Monthly Archives: January 2012

Are you under Jesus’ authority?

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"The Sermon on the Mount" by Fra Angelico

The ministry of Jesus was unlike any other because he spoke with authority, the authority of God, and he performed miracles revealing his power over nature, sickness and evil. Jesus uses his teaching authority and his miracles so that the people might believe in him as the Messiah. However, he does not want the people to look to him as a political leader who will deliver them from the Roman occupation. His teaching is always about the Kingdom of God; about our need for conversion, to turn away from sin and to be faithful; to love God above all things and our neighbor as our self.

When the Apostles heard Jesus, they immediately left everything and followed. There were others who were attracted to Jesus just because they heard of his miracles, and hoped he would do something for them. And then, there were those who refused to believe in him and looked for an opportunity to prove he was an imposter.

They all heard the same thing and saw the same thing, but their response was different. It is for this reason that Jesus frequently taught in parables. The parables were an invitation to look deeper and to believe, and not be among those who had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, and hearts that would not be converted.

The same is true for us today. We all hear the same Gospel, we all have seen or heard of remarkable things that can only be explained as God’s intervention and our responses are quite different. So the question that has eternal consequences for each of us is, do we believe Jesus is God and do we want to follow him? Do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?

Our Lord knows that our fallen nature is an obstacle to faithful discipleship; that we are inclined by our nature to be selfish. For this reason, He said we must deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him. Knowing how difficult this is for us, He pursues us and gives us opportunities to discover His Love and mercy. Sometimes an addiction can rob a person of all hope and they finally turn to God and begin life anew. It may be serious illness or financial difficulty that causes a person to realize they need God. It may be through a retreat or a pilgrimage experience that a person is awakened to the presence of God and then begin to commit their life to prayer and the sacramental life. Or perhaps it is a simple challenge to wake up and take God seriously.

About thirty years ago, someone asked me if Jesus was the Lord of my life. I don’t remember my response, but in my heart I knew I should say no. I went to Mass every Sunday, but gave God little thought after that. Did I, or did I not, want Jesus to be the Lord of my life – and did I want that to be reflected in the decisions I made in every area of my life? That thought haunted me for a while before I decided to do something about it. Within a week or so, I bought my first Bible, joined a prayer group and began to spend time in prayer every day. Those three decisions began to reshape my life and created a desire to draw close to God. My wife, Mary Jane, had the same desire and we started going to daily Mass and becoming more involved in our parish.

"Crucifixion" by Fra Angelico

We know from our personal experience that there is a great difference between knowing about God in a casual way instead of having a desire to know God in a personal way and wanting to be faithful to what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. Our relationship with God brought new joy to our marriage and to our life in general. God has a great plan for all of us, but He must be in the center of that plan.

This is where we return to His authority. We all are tempted to do things our own way. We would like to know the minimum we must do to be a Christian so that we can get on with making our own plans. If we only want to do the minimum, we have eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear and hearts that do not want to be converted. God’s plan for us requires our total surrender, so that He can guide us to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity. If we think we can find our greatest happiness without placing God first in our life, we are mistaken. Most people try it and experience much sadness and unfulfilled purpose.

The Lord knows our struggles and for this reason He established His Church so that we have access to all the grace we need to be faithful and intimately connected to Him. In baptism, we become children of God and receive the theological gifts of faith, hope and charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – and we have the capacity to become saints. In the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, we encounter Christ in a personal way when He forgives our sins through His priest and gives us His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine, so that we might be transformed into His likeness. He has given us all of the sacraments to strengthen us and provide the grace we need to overcome sin and grow in virtue – for our own good, and the good of the Church.

Jesus is still alive in His Church and He still speaks with authority and He still works miracles. For our part, do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?

This was Deacon Tom’s homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B), Mark 1: 21-28, preached at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.

What It Really Means to Choose ‘The Better Part’ – Reflecting on Martha and Mary

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"Christ in the House of Mary and Martha" by Vermeer

My big plan this evening was to sit down, meditate on Scripture and then write an inspirational blog about staying close to Christ in everyday life. The Scripture reading I selected to quietly mediate on is the Gospel story in Luke 10:38-42:  The story goes . . .

