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.

Tired of Saying “Sorry?”

Divine Mercy Confession

The Sacrament of Confession

It is quite sad to hear about people that have lived their entire lives without truly getting to know the Lord and doing His will.  Yet, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of them as they return to the Lord, even if they have only days or hours to live.

What a holy and awesome privilege I have had as a priest!  I share in the joy of Christ our Lord when his servants return; the ones, when asked by God to do his work, said “I will not” yet, in the end, changed their minds and served (Mt 21).

This reminds me of a movie depicting the story of St. John Bosco.  He was a very holy priest who served underprivileged juvenile delinquent boys.  Throughout his mission, a government official opposed him because he believed that there was no hope for the boys except to keep them in prison.

At the end of his life, as he laid on his bed, sick with grief and guilt, he called out for St. Bosco to visit him.  When St. Bosco went to him, the government official repented and confessed his sins before the holy priest.  After St. Bosco absolved him the official cried out, “I am so sorry for all that I have done against you!  I deserve punishment!”

St. Bosco replied, “nonsense!  At this very moment, at the end of your life, you have outdone me in virtue!”  St. Bosco had a very powerful sense of the great mystery of mercy at work in this old man who lived a life of bitterness, yet, like the servant who said, “I will not serve,” he served the Lord in the end.

He served the Lord, in his remaining hours of life, by helping St. Bosco advance his mission for the youth and for the advancement of holiness by assisting in forming some very important administrative aspects of it.

St. Don Bosco

St. Don Bosco

We know now that St. Bosco would formalize this mission into a religious order known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales, also known as the Salesians.

Our Lord, for our sakes, works quickly for our healing and forgiveness.  The Psalms say that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in mercy and love (103).  Do we believe this?

Do we truly believe that the Lord’s mercy to us is limited only by how much we trust in it and ask for it?

Pope Francis, in his first Angelus address to the world said that the Lord never tires of forgiving us.  Rather, it is we who are tired of asking for forgiveness!

One of the reasons we tire of asking for forgiveness is shame.  We cannot bear the shame of facing our sins for what they really are and the damage they really do.  So, like Adam and Eve, we hide from God.

We can forget that our God is loving and that when he looks at us in our sins he does not see what we might think he sees.  He definitely does not see us the way we see ourselves.  Sin has a way of distorting our view of ourselves and of life in general.

When we sin, we might only see ourselves as worthy of punishment and nothing else.  Yet, the Lord sees the one he created, the one he has known from the beginning, the one in whom he has placed his love and the one who he wants to be happy.  He sees the one for whom he has many dreams and beautiful plans.  He sees the one who bears the features of his only begotten son, Jesus.  He sees his own adopted child, whom he takes as his own and will never let go…yet will not force them into his embrace.

He knows how good we are and he knows how bad we are.  Every time we sin, how does he respond?  The Lord says that if one “has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ez 18).

This is what St. Bosco knew and saw when he looked at the youth in prison.  He saw this also in the government official.  By the way, he sees us in the same way. How wonderful it is to be under the loving gaze and care of the saints!

So, our greatest challenge is to put aside the shame and turn away from a life of sin.  We must do this daily.  In the morning we can ask the Lord to help us especially with those sins with which we struggle the most.  We can also ask the help of others who love us for who we are, such as good friends and family, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, like St. Bosco, and the angels, especially our guardian angel.

Most importantly, the most effective way to be healed of our sins and change our way of life is the sacrament of confession.  In confession we do the opposite of hiding.  We open ourselves up and bear all before Jesus.  We have no need to hide.  Let the eyes of your heart see Jesus in the priest in confession, just like the government official did.

It is sad to think of those who said they would do God’s will and then don’t do it.  It is sadder to think of those who said they would not do God’s will, don’t do it, and never repent.  We can enjoy the Lord’s mercy here and now as long as we never get tired of asking for forgiveness and striving to live a better life.

Recreation and Mission

Parish MissionPerhaps you may have heard that Resurrection Church will have a mission November 1-5.  What is a mission?  It is a time of rest and recreation for all of us as a parish.  It is an opportunity for us to do what I talked about last week…take a break from the work of the Lord to spend time with the Lord of the work!

It will be a time of comfort, conversion, and community.  The theme this year will focus on our rich life of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  This will be a great time to get to know a little more about your faith and take that brief time every evening to pray just a little bit more.    It’s also a chance to enjoy some snacks and refreshments while spending time with your fellow parishioners.

