a distressing disguise. Like the pagan woman in the gospel, God very often chooses to reveal Himself to us in the most unlikely of persons. That is why we have to be prepared to see the face of Christ in everyone. Jesus made it very clear to us that we will be judged on how we treat the least of His brothers and sisters.

Another point for us to consider is that everyone who is part of our life is there for a reason. Whether it is a lifelong friend, a family member or someone we just happen to bump into at a store, God meant for us to have some contact with them for a reason that only He knows. Some people are in our lives to be our friends, to laugh and cry with us and to support us. Those family and friends are great blessings to us.

But there are also people sent to us by God to teach us other lessons. They are the people who get under our skin and irritate us. They are the ones who just always seem to be saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. We would just as soon avoid them at all costs. However, God placed them in our lives to teach us lessons that our family and friends could not teach us. From them, we learn to be patient and to forgive. By listening to them and going out of our way to be friendly with them, we might learn that underneath their gruff exterior is a lonely heart and a needy soul. Our caring presence to them might be just what they need to find some relief from the demons that torment them. We also might find ourselves being touched by their faith and their insights into God.

Jesus never judged people by their appearances. He looked straight into a person’s soul. Whether they were tax collectors or Pharisees, Jews or foreigners, He spoke directly to their heart. Jesus loved without exception and without distinction. That is the way He loves each of us. And that is the way He commands us to love one another. If we are to do that, then we must be transformed through grace into the likeness of Jesus. We must have His eyes to see through the exterior appearances into the interior heart. We must have His ears to hear the pain and frustration that so often lie behind hurtful words. We must have His heart to truly care for those in need no matter how unappealing they may be or how much they might inconvenience us.

That is why we are gathered here today, to learn from the Master. The faith, hope and love we need are His to give us. He teaches it to us through His word. And He unites us to Himself through the miracle of the Eucharist which we are about to share. Here and now we can exchange our hurting, selfish hearts for loving hearts. Recognizing Him in the Body and Blood which is given to us, we can then recognize Him in the needy people He places in our path.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Prayers Of A Mother


When it comes to what's best for their children, mothers never take "no" for an answer.

A case in point is today's gospel. The Canaanite woman is literally begging Jesus to cure her daughter who is tormented by a demon. Though the gospel doesn't tell us anything else about the girl's affliction, we can imagine that she was in a great deal of pain.

Though Jesus appears to be ignoring her, she persists in begging for him to help her. It gets to the point where the disciples are starting to get annoyed and want Jesus to tell her to leave them alone.

After talking to the woman, Jesus surprisingly refuses to help her because she is not Jewish. But, she will still not give up until Jesus, recognizing her faith, grants her request to relieve her daughter of her affliction. The woman's great persistence was a reflection of the depth of her faith - a depth of faith which Jesus could not ignore.

Now, it may shock us to think that Jesus would be capable of ignoring a woman in such obvious distress. It goes against the compassionate image of Jesus that we so often encounter in the gospels. Could it be that Jesus was really not going to help her? Could it be that Jesus was really willing to allow her daughter to continue suffering just because she belonged to another race and another religion than he?

On the contrary, I believe that Jesus pretended to ignore the woman to teach a lesson to his disciples who were with him that day and to us who hear this gospel proclaimed today. Jesus must have sensed the woman's distress and seen the faith in her heart. Jesus somehow knew she wouldn't take "no" for an answer and that she wouldn't give up. By forcing the woman to pursue him, he wanted to teach us about the need to persevere in prayer, to not give up even though it seems that our prayers will never be answered and our needs will never be met.

The history of the Church is full of stories of mothers who, like the woman in the gospel, persevered in praying for their children over many years. One of the most moving stories is that of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, though a bright young man, lived many years of his life without direction. He was seeking happiness and peace, but didn't know where to find it. His mother, Monica, prayed for him consistently as he looked into different philosophies and different ways of life all looking for the joy and peace his mother knew he would only find through faith in Jesus. Eventually, after many years of intercession, Monica finally saw her prayers answered when Augustine embraced the gift of faith and turned his life over to Jesus. He was ordained a bishop and became known for his powerful sermons and writings, becoming one of the Church's greatest saints.

