I am the Vine you are the Branches

Do Everything in Christ

This Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus depicts himself as the true vine and God the Father as the vine grower. He calls us to ‘remain in him’ and if we do, he promises that we will ‘bear much fruit’.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), a Carmelite in Dijon, France reflected on this Gospel:

“”Remain in Me.” It is the Word of God who gives this order, expresses this wish. Remain in Me, not for a few moments, a few hours which must pass away, but “remain…” permanently, habitually, Remain in Me, pray in Me, adore in Me so that you may be able to encounter anyone or anything; penetrate further still into these depths. This is truly the “solitude into which God wants to allure the soul that He may speak to it,” as the prophet sang [Hos 2:14/2:16].

In order to understand this very mysterious saying, we must not, so to speak, stop at the surface, but enter ever deeper into the divine Being through recollection. “I pursue my course,” exclaimed St Paul [Phil. 3:12]; so must we descend daily this pathway of the Abyss which is God; let us slide down this slope in wholly loving confidence. “Abyss calls to abyss” [Ps 42:8/42:7]. It is there in the very depths that the divine impact takes place, where the abyss of our nothingness encounters the Abyss of mercy, the immensity of the all of God. There we will find the strength to die to ourselves and, losing all vestige of self, we will be changed into love.”

–  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, I Have Found God

I am the Vine you are the Branches
I am the Vine you are the Branches

Remain. In Latin, manere means “to stay”. re means “again”, or “revert back to”. Therefore Re-manere can signify “to stay again”. Or, to return to where you are.

We live in a society that encourages movement, of going somewhere, of doing something. But Jesus points not to going “out there”, but rather – and how Blessed Elizabeth understood – to be in Christ. “To be” is a state of existence. How that compares with what our culture often values – “to do”, which is merely an action of the agent who is (be).

Jesus calls us to remain in Him. To ‘be’ in Him. Today, let us rest (remain) in Him, fully aware of the presence of Jesus in all that we ‘do’. That with Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, we may habitually ‘stay’ again in Christ:

  • remain in Christ
  • pray in Christ
  • adore in Christ
  • love in Christ
  • suffer in Christ
  • work in Christ
  • act in Christ
  • (you fill in the blank) in Christ

This gives a broader understanding to this Gospel admonition “Remain in me”. Let all that we do be in Christ, and find our lives prolific and fruitful, as God desires.

Unity With Christ will Transform Your Life – Pope Francis’ Regina Coeli address, 5th Sunday of Easter

Placing our Souls before the Lord

 

PalmSunday2We begin our Passion (Palm) Sunday liturgy with the proclamation of Matthew 21:1-11, of Jesus’ triumphant procession into Jerusalem upon a colt, while:

a “very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others, cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds proceeding him and those following kept crying out and saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”

It is quite a scene. Imagine being one of Jesus’ followers, seeing your teacher and friend being hailed like a king.

The Gospel tells us that the people in the crowd spread their cloaks along the road. The spreading of one’s cloak was symbolic of laying one’s life down before the passerby. In today’s office of readings, Saint Andrew of Crete gives a another view:

Let us run to accompany Jesus as he hastens toward Jerusalem, and imitate those who met him then…let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.  (Oratio 9 in ramos palmarum: PG 97, 990-994)

Today, as we commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. How easy it is to get caught up in the joyous moment, celebrating the man who rose Lazarus from the dead. But in just a few days, the crowd will turn on Jesus and condemn him to be crucified. As we journey with Jesus this week, from Jerusalem to Golgatha, let us consciously consider what we place before Him in our prayer. As St. Andrew reminds us, “Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments…but…by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish.”

During this Holy Week, let us examine the souls that Jesus purchased with the price of His blood. May our reflection invite us turn our lives over to Jesus anew. Let us be holy as the Lord is holy.

Blessed Holy Week!

Other reflections:

Ed Morrissey: By the end of the week, not even all of His disciples stood by him as he was put to death.

Father Acervo: So as we head into Holy Week, let’s consider two things…

Matthew Higgins: Making Every Friday “Good”

Elizabeth Scalia: A Palm Sunday of Stark Decision

Sr Lisa Marie:  Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

pietà

Trusting God in Suffering

It seems that of late the Lord has sent a lot more prayer requests my way for people suffering from serious illnesses and disease, particularly of advanced stages of cancer and lymphoma. I hold them in a particular place in my heart and in my daily prayer; perhaps because I have lost three loved ones to cancer. Perhaps because I also know the power of prayer in having members of my family who are cancer survivors. No matter what the illness, it places the family in the crucible of anguish and uncertainty; wanting to trust in God and hope in him, and at the same time, the waiting gives time for our fears and worries creep up to haunt our faith.

