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Family Time

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who places the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ~Book of Common Prayer

It is the Divine order that all people live in families. We all have our natural families. We also have our Church family. Yes, the Church is a family. Within that family, the local parish is analogous to our immediate family. It is here where we learn and grow and interact with those closest to us. We rejoice together, and sometimes we weep together. And then, there is the extended family visible in our Ordinariate. We sometimes get visits from our family patriarch, the bishop, who gives us fatherly encouragement and council. Our family expands to include the Roman Catholic Church in its worldwide reach, the fellowship of all believers, and even the communion of the saints. We live in quite a family.

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting so many, schools, restaurants, and other businesses have closed. Other businesses have asked their employees to work from home. It is an opportunity for all of us to focus on doing what families do: Care for one another. Find ways to have fun. Teach our family’s children. And, find ways to reach out to our friends and neighbors through phone calls, facetime, and notes left on our neighbors’ doors.

This is a very confusing time. But one thing is not confusing. God is still God. He has never left us nor has he forsaken us. Therefore, we should not forsake each other.

What is your focus?

“O cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall nourish thee.” (Psalm 55:22)

When I was in graduate school at the University of Dallas, I used to ride my bicycle to school. To avoid heavily trafficked streets, I would take shortcuts using drainage ditches and storm culverts. Once I noticed a large rock ahead of me that I wanted to avoid. I focused on the rock, telling myself, “Be sure and miss that rock.” Of course, I hit the rock and took a tumble.

We are naturally drawn to that which we focus on. When our life has trouble, we have choices. If we focus on the trouble, we will naturally be drawn deeper into the problem. Even small problems can become insurmountable if we dwell on our burden. But, if we focus on Jesus who overcame death, we find peace and strength to overcome our problems. Often, I find that when I stop fretting about troubles and look to Jesus for help, an inspiration will come that helps me out of my troubles.

Everyone I know has burdens. They may be in the form of health challenges, physical limitations, financial issues, relationship struggles, or even addiction. Our burdens can seem overwhelming. But Jesus carried our burdens to the cross. Give your burden to Jesus. Let him nourish you.

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

Out of Darkness into Light

From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. ~ Pope Francis

“In the beginning,” the author of Genesis tells us, “the universe was completely empty and without form.” Into this primordial darkness, God spoke existence into being by imparting himself into the empty void. “Let there be light.” All things in the universe emanate from the energy that is the issue of God. And so this vast space made up of countless galaxies, stars, and planets was born. And God said, “It is good.”

God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 1:5)

This creation epic, which found its way into our Bible, stands in sharp contrast with all other creation stories on two key counts.

First, the Biblical narrative proposes that nothing existed before the universe except God. “You precede all times that are past, and survive all future times.” ~ St. Augustine (Confessions Book 11, Chapter 11) What we now think of as the pre-creation singularity existing in “no-time and no-space” is referred to in Scripture as “the primordial darkness and void.” We might consider this void to be as absolute emptiness. God spoke light into existence, and its radiation expanded creating space and all that exists in the material world.

Pagan mythologies all presume the universe existed before it was created. The earth diver plunged into the eternal sea and returned with primordial mud from which the world was created. The giant beast was slain from whose entrails the world was created. In every case, the world was created from something that was already there.

Second, the Biblical creation narrative demonstrates that time has a beginning, which implies it will eventually have an end. The pagan understanding of time is that it is eternally cyclical. Everything is always repeating itself in the ever-turning wheel of time.

As long ago as 1225, the first attempt to explain the origin of the universe as an explosion that crystallized matter into stars and planets appeared in Catholic theologian Robert Grosseteste’s book De Luce (On Light). That theory was expanded in 1927 by Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, to describe an expanding universe from what he termed “a primordial atom.” Two years later, astronomer Edwin Hubble provided astronomical observations that supported Fr. Lemaitre’s theory of the expansion of the universe and formulated what would be known as Hubble’s Law. The Catholic understanding of the Biblical account of creation became generally accepted by science.

Currently, science unanimously sides with a Biblical understanding of creation and time. Ever since Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs accidentally discovered universal cosmic background radiation, the big bang theory has been the prevailing explanation of the origin of the universe. The theory has been through several modifications over the last 50 years, but four key elements are well established.

  1. Space was non-existent before the big bang (“primordial darkness and void”)
  2. The universe and time began together at a single point transforming no-place and no-time into time and space. (“Let there be light.”)
  3. The universe is expanding.
  4. The universe and time will dissipate and end in icy coldness.

So the universe has its beginning in God, exists in the sight of God, will fulfill God’s purpose for it, and, then, die. While the immensity and duration of the universe is beyond human comprehension, this is the natural order of all things. The universe is not eternal. It was born, and is moving towards its destiny and its end. And so we clearly understand that the universe is not God. The universe is the issue of God, and God is revealed in and through it.

