Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The One Who Kneels Before God Can Stand Up To Anything

Prayer is the soul of the Christian life. It is to our spirit what breath is to our body. Through prayer, joy, peace and purpose come flooding into our lives. It keeps us grounded when everything around us is changing rapidly and keeps us centered when everyone else is losing focus. When prayer becomes a daily habit, we see real change in ourselves. Our hearts and minds increasingly become attuned to God’s way of seeing and doing things. With that, we find it easier to love others and to make clearer decisions. Prayer is the foundation of a good and fulfilled life.

Today’s readings speak powerfully to us about the role of prayer in the life of Jesus, Mary and His disciples.

In the gospel, we get a glimpse into the intimate prayer which Jesus shares with His Heavenly Father. He is about to be arrested and put to death. It is the most distressed time of His life. With confidence He turns to God praying not only for Himself but for His disciples. Though He certainly would have prayed the psalms and other scriptural verses, for Jesus, prayer was more than reciting words He had memorized as a child. Rather, it meant speaking to God from His heart, sharing His feelings and fears with Him and, most especially, letting Him know that He trusted Him no matter what His will might be.

The first reading gives us a glimpse of the early prayer life of Mary and the disciples. The scene is the upper room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, where the disciples hid out during the crucifixion and where Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection. Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, Mary and the disciples gather to pray and await the gift of the Holy Spirit. They gathered there in the same way that we gather here today - in a spirit of joyful expectation. God was about to speak to them, to show Himself to them. For them, prayer meant waiting for God to fulfill His promises.

Finally, today’s responsorial psalm speaks to the heart of what prayer is and can be. The psalmist cries out: “One thing I ask of the Lord...that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord.” This is the prayer of contemplation, of those who are so in love with God that they cannot take their eyes off Him. They sit in stillness and quiet out of sheer love for their Creator. Prayer is ultimately the way we show our love for God. By spending time in silence waiting for our Heavenly Father to speak to us we come to know Him better and love Him more deeply.

Who of us would not want a closer relationship with God? Who of us would not want to experience the joy and peace that comes from a loving friendship with our Heavenly Father? It is a gift He wants to share with all of us. It is a grace He wants all of us to enjoy. And the way to receive it is by spending time in prayer.

As Catholics, we have so many resources in our tradition to help us with our prayer life. Not only do we have the Mass and the rosary but also the teachings of the saints. Many great women and men such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Therese of Lisieux have left us insightful writings on methods of communicating with God.

One of the great spiritual teachers of our faith is Saint Francis de Sales. His book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is an absolute must for anyone who wants to grow spiritually. It was written for people like us who may be beginners in prayer and may not know much theology. While it would be impossible for me to share all the wisdom of this book with you now, his teaching on how to begin and end our prayer time can be immensely helpful.

Saint Francis de Sales teaches us that we should begin our prayer time first by acknowledging God’s presence. It means making ourselves aware that our Heavenly Father is all around us, that we have His undivided attention and that He loves us. We take a deep breath, quiet our thoughts and focus ourselves on Him. We do not need to say any words. We simply need to allow God to embrace us, to take us into His arms and to hold us. This is a beautiful way for us to be reminded that prayer is mainly about intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

Then, Saint Francis teaches us that we should end our prayer time by gathering “a spiritual bouquet.” This is a beautiful image. Think of a young girl walking through a field picking every colorful flower that catches her eye and carrying it with her throughout the day to look at and to enjoy their fragrance. In just such a way, Saint Francis tells us that, as we are wrapping up our prayer time, we should look back at it and think of all the ways God may have touched us in prayer. It might be a verse from Scripture that consoled us or an especially powerful feeling of God’s presence. We are to hold those insights and feelings in our heart and call them to mind periodically throughout the day as a way of extending those graces and reminding ourselves of God’s goodness to us.

As Christians, we are all called to a life of prayer. Depending on the circumstances of our life and our personalities, prayer will take on a different form for each of us. However, there is not one of us who is not called to spend some time with God everyday. Taking Saint Francis de Sales’s advice to begin our prayer time acknowledging our Heavenly Father’s loving presence and ending that time by gathering a “spiritual bouquet” of feelings, insights and images we experienced can help us begin that journey and deepen it.

Monday, May 29, 2017


What would you think of a professional football player who never exercised? How far do you think he would get? He might be able to get by for a while on his natural abilities. But, before long, he would be unable to keep up with the other players who are in shape. There is no future for a professional athlete who fails to exercise.

What exercise is for an athlete, prayer is for a Christian. Without prayer, we cannot live the demands of the gospel. Without prayer, we cannot take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Without prayer, we cannot fight temptation, love our neighbor or forgive our enemies. Prayer empowers us to live as Jesus did, it makes our hearts capable of loving and it inspires us to perform works of charity and mercy. For a while, we might be able to get along on just our willpower and determination. But eventually temptation and the cares of this life will weigh down on us and leave us exhausted and disappointed. Only through prayer can the love and mercy of God shine forth in our lives.

