Mary’s Birthday

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“Let us celebrate with joy the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom was born the Sun of Justice…. Her birth constitutes the hope and the light of salvation for the whole world… Her image is light for the whole Christian people” (From the Liturgy).

September 8th is a day the Church celebrates the birth of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. It’s interesting to know that the Church celebrates three births in the Liturgical Calendar. I am sure you will immediately think of the birth of Jesus as one! The other two are: John the Baptist on June 24th and Mary’s on September 8th.

We would certainly understand the reason for celebrating the Birth of Jesus, the Christ, and John the Baptist served as a forerunner of Jesus, baptizing people as a sign of their repentance.

The Dictionary of Mary contains this entry on the birth of Mary:

“Her birth is ordained in particular toward her mission as Mother of the Savior. Her existence is indissolubly connected with that of Christ: it partakes of a unique plan of predestination and grace. God’s mysterious plan regarding the incarnation of the Word embraces also the Virgin who is His Mother. In this way, the Birth of Mary is inserted at the very heart of the History of Salvation.”

The origin of the celebration of Mary’s birth as a feast day in the Liturgical Calendar began in Palestine. Crusaders built a church over the house of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Ann, in Jerusalem, between 1131 and 1138. The church was consecrated and named after St. Ann.

The Church of St. Ann is the only Crusader church built in the 12th century that is intact and still used today as a place of worship and pilgrim destination. There are two levels. The lower level, or crypt, has parts of the original Church built in the Byzantine period over the home of the maternal grandparents of Jesus. Nearby a beautiful, colorful Icon of Mary’s birth can be seen.

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I have visited this Church during our pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It’s very simple with its massive, high stone walls. There is a sense of warmth and welcome when you walk in, knowing that this Church was built over the site of Mary’s birth.

To the left, candles burn by a white statue of St. Ann with Mary as a child.

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Pilgrims will light candles asking the intercession of both Mary and her parents.Toward the front is Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence. Small wooden benches invite visitors to pray in silence.

As we think about Mary on her birthday – today or on any day – think about her simplicity and immense love for God. And think about her as the Mother of God, who longs for every person to experience her Son’s mercy and consolation.

“If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.” – Saint Maximilian Kolbe

 

Becoming Fully Human – a Sign of Contradiction

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“Presentation At the Temple” by Andrea Mantegna, c. 1455 “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign of contradiction (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34)

In today’s first reading we see that Jeremiah regrets his call to be a prophet because it has caused him so much anguish. And yet, when he decides he will no longer be the Lord’s messenger, he discovers he cannot hold the message within himself. He has a burning desire to speak the Lord’s name. It is not possible to truly love God and not be His servant.

In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Romans not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be converted to a new way of thinking and living in relationship with God. Like Jeremiah, it is in their desire to do the will of God that they will discover the purpose of their lives.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer, die and be raised from the dead. In the previous text, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But now, using his own logic, he rebukes Jesus because he said he must suffer and die. Jesus tells Peter he is an obstacle to the plan of God because he is only thinking as a man. After this encounter with Peter, Jesus tells his disciples what is necessary to follow him. Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Those are the perpetual conditions for faithfulness to God; from Abraham, to Jeremiah, to St. Paul, to you and me and everyone in between and forever. Those of the Old Testament would not have understood about the cross, but they did understand about denying themselves and placing the will of God first.

Of course it is Jesus himself who defines what carrying the cross means. Jesus, truly God and truly man in obedience, submits his will to the will of the Father. Jesus, the Word of God, who participated in creation, allows lowly creatures to humiliate, torture, and crucify him for the sake of the salvation of humanity. Jesus proves the wisdom of God is beyond our comprehension and that His ways are not our ways. Nevertheless, he expects the wisdom of God to transform us.

As St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed to ruin, but to those of us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God.”

It is for this reason that Jesus makes the cross the condition of discipleship. It is under the weight of the cross; our trials, afflictions and difficulties in this life; that we truly recognize that we need the Lord’s help. Our trials are an opportunity to draw close to God and receive the grace that will sustain us. Our challenge is to not look so much at ourselves and our trials, but to focus on Christ.