No Dualism

Another common misconception in virtually all religions is that the world consists of two opposing forces. Good battles evil. Right battles wrong. Spirit battles flesh. The world to come battles this present age. While you can certainly find elements of this attitude in Scripture, Christianity by definition is not dualistic.

In fact, an early form of this dualism, called Gnosticism, was one of the first heresies the Christian Church had to deal with. Immediately following the life of Jesus, the Christian Church was firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scripture and tradition. However, as Christianity spread into the Greek world, Greek philosophies began to influence Christian thought. Gnosticism, a heresy that portrayed the spirit as good and the flesh as evil began to have an impact. Among other errors, the Gnostics taught that Jesus was a spirit being. God was too holy to defame himself with flesh. Hence, St. John in his letters to all Christians warns of the presence of “antichrists” and states “There are many deceivers in this world. They do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the lie of the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)

God created the world and declared it “good.” God loved the world so much that he gave us his son. Jesus is God incarnate. God made flesh. The eternal dignified the temporal. Spirit dignified flesh. The world to come is among you in this present age.

When we become Christians, we do not cease to be creatures of flesh and become creatures of spirit. However, we are called to transfer our affections from darkness and the works of darkness into light and the works of God. But we should not think of darkness as some evil power that is out to devour us. Darkness is simply the void that was dissipated with God spoke light in to existence.

There is no substance in darkness. It is only the illusion created by the shadow you cast when you turn your back on the light. By the Word of God, the universe moved from non-existence into full existence – and so do we. To put it another way, there is only God. Whatever is not God is void, destruction, and darkness. “But,” you ask, “What about the devil? Doesn’t the devil have power to destroy us? ” The devil is a liar and the father of lies. The liar has no power. But you have power. You were created in the image of God. However, you can give your power to the liar if you believe his lie.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Imagine you awaken in a dark room. There is a light switch near you, but you choose not to turn it on for whatever reason. Perhaps you are afraid the light will hurt your eyes. So you stumble in the darkness and stub your toe. It hurts. Darkness, though it has no substance, can have a real and detrimental effect on you. But it is not in control. You are in control. You can choose to turn on the light.

Walking in the Light

“Christ is the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” ~ St. John the Divine (John 1:9)

There is one true light and one enlightenment. There is one true spirituality that all people instinctively know. Over time, that inner knowledge became clouded by man-made externals such as philosophies, concepts, rituals, and disciplines. These externals seek to capture and express some aspect of the inner truth that lies within each of us. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the external, not the internal, so they confuse an external (philosophy, concept, ritual, or discipline) with the truth. An external is really meant to be a signpost to the truth. The tendency to confuse external signs with truth has caused divisions and animosities among the people of God. Those divisions deny that essence of God, which is unity. To break free from that trap, we do necessarily need to abandon all externals that give understanding and comfort to so many. However, we do need recognize the externals for what they are.

Imagine someone is taking a journey from Chicago to New York City. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, they see a sign that reads “New York City – 348 miles.” They are excited to see the sign and pull over to stop. They pitch a small tent and say to themselves, “I have arrived.” Passersby find this curious and ask them, “What are you doing here on the side of the road?” The camper replies, “I was searching for New York City and saw the sign. Join me and we can enjoy New York City together.” Soon dozens of tents are pitched around the sign. The people sing, dance, and enjoy great fellowship. Eventually one traveler comes by who says, “This isn’t New York City. It is just a sign.” But they say, “No. Read the words.” The wise traveler tells them, “They are just words. Words are not the reality. They are meant to direct you to the reality. You must continue on your journey.” Soon the angry campers brand him as a heretic and denounce him. “You are not a true believer.”

When the Church first began, the earliest Christians practiced the “daily breaking of bread, fellowship, the apostolic teaching, and the liturgy.” (Acts 2:42) That liturgy was recited in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the apostles. Later, when St. Paul ministered among Greek communities in Greece and Asia Minor, he introduced a liturgy in Greek. In Rome, few early Christians spoke either Greek or Aramaic, so the liturgy was translated into Latin. When the Bible was translated into Latin, it was referred to as the Vulgate, or Vulgar Bible, vulgar meaning the language of the household slave. As time went on, Latin became viewed as the privileged language of Western Christianity.

In the fifteenth century Portuguese missionaries came across a group of Christians in India, whose community had been founded by St. Thomas the Apostle. They were confused by the strange language these Indian Christians used in their liturgy. Actually, they were speaking a form of Aramaic referred to as Syro-Chaldean. In other words, they were celebrating the liturgy handed down to them by St. Thomas the Apostle. Sadly, the Portuguese considered them heretics because they would not celebrate the mass in Latin. The external was more important to them than the rich tradition handed down by the apostle. It took almost 500 years for the Roman Catholic Church to accept the Indian Christians as full members of the Catholic Church and not require them to change their liturgical language to Latin.