All the great saints were well aware of this. Their holy lives and the good works they performed were a result of intense lives of prayer. Before serving the poor of Calcutta, Mother Theresa would spend hours in prayer every morning before the Blessed Sacrament. Pope John Paul II would pray an entire rosary - all twenty mysteries - every day. Saint Catherine of Siena enjoyed such an intense prayer life that she stopped eating all together. The only nourishment she received was the Holy Eucharist. All these saints loved Jesus so much that prayer for them was not a chore or a burden but an incomparable joy.

Jesus also needed to pray. After His baptism, the gospels tell us that He went to the desert to spend forty days praying and fasting. Many times, He would sneak away from the crowds to spend the whole night in prayer with His Heavenly Father. Before suffering His passion and death, He prayed at the garden of olives that He would have the strength to do God’s will.

Today’s readings are full of examples of prayer in the life of Jesus, His mother and His disciples.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes us to the upper room in Jerusalem where the Risen Lord first appeared to the apostles. Jesus has ascended to heaven and told them to wait until they were given the gift of “power on high”, the Holy Spirit. They spend those ten days in intense prayer together with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is in a sense the Church “in the womb”, waiting for the new life that will be given it by the Holy Spirit. And it all begins with prayer.

The reading from the gospel of Saint John gives us a glimpse into the intimate life of prayer that Jesus shares with His Heavenly Father. It is the hours between His last supper with the apostles and His death on the cross. There are two prayers on Jesus’ lips as he faces the cruelty of His upcoming death. First, He asks that God be glorified by the sacrifice He is about to make. Secondly, He prays for His disciples.

In imitation of Jesus, our prayer should always be that God be glorified in our words, thoughts and actions. We should pray that we may know and do God’s will in all our endeavors. And like Jesus we should pray for one another. Each of us is striving to live good and holy lives, and we need each other’s prayerful support. None of us should get so bogged down in our problems that we fail to think of the needs of our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus’ thoughts were with His disciples before facing His crucifixion, so our thoughts should be with others who may be suffering even more than we are.

Now that we understand what an indispensable part of Christian life prayer is, how can we begin to make it part of our daily lives?

First of all, we need to make time every day for prayer. We need to carve out some time when we drop everything and focus on our Heavenly Father. It may mean waking up a little earlier in the morning or going to bed a little later at night. But, without time, a life of prayer cannot take root and grow.

Secondly, a life of prayer requires trust in God. Prayer is not so much about what we do but what God does in us. When we pray, God takes us by the hand and leads us. Our prayer should always be a prayer of trust that if we make the time for God, He will bless us with His presence. And prayer in its essence is nothing more than basking in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Finally, if we feel stuck and unable to pray, if we are not sure what to say to God or what we should be doing with our prayer time, we can never go wrong by praying the rosary. The rosary is an important prayer for both beginners and those advanced in the spiritual life. Through it we reflect on the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. As we reflect on those mysteries, we become more like Jesus. And we allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to do what she does best - lead us to her Son, Jesus. The rosary is a powerful means by which we can deepen our prayer life and become holy.

Whatever problems we are facing, whatever anxieties plague us or our loved ones, prayer is the answer. When our lives are deeply rooted in prayer, then all things are possible. So let us commit ourselves to giving part of our day over to the Lord in prayer. Let us trust that in that time He will guide us and speak to us. Then we will see a real transformation take place in ourselves, our families, our Church and our world. That is the example set for us by Jesus and the saints. That is God’s promise to all those who seek Him with sincerity and faith.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Waiting On The Lord

In the morning, a mother is rushing to get her kids off to school and herself off to work. She's made the lunches. Now, it's time to get her three-year-old daughter dressed. It shouldn't take her more than a minute to push the shirt over her head and pull her pants on. But, her daughter decides that she doesn't want to stop watching T.V.. So the mother has to talk her into getting off the couch and going to her bedroom. Once she accomplishes that, the daughter decides that she doesn't like the shirt her mother has picked out. So, the mother has to patiently convince her daughter why the shirt she picked out is the right choice. Once she gets her shirt on, the daughter decides that she wants to tell her mother a story. Then, the daughter decides that, even though it's the middle of winter, she wants to wear her flip-flops. Finally, after much negotiating, the daughter is finally dressed and ready for the day. What should have taken only two minutes at the most took about ten minutes. Getting a child dressed is no exercise in efficiency.

Our spiritual life and our life as a Church community are much the same as getting a three-year-old dressed. It doesn't always follow a straight line. We make progress one day, and then face a setback the next. One day, God feels close to us and prayer comes naturally. The next day, we're distracted and in a fog. The life of God in us as individuals and among us as a Church is also no exercise in efficiency.

The Scriptures teach us about the necessity and the power of waiting on the Lord. In the first reading (Acts 1:12-14), Jesus has ascended into heaven and instructed the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture tells us that in that upper room they dedicated themselves to constant prayer waiting for the time when Jesus' words would be fulfilled. Jesus didn't send them back to Jerusalem to do something or to accomplish something. He sent them there merely to wait. Of course, Jesus could have just given them the Spirit right away without their having to wait. He could have brought God's Spirit down upon them as He was ascending to heaven. But, the time wasn't right. And, Jesus always waits until the time is right to ensure that His gifts have the maximum effect in our lives. Jesus is not concerned with efficiency, but with sanctity.