In these very moments where faith is attacked by the violent churning of doubt and questioning, our best defense is the simple utterance (perhaps it takes every drop of energy we have):

“Jesus, I trust in You!”

One of my go-to scripture passages when the siege of or worry waits outside my door:

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests by made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

That one’s a bit long for me to remember verbatim, but I have memorized this shorter one from the Prophet Isaiah 26:3:

“You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind rests on You, because he trusts in You.”

HEALING THE MAN BORN BLINDThe word of God in the Bible never promises that the faithful will not experience hardship and suffering. We can just open to the Book of Job and find the contrary to be true. Job in his faithfulness was allowed by God to be tested and tormented by Satan. In order to understand our own sufferings we need to ask why this was so. Jesus himself gives us the answer in this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of John 9:1-41, a narrative of Jesus healing a man blind from birth:

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.

It is only natural when one is has no choice but to deal with an infirmity to ask, “why me?” In itself, this is not a bad question, but it needs to be placed in a broader context, that of an invitation by God to be part of the revelation of His divine glory, so that the works of God might e made visible through him. This requires an attitude of abandonment to God; a reaffirmation that he truly knows every hair on our head, and our every ache and pain we feel.

There is no guarantee in our abandonment that God will heal us the way we wish, but his invitation is a great opportunity to do a couple of things:

  • A purification of our own fidelity. Affliction is a great lens for knowing how to prioritize our lives. It helps us to see where we need to heal broken relationships and where we need to spend our time and energy.
  • Our attitude in our affliction can be very inspiring for others. Look to the saints and see how they dealt with their affliction. They used it to glorify God, sing his praises, and point others to the hope of eternal salvation.

One example is the life of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, a vibrant teen fully living out her Catholic faith, was struck with an aggressive form of cancer. When diagnosed at the age of 17 with osteosarcoma, she spent hours in silence, only to emerge from her ‘garden of Gethsemane’ saying, “If you want it, Jesus,  so do I.” She lived the remainder of her short life as a sign of God’s love with radiant joy.

Her words, in a way, reflect the words of Job when he was stripped of everything he had:

Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshipped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all of this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. – Job 1:20-21

This prayer of Blessed Miguel Pro could be made our own, or at least inspire us in our own encounters with suffering:

Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ. Love without egotism, without relying on self, but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish … I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith … Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigor to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life. Amen.

Related:

Sunday reflection: John 9:1-41, by Ed Morrissey, reflects how affliction can be a blessing.

 

Salvifici Doloris, by Blessed John Paul II

 

Desert Highway

A Calloused Heart?

A friend of mine has the habit of finding Bibles. He doesn’t find them in second-hand shops or antique stores, but on the highways of Northern California. For as long as I’ve known him, more than 20 years, he has had a mission of Bible finding that reads at times like a new ‘Highway to Heaven’ series. This week he found Bible #508 (that is not a type-o). And the story touched me profoundly and I thought you might enjoy it too (with his permission of course):

Bible 508 (#1 for 2014), a Promise Keepers Men’s Study Bible, New International Version was discovered at 10:43 A.M. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014.  It was located on Hwy. 99 (S), Fresno, CA.

A co-worker, Steve and I were enroute to a business meeting in Lindsay, CA.  Just prior to the discovery, Steve, who is involved in a Twelve Step Recovery program was sharing, that Monday night was his Birthday night.  He was celebrating 29 years in the program.   He recounted, that when his 29 years was announced, people began to clap.  He politely stopped them.

Steve’s words:

“Thank you, however, I must ask you to give credit where credit is due? I have a tremendous ego, I’m afraid, if you clap for me I will take credit for being here before you tonight. It is God that got me here. God has given me the eyes to see and the mind to know the benefits of this program. You need to give God the credit.”

I was so impressed with Steve’s humility,  that I asked him to repeat his words.

Shortly, thereafter,  I noticed a book lying next to the center cement highway abutment.  It seemed a bit larger, than the books I’m accustomed to seeing. I would say it was about the size of two building bricks.

Upon first glance I had a knowingness that it was a Bible.  Got it!  I immediately took the next exit.  I moved so quickly and without notice, that it scared Steve.

“What are you doing”, he pensively blurted out.

“I think that I just found a Bible”, was my response.

I quietly prayed my usual pre-discovery “hedge of protection” prayer.  “Lord, please clear the way and let no one be injured as I go to retrieve this Bible.”

The pages of the Book were blowing back and forth, as a result of the back draft caused by the passing traffic.

