Is Sin a Result of Suffering?

This coming Sunday we will hear about the condition of the man born blind.  Some would believe that this blindness resulted from his own sins or the sins of his parents.  Even today, people come to me who believe that God punishes them with suffering because of their sins.  As a corollary, many believe that they are doing well because they are living a good life.

Yet, Jesus suffered a horrible, agonizing, and humiliating death.  His ministry came to a disastrous end (apparently).  Would we say that this is the result of his own sins?

Then there are the other figures in scripture: Job, Jeremiah, Joseph, and almost all of the prophets suffered greatly at the hands of evil people and natural calamities.  But these stories make clear that they suffered not as a result of their sins.

Jesus sets the record straight.  God does not cause the existential crisis of suffering.  He does not orchestrate our suffering as a result of our sins.  But he works through it.  Jesus makes evident through a visible miracle the infinite and invisible power of his divinity when he healed the blind man.  He also reveals his plans to heal all of us in a final way.  Then, through the worst evil that ever occurred in the history of creation, the killing of the Word made Flesh, Jesus revealed who God really is, in his love, patience, and mercy.

Through this, God cured our far deeper blindness.  This is a blindness that outlasts even the darkness that overshadows us at our death-the blindness of sin and not knowing the God who creates us and loves us.

Reflection for April 2, 2017

Why does God wait?  We experience suffering and times of anxiety.  We call out to God and ask the question, “how long, Lord” (Psalm 13)?  This same expression we can imagine exhaled from the hearts of Mary and Martha when Jesus finally showed up two day after hearing about his friend’s serious illness.  He loved his friend, Lazarus.  Yet he seems to delay.  Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11).

This seems to imply that Jesus should not have delayed.  He should have been there to heal his friend, if he loved him.  Yet, Martha expresses some hope that, in the future, he will be raised from the dead.  She looked only to the future.

Now Jesus says something incredible.  He says that the future reality for which she hoped is NOW present.  He says that HE is the Resurrection!  It’s already here!  During these remaining days of Lent, we reflect on the reality that Lent focuses our attention on the present.  We are in a place of waiting and death.  We are also in a place of experiencing the Resurrection in the midst of it.  So Lent is meant to be a season of joy in the middle of our sorrow.

Jesus was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died.  Why?  “So that you may believe.”  Lent allows us to experience a time of apparent delay.  We beg the Lord to come and refresh us, heal us and our relationships now.  “If he was here we would not have experienced those things that cause us misery,” so we say.  The Lord seems absent.  But then he comes in unexpected ways and displays his power before us…so that we may believe and our belief and understanding of our Lord may deepen.

Religion and Spirituality

During the parish mission that we had this week at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, our mission presenter said something rather interesting about the idea that one can be spiritual but not religious.  One would be hard pressed to hear people say exactly what each word means and how they are different.  Usually, the person seems to say that they believe in a higher power but they don’t follow an “organized religion” (is there such a thing as unorganized religion?).

Our presenter, Mike Patin, was able to frame it another way.  When someone says that they are spiritual and not religious, they mean they don’t need others to connect to God.  If I am spiritual but not religious, I do not see the point of joining any church or group.

When Catholics profess the creed, they say that they believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  The Catholic Church is apostolic because she believes that all that she knows about Jesus, she has received through the preaching of the Apostles.  In other words, everything that we know, do, and say in our faith has been handed down to us over the centuries by the Holy Spirit, through the apostolic church community…through others!  And together we preserve, live and hand on that faith.

Pope Benedict once said that we get to know God by getting to know the people that know God.  Not only that, in some way the human race is like a prism through which God sends his divine life.  And each human person displays a unique color of that divine light.  So, in every person we can see God’s light and certain characteristics of God.

In some way, we can say that we cannot be spiritual without also being religious.  Which is to say that we cannot have a spiritual relationship with God without having a religious relationship with each other.

Lifting Heavy Burdens

How many times have you and I felt like the laws of the Church were like heavy burdens?  The scriptures allow us to see more deeply into this experience.

On October 12, we read from Luke 11:

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

It seems almost comical when the scholars of the law draw attention to themselves.  Without missing a beat, Jesus chastises them as well.  With their words and teachings they imposed heavy burdens but did nothing to help them.