The prayer of mothers is very powerful indeed, because it is motivated by deep love and faith. Many of us can point to the prayers and examples of our own mothers and grandmothers as reasons why we came to take our faith seriously. And, I can attest that mothers are in this church daily on their knees in prayer for their children who may be having difficulties in school, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, having difficulties in their marriage or struggling with illness. Thankfully, mothers never give up in their prayers for us and for the world.

This past week, we celebrated the feast of the Assumption. Mary, like a good mother,  never ceases to bring our prayers to her son for us. No matter what we may need and no matter how long it may take, a devotion to the Mother of God assures us that Jesus will hear and answer our prayers.


Our families, our Church and our world have many needs. There is much pain and suffering everywhere we look. With the love and faith we find in our mothers, we must never give up in bringing our prayers to Jesus. If Jesus delays in answering us, then we must pray even harder. Jesus hears us, and Jesus sees the faith in our hearts. Jesus will answer eventually if we do not let up. We can be especially assured that he will answer if we enlist his mother, Mary, as our ally.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Glorified Body

Mary always leads us to her son, Jesus Christ.

All these many centuries after her earthly life ended, it is no different. She is the one who leads us here, to this holy place, so that we can reflect on and celebrate the hope of heaven that is ours through faith.

On this holy day we commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary who was assumed body and soul into heaven.

When we die, our souls will be separated from our bodies and our corpse will corrupt.

However, by the gift of God, Mary’s body was not left to rot in the earth but was lifted up together with her soul to the glory of heaven.

This was fitting and pleasing to Jesus. As His mother never sinned during her life, He desired that her body not suffer the effects of sin which are corruption and decay. Since the harmony of her body and soul was never disrupted by evil desires, so her body and soul would not be separated by death.

This gift that Mary received is a participation in Jesus’ own resurrection. Just as Mary suffered along Him during the hours of His crucifixion, so she would enjoy the resurrection of her own body.

This same hope is held out to us who have been baptized into Jesus’ death. Though none of us can claim to be sinless, we can be assured that, if we embrace with love the crosses that are part of our day-to-day lives, we too will one day participate in Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

We are made for more than this life and what it can give us. We are made for more than to spend several decades on earth and then die. Rather, our true home is heaven. We were created to spend eternity with God.

During this earthly life, we experience a struggle within ourselves. Our soul and our body are constantly at war with each other. On the one hand, we yearn to pray, to be disciplined and to serve others. But, on the other hand, we get tired, frustrated and bored. We want to wake up early to pray but our body wants to spend another ten minutes in bed. We want to read the Bible but so often turn on the television instead. We are in a constant battle to respond generously to God’s grace or to give in to temptation or laziness.

This does not mean that our bodies are bad. On the contrary, God created our bodies and made them good. Our body is more than just a container for our souls. Rather, our bodies are who we are. We are our body as much as we are our soul. However, because of sin, our bodies so easily yield to temptation. And, because of sin, our bodies will one day die.

However, during the struggles we experience during this earthly life, we hold on to a hope that cannot fade. It is the hope that one day our bodies will be raised up and reunited with our souls. Like Jesus and Mary, we will have a glorified body that no longer experiences pain and suffering. It will be a body that is in total harmony with our soul. In that glorified state, our whole being will praise the goodness and mercy of God throughout all eternity.

Mary already rejoices before the throne of God in a glorified body. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by her prayers, we hope to attain the same.

And so, in the time we have remaining in our earthly life, we struggle against temptation and sin. When we fall, we repent and go to confession. When we overcome evil through love, we give the glory to God. In all things, we rely on God’s grace and the prayers of Our Lady in heaven. And we look forward in hope, for one day the struggle will be over and our corrupt bodies will be raised to immortality.


That is the mystery we celebrate today. That is the mystery we live every day of our lives as we look forward to the glory that awaits us in heaven.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mary Leads Us To Jesus


Mary always leads us to her son, Jesus Christ.

All these many centuries after her earthly life ended, it is no different. She is the one who leads us here, to this holy place, so that we can reflect on and celebrate the hope of heaven that is ours through faith.

On this holy day we commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary who was assumed body and soul into heaven.

When we die, our souls will be separated from our bodies and our corpse will corrupt.

However, by the gift of God, Mary’s body was not left to rot in the earth but was lifted up together with her soul to the glory of heaven.