There are many definitions for prayer. For some, prayer is reciting the Our Father or the Hail Mary. For others, prayer means asking God for "our daily bread". Some people in their prayer praise God in a loud voice for the wonders of His power. But prayer, first and foremost, is about waiting on the Lord. Prayer means waiting for the Lord to speak to us. Prayer means waiting for the Lord to direct us. Prayer is not about something we do whether it is a prayer we recite or thoughts we conjure up. Prayer is about what God does. Prayer is about quieting our minds down so that when God speaks, we can hear Him. Prayer is about waiting so that when God is ready to work in our lives, we will be ready to say "yes". Like getting a three-year-old dressed in the morning, prayer is no exercise in efficiency. But, it is an exercise in experiencing the beauty and power of God and His love.

In our preaching, we don't tend to pay too much attention to the Psalms. But, the Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible. The Psalms are the prayer book of the Jewish people and of Christians. The Psalms are Jesus' prayer book. Today's psalm (Psalm 27) gives us a beautiful description of what prayer is and can be. Simply put, prayer is gazing on the loveliness of the Lord. No words need be spoken. The way a lover looks into the eyes of his beloved or the way a mother holds her child, so we savor the wonder of an Almighty Creator who is present among us, who knows us and who loves us. God is beautiful. Prayer, then, means waiting to be seduced by God's love and beauty.

We are gathered here in this church not to accomplish anything or to get something done. There is no agenda to our meeting here today. We are simply here to wait and to listen. We are here to receive and to give. A wonderful thing is about to take place. The Creator of the Universe will come to us in the form of bread and wine. We will gaze on His beauty. We will taste of His goodness. The time is now. The hour has come for us to open our hearts and receive our beautiful savior. How lovely is this place! How lovely is the dwelling place of the Lord!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Jesus Goes Ahead Of Us

During the time of Jesus, wealthy people had many servants at their beck and call. Maids busied themselves cleaning their homes, cooking their meals and waiting on them and their guests at table. Butlers announced visitors and made sure that no uninvited guests got onto the premises. Other servants tended the grounds of the estate, maintained the buildings and provided personal grooming services such as haircuts and shaving.

The richest people in ancient times would also have had a servant called “the forerunner.” This was a prestigious role set aside for only the most faithful and diligent of servants. It was his job to go ahead of his master through the streets of the city, making sure the way was clear for him. In the ancient middle east, roadways were often clogged with people milling about or cattle just sitting in the middle of the street. It would not take much to hold up an important person who needed to pass through. The forerunner would go through the street pushing aside whatever may be blocking the roadway to make the way clear for his master to pass through.

When they had arrived at their destination, the forerunner would go in ahead of his master to make sure that everything was prepared to his liking. Checking every corner of the house, he would make sure their were no dangers lurking there that would put his master’s safety at risk.

Because they served in such a prominent role in middle eastern society, forerunners are mentioned frequently in the Bible. The one we would be most familiar with is John the Baptist. As the gospels tell us, he told the crowds that he was a forerunner for the Messiah, a “voice in the wilderness preparing a way for the Lord.” As a good forerunner, John the Baptist went ahead of Jesus making sure the people would be able to give Him a proper welcome when at last He appeared.

On this feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we remember another forerunner, namely Jesus. Today we celebrate how, forty days after His resurrection, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father “far above every principality, authority, power and dominion”, as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading. He has gone ahead of us, overcoming the power of sin and death, to make the way safe for us.  He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us in heaven. There he is preparing an inheritance of glory for us who believe. If we have been faithful to Him in this life, we can then be assured that, when we die, He will announce us to God the Father and the whole heavenly court and show us to the place He has prepared for us.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus ascends into heaven, two angels appear to the apostles to tell them, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Now that our Lord has taken His place in heaven, He will return again in glory “to restore the Kingdom” to God the Father. As believers, we look forward to His coming in glory because it will mean the definitive end of all sin, suffering and death. It will be the creation of a new heaven and a new earth where justice and peace will be established forever.

Because of this great hope, it is up to us now to be forerunners for Jesus’ second coming. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for His first coming, we must clear every obstacle that would impede His second coming in glory. It is up to us now to proclaim “to the ends of the earth” that Jesus will return so that the world that will be ready to greet Him enthusiastically when His glory is revealed.

How were the forerunners in ancient times able to clear roads, search houses and make bold pronouncements? Because the people knew that they were announcing the coming of an important person. To ignore the forerunner was to risk being punishment by the dignitary he served. The forerunner had no authority of his own, only that which was given him by his master.

In just such a way, as forerunners of Jesus Christ, we have no power or authority of our own. Rather we speak and act with the power and authority given to us by God. Before Jesus ascends to heaven, He reassures the apostles, “ will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my the ends of the earth.” The apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowering them to work mighty signs. We received the Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation strengthening us to serve as forerunners of Jesus Christ. Because of that gift, we can announce His coming without fear knowing that the authority to do so comes from Him.