The more we look at our suffering, the bigger it becomes and our imagination magnifies it beyond reality. We can spend many anxious moments worry about things that never happen, which reflects our lack of trust in God. In our prayer we may not receive every thing we want, but we will receive what we need; that is a promise from Our Lord. It is a beautiful thing to discover that suffering is not just meaningless pain, but that it has great value in God’s plan and is redemptive.

A few years ago I visited a woman in the hospital who had terminal cancer. Even though she was in much pain in the advanced stages of her illness, she thanked God for her cancer because she said it helped to save her soul. Her illness gave her time to assess the direction of her life and to draw close to God.

The suffering we experience is not only for our purification, but for the Body of Christ. Again St. Paul gives us his insight. In his letter to the Colossians, he says. “Even now I find joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” Christ’s suffering was perfect and the means of salvation for all humanity, but his suffering was not complete in the fact that he continues to suffer in his body; the members of his Church. And when we unite our sufferings with his they become redemptive.

Of course discipleship is not only about suffering. It is about discovering God’s great plan for us so that we can reach our highest potential for happiness in this life. We do that by not just living for ourselves. Our vocation is not about us. It’s about entering into a personal relationship with God which allows us to discover our gifts and His plan in which we will use those gifts. That requires that every day we spend some time with God. We all have twenty-four hours each day and the way we spend that time says a great deal about our relationship with God.

If we are to become spiritually mature we must frequently deny ourselves. We cannot eat, drink, work, sleep or do anything to excess without harming ourselves physically, spiritually and relationally. When we live only to please ourselves we are an obstacle to God’s plan and to our own happiness.

Every vocation, religious, married or single, finds its beginning and end in God and depends on the grace which He offers us in abundance through the Church and her sacraments. No matter who we are, how old we are or what we have done, we can become a faithful disciple of the Lord because of his goodness and grace, by making a firm decision to believe what he has revealed through the Scriptures and the Church and to follow him as Our Lord. We begin with the sacrament of reconciliation and make a commitment to pray daily and read the Scriptures, make an effort to know and love Jesus, continue to be formed in the faith and to share your faith with others in word and service, and make every effort to overcome sin and grow in virtue.

St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist once said, “The glory of God is man fully human.” We become fully human, fully alive when we deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

When Boldness Bears Fruit

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“Christ and the Canaanite Woman” by Jacolpo Palmer the Elder (1480 – 1528)

There is a story of a woman from Canaan that heard about Jesus. In her desperate concern for her daughter’s healing, she ran after Jesus calling out “Have pity on me, Lord, ..! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus doesn’t respond immediately and others around Him were ‘bothered’ by the woman and asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus appears to be harsh at first (you have to read the entire passage in Matthew 15:21-28), but he does so in order to strengthen the woman’s faith.

Her perseverance is recognized by Jesus and he tells her “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

This story is a good lesson for us all. The woman’s confidence in Jesus whom she believed was the Messiah, and her boldness bore fruit – her request for her daughter’s healing was answered.

The woman’s boldness came from her deep humility, her love for her daughter, and her trust that Jesus could heal her daughter. This is a good formula for our prayer as well. We must recognize our insignificance in our relationship with Almighty God, and that God who is almighty still desires us to have a personal, intimate relationship with Him.

We begin by recognizing that we need God, not only for our own well being but also for the people we love and share our lives with. Humility will lead us into obedience to the Word of God, and obedience will be the source of the hope we long for and the peace that only Christ can give.

Let us remember this story of this woman from Canaan; our faith and trust in Jesus will bear fruit. 

“Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.”
(
St. Jose Maria Escriva, The Way, p. 101)

Becoming Human the Catholic Way

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“First Steps, After Millet” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh

Learning what our Catholic faith teaches does not always have to mean trying to figure out on our own how to put deep theological insights into our everyday lives.

Why?

Because we are blessed with many Catholic thinkers and authors who figure it out for us.

I discovered this recently for myself. You see, my life has become exceptionally busy. My schedule has multiplied with many good things, so I am not complaining . . . . too much.

But it became apparent, as weeds started sprouting in my garden beds and dog hair accumulating along the baseboards with not a minute to spare to pull and sweep, that I needed a plan. Things were out of balance. So because I learned through my Catholic reading the importance of balance for a Godly life, I went about finding a way to remedy the situation.