This was fitting and pleasing to Jesus. As His mother never sinned during her life, He desired that her body not suffer the effects of sin which are corruption and decay. Since the harmony of her body and soul was never disrupted by evil desires, so her body and soul would not be separated by death.

This gift that Mary received is a participation in Jesus’ own resurrection. Just as Mary suffered along Him during the hours of His crucifixion, so she would enjoy the resurrection of her own body.

This same hope is held out to us who have been baptized into Jesus’ death. Though none of us can claim to be sinless, we can be assured that, if we embrace with love the crosses that are part of our day-to-day lives, we too will one day participate in Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

We are made for more than this life and what it can give us. We are made for more than to spend several decades on earth and then die. Rather, our true home is heaven. We were created to spend eternity with God.

During this earthly life, we experience a struggle within ourselves. Our soul and our body are constantly at war with each other. On the one hand, we yearn to pray, to be disciplined and to serve others. But, on the other hand, we get tired, frustrated and bored. We want to wake up early to pray but our body wants to spend another ten minutes in bed. We want to read the Bible but so often turn on the television instead. We are in a constant battle to respond generously to God’s grace or to give in to temptation or laziness.

This does not mean that our bodies are bad. On the contrary, God created our bodies and made them good. Our body is more than just a container for our souls. Rather, our bodies are who we are. We are our body as much as we are our soul. However, because of sin, our bodies so easily yield to temptation. And, because of sin, our bodies will one day die.

However, during the struggles we experience during this earthly life, we hold on to a hope that cannot fade. It is the hope that one day our bodies will be raised up and reunited with our souls. Like Jesus and Mary, we will have a glorified body that no longer experiences pain and suffering. It will be a body that is in total harmony with our soul. In that glorified state, our whole being will praise the goodness and mercy of God throughout all eternity.

Mary already rejoices before the throne of God in a glorified body. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by her prayers, we hope to attain the same.

And so, in the time we have remaining in our earthly life, we struggle against temptation and sin. When we fall, we repent and go to confession. When we overcome evil through love, we give the glory to God. In all things, we rely on God’s grace and the prayers of Our Lady in heaven. And we look forward in hope, for one day the struggle will be over and our corrupt bodies will be raised to immortality.


That is the mystery we celebrate today. That is the mystery we live every day of our lives as we look forward to the glory that awaits us in heaven.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin Mary

Early on, those who followed Jesus would have had a great respect for Mary simply because she is His mother. Just as we would have affection for our friends’ mothers, we can imagine that the first disciples of Jesus would have loved Mary because Jesus did.

As time went on, however, it became clear to these disciples that there were more reasons to love Mary. They came to realize that she was a great woman in her own right.

First of all, they would have seen her as the model of discipleship. At every event of Jesus’ life, Mary is by His side. From His birth to His death on the cross, she follows her son. The disciples would have seen in Mary a faithful follower of Jesus, willing to be with Him no matter what the circumstances.

Secondly, they would have seen her as a model of prayer. We see this conviction particularly in the gospel of Saint Luke. Mary is the one who ponders the mystery of her Son’s life. At every significant moment, she is at prayer. Even after the resurrection, she joins the disciples in the upper room to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the early disciples of Jesus would have come to consider Mary to be their mother as well. Saint John tells us in his gospel that Mary was given to us by Jesus on the cross to be our mother. We can imagine that just as she comforted and cared for her son, so Mary would have comforted and cared for the disciples after He ascended to heaven. We can also imagine that she never failed to share her wisdom and insight into the mystery of Christ with them.

Therefore, Mary was more than simply the mother of Jesus. For the first Christians, she was a woman of prayer, a disciple and a mother for all believers. Her greatness came not only from the fact that she offered her body to bring the Messiah into the world but that she was the first to believe in the good news. As Saint Augustine put it, before she conceived Jesus in her womb, Mary had already conceived Him in her heart. She is the blessed one who “believed that what was spoken to [her] by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

It is in this way that we can understand the meaning of today’s feast. Because Mary was faithful in bearing the Christ child in her womb, because she never failed to offer her body to accomplish the Heavenly Father’s saving will, God rewarded her by raising her body and soul into the glory of Paradise. God would not allow the body of the woman who carried His Son to suffer decay. He would not allow the body from which the Son of God took His flesh to be discarded in a grave. Rather, He gave her a share in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into glory.