We who know the law, who know what is evil and what is good, also know what it is like to carry the burden of the “flesh.”  On October 12, Paul mentions in his letter to the Galations that we know the works of the flesh.  When he mentions “flesh,” he is referring to that part of us that is sinful and at war, as it were, with that better part of ourselves that wants to do God’s will.

The burden of this war can weigh us down and even crush us.  Those who go to confession with the experience of confessing the same sins over and over again can really relate to this.

The scholars of the law were guilty of making these burdens heavier by failing to acknowledge the great difficulty of living according to God’s will.

Jesus, who is the chief teacher and the law giver, has every authority to impose whatever burdens he wishes upon us.  Yet, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths.  His deep compassion for us moves him to lift more than one finger.  He allows his entire body to be lifted up on a cross to touch the hearts of every single one of us.

In this way, in the words of St. Paul, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5).  Jesus lifts us up with him and helps us carry our burdens so that they do not crush us.  Rather, they become occasions to lean on him.

We can also do this for others by looking for those with burdens and lending a helping hand.

Why Catholics Must Vote

Should the Catholic Church be involved in politics?  Isn’t it supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven?

The answer to the second question is yes, the Church is supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven.  The answer to the first question is yes, the Church should be involved in politics, because the Church is supposed to focus on God and getting to heaven.

This may seem confusing if we think that politics and the mission of the Church are two separate things.  But that is completely false.  Often when we hear the demand, “keep politics out of the Church,” what we are really hearing is “keep God out of politics.”

To be clear, the Church does not teach that it should be the political power that rules our country.  In fact, the Church does not allow clergy to run for political office.  Nor can clergy command people to vote for a particular candidate.

This is because it is not the role of the Catholic hierarchy to identify with politicians or with partisan interests.

At the same time, in the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput:

[The Church] has every right—in fact an obligation—to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice.  In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay “out of politics.”  Politics involves the exercise of power.  The use of power has moral content and human consequences.  And the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community (Render Unto Caesar, Chaput, pg. 218).

For this reason, the Catholic Church serves as a teacher and guide for the holy people of God.  She teaches nothing but the message of Jesus Christ, which belongs in every aspect of human life, including and especially politics.

Then the Catholic faithful, the laity worshiping at Mass, hear that message and prayerfully, courageously, and faithfully apply that message in public life, including the political process.

Jesus said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus made clear that His people are citizens of heaven and of earth.

As we pass through this time on earth, we are on our way to heaven.  Our way to heaven is to help our brothers and sisters on earth.

And we Catholics help our brothers and sisters on earth by rendering unto our political process what belongs to it: our involvement, our influence, and our vote.  And we render unto God what belongs to Him when we vote in order to keep God in politics.

Confession Heals the Unknown Sinner

Confession1In John 4 Jesus sits at the well with the Samaritan woman and has a conversation with her that would transform her for life.  A turning point in that conversation takes place when Jesus tells her secrets about her life.  He knew that she was living in an illegitimate relationship and had been divorced 5 times.

This did not drive the woman to shame.  Rather, she acknowledged him as a prophet.  Finally, Jesus revealed to her who he was: the Messiah.  The woman ran to tell the whole town about him.  She described him as the one who told her everything about her.

Why was she not driven to shame by this man who told her about her little dark secret?  It was because he KNEW her and he was the Messiah.  And the Messiah loves the ones that he knows.

During Lent, we try our best to not hide ourselves from the Lord but allow him to tell us about ourselves, even the darkest parts of ourselves.  You see, Jesus knows you.  And he loves you.  The greatest human desire is to be known and loved.

There is no more powerful way that we can experience that then in the sacrament of confession.  When the sinner confesses, they are telling the Lord what he already knows.  Indeed, it was the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, who revealed to the sinner their sins.  When the sinner confesses before the priest, Jesus listens, knows, loves, forgives, heals, and sends us out to sin no more.

In confession, we are no longer unknown sinners.  Rather, we are known and loved daughters and sons of God the Father.