Personally, I am a Catholic. I love the Catholic Church. To me, there is no substitute for its beauty, its historicity, and its spirituality. However, as a Catholic I must be careful not to pitch my tent under the beautiful Catholic road sign and mistake its wonderful tradition as a relationship with God. I know many Protestants who love God with all their heart and enjoy his daily presence. I also know Protestants who have substituted a Bible road sign for a relationship with God. And, I know both Protestants and Catholics who delude themselves by giving homage to a self-generated image of God for their own self-validation. One of the reasons I love being Catholic is that the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of faith of all people of good will, even “those whose faith is known to God alone.” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV)

I know people who have rejected all forms of institutional religion in favor of a purely private spirituality. I understand the profound and well-deserved disappointment with organized religion. I appreciate the urge to renounce and separate from it. However, we should not forget that it was these very religious institutions, Catholic and Protestant, which have led the way in education, health care, and humanitarian aid for centuries. What would the world look like without the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, World Vision, and so many others? Who would lead us without such luminaries as Saint Francis and Mother Teresa?

There is no substitute for a personal spirituality. We all must grow in our own personal relationship with God. Yet, if we want our personal faith to have an impact beyond that of our own lives, we must also embrace a corporate element in our spirituality.

The darkness is passing away. The true light is already shining. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 2:8)

The world is divided into so many religions and each religion is divided into so many factions because people have mistaken signs designed to lead us to God with the true reality of God. All people have certain spiritual instincts. Deep inside we know the truth. But most ignore the still small voice deep down inside and listen to the loud shouts of selfish materialism all around us. This usually raises the question, “Do all roads lead to heaven?” Unfortunately, the easiest roads lead us into our own personal hell of unsatisfied desires and self-doubt. Still, God is knowable by all who truly seek him. For us to know God, we need to ignore the shouts and listen instead to the still small voice. For us to continue on our journey to God, we need to listen to the Word that lives in each of us.

“The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that ark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”” Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 845

Our spirits instinctively know God for they are the breath of God. God breathed spirit into Adam and into each of us. Our joy is to develop the ability to listen to the spiritual instinct that God breathed into each of us in order to lead us to him.

Your BFF is With You Wherever You Go

In my spiritual reading recently, I went back to revisit The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite lay brother (1614-1691). In this series of his reflections and letters, Brother Lawrence describes his spiritual walk in God’s perpetual presence. He talked with God constantly throughout the day as if God were always standing right beside him. His book is very short, and free versions are available online. You can read the entire volume in about an hour, and it really only makes one point. But that point is the fulcrum on which the spiritual life balances.

“We ought to act with GOD in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen.” “We should feed and nourish our souls with thoughts of GOD; which give us great joy in being devoted to Him.” And we should, “make the love of GOD the purpose of all our actions, … seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.”

This, of course, is exactly what Jesus promised, “Surely, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is always present with us. We often get so distracted by the cares and concerns of our daily lives that we forget he is there. Brother Lawrence had trained himself to be constantly aware of Christ’s presence through imagination and conversation, and so he lived in perpetual peace and joy.

After my recent re-read of the book, I reflected on the idea of viewing Jesus as my best friend forever – my BFF. It is nothing but joy to be constantly with my best friend, to share my daily experiences, to discuss my concerns with him, and to seek his assistance in all my troubles.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes take our lives to places where we don’t want Jesus to be present. Of course, we cannot leave him behind. We can only forget that he is there, and deal with the shame later. Isn’t It better to keep constant awareness of our best friend’s presence and experience his joy and comfort?

“Many find the Christian life burdensome because they get stuck on doing penances and repeating various exercises but neglect the love of God which is the sole purpose of the Christian life. Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in GOD.”

Your best friend is with you wherever you go – forever. Take advantage of his presence and enjoy all he is for you.

Healing in the Wounds of Christ

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely, he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all
Isaiah 53:3-6

For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

We were captive to sin, but Christ is our ransom. A ransom is the price paid to release one who is held captive. Through Adam’s disobedience, mankind was held captive to sin and death. The only price that could be paid for our freedom was the sacrifice of the Jesus Christ, Second Adam.

He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.1 Peter 2:24

The Hebrew word for “sin” “ra’a” means “broken.” We were captive to brokenness. But Christ became broken for us so that we could be made whole.

Five Wounds

Jesus bore five wounds in his body as his hands, feet and side were pierced. There were five consequences of Adam’s disobedience. They are:

Deception 

Legalism

Fear

Shame

Death

 

Through Christ’s obedience and suffering each of his wounds purifies our souls and heals our brokenness. Let’s look at each one.