In Heaven, Mary continues to serve as an inspiration for us. She teaches us how to pray and gives us an example of what it means to be faithful to Jesus. Constantly in the presence of her Son, she offers prayers for us, bringing our needs to the throne of God. While we certainly can go straight to Jesus with our petitions, there is an extra power that our prayer receives when Mary carries them for us to her Son. In a sense, she translates our prayer into words that will be pleasing to Jesus. She removes from it whatever may be selfish or foolish. In her wisdom, she sees through our words to the real need of our heart and offers them to her Son on our behalf. And we can be assured that Jesus will not say “no” to his beloved mother.

So we gather here today to rejoice that we have a mother in Heaven who is watching over us and praying for us. That should give us great confidence as we approach Jesus with our needs and the needs of those we love. It also gives us great hope that, just as Mary was raised to the glory of heaven, so we too await the day when we will enter the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Mary has gone ahead of us and we hope to follow close behind by following her example of prayer and faithfulness to Jesus, her Son.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pray, Hope And Don't Worry

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, affectionately known as “Padre Pio”, was well-known all over Italy for his holiness and wisdom. People came from all over the world to confess to him and seek advice for growth in their spiritual lives. His words to them were always simple but full of wisdom, “Do not worry. Pray and hope.”

Do not worry. Pray and hope.

While this is simple advice, it is not easy to live out. We naturally fret over situations that threaten to harm us either physically, financially or emotionally. With sickness, family tensions, unemployment and social unrest all around us it is easy to be consumed by fear.

Padre Pio’s advice comes from his unshakeable faith in God and His love. The saintly friar knew that God was in control of all things. He was convinced that nothing could separate him from the love of God and that, no matter what may happen, our Heavenly Father would make all things work for good.

Therefore, saying “Do not worry. Pray and hope,” came as naturally to Saint Pio as worry and fear come to us who have lesser faith.

In today’s gospel, we see the apostles in a state of panic. Their small fishing boat is being tossed about like a cork on the Sea of Galilee. Frantically, they are fighting to keep the waves from swallowing them up. It looks as though all may be lost.

Then they see Jesus walking on the water toward them. At first they think they are seeing things. It has to be a ghost. But they recognize Him as their Lord. Unlike them, He is not filled with fear. He does not panic. Rather, He shows Himself to be Master over the stormy sea. He has control over nature in all its wrath and fury. In fact, not only does He walk on the water but, as soon as He gets in the boat, He calms the winds.

Doing so, Jesus shows Himself to be God. Just as God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites to save them from Pharaoh's army, so Jesus calms the Sea of Galilee to save His disciples from the storm. Just as God parted the Jordan River so that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land, so Jesus walks on the water to save the ones He had chosen. As God, Jesus has power over the elements and uses that power to save His people.

In just the same way, Jesus has power over the problems  that threaten to crush us. He has power over the debt that threatens to swallow us up. He has control over the relationships which drain our energy and leave us exhausted. He has power over those forces in government that want to deprive us of our religious freedom and other rights. As Creator of the Universe, there is nothing which lies beyond His authority.
For us, it is a simple matter of faith. In the face of everything which is beyond our control, we can place it in the hands of this Almighty God knowing that He will handle it. Whatever it may be, only He can bring about certain justice, lasting peace and a clear resolution. It might not be in the way we expect or in the manner we prefer, but it will be effective. In the midst of the storms that rage around us, we can be confident that He will save us. It is simply a matter of praying and hoping.

Now, placing all things in God’s hands is not a way for us to deny the problems that face us. It is not a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility for our lives. Rather it is a way for us to act in a clear and confident manner.

Fear paralyzes us. It makes us want to run away and hide. However, when we acknowledge that God is in control, we regain our confidence. We realize that no matter what may happen, God will save us. We can confront the circumstances that threaten us knowing that our Heavenly Father is greater than any earthly power. Like Peter, we find the courage to get out of the boat, to confront the storm and discover that we have abilities beyond what we ever could imagine. Sometimes that is all it takes for the bullies in our lives to drop their weapons and run away.