I hired a landscaper and housekeeper, my thirteen year old son. I knew it would not be long as school floated into summer that he was going to start asking for money. So, I decided I could use some of the tips from Catholic parenting books on raising virtuous children and teach him the value of work and money while benefiting myself in the process.  

It has worked out beautifully except for one thing. A few weeks into this new arrangement, I began to feel strangely disjointed. I would not have been able to explain it before, but now I realize that what I was missing was a connection I once had and no longer enjoyed.

It was in reading a book by one of this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference speakers, Emily Stimpson, that I discovered why. She writes in her book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, that humans need to move their bodies in participation with God’s creative plan in order to be fully human. She says it does not have to be anything extraordinary; we just need to use the bodies God blessed us with to create a ‘good’ on a regular and consistent basis.

It made me wonder if this was true in my life and I realized that I was not moving my body parts as much as I had before. And even though the writing I am producing and the conference I am coordinating do participate in God’s creative plan, the sitting and staring at the computer screen is not the motion that completes the deal.

I decided to test her theory by giving myself one do-able project each week that I could complete from beginning to end that would:

  1. Move my body
  2. Participate with God by creating a ‘good’ for others (my family, the world, or both) and
  3. Fit into my very busy schedule

My first project was to weed the garden beds. I told myself, no going to the nursery to buy more plants, no trimming hedges, no getting distracted and piling on more than I have time to handle. It took only an hour and the beds looked clean and beautiful. The next weekend, I cleaned out one closet and put clothes we no longer wear in a bag for St. Vincent de Paul. An added ‘good’ was when my husband came home thrilled that our walk-in closet once again lived up to its name.

What did I learn?

That disjointed feeling I was experiencing disappeared. What I had missed was using all of me: soul, mind AND body. Yes, it is a little thing, but it is a little thing with Eternal perspective. And in a world that loves to complicate, I learned a simple way to live for God by being fully human in the very everyday circumstances of my life.

So as you make your summer reading list, do yourself a favor and add a few Catholic authors to it. It is very possible you will find the answers to whatever is just not quite right in your everyday life.

“What If We All Prayed for Just One Person?” + Radio Prayer Service for Middle East

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I am tempted – and perhaps all of us in the U.S. are tempted – to allow headlines regarding tragedy in the Middle East to “go in one ear…and out the other”.

There is just so much tragedy.

Oftentimes, we feel overwhelmed by life’s events — whether in distant lands, or in our own homes and offices. In those times, I’m reminded of Mother Teresa’s words: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” That goes for everything — clothe just one person, hug just one person — and pray, too. If you can’t possibly pray for all the suffering people in the world, pray for just one.

In fact, it was only after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, that I realized the Christians there are not just statistics. They are Johnny the tour guide with a sharp wit, Hanan the gracious relief worker, Rabab the singing English teacher.

Today I received an email from Brother Stephen, who works at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. He was passing along the news that one of the university’s graduates, Hashem, a husband and father of two little girls and a boy, was killed while peacefully protesting the violence in that region.

There are many stories like Hashem’s — of one person who is in need of prayer.  What if we all joined together and prayed for just one person?

For Hashem…
or for Ayham, his 11 year old who is now ‘man of the house’…
or for Sharna, the 23 year old pregnant mother killed in Gaza…
or for her baby girl, who was delivered by emergency C-section…

As Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders. Do it… person to person.” So we will. Please join in a special prayer service this week:

Live Radio Broadcast: Prayer for Our Brothers and Sisters in the Middle East
on Catholicism Live! hosted by Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
8:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Central Standard Time)

We invite you to have a crucifix or image of Christ with you, as you listen and participate. Together, let’s follow the example of our shepherd Pope Francis, and these holy bishops:

“Let us pray much for peace in the Middle East: please pray!” – Pope Francis

“We cannot be Christian but to be for the other.”
– Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash, Syriac Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance

“I believe in the effect of prayer even though in the immediate moment we don’t feel any result. We have to continue tirelessly to pray for peace.” – Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

“The whole church of the Middle East is a church of Calvary. Do not leave us alone.”
– Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal

“Pray for us.” – Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako (Iraq)

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“John Donne Arrives in Heaven” by Stanley Spencer (1911)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and to a pearl of great price. When they are discovered, the one who finds them sells all he has to acquire them. The point is the value of the kingdom of heaven, which leads us to the last comparison; the net thrown into the sea. At the end of the age all humanity will be gathered together and some will be invited into the kingdom of heaven and others will not.