Deception

The first consequence of Adam’s disobedience is deception. How did sin begin? Through the deception of the serpent who is Satan, the accuser. How did Adam react? He became a deceiver and an accuser. When God confronted Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then Eve had her own accusation to make, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:11-13)

When you give into someone’s deception, you surrender your power to another. Believe the deceiver and he has power over you. Believe the devil and he has power over you. Refuse to believe his lies, and he has no power over you.

Many don’t want to believe the truth. Its not the way they were raised. They like the lie because it is comfortable. Often, the deception has the momentary pleasure of fantasy.

Mankind is still giving their authority over to the deceiver and the accuser. Even in our own thoughts we can give power to the accuser.

“God doesn’t love me.”
“I’m not good enough to pray.”
“I am bad, so I deserve to be abused.”

Jesus’ wounds broke the power of the deceiver. He sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth so we would be free from the power of the deceiver. Walk with the Holy Spirit, listen to his voice. Believe the Truth. Reject the lie. That is the first step in being healed of our brokenness.

Legalism

The second consequence of Adam’s disobedience is legalism. It was the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. I know what you are thinking, “Isn’t it good to know right from wrong?” Let me ask you this question, “Does knowing right from wrong help you love God more? Or, your neighbor more? Or, does it give you an excuse to be proud and self-reliant?”

If you understand the law as guidelines to help you better understand how to actively love God and your neighbor, then it is a good thing. If you see the law as legalistic rules that if you obey them you can be proud of yourself, it is very bad. Remember, the story of the Good Samaritan how the priest and Levite wouldn’t stop to help the dying man because that would make them unclean. They neglected charity so they could keep the law. Those who meticulously live by the law can become proud and condemn those who break the law. But we all break the law. Some are just more obvious than others. Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and sinners would enter the Kingdom of God before them. Why? Because they know they are sinners. The pharisees commit the same sins in their minds. But since it is on the inside, they think God does not notice. They never repent. We must know we are sinners and come to God humbly in repentance.

St. Paul says, “I know who the worst sinner in the world is, and it is me.” We should all have that attitude. We may think we are righteous, but we delude ourselves.

So the Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would write the Law of God on our hearts, not in some book in black and white print. We live by the law of love in which there can be no pride.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:12

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them     after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:15

Fear

After Adam sinned his first response was to clothe himself and run and hide. He became consumed by fear and shame. Let’s deal with each of those individually.

In Zechariah’s Canticle he prophesies:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. Luke 1:68, 74-75

The Old Testament speaks a great deal about the importance of fearing God. In the New Testament, Jesus commands us to love God. In the Old Testament the sense is that you must keep all the rules and regulations because if you don’t, God will smite you. In the New Testament we are taught that anyone who says they are without sin is a liar.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

Jesus brought grace into the world so that we could worship God without fear. This city is full of people who will not enter a church because they believe God does not want them. They are too sinful. They try to hide from God because if God ever found them, he would smite them. They need to hear the good news, God loves them and forgives them.

The medical term for fear is anxiety. Half of all chronic illness is caused by fear.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he encouraged his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” During the storm, Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” At the transfiguration, Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” At the resurrection Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus taught them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.Luke 12:32

Shame

Shame can drive us to jealousy. Shame can drive us to envy. Shame can drive us to anger.

Shame breaks our relationship with God and each other. It makes us withdraw into ourselves and keeps us from being able to love. I have worked with many people who have been infected with shame through abuse, sometimes very early in life. Many become emotionally frozen. It is as if their emotions are unable to grow past the point of their abuse. They have become locked by shame.

Jesus sets us free from shame.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. Galatians 5:19-22

When people discover Christ’s freedom in their lives, they can begin to grow. It is a journey that requires patience. If there were emotionally frozen as a child or even a young teenager, it will take years of effort for them to go through the normal stages of growth until they can begin to feel as an adult.

To help them in their journey, I often teach them this prayer:

God loves me just the way I am.
God forgives me just the way I am.
God accepts me just the way I am.
Therefore,
I love myself just the way I am.
I forgive myself just the way I am.
I accept myself just the way I am.

Walk daily in the Spirit and Christ will transform your life.

Death

The ultimate effect of original sin is death. The ultimate effect of Christ’s grace is eternal life. But eternal life does not begin when you die, it begins now. Eternal life is not just a duration, it is a quality of life. It is a life that is free from fear, shame, deception, and self-destruction. Why do we do things that are bad for us? Are we trying to see how slowly we can commit suicide? We become addicted to self-destructive behavior because we have submitted to deception, fear, and shame.