Fr. Tony Judge

Fr. Tony Judge C.Ss.R.

What’s more, Fr. Tony Judge C.Ss.R. will be leading the mission.  He has years of experience of leading parish missions and retreats for parishes all over the nation.  He also offers the mission in both English and Spanish!

I want to tell you a little secret about myself.  Every year we priests are required to go on a retreat.  Every year that I go, there is a part of me that does not want to.  Why?  Because I have so much to do!  I’m so “busy!”

Yet, once I arrive I can feel all the noise of my life calm down.  After I leave from retreat, I feel renewed, refreshed and refocused.  Priorities become clearer and I gain the necessary perspective to let go of things over which I have no control.  I experience serenity.

This mission coming up in November is your opportunity to experience the same.  Each evening beginning November 1-5, you can experience the serenity that helps you refocus on the most important thing in your life, your relationship with Christ and His Church!

(P.S.  child care will be provided)

Prayer, Rest and Recreation…nice

Rest and RecreationHow many times have we said to ourselves that we just need to get away from all?  And yet, at the same time, how many times have we said that we need a vacation after our vacation?

Indeed, we often feel tired when we go on vacation and we feel tired when we come back.  Sometimes we also feel sad that our vacation is over and we don’t have the motivation to really get back into it.

What’s happening here?  I propose to you the possibility that we need two things: rest and recreation.

Isn’t that what a vacation is?  Not necessarily.  A vacation is where we go somewhere else.  We vacate our places at work or home and go somewhere else.  Yet, a vacation does not necessarily help us rest and recreate.

To rest means to stop using or slow down the use of those parts of us that we are constantly utilizing in our labors.  This can be our minds, our hands, our ears and our mouths.  To recreate means to RE-CREATE what has been destroyed or exhausted as a result of our extended labors.

I submit to you that out of the many ways that we can rest and recreate, there is one that guarantees us true rest and recreation: prayer.

You and I have many opportunities to enjoy this form of rest and recreation.  We constantly do the work of the Lord.  We should also spend time with the Lord of the work!  Daily prayer, Sunday Mass, and an annual retreat are great ways to rest and recreate.  In fact, when we go on vacation, we can spend a few hours in silent prayer by going to a park, fishing, hunting, or sitting at the beach.

This is especially important as the holidays approach.  In the midst of the excitement of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can prepare, in advance, time for spiritual rest and recreation during our vacation.

The Glory and the Cross

Christ on the CrossWhen we think of the glory of God, certainly we can imagine the angels and saints in radiant splendor, offering up to God praise and thanksgiving.  We can imagine a majestic house of worship bedecked with fine jewels and a towering throne upon which sits the Son of the Most High.

This is a fitting image for the glory of Christ our King when he returns again.

At the same time, we know that the glory of the Lord means the Lord shows himself for who he really is.  We might be surprised what happens in John 13.  As Jesus sat with his disciples to share his last supper with them, and he gave himself at that moment in the Eucharist, Judas left to commit his act of  betrayal against him.

Then immediately after that, Jesus says, “now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

How is he glorified?  How is he showing to the world who God really is?

At that moment, he did not refuse obedience to God the Father.  He gave of himself even to the point of experiencing betrayal from those closest to him.  Indeed, the hour of his great glory took place on the cross.

Stretched out in a horrifying way, Jesus bears witness to his glorifying love, and that of the Father for his children.  He loved us and loved us to the end.

Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the Exultation of the Cross this Sunday?

Do You Have the Right to Judge?

In my experience, when someone says to another that they did something morally wrong, the other sometimes responds, “who are you to judge?”  Indeed, who is anyone to judge?

I remember when I was at Texas A&M in College Station, I was part of a group of students who would work pro-actively for an increase in respect for all human life from conception to natural death.

Planned Parenthood imposed a powerful presence that stood against that respect because of the abortions that were performed at their facility in Bryan, Texas.  See the figure below if this is news to you.  Abortion kills a child and ruins the life of the woman as well as the family and friends involved.

Planned-ParenthoodOur pro-life group heard rumors that those in charge of Planned Parenthood were gathering for a meeting to discuss plans for expanding their operation.  We decided to act in defense of innocent children, who have no voice, by standing by the public roadway that led to the building in which they were meeting.

We did not yell.  We did not spit.  We did not cast slurs.  We prayed the rosary and held up signs that expressed clearly and charitably the beauty of life and the evil of abortion.