I picked up the Bible.  Yes, I had just found Bible 508.  It was open to the 13th Chapter of Matthew.  The Parable of the Sower.  I put my thumb on the center of the page next to the editor’s teaching message.  ETERNAL INVESTMENT – RETURNS – GUARANTEED.

I would later discover that the teaching discussed how one needs to prepare the soil of their heart, so that the Word of God (seeds) finds fertile soil.  This in turn will yield  a massive spiritual harvest in your life.  How does one do this?  Follow the example of the farmer.  Good soil requires; planning, nurturing, cultivating and a good deal of effort.  One needs to set aside time daily to examine his heart.  Weed out every; thought, word, deed and act that chokes out the effectiveness of God in your life.  Cultivate ones heart through prayer.  Water it  by meditating on God’s the purpose for your life.   A heart prepared in this manner will allow the Word of God to take root, thus enabling them to receive an abundant harvest.   (Teaching paraphrased)   

I handed the prize to Steve.  Without hesitation I blurted out, “Here is your message!”  For a brief moment I had second thoughts.  I had no idea what was to be revealed.  Back in the car, we were off to our meeting.

Steve was overjoyed to be part of the discovery.  Over the years he has heard stories of what it feels like to partake in a Bible find, however, 2nd hand stories never adequately describe the reality of the firsthand experience.

“Read it Steve!”

“Me?”

“Yes, God has a message for you!”  The scriptures reference, Jesus speaking to His disciples.

(14b) You will be ever hearing but never understanding, You will be ever seeing  but never perceiving.  For this people’s hearts has become calloused; …

“Stop that’s not it!   You are not calloused, if anything….!”

Steve began again, “(16) But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  (17) For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

The first words out of Steve’s mouth, “that exactly what I said last night!  God has given me the eyes to see and ears to hear the value of this program…”  I would liken the reverence in Steve’s voice akin to the awe one might have in witnessing the birth of one’s first child!

We just looked at each other for a moment.  Words cannot adequately describe Steve’s excitement, joy, exhilaration.  He almost cried.

I told Steve, “the Holy Spirit has just given you a true Birthday present.  He has acknowledged your humility and profession of faith.  Praise God!”

If I could have used the energy, that was in my car at that very moment,  I could have driven to New York and back without refueling.  I thought we were going to a business meeting.  The Holy Spirit had planned a Birthday celebration.

The question now comes to you and I.  What is Jesus saying?

“Will you be ever hearing but never understanding?  Will you be seeing but never perceiving?  Has your heart become calloused? This is an invitation from Christ Himself.  All we have to do is ask!  He will give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the mind to comprehend the blessing He has in store.

God bless,

The Highway Bibleman

belen-adoracion

What Gift to Bring to the King of Kings

belen-adoracion

It’s Epiphany, and we retell the story of three wise men who travelled quite a distance looking for the King of Kings. In Matthew’s Gospel we read:

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-12).

The gifts they brought were extraordinary and very expensive. As one of my followers on Twitter pointed out, the gifts were a bit … eccentric:

The uniqueness of their gifts elevated the understanding that this child laying in the lowest of places, was much more than he appeared to be. Would such extraordinary presents be given to just any baby? Even a royal one? The gifts reveal that Jesus was more than he seemed, but they also tell of his guests. These were men of status, well esteemed and wealthy. It is also apparent they studied Hebrew texts, and knew the prophecies of Isaiah. Two of them got their gift ideas from Isaiah 60:6:

“All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”

And what about us? What gift do we bring to the new born King? Another tradition in our convents is to receive a piece of paper with one of the three gifts written on it. We then make it part of our year to offer that gift to Christ, with corresponding virtue and fruit of the spirit. For instance:

GOLD: I offer the Lord Jesus the Gold (Prestige) of my life, in Charity and with Kindness.

FRANKINCENSE:  I offer the Lord Jesus the Frankincense (Sweetness) of my life, in Faith and with a Spirit of Prayer.

MYRRH: I offer the Lord Jesus the Myrrh (Sacrifice) of my life, in Hope and with Joy.

Let us pray, that we may be like the Wise Men, and seek out Jesus in this new year, and like them, bring the best of ourselves in homage to the New Born King. Blessed Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord!

May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts, that we may pass through the shadows of this world and reach the brightness of our eternal home. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (Collect of the Mass for the Epiphany of the Lord)

Love’s Way Out

With a new year before us, I’m starting my personal challenge to read through the Bible in the year, and so i will be posting from time to time from my personal reflections (I would love to post daily, if God wants, but He will have to provide the time!). So, here are some thoughts on Day Two.