Sin is death. It is usually a slow death. God saves us from sin and death because sin by definition is self-destruction. God doesn’t give us commandments and tell us what sin is so he can have a reason to punish us, but because he knows these behaviors are bad for us.

The commandments lead us to life. They lead us to joy. This is especially obvious when we see them in relation to Christ’s commandments.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

All the other commandments are just practical instructions on how to better love God and our neighbor. We don’t pursue the idols of this world because we love God. We don’t steal from our neighbor because we love our neighbor. We don’t covet and entertain jealousy because we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jealousy not only damages our relationship with our neighbor, it damages our own soul and causes us to spend our time, energy, affection, and money on worthless things.

But Christ conquered death. He rose from the grave and gave us eternal life. We have no need to become consumed with the temporal things of this life when we can enjoy the beauty of the resurrection in eternity.

Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer in This Way

The author of Hebrews states that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin. He was not just tempted to sin. Christ experienced every temptation, including every disappointment, every sadness, every rejection, even every abuse that we experience so that whatever we go through in life, Jesus says, “I understand. I’ve been there before. I am there with you now.” He faced all our troubles, our grief, our heartaches and never shrank back from his destiny to bear the wounds that heal our brokenness.

He was rejected by his hometown.
He was betrayed by his closest friend.
He was falsely accused by those who should have protected him.
He was beaten by those he loved.
He was stripped naked and hung out in the open for all to see.
He was executed by those he forgave.

Turn to the wounds of Christ for the healing of your brokenness. He understands. He has been there before. He is there with you now.

Christ Bears His Wounds in Eternity

The wounds Christ bore he took with him into glory. Saint Bede notes that Christ showed his wounds to the apostles to confirm them in their faith. Through his glorified wounds Christ gave them hope for the bodily resurrection. “

Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection of the dead1 Corinthians 15:20-21.

Being assured of our hope, we will not fear suffering and death. We can face the trials and temptations of this life and live victoriously with the hope of our resurrection.

Rejoice, in so far as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation of His glory!” 1 Peter 4:12-13

And, Saint Augustine adds that Jesus took his wounds into glory because they proclaim his victory. Like the battle scars of a victorious warrior, Christ’s wounds are the proof of triumph.

As we reflect on the wounds of Christ. As we meditate upon his passion. As we embrace his suffering. As we obediently surrender to his will. We too, can know the healing power of his wounds and share in the joy of his resurrection.

A Spiritual Boost for Your Marriage

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of the importance and indissolubility of marriage. In a culture where long term commitment is rare, many have given up on marriage. But Jesus has given us a path and a promise. “What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.” There is no stronger bond between husband and wife than the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony. But grace needs to be refreshed on a daily basis. Daily couple prayer is the best way to keep the grace of the Sacrament fresh in your marriage.

A Spiritual Boost for Your Marriage In Five Minutes a Day

 

Opening Prayer (Say this prayer together)

 

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Scripture Reading

A Scripture reading for the day can be found on the US Catholic Bishop’s website www.usccb.org.

Extemporaneous Prayer

Pray for your children. In-laws. Grandchildren.

Pray for each other. Share prayer needs concerning:

Decisions
Health
Work
Home
Finances
Challenges
Individual Needs

Closing Prayer (Say this prayer together)

O God, our Heavenly Father, protect and bless us. Deepen and strengthen our love for each other today and every day. Grant that by your mercy neither of us ever say one unkind word to the other. Forgive and correct our faults and make us instantly to forgive one another should one of us unconsciously hurt the other. Make us and keep us sound and well in body, alert in mind, tender in heart, devout in spirit. O Lord, grant us each to rise to the other’s best. Then we pray you would add to our common life such virtues as only you can give. And so, O Father, consecrate our life and our love completely to your worship, and to the service of all about us, especially those whom you have appointed us to serve, that we may always stand before you in happiness and peace; through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Law or Love

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings

 Reading 1 Dt 4:1-2, 6-8

Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.  Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?  Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5

The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; by whom the reprobate is despised, while he honors those who fear the LORD. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall never be disturbed. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Reading 2 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.  He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.  Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Alleluia Jas 1:18

  1. Alleluia, alleluia. The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.  —For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace  they do not eat without purifying themselves.  And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.  “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

 

I read this week, and you may have as well, about a faux Bugatti. Now, for those of you who do not know what a Bugatti is, it is a high-end European sports car. Well, some Lego engineers with time on their hands built an exact replica of the sports car out of Legos. Side by side, and given a little distance, you can’t tell the faux Bugatti from the real one. But the difference quickly becomes apparent when you start them up. A real Bugatti goes from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds. Its top speed is unknown because it is electronically limited to 261 mph since there are no tires manufactured that can sustain speeds faster than that without exploding. The Lego Bugatti on the other hand is powered by over 2,000 Lego electric motors and has a top speed of 18 mph. As Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, it’s what is under the hood that counts.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus got on well with “sinners” but couldn’t quite get along with religious people. That fact should and does send shockwaves of terror to someone like me who is professionally religious.