Jesus, our forerunner, has gone ahead of us to heaven. We hope one day to be welcomed there by Him and led to the place He has prepared for us. In the meanwhile, we must go ahead of Him announcing that He will come again. Our confidence does not come from our own strength, the power of our own intellect or our own cleverness. Rather it is God at work in us through the Holy Spirit who makes great things possible. Therefore we live with great hope, a hope that is founded not only on the promise of future glory but the assurance that Jesus is with us now until the end of time.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Still To Be Written

I have a trick question for you.

What is the only unfinished book in the Bible?

A couple of hints. First, it is located in the New Testament. Second, one of the readings for today’s feast was taken from it.

The answer is, the Acts of the Apostles.

Saint Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles to serve as a second volume to his gospel. As the title of the book suggests, it chronicles how the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, continued the saving work of Jesus after He ascended into heaven. Just as Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, so the apostles spread the good news from Jerusalem, to Samaria and eventually even to Rome. Just as Jesus healed those who came to him with diseases and other afflictions, so miraculous healings accompanied the ministry of the apostles. And just as Jesus was put to death, so the apostles and their followers are persecuted and killed with a prayer of forgiveness on their lips in imitation of their master. The Acts of the Apostles is the story of the early Church stepping out in faith to continue the saving works of our Lord Jesus.

However, the reason we can claim that the Acts of the Apostles is an unfinished book is that the story of the Church founded by Jesus to be a light for the nations is still being written. It did not end with the apostles. We who have been baptized and have come to believe in the name of Jesus are writing the next chapter. It is up to us now to preach the Kingdom of God, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry and, if necessary, to suffer ridicule and rejection for the sake of the Savior we have come to love. Jesus left the task to his apostles, they left it to their disciples, and now it has been passed on to us. The pen is in our hand to continue writing the acts of the followers of Christ.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension when, forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus went up to the right hand of the Father in heaven. From His throne in paradise, he continues to watch over, pray for and guide the people whom He has entrusted with His word. Jesus is looking down upon us gathered here today who have believed in Him and are striving to live lives that are pleasing to Him.

We might wonder to ourselves, why did Jesus ascend to heaven? Wouldn’t it have been better if, after His Resurrection, He stayed around to show Himself to others? Then more people would have believed that He had risen from the dead and that He was the Son of God. Why would He leave the apostles after just forty days when He could have still done so much more good on earth?

First of all, we know that Jesus worked many signs and wonders during His life, and still many people refused to believe that He was the Son of God. After the Resurrection, many people saw the empty tomb and still did not believe that He had risen. Even the disciples whom Jesus did appear to continued to fear and have their doubts as Saint Matthew tells us in today’s gospel. There are many who, for whatever reason, simply refuse to believe. Even the sight of the Risen Lord would not convince them.

Secondly, and most importantly, Jesus has left it to us to continue His mission on earth. He has given us His Spirit so that we can do the works He did. He assures us in the gospel of John, “Whoever sees you, sees me; whoever hears you, hears me.” Jesus ascended into heaven to pass on to us the responsibility and mission of witnessing to the truth of His Resurrection. Each one of us has a part to play in the story of salvation which is still being written in our time. As Saint Teresa of Avila wrote so beautifully, “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.” Now that Jesus has ascended to the Father, if anyone is to hear the good news and encounter for themselves the love of Jesus it will have to be through us, by our words and by the good and holy lives we lead.

Though the story of salvation is still being written, we know how it will end. In the final chapter Jesus Christ will descend from heaven to reveal Himself to all people and nations as the Son of God and Savior of the World. There will be no denying it. He will finally put an end to sin, suffering and death.  And He will give to us who have believed in Him a share in the heavenly glory of His Kingdom which is our inheritance as children of God. We long for Him to come in His glory and we live with confidence following His commandments knowing that He has already won the victory for us.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Looking Around

What are we like when we are feeling confused? What goes on in our minds and hearts when circumstances in our life don't make any sense? We usually stop whatever we are doing and try to make sense of the situation. We stare into space trying to figure out just what is going on. We take a step back to get perspective on our surroundings. Confusion can paralyze us with the fear that we have lost control.

In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are the picture of confusion. Who can blame them? In a few short days they experienced the devastating brutality of Jesus' death and then the exhilaration of learning that He was raised from the dead. And, they had just finished up many glorious days with Him in their homeland of Galilee. Now, Jesus is ascending into heaven. All they can do is look up into the sky like people who won't leave a theatre after the movie is over. They don't know what to do next. They don't know what their next step should be. It takes the angels to snap them out of their trance and to reassure them that Jesus would return.

 Where had Jesus gone? Jesus ascended to heaven to take the throne the Father had prepared for Him. In heaven, Jesus is exalted for winning the victory over sin and death through His cross and resurrection. When generals return victorious from battle, we honor them with parades. Jesus' ascension into heaven is His victory parade for having won back for the Father all the peoples of the earth. Paul says, in the second reading, that God has put all things under Christ's feet. This victory still has not been completed, and won't be until Jesus comes again in glory at the end of the world. But, we know who the winner will be, even as the battle rages on.

 It was unclear to the disciples just what was going on. But Jesus' plan was to make them His witnesses throughout all the earth. From His throne in heaven, Jesus would send upon them the Holy Spirit which would give them the power to overcome their fear and the conviction to preach about Jesus' death and resurrection even when their lives were threatened. The confusion was to last only a short while. The Holy Spirit would make everything clear to them in short order.