Today, reading from Genesis, Chapter 3:

Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’ The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”  But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” 

The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden….

My first thought in reading this passage was, what bliss it must have been, to able to ‘hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’. Imagine turning back time and sitting in the garden, just to hear the Lord walking… it is what every human heart wants but doesn’t know it is missing that incredibly intimate relationship with their Creator. To be able to walk with God, talk with God, ask questions about why the sky is blue and the why the moon’s shape waxed and waned. To watch God in His creative work. To see God’s delight in being with us, His creation. But then this perfect relationship and harmony came to an end.

There was the Serpent, the Tree, and the Woman.  What if that tree wasn’t there? Would sin have been avoided? Could God have prevented this disaster of separation from His creation?  Of course God could have avoided the very messy consequences of that unfortunate encounter. Then, why did He allow it? Everything was perfect, except …

If Eve didn’t have a way out of loving God, could she have been free to fully love Him? Would there have been a capacity for love at all if God did not allow the Tree, and the Serpent for that matter, to coexist with her and Adam in the Garden?

God gave them abundance in His love. In the first creation story, God said:

“See, I give you every seed bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed bearing fruit on it to be your food” (Gen. 1:29).

The second creation story spells out God’s condition:

“You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you at from it you are surely doomed to die” (Gen. 2:16-17).

They had the world of food to choose from as God’s expression of His love. And because of His love, they were given a way out of His love, if they so chose to not love Him in return. What does this teach us about our relationship with God, and with one another for that matter?

Love must be free to be received and to be given. Without the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, the woman could not express her love for her Creator through obedience. She would have been no better off than a robot or puppet unable to exercise her conscience. Everything would have been constructed for her.

And human beings would not have known love.

AdamandEve

Writing

Make Haste for the Things of God

As the Holy Season of Advent winds down, I’ve been pondering the role of Saint Joseph in the life of Jesus. After reading a post today from Father Jason Vidrine (A classmate of mine from the Angelicum), I asked if I might share his homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent. He states so well what has been on my mind in the last few days, that I thought it would be good for you to read too. Enjoy!

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, all four candles of the wreath are lit…the feast of Our Lord Jesus’ birth – Christmas – is very near! The Church began to pray her annual Christmas novena on Tuesday of this past week…each day the great “O” antiphons were sung – the cry of the nations throughout the Old Covenant: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel…come and set us free! And in these Scriptures on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear how those long-awaited hopes were finally fulfilled, which we’ll celebrate again in two days!

So hopefully by now, nearly all the gifts are wrapped. The Christmas cards are mostly sent and received. Some family members and cousins have arrived. The students’ break from school has begun. The children are looking up the chimney or toward the sky, waiting for the big arrival. With the children, we’re all filled with anticipation.

Could there anything more exciting in our world than children waiting for Santa Claus? While there may not be many…there is one: a pregnant woman waiting for her little love to be born.  The Gospel today shows us a central one! We hear that St. Joseph, not yet understanding God’s plan – finds his wife pregnant even though they had no marital relations – and prepares to send her away quietly. The Angel Gabriel comes to him saying:“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21)The Blessed Virgin Mary is overflowing with anticipation…with expectation ever since the Angel Gabriel departed from her. She knew that the baby in her womb would change not only their lives…but the world and all of human history too. St. Joseph is invited to see and embrace this great mystery.

St. Matthew tells us: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24). Here we see St. Joseph fulfilling the mission God gives him. How? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity…even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time he was betrothed to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the husband of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; during the drama of the flight into Egypt and at the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his work to Jesus. Always present…always faithful…always doing God’s will with haste.

As we gather on the cusp of Christmas, perhaps there’s a final preparation we can make for it…maybe spending a few moments thinking about the great Gift God has given us… and focus on the gratitude we owe Him. The great gift of Christmas, of course, is the gift of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his third book on the life of Christ published last year, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives” Pope Benedict prayerfully considers the stories about Jesus’ birth. He considers these questions: “Is what I read true? Does it concern me? If so, how?”

Pope Benedict notes how St. Joseph does what the Angel of the Lord commanded him (as we hear today) with haste. Of course, Our Lady goes to her relative Elizabeth’s home with haste…and the shepherds also made haste when they heard about Jesus’ birth. So he asks: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – so the evangelist is discreetly telling us – then it is the things of God.”  A good thought for us today.

Here Pope Benedict put his finger on one of the biggest problems of our modern world. We’re busy – even frantically busy – but when it comes to God and the “things of God”, we tend to be lazy and slothful. Right now…right before Christmas, we’re busy about manythings, but do we stop and ask, “What is Christmas, anyway?”