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

My big plan was diverted as soon as I sat down. My eleven year old son walks up to me with two math worksheets in his hands, tears in his eyes and that “I don’t get this” frustrated look on his face.  Filled with pity for his predicament, I push my lap-top aside and help him for what turns into two hours of teaching and consoling.

We are now both exhausted.  My son plops on the couch and relaxes.  And here I am left on my own staring at a blank screen with a spent brain. I can feel the self-pity and resentment start to rise inside when a gentle voice consoles me, “You chose the better part.”

Hmmm.  You see, what we often miss in this story is that it was not that Martha was doing the wrong thing by working and asking for help, and it was not that Mary sitting instead of working was the right thing.  It was that Mary was focused on Jesus and Martha was focused on herself.

Do you ever wonder what happened between Martha and Jesus after He spoke to her? Did she walk off in a huff?  No, because whenever we have a personal encounter with Our Lord we are transformed.  I imagine that she let out a big sigh, as she was emptied of her anger and resentment, and that her shoulders relaxed as peace filled her to the brim. I imagine they smiled at each other, and Martha went back to her work with the joy that only the experience of being close to Christ can bring.

We lead busy lives with so much pressure on our time and talent; but if we want to be happy and feel purpose to our lives, we must stay close to Christ.  There are many different ways we can fit Our Lord into our busy work week:  meditating on the Rosary, impromptu praying, attending a daily Mass or sitting in Adoration for a couple of minutes between errands.  In so many ways, He calls us – and all we have to do is listen.  This is choosing the better part.

A New Wife’s Plea – Husbands: Lead Your Wife in Prayer

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I have been married for just over two weeks and already, I am learning about the importance and meaning of my husband’s leadership role in our new family.

As Catholics, we hear that our calling from God – our vocation – is the way of life in which we become the ‘best versions of ourselves.’ While my husband and I have both clearly begun to thrive in marriage, Dan’s newfound strength is clear.

One of the areas in which Dan has begun to shine is prayer. Whenever we sit down to eat, he leads our prayer of thanks. Each week, he leads me in the Rosary, reflecting on the coming Sunday’s Gospel. Before Mass, he asks that we leave early so that we can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). On Saturday nights, he leads us in a prayer to give thanks for the Sabbath Day. During our meeting times, when we discuss budgeting and planning, he leads us in prayer asking for God’s direction. The list goes on.

When my husband makes it a point to lead us in prayer for our day, our meal, our worship, our money management, our relationship, etc., it sets a tone. And that tone, when repeated throughout the days and weeks, becomes a sacred rhythm for our life together. I don’t know if I’d be as peace-filled and joyful as I am, without Dan leading us in constant prayer. My tendency to be a worrier and constantly obsess about future obligations, commitments and potential problems has been tamed. I firmly believe that this has happened by God’s grace, through Dan’s willingness to be God’s instrument.

So, why does a husband have such influence? Clearly, I’m not an expert at being married. But from my collective experiences as a human being, I have witnessed the power of a man’s influence. Haven’t you? The many families torn apart when fathers choose to leave. Little boys learning how to treat women by modeling their fathers. Little girls learning their worth by their fathers’ actions toward women. From one of my grandfathers, I learned that the absence of a father can leave a perpetual wound in a family. From my other grandpa, I learned that the commitment of a father can teach generations of descendents to treasure life, family, and virtue.

Men and women, equal in dignity and worth, are not called to be the same. While both can lead and teach the same meaningful lessons, men and women lead and teach in distinct ways.

That is why I have a plea to all husbands: Lead your wife in prayer. Take the initiative.

It was no mistake that God came to earth as a man. He came to lead us! He says that in order to be his disciple, we must “follow” him. He calls the apostles as a leader would: “Come and follow me.” We humans needed – and continue to need – a strong leader. That is why God came as a man! Jesus is called the King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Good Shepherd. Prince of Peace. These are all leading roles.

The best model of masculinity is Jesus. And each married man, St. Paul teaches us in Scripture, is called to reflect Christ.