As Jesus says in another place, “Where ever your treasure is, so also will your heart be.” Mt.6:21. Those to who the kingdom of heaven was of primary importance during their life and who were faithful witnesses of their love for God and neighbor will receive their treasure in heaven.

In the first reading we see that Solomon answered wisely when God offered to give him whatever he asked for. When he asked for an understanding heart so that he could serve God and His people better, God was pleased. In his heart, Solomon was not far from the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he was prophesying what Jesus would tell us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Mt. 6:33. These words from Jesus are the light that will guide us into his kingdom. They are the fulfillment of the Two Greatest Commandments; we must love the Lord Our God with all our mind, Heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. When we order our lives to God, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, even in the midst of suffering.

So we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure? What are you willing to give everything you have for? One resource that we all have equally is time. Every one of us has 24 hours each day and how we use that time has a great deal to do with our proximity to the kingdom of heaven.

I have heard people say they do not have time to pray. What is it that you are doing that you can do without God’s help? It is His love that sustains us, allows us to take our next breath. It is said “No prayer means no faith,” because prayer is our connection to God, and without faith we have no real hope.

We are all aware of the terrible things that are happening in the Middle East and Africa. There will be more martyrs in this century than in all the other centuries put together. Right now there are Christians living in Mosul, Iraq, being told they have three choices: they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax and leave their home, or be killed. Because of this, the Patriarch of Mosul said the city is empty of Christians for the first time in Two thousand years. In Syria, young Christian men are being crucified among other atrocities. This violence against Christians is not something that is passing; it is escalating.

Bishops in the Middle East wonder why the rest of the world is silent as Christians are being persecuted. We may not have to shed our blood for our faith in this country, but there is a growing hostility to Christianity even here. When our culture accepts and promotes immorality as normal, it sees Christianity as an adversary.

Even in the Holy Land which is sacred to the three major religions there is much tension. At the end of our pilgrimage two weeks ago we spent an additional three days in Jerusalem to pray and visit friends. Though life is difficult, they want to remain there because of their faith and their love for the land. Presently there is less than one and a half percent of the population that is Christian. They tell us that the most important thing we can do for them is to tell people in the U.S. that they, the Mother Church, the descendants of the first Christians, are still present in the Holy Places and they need our prayers and they need us to come there on Pilgrimage because their survival depends on the presents and prayers of pilgrims.

There is an urgency for those of us who take our faith seriously to increase our prayer time, fast and make sacrifices as people have done in the past when faced with great conflicts. Wars have been won when multitudes have joined together in praying the rosary.

Jesus closes this Gospel by asking, “Do you understand all these things?” Like Solomon, let us pray for the gift of understanding, but also for the greater gift of faith, because by faith we are often called to believe that which we cannot understand. The Scriptures and the Church will guide us into the kingdom of heaven if we believe what has been revealed to us and then act on what we believe.

Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice. The question we must ask ourselves is; does our faith influence all the important decisions we make?

Encountering Christ in Prayer on the Via Dolorosa

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Imagine carrying a six by four foot wooden cross on Via Dolorosa (Latin for the Way of Suffering), commemorating Christ’s passion as He walked carrying his Cross from the Antonia Fortress not far from the Temple through the streets of Jerusalem, and then to Calvary. Remembering our Lord’s passion and His walk to Calvary has long been and continues to be an ‘active prayer’ in Jerusalem. Many pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa each year.

Today, Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem has Roman numerals on bronze disks along the walls of buildings marking the way the Lord carried His cross.  Each Roman numeral signifies a “station”. For example, the First Station, “Jesus takes up His Cross”, is marked outside the ancient ruins of the Antonia Fortress.  There are fourteen Stations of the Cross, the first nine are along Via Dolorosa and the last five are in the Holy Sepulcher Church built over Calvary and the area of the Tomb of Christ.    

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My husband and I just led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where all the pilgrims had the opportunity to carry the large wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa.  Some of the marked Stations have small chapels maintained by various religious communities living in Jerusalem such as the Franciscans, the Armenian Catholics and Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus founded by Charles de Foucauld.