As we did this, a woman, ostensibly a member of the Planned Parenthood gathering, walked up to each one of us and handed us a sliver of paper.  On it I read the words: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Mat. 7).

I felt a bit angry.  First, I thought that she was judging me.  How would she know what I thought about her?  How could she interpret that I was judging her if she did not hear me say that she was going to hell?

Second, this was, and still is, a common response given by some defending abortion.  They say we should not judge, instead of really addressing the issue.  Isn’t abortion killing a child?  Doesn’t it really lead many women to depression, child abuse, and suicide?  Shouldn’t the life of the unborn child be protected under the law as it is for every other person.

Yet, I am happy that it was a good moment for me because I still did not yell or respond in kind, although I could have done so.  I believe God’s grace had taken over.

At that time I simply said, “we are not judging you.  We are simply telling you the truth.”

Who am I to judge the soul and the conscience of anyone?  I am not the one to judge.  In the words of St. Paul, I can’t even judge myself.

At the same time, the Just Judge commands us in Matthew 18: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

He even says that if one were not to listen to you, take him to another person and try to resolve it.  If that doesn’t work, bring him before the whole community.

This seems harsh and judgmental, doesn’t it?  Well, it certainly is not judgmental if we understand what it means to be judgmental: to presume to know the heart and thoughts of another person and judge them as worthy or unworthy of heaven.  That’s it.  We are obligated to judge in other ways.  To live a moral life we must judge between right and wrong, vice and virtue, sin and grace.

And Jesus makes us responsible to judge those same objects in the actions of others.  This is definitely one of the more uncomfortable teachings of Jesus.  At the same time, it can be the most beautiful.

How so?  If we are not judging the consciences of each other, than we are not condemning each other.  Instead, we are loving each other.  This love motivates us to want what us good for ourselves and the community.  It makes us willing to judge the actions of others and respond with loving correction.

In this context, correcting another person for their faults should be very unpleasant business.  It reminds me of when we see a friend walking down the hallway with their pants’ zipper open.  We are embarrassed to say something and when we say it, the other is embarrassed as well.  But in the end, everybody is better off and your friend would hopefully be grateful and not defensive.

No judgment.  No condemnation.  Just a simple statement of fact: your fly is open.

Correcting each other, if done with love, is a merciful act (it’s one of the spiritual works of mercy).  It involves an act of cleaning each other of the sin that sometimes we cannot see or want to see on ourselves.

In my experience, my closest friends are those who are willing to endure the awkwardness of correcting me.

Do you have the right to judge a person’s conscience?  No.  Do you have the right to correct your brother with love?  No, you have the duty.

John the Baptist and Iraq

The beheading of JBapIt appears that in some places not much has changed.  Herod beheaded John the Baptist because of his witness to the truth of his unlawful and incestuous marriage.

Today, especially in Iraq and Syria, IS literally beheads Christians because of their witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, news outlets in the United States speak little of this horrendous persecution.  What Christians are going through in that region dwarf the persecutions under Emperors Diocletian and Marcus Aurelius in ancient Rome.

There are a few lessons to be learned here.  First, religion was not, is not, and will not ever be a private matter.  This is especially true of the biblical religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  They believe in a God of history, a God who is intimately involved in the lives of human individuals, communities, and entire civilizations.  Part of his involvement includes divine law which guides how we are to live together.

Because of this, biblical religions, if they remain faithful to the public aspect of their faith, will always influence everyone around them even if they claim that religion is strictly private.

This leads to a potential for great and transformational good as well as great and destructive evil.  Jesus Christ calls his disciples the light of the world and a leaven of the Kingdom of God.  This means that Christians are to influence the world by bringing the light of Christ to bear on all.  This takes place through gentle charity and mercy in both words and deeds.  It includes a civil aspect in that Christians must engage in the public sphere of politics and institutions in order to be that transformational leaven.

Because of that, the history of the world shows how Christianity forever shaped and molded the entire world.  It also shows how the influence of Christianity threatened the existence and power of those who wished to impose other kinds of orders.  These powers include the governments of Ancient Rome (initially), Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia.  Christianity diametrically opposed, by it’s very existence and mission, the worldviews and influence of these powers.  This is especially true in the case of the Catholic Church, which exists as a tangible and global institution.

In these cases, this diametric opposition motivated these powers to deal with Christianity in a most brutal matter–oppression, forced conversion, and murder.  Since much has been said about Christians doing the same in it’s own history, I need not do more than to mention it.  I propose only to concentrate on the topic of Christian persecution because of current events, which are under-reported.