Chalk the Door for the Three Magi

Three magiA tradition of Epiphany invokes the Magi’s blessing upon the household that hosts the party. Guests typically read a brief, responsive liturgy that includes the biblical account of the Magi’s visit and then “chalk the door” with a series of marks.

The markings include letters, numbers, and crosses in a pattern like this:
20 † C † M † B † 14
The numbers correspond to the calendar year (20 and 14, for instance, for the year 2014); the crosses stand for Christ; and the letters have a two-fold significance: C, M, and B are the initials for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), but they are also an abbreviation of the Latin blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat, which means, “May Christ bless this house.”
I have copied a format for this prayer that you can do together as a family at home to celebrate Epiphany.
Peace be with this house and all who dwell in it, and peace to all who enter here. In keeping the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi’s search for the infant king, the Christ child’s appearing to the world, and the peace and hospitality shared between the Magi and the Holy Family.
Let us hear again the Magi’s story:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him,
“In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

This is the word of the Lord.


Thanks be to God.
(Participants now take turns using the chalk to make part of the Magi’s blessing on the inside lintel of the front door: )
May this home in the coming year be a place where Christ is pleased to dwell.
May all our homes share the peace and hospitality of Christ
which is revealed in the fragile flesh of an infant. Amen.

The End is Near: Part 2

AdventAs we prepare for Advent, we remember that Christ is coming soon for all of us.  He comes to us every day in the form of those who are in need.  He will come to us on the day that we die and we go before his throne of judgment.  Finally, he will come again in glory where God “will be all in all.”

His coming to us is a great mystery that we will forever contemplate.  Yet, this mystery is accessible in very real ways.

For the second week of Advent, I propose several ways that we can enter into that mystery (these ideas can also be found on

On December 8th, we celebrate Mary, the Immaculate Conception.  On this Holy Day of Obligation, we honor Christ our Lord who was conceived in the womb of the one immaculately conceived.  She was conceived without original sin because of the Father’s love for his son, for her and for all of us.

On this day, going to Mass is the most important and necessary thing that we day to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.  We can also decorate a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers.  We can recite the Hail Mary in honor of Mary.  Also, we can read about Mary:

December 9th, we honor St. Juan Diego.  Pray for the protection of migrants and workers.

December 10th, the Church joins with the United Nations by recognizing International Human Rights.  “Let’s pray for Pray in particular today for the life and dignity of the peoples of Africa and read about the Church in Africa, which has almost tripled in size in the past 30 years despite challenges of debt, epidemics, severe poverty, and political unrest” (

December 11th, we can remember that this year we celebrate Consecrated Life.  Let’s talk about in our homes the beauty of consecrated life and the impact that religious brothers, sisters, and priests have had on all of us.  Let’s also pray for vocations.

December 12th, we honor our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.  We can remember how her intervention in Mexico led to the conversion of many.  She also is the patroness of the unborn.  Let’s pray for an increase in respect for all human life.

December 13th, St. Lucy’s memorial is celebrate all throughout the world.  Lucy’s name finds its root in the word “light.”  As a family we can talk about how we can bring the light of Christ to others.

Next week, I will present to you part 3 of this series.

How To Become A Well Fed Sheep

Good ShepherdAre you a sheep or a goat?  It all depends on what nourishes you.

Ezekiel proclaims the message that the Lord says, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez. 34).  The shepherd is one who proactively feeds and cares for his sheep.

Matthew 25 brings together the image of the ruler and the shepherd in one parable.  The Son of Man, seated on his throne as king, will be as a shepherd.  Indeed, he is like the shepherd mentioned in Ezekiel.  He brings together his sheep and gives them their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  The king acknowledges their works in caring for those in need.  He even goes so far as to say that to serve the needy is to serve the king himself!

Yet, there is a twist.

The shepherd who proactively nourishes and feeds his sheep rewards his sheep for proactively feeding and caring for others.  How many of you have heard of sheep feeding other sheep?  Does this entire image fall apart then?  Is Jesus confused?

No, in this story the Lord invites us to probe the mystery of our salvation.

This reminds me of the prayer of St. Francis: It is in giving that we receive.

The sheep who feed others are fed in their feeding.  Caring for others nourishes the sheep.  Indeed, it saves them.