One morning, Tom and I were walking along the Via Dolorosa with a dear friend living in Jerusalem, we were planning to have coffee at the Austrian Guesthouse near the Fourth Station.  Our friend who is a devout Catholic with Armenian roots invited us to visit the Fourth Station Church under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Church dedicated to the Armenian genocide that occurred around 1915.  The church’s crypt marked the site of the fourth station where Jesus met His Mother as He carried the Cross to Calvary. The foundation, part mosaic from the 5th century, had a pair of ‘sandals’ marking the spot where Mary stood.

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On the other side was a section with a modern sacred art piece with the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a unique monstrance.  There was a large rug for kneeling, a few chairs and a religious nun praying.  We decided to spend an hour with Jesus there in silent prayer, adoring Him in His Eucharistic Presence.  I thought… “Lord!  I am here with you in a special way where you met your mother on your way to Calvary!”  Tom and I enjoyed our quiet one hour.

Meanwhile, on the upper level, life went on along the Via Dolorosa.  Muslim women were purchasing fresh vegetables and pastries to prepare for their Ramadan meal after Sundown, tourists with open maps wondering about, a group of Italian Catholics praying the Stations of the Cross, and the market along the Via Dolorosa open for business.

The Son of God in His Eucharistic Presence was present in silence only a few yards away.  Our hour with Jesus on Via Dolorosa will be one I’ll always remember.

To learn more about the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, visit the Franciscan Website (Custody of the Holy Land).

Want to experience a journey to the Holy Land?  Contact us!

Entwined in the Walking

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But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Is. 40:31

What does that mean, “wait on the Lord”?  It sounds like I’m waiting for Him to solve my problems.  So I looked it up.  The Hebrew word for “wait” literally means to “wrap or entwine oneself around” – like a rope that is wrapped around a pole.  Perhaps the emphasis of this statement is not so much upon the activity of waiting, but the object of waiting.  It is about the Person we are waiting on – wrapping our lives around Our Lord at the center. 

Think about it.  We all wrap ourselves around something or someone. For some of us it’s alcohol, food, drugs, illicit sexuality, the internet, owning the latest and greatest (fill in the blank here….car, house, trophy wife…), or the pursuit of any other number of false gods and graven images in our lives.  The problem is that all of these have a shelf life for filling the hole in our soul and eventually end up draining our vitality rather than renewing it.

And what about the rest of the statement?  Sometimes we fly through Life.  The song from “South Pacific” comes to mind: “I know how it feels to have wings on your heels and to fly down the street in a trance.”  At these wonderful times we seem to “mount up with wings like eagles.” Then there are those times when life is more like running (running to or away from something), “they shall run and not be weary.” But if we’re honest, most of the time life is simply a matter of walking and perseverance, “they shall walk and not faint.”

Missionary and author, Dr. John Oswald Sanders has something to say on this:

“The hardest part of the journey is neither the start nor the finish, but the middle mile. There is the enthusiasm of a new undertaking that buoys you at the beginning and there is the thrill of reaching the goal that carries you down the home stretch; but it is the middle mile—when you are a long way from the start and home is still distant—that tests the mettle of the traveler.” 

And we are all travelers on this journey to Our Heavenly Jerusalem.  As a new (and enthusiastic) convert to the Catholic faith, this daily decision to put the Lord at the center of my life has made all the difference.  Praise be to God – I no longer run the race alone.

Why did Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you”?

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Jesus’ words to the crowd on the Mount of Beatitudes are often quoted because they sound so “nice”, but we can miss their deeper meaning if we fail to put them into context:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

Do these words just make Jesus a nice guy — or is there something more?

If we looked for all the occurrences of “yoke” in the Old Testament, we’d see it closely associated with

  • a heavy burden
  • oppression
  • slavery
  • force

When an animal or a slave wore a yoke, they were controlled by a master and bore a heavy burden. They were objectified and used.