It’s easy to look religious on the outside. As a priest I wear religious clothes. I say religious things. But the truth is that we are all like tubes of toothpaste. You never really know what is on the inside until you squeeze it.

How have you been squeezed lately?

Sometimes we get squeezed just driving to work. We get squeezed when relationships go bad. We get squeezed when the mortgage comes due and we are uncertain how to pay it. We get squeezed when our life or livelihood is threatened. We know who we truly are when we observe ourselves when we are squeezed.

I remember a story I had read as a child a variation on Cicero’s story of Damocles, about a poor man who wanted to be king for a day. The king granted his wish provided he did everything the king did for an entire day and night. He was surprised at how busy the king was during the day, the problems and decisions were almost too much to bear, but the food was good and overall he thought being a king wasn’t so bad. Until it came to bedtime. When he climbed into the king’s bed he was terrified to discover that a sword hung over his heart supported only by a thin thread. The king explained that the king is surrounded by people who speak well of him, some sincere, others not, so it is very important that he never lose sight of his mortality, that his life, like all others, hangs by a thread, and he must one day give an account.

A priest can hear a lot of good things said about him. But I cannot take those to heart. Because I know that there is no sinner on the planet greater than myself. It is only by God’s grace that I am not another Hitler or Stalin or Mao. There is no one more in need of God’s grace than me. And my soul could be required of me at any moment. On that day it will be evident to all and to myself who I really am.

So how do we live our lives so that only good comes out when we are squeezed, and we are always ready to meet God in judgement?

Do you remember the first reading? The exhortation that flows from this is to live from the inside out. One has to receive the word interiorly, be regenerated by it. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves” (Jas 1.22). Only when we are honest with our selves will we allow the word of God to change us. Only then does the doing come: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1.27). Here we see moral action in its proper place – as the fruit of interior regeneration and devotion. As Jeremiah prophesied, God would write his law on our hearts.

It is too easy for us as modern Catholics to become like the Pharisees, keeping score by externals and not by the heart of our neighbor. We are sometimes quick to condemn others or ourselves because they or we do not meet our external standard. Someone missed mass. That’s a mortal sin. Well, maybe they were caring for their sick neighbor who needed a ride to the hospital. Someone doesn’t give a tenth of their income to the Church, that’s stealing from God. Well, maybe their aging parent needs special care they are struggling to pay for.

There are those who say we should be stricter about the rules. We should be more like the pharisees. Have strict standards and require everyone to meet our standards. I understand there is a petition going around demanding answers from the holy father. Pope Francis is appointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. Do you really want to become his interrogator? Isn’t that what the Pharisees were to Jesus? “Why do you eat with unclean hands?”

There are those who say that the interior law is too easy. I propose it is actually much harder.

It’s difficult to preach this without being labeled a libertine. But I will take that chance because that is the gospel. There were 613 laws in the Old Testament of which washing hands was only one. But Jesus summarized the Law into 2 commandments. Love God. Love your neighbor. In every situation ask yourself this question, “How does love apply?” Has someone wronged you? How does love apply? Are you confused by all the accusations being slung at the Catholic Church and the holy father? How does love apply? Are you thinking you should just go ahead and quit church altogether because there is corruption and infighting and lies and sin? How does love apply?

Beloved, this is not the time to be quitting. This is the time to be healing. Sometimes healing hurts. How does love apply? Sometimes love calls for defending your loved one to those who badmouth him or her. How does love apply?

We are all going to have many chances in the coming days to participate in gossip or ridicule or judgement against the Church established by Jesus. I know it is wounded. I know it needs healing. So please, be a healer.

 

Jesus is our Daily Bread

The first reading is a snapshot of Israel in the desert. They are doing what they did a lot in the desert, complaining. “We enjoyed meat in Egypt,” they complained. “Now we are starving to death in the desert.” First, God brought them to water, but the water was bitter and undrinkable. So God directed Moses to put a piece of wood in the water, a foreshadow of the cross, and the water became sweet and refreshing. Then, they wanted meat, so in the evening God sent them a flock of quail to give them meat.  And in the morning, God sent them manna.

As the Israelites left their tents in the morning they saw that instead of dew, the ground was covered with a white substance. They all looked outside and said the same thing, “What is it?” “Manna” is Hebrew word that means literally, “What is it?” To this day we do not know what manna was. We can tell from the Biblical narrative that it was some form of carbohydrate that was stable enough to be baked into bread, but so spoilable that it only lasted one day. So, each morning, the Israelites would gather enough manna for one day’s use. It was “daily bread.” And since it fell from the sky, it was also “bread from heaven.” The Bible even describes how it tasted, “like a honey wafer.” So, it must have been pretty tasty.