The message of the apostles and their mission has been passed on to us who gather here 2000 years later. We are to make disciples of the nations, if we are to be true disciples ourselves. We are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as we have been baptized. We are to teach the commands of Jesus, just as they have been taught to us. And, we are to know and remember always that Jesus is with us until He comes again in glory at the end of the world.

We live with much confusion. In our individual lives, we can be confused about what God wants for us, about what direction our life is leading us in or about why some difficulties always seem to be placed before us. As a Church, we are so often confused about how to preach and live God's Word faithfully and how best to be true disciples of Jesus. That confusion too often paralyzes us. It too often causes us to do nothing or to give up altogether. It sometimes tempts us to turn back to old, comfortable patterns of living rather than stay on the path of ongoing conversion that the gospel calls us to. It too often causes us to look to the world and its values for guidance, rather than striving to know and live God's will.

But, Jesus' ascended to heaven to take over authority for our individual lives and our lives as a Church. Jesus is now fully in control, even when things seem chaotic around us. And so, when we are confused, we are to go forward in faith expecting that Jesus will eventually make clear to us why we are experiencing difficulties or why such-and-such a thing is happening in our individual lives or in our history as a Church community.

To serve Jesus, we do not have to have everything figured out. We do not have to know everything to be faithful to Jesus our Savior. We only have to trust that if we say yes to Him and to His will, then He will use our words and our actions to touch the lives of those we meet. When we are confused or agitated by events around us, we simply have to know and believe that Jesus is with us and that He will make all things work our for our good and for His glory.

 Jesus has ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father where He reigns as King over heaven and earth. When Jesus does come again, we don't want to be caught looking up into the skies waiting for something to happen. We want to be living in the Spirit of insight and wisdom which Paul describes in the second reading. That Spirit reveals to us the great hope to which we are called. It emboldens us through the immeasurable scope of His power at work in us who believe. It works wonders in us who give our lives over to our Savior Jesus and who trust that, at the right hand of the Father in heaven, He has everything under control.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Love And Do What You Will"

When I say the word, “love”, what comes to your mind?

Do you imagine two lovers running hand in hand through a meadow of wildflowers?

Do you think of a man and a woman gazing affectionately into one another’s eyes over a candlelight dinner?

Do you imagine a mother cuddling her infant son?

Whatever came to mind when you heard me say the word “love”, chances are that you did not think of rules or obedience. When we talk about love in today’s world, we think primarily about emotion, romance and affection. We do not associate it with keeping rules, following orders or bowing to authority.

How strange it is, then, for us to hear Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” How can anyone, even Jesus, command us to love Him? What does obedience to commandments have to do with love?

I think we can understand Jesus’ words by looking at some examples we can all relate to.

Every country has rules against parental neglect. If a mother or father fail to adequately feed, clothe and shelter their children, then they will have those children taken away from them and they will be put in jail.

However, do parents feed their children out of fear that, if they don’t, they will be put in jail? Do parents clothe their children because they think that, if they don’t, the state will come in and punish them? No. Parents feed their children because they love them. They make sure their sons and daughters have a safe place to live and warm, clean clothing because they want them to grow up to be happy and healthy. Good parents follow the law not out of fear of punishment because out of love for their children. In fact, they would continue to provide for their children even if there were no laws requiring it.

The same is also true in our friendships. While there are laws against stealing, I do not take things out of my friend’s house because I am afraid of going to jail. Rather, if I truly love my friend, I will not want to hurt her by taking things away from her. In fact, I would be more likely to give her gifts than steal from her. So, while there are laws against stealing, a good person will respect her friend’s property out of love for her. Even if there were no laws against stealing, friends would still be more likely to give gifts to each other rather than to take their possessions from each other.

When we truly love others, we will never want to hurt them. Chances are, we will go out of our way to avoid any behavior or words that would cause them pain. And when we do hurt those we love, we make a point of apologizing and doing whatever we can to repair the harm we have done.

The same is true in our relationship with Jesus. If we truly love Jesus, we will do everything we can to avoid offending Him by sinning. Once we take to heart how much He has loved us - enough to die for us - we will want to show our gratitude by keeping His word. And just as I would not hurt my friend’s friend out of love for him, just so I will love my neighbor out of love for Jesus. As Saint John tells us in his first letter, “Anyone who says He loves God but hates his neighbor is a liar” (1 Jn 4:20).

Let us look at another example. All of us are commanded by God to come to Mass every Sunday. Many of us do so because of a sense of obligation either to the rules of the Church or to our parents who make us come. However, what would be the attitude of the person who comes to Mass because she loves Jesus? Wouldn’t she listen intently to God’s word knowing that Jesus was speaking to her? Wouldn’t she greet the other people in church with a big smile and a warm handshake knowing that Christ was present in them? And wouldn’t she receive communion with anticipation and joy knowing that it was Jesus Himself whom she was welcoming into her heart? Such a person would be keeping the commandment to attend Mass every Sunday, but instead of doing it out of duty would be doing it out of love. Chances are, even if there were not a commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, such a person would still come to Mass every Sunday - even every day - out of love for Jesus.