Each of us here today is facing some difficulty that seems overwhelming, some problem that seems unsolvable, some pain that seems beyond anyone’s power to relieve. God knows what we are facing. If we allow Him to join us in the boat, if we allow Him to be with us in the storm, He will see us safely to port. It may not happen immediately. God may allow the storm to rage around us for a while so that we can learn to trust Him more deeply or maybe so that we can discover that we have more strength, courage and resiliency than we thought.

Either way, He is in control and will not allow us to go under. Saint Pio’s simple advice should guide us always. “Don’t worry. Pray and hope.”

Friday, August 11, 2017

Silence Is God's Language


Have you ever heard God speak to you? Have you ever had a thought pop into your head or a feeling move your heart so intensely that you knew it could only have come from God? Have you ever seen your prayers answered? Have you ever felt yourself wrapped in your Heavenly Father’s loving embrace?

If any of us have answered “no” to these questions, there is probably one good reason why. We most likely do not have enough quiet time in our lives.

In today’s society we are surrounded by noise. We are jerked out of sleep in the morning by a radio alarm. As soon as we get out of bed, we turn the television on. In our cars, we have the radio going. Every other time, we either are scrolling through the computer, playing with our cellphones or have earphones on. Even in church before Mass when we should expect to have some quiet time, there is often needless chatter in the pews.

However, without silence, we cannot hear God speak to us. Our Heavenly Father most often does not reveal Himself in blinding visions. He does not come to us shouting and waving His arms. Most often, God speaks to us in silence, when we are quiet and when our attention is focused on Him.

This is the lesson the prophet Elijah learned in today’s first reading. He is standing on the mountain where God first appeared to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites after they fled Egypt. Elijah was in trouble. Jezebel, the queen of Israel, wanted him killed, and he was running for his life. He knew it was the end of the road for him, and he wondered what God was going to do about it.

As the story goes on, a strong gust of wind passed by, an earthquake shook the mountain and a fire blazed up. These were the ways God had shown Himself in the past. He had appeared in the burning bush to Moses. He had led the people out of Israel in a pillar of fire. And an earthquake rocked Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were delivered to the people. But God did not choose to appear in these ways to Elijah. Instead, He spoke in a soft, gentle whisper. God was doing something new. If Elijah had been looking for some great show of power, he would have missed it altogether.

God loves each of us. And because He loves us, He wants to speak to us. He wants us to know that He is always with us. He wants us to know that He is in control and that He will provide us with all that we need. However, if we are to hear Him, we have to be quiet. We have to shut out all the noise buzzing around us and calm our minds and spirits. We have to be ready to listen.

How do we do that? A good first step would be to set aside time everyday to practice being quiet. Each of us needs a place we can go where we can be alone with God without noise and without distractions. It may mean getting up earlier in the morning or going to bed later. It may mean clearing out a room in our homes or apartments where we can settle ourselves down to focus on our Heavenly Father. Whatever it takes, for our spiritual well-being we need to give ourselves some quiet time.

If by God’s grace we are able to make time everyday to be quiet, our lives will change in amazing ways. We will experience a growing sense of God’s presence. When difficulties arise, we will have more perspective and a clearer mind to be able to deal with them. No matter how out of control circumstances may be around us, we will have a peaceful center that gives us reassurance and serenity through it all. Most importantly, we will live with a sense that God ultimately is in control of everything and, because He loves us, He will make all things work for our good.

Storms inevitably come our way. Like Elijah we may find ourselves running for our lives, or like the disciples in the gospel, we may find ourselves being tossed about by the waves. God may seem to be far away or to have abandoned us altogether. Like Peter, we may feel that we are about to drown and have come to a point where our only hope is to reach out our hand to Jesus and cry out, “Lord, save me.” But if we have a peaceful center that is nourished by quiet time and prayer, we will have confidence no matter how strong the wind is or how powerful the waves.

If we were to make quiet time for the Lord and  were to hear Him speak in His soft whisper, what would we hear? Most likely it would be the words Jesus speaks in today’s gospel, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” In fact, there are no words that Jesus speaks more often in all the gospels than, “Be not afraid.” Jesus wants to relieve our fears by reassuring us that He is by our side. The One who calmed the raging sea, who revealed Himself in fire on Mount Sinai and who conquered death is in control. Though He is hidden from our sight, He is still by our side. And He will save us if we cry out to Him. If we make time to be quiet in His presence every day, then our ears will be opened to hear Him speak and our eyes will witness His actions in our lives.