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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.

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.

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 www.usccb.org).

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: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/mary-and-the-saints

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” (www.usccb.org).

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.

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.

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.

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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