If we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments. One who loves obeys the law with joy. In fact, one who loves goes beyond what the rules demand. This is the kind of love that Jesus showed us by dying on the cross. This is the same love that God expects of us. It is the gift He offers us at every Mass. When we receive the Eucharist with faith, God puts His love into our hearts. Let us ask Him for that gift - for a love that will transform us. Then we will do great things in joyful response to the God who has so loved us. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Praying For The Gift Of The Spirit

God, because of His great love for us, is always showering us with gifts of grace. Every good thing comes from His hand.

Because of this beautiful reality, we work to prepare ourselves to receive all that He has in store for us. We ready ourselves so that, when His gifts arrive, we can put them to use to make ourselves holy and to serve others.

The Church provides us with seasons to help us prepare ourselves for all the graces God plans to shower upon us. During the Advent season, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. During the Lenten season, we prepare ourselves more intensely for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For the past six weeks, we have been journeying through the season of Easter. Though we may not be accustomed to thinking of it in this way, Easter is also a season of preparation. Especially in these final weeks as the feast of the Ascension approaches, this season is a time to prepare ourselves for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes called “the forgotten person of the Trinity”. While we might commonly address our prayers to God the Father or God the Son, praying directly to God the Holy Spirit does not seem to come as naturally to us. Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit is God and deserves the same worship and praise we would give to the Father and the Son. In our Profession of Faith we call Him the “Lord and Giver of Life”. We also profess that “with the Father and the Son [He] is adored and glorified.” So it is proper for us to address the Holy Spirit in our prayers - particularly in words of praise and adoration - especially during this Easter Season.

One of the reasons we may have difficulty praying to the Holy Spirit is that the traditional images of the dove, fire and a driving wind do not help us relate to Him as a person. We can imagine ourselves relating to God as Father. We can form a mental image of Jesus. However, forming a mental image of the Holy Spirit does not come as naturally.

Some Christians have found it helpful to think of the Holy Spirit in the following way. We can understand the Father as “God above us”. We can understand Jesus as “God among us”. In the same way, we can understand the Holy Spirit as “God within us.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus into our hearts. Therefore, when we pray to Him, we can imagine Him dwelling within us.

This is what Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel. He calls the Holy Spirit “another Advocate” who will be “with [us] always.” He goes on to say the the Holy Spirit “remains with [us]” and “will be in [us]. When Jesus uses the word, “remains”, He is speaking about an intimate union of love between persons. It bespeaks friendship, sharing life together, being one in mind and heart. It is an image similar to that of marriage wherein two people make a home together and create a family.  That is the type of intimacy the Holy Spirit introduces into our lives.

How can we prepare ourselves to welcome the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

The first way is by ridding ourselves of sin. Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you...the Spirit of Truth.” For us to receive the Holy Spirit, we must be keeping the commandments. If keeping the commandments is the way that we show love for God, then sin is rejecting God and His grace. The Holy Spirit will not go where He is not welcomed. Therefore, for us to make room for Him, we must actively reflect on our lives, identify where our attitudes and behavior are not in accord with the gospel, and repent by going to confession and making amends. Then there will be room in our hearts for the indwelling of God’s Spirit.

The second way to prepare for the Holy Spirit is by giving witness to others about how God has transformed us. Telling others about Jesus intensifies the presence of the Spirit within us. Though it often requires courage, it also increases joy within us. As Philip experienced in today’s first reading when he proclaimed Christ to the Samaritans, signs and wonders accompany our witness. We will see hearts changed, lives transformed and attitudes healed. All this will strengthen our faith and make us even more eager to “give an explanation to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for [our] hope” as Saint Peter encourages us to do in the second reading. This will naturally lead us to praise the Holy Spirit for using us to bring Jesus to others.

In these final weeks of Easter, we look ahead to Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is a time for us to reflect more intensely on the person of God the Holy Spirit, to make ourselves more worthy to be used by Him in the work of bringing souls to Christ and to spread the good news to others. There is no more real and intense way to welcome the Holy Spirit, “God within us”, than through the Eucharist we are about to share. As we move to the table of Jesus’ Body and Blood, let us welcome Him already into our heart and show Him our love by pledging to keep His commandments.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

What Jesus Wants Us To Know

If you were about to leave this Earth, what would you want to say to your family and dear friends gathered around you? What gifts might you want to leave them with to remember you by? What words of wisdom would you want to give your children and grandchildren to help guide them through the rest of their lives?

Jesus had the opportunity to share one final meal with His dearest friends before He died. It was highly emotional for Him because he was aware that in a few short hours he would endure a torturous death. Likewise, His disciples must have known that something big was about to happen and that their lives were soon to be dramatically changed.

As any of us would at such an emotional time, Jesus simply wanted His disciples to know that He loved them. The reason He was born, the reason He would die on the cross, would be to show His love. In those hours before He would be killed, He wanted to remind those closest to Him that, in the end, it was all about love.

The love that Jesus came to show, however, was more than affection or warm feelings. Rather it was a love that was willing to sacrifice itself for others. It was a love willing to endure hardships, difficulties and even death. It was a love that shows itself not in boxes of candy or bouquets of flowers but on the wood of the cross.