In Iraq and Syria, non-Muslims, especially Christians, are slaughtered by the thousands and driven out of their homes by the 10′s of thousands.

children-iraqThat this takes place in the modern world shows the need for constant vigilance in maintaining a culture of friendship and religious tolerance based on the dignity of the human person and the recognition of religion’s place in the public sphere.  It also necessitates strong opposition to all forms of religious persecution by the media, the public, and governments.  Such opposition should include the possibility of the use of force in the form of sanctions, blocking of resources, and diplomatic pressure.

Let us pray for the end of all religious persecution, a growing friendship among Christians and Muslims, and peace among nations.

The Cross vs Satan

What would you say is the hardest thing about being a Christian?

I would say that the hardest thing about being a Christian is that it is so hard!  Sometimes we are slow to admit or quick to forget the cost of following Jesus Christ.

We are in good company.  Jesus called Peter “Satan.”  Which in the Greek text translates into something like, “stumbling block.”  Peter stood in the way of the Messiah’s mission by denying the most powerful part of it: his suffering for our sake.

Also, denying the place of suffering in the Messiah’s mission denies the place of suffering of those who follow the Messiah.  For this reason Jesus makes it very clear that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (MAT. 16).

Temptation of ChristSatan stands in the way of the cross–both Satan the devil and the spirit of Satan in the minds of Christ’s disciples.  Indeed, the devil tempted Jesus three times to deny the way of suffering as Jesus fasted in the desert (MAT. 4).  The devil entered into Judas Iscariot when Judas exchanged his own cross for 30 pieces of silver (LK. 22).  However, in the end we know that the cross of Christ triumphed over Satan through the Resurrection.  The apostles embraced the cross and followed Jesus all the way to martyrdom!

Thankfully, we have the help of Christ and his apostles in accepting the cross.  We know of the Resurrection.  We know of the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know of the great joy of the apostles and the saints.  From their writings and examples we know of the great gifts that we receive through faithfully embracing the cross of discipleship in our life.

For example, we read in John 19 that Mary and John stood at the foot of the cross.  Mary accepted the cross even before the Resurrection.  We see now that she who was closest to Jesus at the cross is now the closest to him in heaven.  For that reason we can always call upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary for help (especially by praying the Rosary).

Like Mary, when we embrace the cross, Jesus helps us bear our sufferings and we help Jesus bear his.  Like John, when we accept the cross we enjoy friendship with Jesus and Mary.  We experience their suffering at the cross so that we may experience their joy.

We can do this everyday.  First, we can pray before a cross everyday that we may embrace our own crosses.  This also prepares us mentally for the suffering we will experience that day.

Helping NeedySecond, we can ask the Lord that we may share in his suffering by sharing in others.  This goes directly against Satan.  The devil rules hell and hell is a place of suffering in isolation.  Yet, you and I can be heaven for those who suffer from sickness, loneliness, poverty, and marginalization.  We can ask the Lord today to help us seek out those who suffer and to be with them, listen to them, love them and help them.

In these ways the cross of Christ defeats Satan and brings us the victory of life and joy!

 

Prophecy Causes Indigestion?

JeremiahI say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (JER. 20).

Jeremiah struggles to speak in the Lord’s name because of what it costs him.  Many mock him because of his message and perhaps because of the way that he delivers it.  He must “cry out.”

Indeed, serving as a prophet of the Lord can cause us great difficulty.  Perhaps the example of parents with their children illustrates this.  I visited one family where a mother of many struggled to remind her teenage children of their obligations to serve in the community.  This particular family took responsibility for cleaning the streets in their area.

For some reason, perhaps because of the characteristic foolishness of youth, they preferred to walk the streets like gangsters rather than clean the streets like Christians.

Yet, she spoke with so much force and passion, that they would ultimately obey, even as they complained while they did it.  I personally believe that they also listened to their own consciences and acted on their natural ability to do good.

Many times, the people to whom the Lord sends a crying prophet do not listen and do not obey the Lord.  What is a prophet to do?  If one is truly dedicated and open to the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can stop such a one from speaking on the Lord’s behalf…not even themselves.  Like Jeremiah, to be silent when they are prompted by the Lord to speak can be painful, like fire in the heart.

I like to call this “holy indigestion.”  May we all be filled with such power so that we can prophecy the Lord’s message of love, mercy, repentance, and service!

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