Turning back to Jesus on the Mount of Beatitudes, who has just revealed himself as the Son of God to the multitudes gathered around him, he now extends to them an invitation: “Take my yoke upon you…” Jesus’ yoke is the direct opposite of a typical yoke in every respect. He offers his listeners a choice:

  • not a heavy burden, but light
  • not oppression, but ease
  • not slavery, but rest
  • not force, but a choice

“Take my yoke upon you…” is God looking at the tortured, burdened slave, pointing to their heavy yoke, and saying, “I offer you freedom. Will you trade that yoke for mine?”

But how can freedom be had whilst wearing a yoke? This is Jesus using irony to make a point: we can only be free if we are yoked to God — if we walk side-by-side with Jesus. We can only be free from our slavery if we learn meekness and humility from Jesus.

Jesus wants us to ask ourselves: To what am I yoked? What drives my daily decisions? Have I been yoked to my fears? To an endless to-do list? To self-consciousness? To bad habits? To sins? To comfort?

We can only remove those yokes by God’s grace, when we trade them for the only yoke that frees us: the yoke of Christ.

Homily for SS. Peter and Paul, Apostles

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We celebrate this feast of Saints Peter and Paul because they were the two greatest leaders of the early church and heroic witnesses of what they believed.

Paul’s conversion is the most remarkable in the New Testament. He was a zealot of Judaism and persecuted the Church – trying to destroy it. One day the Lord’s presence knocked him to the ground and changed his life forever. It was Jesus Christ Himself who taught the Christian faith to Paul and used his zeal to spread the faith to the Gentiles.

The conversion of Peter happened over a period of time as he witnessed the teachings and miracles of Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and Jesus told him and his brother Andrew that he would make them fishers of men, when he saw them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And, so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what ever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We look to Peter as the first Pope because he was the first bishop of Rome, granted the status of leader by Jesus Christ.

Paul’s primary purpose in life was not to be a Pharisee zealot, nor was Peter’s to be a fisherman. They were both called to be witnesses to the Gospel, even to the shedding of their blood. Along with the other apostles, they are included in our profession of faith. I have seen where the remains of both of them have been entombed in Rome. The tomb of St. Peter is of course under the altar dedicated to him in St. Peter’s Basilica. The tomb of St. Paul is under the main altar in the Basilica of St. Paul.

Another church of St. Peter that has a special significance for me is a church built over what was the house of St Peter in the town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first time we went to the Holy Land in 1984, my wife Mary Jane and I met a young widow from Italy who was staying at the same place we were. Her husband had recently died and she came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She was so moved by her experience that she decided to stay there and devote her life to prayer. It was a few years later that she decided to use her inheritance to build a church over the archeological ruins of the house of St Peter. That church is built in the shape of a boat and part of the floor is Plexiglas so that you can look down into the ruins of St. Peters house.

Since then, millions of pilgrims have entered that church and prayed there, and thousands Masses have been celebrated there. What she did was a great thing for the mystical body of Christ. We may not be able to do such a profound thing as she did, but we are all called to be generous with what we have for the sake of others, as a testimony of our trust in God’s providence.

When we think of the deaths of Saints Peter and Paul we may be reminded of the age of martyrs in the early years of the Church, but we also must know that we are living in the age of martyrs right now. There have been more martyrs in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than in all the years before. This century looks to be the worst ever with what is happening in the Middle East. Young men are being crucified in Syria among the other atrocities that are happening to Christians in that region and parts of Africa, and yet for many people in this country life goes on as if God does not exist.

There has been turmoil in every age. However, we know from Church history that the course of events have been when changed when people turn back to God and pray with great fervor and tend to the needs of others. Let us hope that history will show that the challenges we are now facing will be conquered by a collective turning to God and fervent prayer.

This feast day is not for Saints Peter and Paul, who now live in the glory of God; it is for us – to remind us of the price that these saints and millions of others have paid to keep the Faith alive for us. No matter what our career is, that is not our first purpose. Like Peter and Paul and all the saints, we also are all called to be witnesses of our faith for our own good and the good of others. We are charged with carrying the Faith into the future. There is nothing we do during the course of the day that is more important than spending time in prayer, and yet we have heard many people say they do not have time for prayer. If we do not pray we will not discover God’s plan that would allow us to reach our potential for happiness, and we will not be contributing to the wellbeing of our society and the world.

God’s plan for humanity will only be realized when our relationship with him is more important than our careers, our possessions and our politics.