Jesus gathered the disciples around Him not only to share His love with them but also to give them a gift. The gift was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit promised to the disciples at the Last Supper is love itself. One God with the Father and with Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all believers giving us the power to love.

Because the Spirit of Jesus is within us, we can love as He did. If it were only up to us, given our weak human nature, we could never show the type of self-sacrificing love Jesus showed on the cross. We would only know how to give love to those who love us back. Without Jesus and His Spirit, we could never forgive our enemies, go without food to feed others or give up our lives to witness to our faith. The Spirit of love - the Spirit of Jesus - makes all that possible.

And so, Jesus’ Spirit is His gift to those He loves. It is His gift to us who believe in Him. All these centuries since his death and resurrection, that same Spirit lives, moves and breathes in us through our baptism and through the gift of faith.

Not only does Jesus tell the disciples of His love, not only does He promise them the gift of love itself in the person of the Holy Spirit, He also leaves them with some parting words of wisdom. He tells them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The commandments of God instruct us on how we are to live. They guide us in the way that leads to happiness. By following God’s law we avoid whatever could harm us. There is no better advice any of us could give or follow than to do whatever God commands us to.

The love of Jesus revealed in the commandments also teaches us that sin is primarily a refusal to love God and others. Sin deadens love within us. It hardens our hearts and makes us selfish. Jesus did not reveal the commandments to us in order to control us or curtail our freedom. He does not want to take the fun or pleasure out of life. Rather all His commandments free us from selfishness and pride so that we know what it means to truly love God and others from the heart.

The wisdom of Jesus’ commandment of love teaches us something more. Because we have the Spirit of love living and moving within us, it is not enough for us to limit our actions to not hurting others or avoiding sin. If we are to love as Jesus loved, as we are empowered to love in the Spirit, then we must reach out to help others. It is not enough, then, for us not to steal. We must also be willing to go hungry so that others may eat. We must be willing to spend a night in the cold so that another may have our blanket. It is not enough for us not to kill. We must also forgive those who harm us rather than seek revenge. We must stand up for and be ready to defend the innocent whose lives are being taken every minute through abortion, starvation and war. We must be willing to give our lives if necessary to see that justice is done for the poor and weak.

It may sound daunting or even impossible. But to those who are given the Spirit of Christ, all things are possible. That Spirit of God which is the love of the Father and Son casts out all fear, strengthens us for good deeds and makes us understand the right course of action in all things.  

Like any person about to die, Jesus wanted to share His love, give His Spirit as a gift and share the wisdom of His commandment of love. Furthermore, He promised that He would remain with us always. He is among us whenever we gather in His name. He is within us because of His Spirit dwelling in our hearts. And in a most wonderful way, His Body and Blood will be given to us through the miracle of the Eucharist. He promises that nothing can separate us from His love. We cannot see Him with our eyes, yet we believe through faith that He is here. Through our acts of selfless love, we show Him to an unbelieving world. By the mystery of His cross and resurrection, we hold onto the hope that we will one day live with Him forever.

Jesus is here! Let us rejoice!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Another Advocate

A successful defense attorney was once asked whether he ever felt guilty for taking on murderers, drug traffickers and thieves as clients. He replied that in our system, everyone has a right to a good legal defense no matter what they are accused of or what they may have done. Furthermore, he hoped that, when it was his time to stand before God, someone would be there to defend him as well.

All of us, especially in difficult times, need someone to stand up for us and to be at our side. We all know how disappointed we feel when we are abandoned by our friends because of something someone may have said about us or something we may have done. We also know how encouraged we feel when someone has the courage to stand by us.

Jesus promises the apostles in today's gospel that He will never abandon them. He promises that, even though they will not see Him, He will still be active among them. How does He plan to do that? Jesus tells the disciples that He will send them "another Advocate". An advocate is someone who stands up for you, who pleads your case, who defends you against a prosecutor who has brought up charges against you. Jesus is the first advocate. He is our first defender. By offering His body on the cross, He took away the charge against us, serving the sentence in our place. Jesus is continuing to advocate for us in heaven. He is continuing to pray for us before the Father until the day we are finally with Him in glory.

The "other Advocate" which Jesus promises to send is the Holy Spirit. Whereas Jesus pleads our case before the Father, the Holy Spirit pleads our case against the world. As Jesus explains it, the world is the people, the structures and the institutions which are organized to frustrate the work of God and the spread of the gospel. This world cannot accept the Father. We only have to pick up the paper or watch the TV for five minutes to know how true this is. Christians are accused of being hypocrites, as lacking compassion or as being backwards. Movies and books portray believers as judgmental and joyless. The art world strives to offend Christians by blaspheming Jesus in sculptures and paintings. This world is  trying to discourage us in our life of faith. It is trying to convince us that it is better to live for our own pleasure than to live for the gospel. It is constantly trying to deceive us and lure us away from what life is really about - knowing, loving and serving God. The Holy Spirit is our advocate before this hostile world. The world has judged us according to its values, but the Holy Spirit which is alive in our hearts stands with us and helps us to live joyfully and faithfully in a world which is pitted against us. We can face this challenge with confidence because Scripture assures us that "greater is He Who is in us, than he who is in the world."