We who are called to be sheep have been created in such a way that we thrive, grow, and are nourished by caring for those in need.  For this reason, the sheep who hear the voice of the shepherd are guided to that nourishment.  And the voice of the shepherd we hear in the cry of the poor, the begging of the hungry, the sobbing of the prisoner, and the chattering teeth of the naked.  Even if we are not aware of it, we are hearing the voice of the king.

The voice and face of the king we can find wherever we find our suffering brothers and sisters.

The goats are the ones who do not recognize the shepherd’s voice.  They do not listen to the voice of the king in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner and the naked.  So they ignore the king.  Perhaps they stayed out of trouble.  Maybe they broke no laws.  But that is a life of saying “no” to doing evil.

Christianity is not a religion of “no” but of “yes.”  It is not a religion that focuses on the things we should not do.  Turning away from the desert of sin is only the first step.  We must also turn to green pastures.  We must listen to the king’s voice, who shepherds us to those green pastures where we are fed by works of charity and justice.

In other words, we say “yes” to all the good works about which the king would have us.  Every day, when we wake up, we can say “no” to sin, and we should.  In addition, we can say “yes” to virtue, especially the virtues of charity and justice.

When we pray at night we can ask ourselves the questions: “how often do I say yes?  How often do I look for the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, and the naked?  Am I proactively seeking to grow as a follower of Christ?  Am I actively seeking out the king in those who are in need?  Or am I satisfied with just staying out of trouble?”

If we are not proactively working for charity and justice we are already in trouble.  No one ever won any trophies for not breaking the law.  And no one will win a life in heaven simply by not sinning.  The inheritance of the Kingdom of God belongs to those who have been blessed by the heavenly Father.  And the heavenly Father blesses those who have blessed his Son, Christ the King, present in the least of his brothers and sisters.



We Are Only as Sick as Our Secrets and as Healthy as Our Confessions

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve Hiding

In preparation for our mission, which will start November 2nd and continue until November 5th, I continue to reflect on the great gift of the sacraments.  Specifically, confession is our greatest aid towards healing of our sins.

We can recall in the book of Genesis of the first sin committed by our race.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve would walk with God in the Garden of Eden.  They enjoyed his presence and all was open.  Then, in secret, the tempter proposed to them an act of prideful disobedience.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

This story is allegorical of course.  Yet, it is a story that teaches us a few very important facts.  At some point, our ancestors disobeyed in a very serious way that the whole human race was plunged into suffering and death.

Also, shame, secrecy, and hiding accompanied this disobedience.  After they ate the forbidden fruit, they fled.  They hid from each other and from God.

This tendency seems to accompany us whenever we sin.  We want to keep them secret.  Sometimes we even keep them secret from ourselves.  Indeed, neither Adam nor Eve were willing to acknowledge their fault.  Instead, they blamed someone else.

There is a saying: “you’re only as sick as your secrets.”

When we keep our sins secret, they behave like battery acid.  They sit on the surface of our soul.  It would seem tolerable at first…even harmless.  Yet, over time the acid eats away at our soul, our joy, our peace, and our serenity.  In this way, our sins become far more destructive then they were when we first committed them.

The shame hurts us and distorts our vision of ourselves.  We tend to beat ourselves up over our sins.  Or worse, we simply get so used to them that we no longer feel any shame, guilt or remorse (a lot of self-help and psychology books suggest this as a solution!)

The Lord knows the pain and the curse of sins kept in secret.  So he gave us the sacrament of confession and set aside human beings to be his ears and his heart…the ordained priests.  Confession is that place where God searches for us and asks, “where are you?” just as he did in the book of Genesis.

It is the place where the grace of Jesus Christ washes away the acid of secret sins.  It is the place where shame is conquered by grace.  And perhaps the most unique advantage of confession is that we get to be ourselves, good and bad, and we experience the loving and accepting company of a fellow Christian, whose unique role is to hold that conversation in strict confidence, listen to us with a loving heart, and help us as we continue to do our best to change our behaviors.

Parish MissionOur mission coming up in November (2-5), will include some time for confession.  Get ready for it now, especially if you haven’t done it for a long time.  Remember that you are as sick as your secrets and as healthy as your confessions.

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