This week’s gospel picks up where last week’s gospel left off. Remember last week that 5 loaves and 2 fish multiplied to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. Seeing the miracle, the people wanted to make Jesus king by force, but he slipped away and prevented it. Jesus sent the disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a boat while he went to pray. Then, in the stormy night, Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water. The crowd who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes took to their own boats in the morning and came to Jesus and his disciples. They were surprised to see Jesus there since they knew the disciples had left without him. It would seem a tribute to Jesus for them to pursue him like that, but Jesus had no ego that needed stroking. He knows they did not come to him because they wanted him, but because they wanted what Jesus could do for them.

That strikes pretty close to home, doesn’t it? How often do we come to Jesus not because we want him, but because we want something from him? “Jesus fix my finances.” “Jesus fix my body.” “Jesus fix my relationships.” If things don’t work out the way we want, we get angry with God. Even if we determine God has indeed answered out prayers, we are thankful for a moment, then we put him on a shelf and forget about him until we need something from him again.

That was why Moses was so frustrated with the Israelites. They wanted to be free from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 15, God parts the sea and sets them free. But by Exodus 16, they are complaining that they are hungry and want to go back to Egypt where they had plenty to eat.

In last week’s gospel when Jesus worked the great miracle, the crowd doesn’t ask Jesus, “What do you want us to do?” Instead, they want to tell Jesus what to do. They want to control Jesus. So, in today’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowd, “You didn’t come to find me because you want to entrust your lives to me, but because your bellies are full. Do not live for the bread that perishes, but for the bread that lasts for eternal life.”

As a culture we are angry with God for allowing world hunger. If God is a loving god, why doesn’t he just turn all the stones into bread. That is what the crowd wanted. “See what you can do, Jesus. End hunger forever.” But that is not Jesus’ purpose. Instead, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus is to bring us to God. To nourish us with God. And then, empowered by the love of God, dealing with world hunger is our responsibility.

Jesus is the manna. The bread which came down from heaven. The daily bread that sustains us each day. That needs to be refreshed each day. To partake of the daily bread, is to do the will of Jesus each and every day. The crowd asked, “How do we accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered, “Believe in the one He sent.” “Trust the one He sent.” Entrust yourselves to the one He sent.”

To believe is to trust. To trust is to entrust our lives into His hands. And, Jesus adds, daily. Daily take up your cross. Daily follow Jesus. Daily choose to be His disciple.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

We are not just temporal beings. We are also eternal beings. Yes, we need temporal food and temporal drink. But more importantly, we need eternal food and eternal drink in the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. As we come to the table today, recognize the eternal food and drink that brings us to eternal life. Not in some magical way, “I received communion, therefore I am going to heaven.” But in real conversion and transformation. Nourished with this spiritual food, we are empowered to do the will of God today and every day.

Feeding of the 5,000

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.  A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish feast of Passover was near.  When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”  He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”  Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.  When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”  So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments  from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.  When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”  Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone. (John 6:1-15 NAB)

 

Imagine you are young boy in the midst of a huge crowd and someone comes up to you and says he wants your lunch. What do you think? What do you do? But suppose that person says, “Jesus wants your lunch? What do you do? Would you give him your whole lunch? Does it make you happy to give your lunch to Jesus?

In this gospel we meet one of those unnamed characters whose response to Jesus changes the world. Up until this moment in Jesus’ ministry, the crowds have been growing. They are excited about Jesus, but they have been wondering about him. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) But this little boy gives everything he has to Jesus, and that act becomes the catalyst for a miracle that changes everything. Suddenly, everyone knows Jesus is the Messiah. They actually say, “Surely this is the Prophet.”

We need to back up and explain that phrase. The title “The Prophet” as opposed to “one of the prophets” refers to a specific prophecy attributed to Moses. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18) By Jesus’ time this prophecy was understood as referring to the Messiah. That a prophet as great or even greater than Moses would come and teach the truth of God with authority.

Recognizing Jesus as The Prophet, The New Moses, The Messiah, the Second David, the crowd presses to make Jesus king, if necessary against his will. But Jesus will have none of it, because he has already exercised his kingly authority. They just didn’t recognize it.

When the young boy cheerfully gave all he had to Jesus, Jesus took the bread in his hands. He lifted the loaves up to heaven. He gave thanks “eucharist”. He broke the bread. He gave it to his disciples, and instructed them to feed the multitude. Before the Last Supper, Jesus has instituted the Eucharist in the context of hungry people going about their daily lives.