Some translations of today's gospel passage use the word "paraclete" instead of "advocate". "Paraclete" is really a word made up by translators who were trying to capture the fullness of what Jesus was meaning to say. The word "paraclete" does not appear anywhere else in English, except when referring to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word which we translate here as "advocate" also means "defender", "encourager", "guide" or even "teacher".

Another word which might capture for us a little bit of what Jesus meant when He called the Holy Spirit "Paraclete" is the word "coach". A good coach has a game plan drawn up for her players. She puts her players through drills to build up their stamina and strengthen their skills. A good coach instills resiliency in her players when they fail and inspires them to do whatever it takes to win. Just so, the Holy Spirit living in our hearts coaches us on how to live the gospel message with joy.

We are not alone. If we love God and obey His commandments, then we can be assured that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. This Holy Spirit strengthens us to live a life faithful to God's Word. This Holy Spirit encourages us when we face difficulties or fail. This Holy Spirit guides our choices so that we make progress in the life of faith. This Holy Spirit makes Jesus alive and active among us. This Holy Spirit stands by our side when the world looks down on us, despises us or ridicules us. At the same time, this Holy Spirit fills our hearts with love for the world so that we can bring the truth of God's love to it by our words and actions.

We will all certainly stand before the judgment seat of God. But, if we have loved God in this life and have obeyed His commandments, then we can be assured that we will have two powerful advocates at our side - Jesus and His Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jesus - The Only Way

While other boys his age imagined themselves one day becoming businessmen or fire fighters, young Bashir Mohammad  dreamed of becoming a terrorist.

It all began when he was fifteen years old when his cousin Ahmad too him to a mosque in Afrin, Syria to listen to the fiery rhetoric of an extremist imam. From then on, he imagined himself giving glory to God by killing unbelievers.

And so, when the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, he joined the Nusra front, a radical group with ties to Al Qaeda. However, eventually he became traumatized by the violence and torture he witnessed and, in 2013, returned back to his home town. About that time in his life, he said: “I went to Nusra in search of my God, but after I saw Muslims killing Muslims, I realized there was something wrong.”

Though Bashir abandoned the extremist group, he did not question his religion. In fact, he continued to practice Islam fervently to the point that his neighbors could hear him praying.

Everything changed, however, in 2015 when his wife became sick and close to death. He called his cousin, Ahmad, who had now moved to Canada to tell him how worried he was. In the course of their conversation, Bashir was surprised to learn that his cousin - the same one who had introduced him to violent extremism - had become a Christian. When Ahmad asked if he could pray to Jesus for his wife to be healed, Bashir at first resisted but, wanting to help her in any way he could, he joined him in prayer over the phone.

In the week that followed, his wife began to regain her strength and get better. It was clear to Bashir that his cousin’s prayers to Jesus worked. He then got in touch with a Christian pastor in Turkey. Reading the Bible and participating in prayer groups, Bashir’s anger began to melt away. Both he and his wife became Christians eventually after having dreams about Jesus which they took as a sign that God was inviting them to convert.

Speaking about how becoming Christian has changed him, Bashir said, “There’s a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now. We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.”

Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our Savior has the power to change the hardest of hearts. Even the most violent of men, like Bashir Mohammad, can be taught to love and to forgive when they encounter His mercy.

As Christians, we have to be clear about this truth. No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus. There is no other Way. There is no other Truth. There is no other Life. Jesus alone brings salvation to the world. No one else was sent by the Father to die for our sins. No one else has conquered death by rising from the dead. In fact, there is no other founder of religion who even claims to be God as Jesus does or who claims to have won for us the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus. If we desire eternal life, enduring peace and ultimate happiness, there is no one else we can turn to.

Jesus goes on to tell us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Though God is invisible, He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. When our Lord speaks, it is God’s voice we hear. Therefore, we can understand the mind and heart of our Heavenly Father when we read Jesus’ words in the Bible. We learn that He is a God of forgiveness and compassion who commands us to love one another. In our search for meaning, we do not have to stumble around in the dark wondering whom we should follow. Jesus has all the answers. If we read the gospels, the truth is there for everyone to see.

We do not only encounter Jesus in the Bible, we also receive Him in the sacraments. At the conclusion of today’s gospel, He tells us, “...whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to my Father.” While Jesus’ words are preserved for us in the Bible, His “great works” are passed down through history in the sacraments. Just as He cured the sick, so the power to heal comes down to us through the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. His power to forgive sins comes down to us through the Sacrament of Confession. And in the most amazing of ways, His very Body and Blood continue to nourish us in the Eucharist. We do not have to travel to distant lands to encounter our Savior. He meets us every Sunday right here in our home town.

Saint Peter tells us in today’s second reading: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God. We have a loving Father who looks upon us with love. We are “chosen and precious” in His sight. No matter how seriously we may have sinned, chances are we are not as great a sinner as Bashir Mohammad was. Yet he found mercy and peace in Jesus’ name. The same is true for us. We do not have to go on groping for truth and meaning but can turn to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. He has the words of eternal life. If we go to Him, we can finally lay down our burden and be transformed in love.

(story taken from an article in the New York Times March 25, 2017)