Portrayal of Christ as Bridegroom, giving himself up for his Bride

St. Paul teaches us that husbands are called to lead, since Christ leads the Church:

As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:24)

(Don’t get stuck on the word “subordinate.” This doesn’t mean the wife is devalued, since Paul compares us wives to the church, which is holy – the Body of Christ! Rather, a subordinate is someone who has a leader. This is what husbands are called to be.)

Husbands are called to sanctify their wives in the Holy Spirit through Scripture:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Husbands are called to love and give themselves to their wives, since this is what Christ did.

So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.“For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Dear husbands, your wife needs you to lead her. Lead her especially in prayer. This is Christ’s mission – to lead His Bride, the Church, back to God – and it is your mission. Lead your bride to God.

Dressing for God?

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When I was younger I wanted my mother to buy me the latest designer clothing and I was so disappointed when she wouldn’t get it for me.  I thought if I had the latest fashion, I would get noticed.  Yes, I’m sure I would but how long would that last anyway? And would I get noticed for the right reasons?

As I got older I realized why my mom didn’t buy me the coolest or hottest fashions.  For one it was expensive and secondly she felt it wasn’t the appropriate attire for a girl my age to wear.  She would say that when I got older and made my own money I could buy and wear whatever I wanted.  Well I’m older now and those things just don’t appeal to me anymore.  They don’t seem important at all.  I learned to accept my modest way of dressing and realized that it wasn’t really that bad.

I’ve noticed now that young teenagers wear a lot more risqué clothing than when I was growing up.  Some of the things I’ve seen girls wear make me blush and wonder how their parents let them out of the house with what their wearing.  What happened to decent clothing?  I don’t mean clothing like Laura Ingle on Little House on the Prairie, which is clothing that covers everything on your body with no part of your body exposed. 

I recently read the book Dressing with Dignity by Colleen Hammond and she really had some valid points that made me start thinking.  In her book, I learned that the Vatican has guidelines for tasteful dressing.   I also learned that Padre Pio would not allow women come to church in low neck dresses or short tight skirts.  If he saw the women and teenagers that come to church these days he would flip.  I know it’s easier to conform to the way everyone else dresses; But, what if God were shopping with me, would I really buy the clothes I’d like or would I get something that was both modest and feminine?   Instead, I’m guilty of thinking, “What can I buy that will look nice and perhaps get me noticed.”  Am I the only one who thinks this way?  I can’t be the only one who thinks this way?   If you are like me, then let’s change our way of thinking.   The next time we shop let’s think, “What can I wear that will please God?”

Beginning the year with Mary

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Miraculous Medal Chapel Altar

Well, truly, how many of us would say that our first resolution of the new year is to begin it with Mary, the Mother of God? I would have answered years ago by saying, “I don’t know Mary, how can I really go to her in the first place?” After experiencing her maternal intercession several years ago, my answer has changed to one that would choose her anytime, everyday and most especially as I begin the new year.

The reality is that she is our mother, whether we know her or not. Last November, I had the opportunity to lead a pilgrim group of 56 pilgrims on a Marian Pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes and the Shrines in Paris. One of those Shrines in Paris is dedicated to our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. There Mary appeared to a young nun named Catherine Laboure (Daughter of Charity) and entrusted her a mission of having a Medal made with an image of the Immaculate Conception and these words around the medal:
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Mary told Catherine that those who would wear it confidentially and faithfully would receive graces. The Shrine, rather small, has beautiful mosaics depicting the story of Mary’s apparition to Catherine. Our pilgrim group spent a morning here, we celebrated the Mass and had time for silent prayer.

I was there! I knelt close to where Mary appeared to Catherine and presented an impression of herself to be struck on to a medal for us her children. A medal that reminds us of her presence, her love for us and her intercession – if we only ask her!

As I knelt, I experience an incredible peace and deep joy. I left that sacred place that morning filled with a deep peace and an assurance that Mary heard my prayer! It was impressed into my heart.

Mary wants to “make an impression” on you! Her impression of her maternal love in your heart! Her impression that she is present, we need only to go to her in prayer! She wants to make an impression in our souls. She wants us to have a relationship with her son, Jesus the Christ.

As we turn the calendar to a new year…write a note “Go to Mary!” And in doing so…she has already made her impression on you!