Jesus doesn’t need to be made king. He is King, not just in church, but in our daily needs and hungers.

You may be thinking, “That doesn’t sound like my life. I seem to experience a lot of needs and hungers, but not much of Jesus being King. Of him multiplying my meagerness. Of Jesus filling me to overflowing until there are 12 baskets left over.” Then the Holy Spirit is saying to you, “Cheerfully give Jesus everything you have.”

The young boy joyfully gave Jesus everything he had. “Take it all, Jesus. I’ll be okay.” And the miracle happened.

What hunger do you have in your life? Jesus wants to satisfy that hunger. With joy and cheer, give Jesus everything, and the miracle will happen.

He is All I Need

In Ephesians chapter 1, St. Paul writes, “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us IN CHRIST with every spiritual blessing.” What do those words mean, “in Christ?” We know what it is to be in a house or a car. If you are like me you know what it is to be in trouble. But what does it mean to be in Christ?”

This morning we sang a song. In fact, we sing it every Sunday, unless it’s Advent or Lent. “Glory be to God on High, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” You have probably been to churches where they sing it a little differently. In the Roman Missal it goes, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will.” Which is right? Quite frankly the Greek is difficult to translate. Both are acceptable. But peace is literally granted “among mankind of good pleasure.” Who are these people? Well, quite frankly it is one person. One man. Jesus Christ. Remember what God said at Jesus’ baptism and again at his transfiguration. “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is the man of God’s good pleasure.

So where does that leave us? We are recipients of God’s good pleasure if we are “in Christ.” The New Testament uses two ways to illustrate that. One is the expression of Christ’s body. We are members of Christ’s body. We may be a hand or a foot, or a liver. A more modern writer might say we are all cells in Christ’s body. But we are all parts that come together in Christ to make up Christ. A second illustration the New Testament uses is that of the living temple. We are living stones that come together to form Christ’s living temple. The Shepherd of Hermas, a second century Christian work, talks about angels chipping away at us, removing our worldliness, so we can be fit in properly to make a strong tower.

Both of these illustrations show how we are “in Christ.” We are parts of His body, living stones of His temple. The same Spirit that lived in Jesus now lives in us so that we can do the works of Jesus in the world in a very limited way as individuals, but when we come together, in an immensely powerful way.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts.  They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.  He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.  Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”  So they went off and preached repentance.  The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:7-13)

 

Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. He gave them very specific instructions. Take nothing with you but the clothes on your back and a walking stick – no food, no backpack, not even spare change to make a phone call if you get into trouble. In Luke’s version of the story Jesus doesn’t even allow sandals, but Mark mentions sandals specifically. This leads me to believe that Saint Mark and I have something in common. At one point in our lives we stepped on scorpions and we never want to do that again.

So, they are sent out completely empty-handed. All they had with them was the spirit of Jesus. So as they walked to their first village, they sang a song. . I happen to know the song, I used to sing it when I was a kid.

♫ “He is all I need. He is all I need. Jesus is all I need.” ♫

So two disciples would enter a village. They would go to the marketplace because that was where the people were. In an age before refrigeration, people went to the marketplace every day. They would begin to preach. As they preached the Word of God, the Spirit of God would start to move. The disciples began to pray. As they prayed, people would be healed. Demons would be cast out. Then when it started getting dark they would say, “We need a place to stay.” If someone let them in, they would pronounce a blessing of peace on the household. If they were treated well, the family would be blessed. If they were treated badly, the family would lose their blessing. After they had been there awhile, they would move on to the next village and do it all over.

♫ “He is all I need. He is all I need. Jesus is all I need.” ♫

That’s the key. That is why Jesus sent them out empty handed. He knew that if they went out in total dependence on him, they would go in the Spirit and Power of Christ. They would go forth in the Father’s good pleasure. They would go forth “in Christ.” If they had money and time, they would have built fancy churches and invited people who were too busy to come. Instead, they just did what Jesus did. They went into the marketplaces and preached and watched miracles happen.

Now I’m not against money. It is a good thing to have money in the bank when the mortgage comes due, or your car needs repair, or kids need braces. But when it comes to enjoying the Father’s good pleasure, all you need is Jesus. Anything else just gets in the way.

Some of us have been so desperate that nothing money could buy of any help. Only Jesus could come through for us. And so we sing the song.

♫ “He is all I need. He is all I need. Jesus is all I need.” ♫

And Jesus came through.

And if we are honest, that is the way we are every single day. Deep down inside we need the peace that only Jesus can bring. We cover it up with the distractions money can buy, but we can’t fill the need for peace in our lives until we sing,

♫ “He is all I need. He is all I need. Jesus is all I need.” ♫

As we come to the Eucharistic table, all we will receive is Jesus. And if he is all we need, that is enough.