There’s nothing wrong with Christmas shopping and preparing family gatherings in themselves. Those things are good and they require a lot of work and sacrifice. They are very important in terms of building and strengthening the family. But in light of the Gospel, Pope Benedict’s question becomes so important: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned?” There’s lots of anticipation and excitement…but for what exactly?

I think the letters of children are very revealing here. Last year, the Catholic News Agency reported about a Christmas letter to Baby Jesus written by Pope Benedict in 1934 when he was 7 years old; it had been recently discovered during a renovation of a house he used to live in. This is what the letter said: “Dear Baby Jesus, come quickly down to earth.You will bring joy to children. Also bring me joy. I would like a Volks-Schott, green clothing for Mass and a heart of Jesus. I will always be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger.”

At this time, newspapers often publish children’s Christmas letters as the Gazette did today. They write to Santa asking for all kinds of things…from a baby doll, tea set, bike, basket ball, Halo man, X box, 4-wheeler, I-Pad, scooter, fire truck, ferret, I-Pad mini, to a monkey, trampoline, gun, dog, computer, clothes, etc.

Writing

But notice the great difference there is between these letters! One is to Jesus…the others to Santa. One asks for joy, clothes to play Mass, and the heart of Jesus…the others for every sort of material thing you can think of. (Don’t get me wrong…I’m not condemning Santa or material things for Christmas!) But I think the difference is much more than simply a “different time”. Once again, I think we can put our finger on one of the biggest struggles of our modern world: not only are we busy about everything but God and the “things of God”…but our very excitement, anticipation, and desires are based on something radically different…Again, “What is Christmas, anyway?”

What were Pope Benedict’s Christmas requests as a child? The first thing he asked Jesus for was joy. It’s one of the themes he returned to again and again his homilies and writings as Pope. Joy is like God Himself…difficult for us to describe. We can understand it more by what it’s not. Joy is the opposite of misery, sadness, grief, sorrow…the literal state of depression and despair that fills the hearts of so many folks in our world today…even though they have everything they want and more! “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us!” (Blessed Columba Marmion, OSB). That’s what little Joey Ratzinger wanted.

The second request for Christmas Pope Benedict had as a 7 year old was a Schott…one of the first prayer books for Mass for children – with the German next to the Latin texts. The little Joseph also asked for “green clothing for Mass.” The Pope and his brothers used to play Mass and their mom, who was a seamstress, would make clothes similar to Mass vestments for them to use. What this shows us was the devotion of their family. The worship of God was a central part of their lives. Even as a young boy, Pope Benedict knew that God is present and that we truly encounter Him here in the Sacred Liturgy.

Finally, Pope Benedict as a boy asked for a heart of Jesus. He was referring to an image of the Sacred Heart, which his family had a great devotion to. But he didn’t just want an image…he also wanted a heart that loved…that could be loved and could give love. (By 1934, the rise of Hitler was in full swing, and surely his hatred and evil was well known.)

Why do I point out this great difference in these Christmas letters of children? Because again, I think the difference is much more than simply one of a “different time”. Christmas brings great excitement, anticipation, haste…but about what?? For what??

As we gather on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, let us ponder the question of the 86-year-old Joseph…now Pope Emeritus spending his last days in quiet and prayer for us: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – as the Gospel writer is discreetly telling us – then it is the things of God.” Let us follow the example of St. Joseph. He does the will of God with haste. Let us draw near to him and the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking their prayers for us that this Christmas we might experience a grace: regarding God and the things of God, we might overcome all sloth and laziness…that we might make haste and open our hearts to encounter the only One who can and does give us true life: the newborn King, Jesus Christ the Lord (John 10:10). Amen.

Original Post here.

Fr. Jason Vidrine

 Rev. Fr. Jason Vidrine was appointed Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in November 2013. He was ordained Deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on October 6, 2005 and then as a Priest for the Diocese of Lafayette, LA, on July 8, 2006. Fr. Vidrine is a native of Ville Platte and entered the seminary after graduating from Bayou Chicot High School, completing a B.A. in Arts and Philosophy from St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, LA in 2002. Following college seminary, he was sent to Rome for theological formation at the Pontifical North American College and earned an S.T.B. and M.A. in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). Fr. Vidrine’s previous assignments have been as Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center on the campus of UL and Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Scott, as well as, most recently, as Pastor of St. Peter Church and Principal of St. Peter School in Gueydan, LA. He also currently serves as a professor of Mariology for the Aquinas Institute of Theology in the Diocese of Lafayette, the spiritual director of Our Lady of Grace Comitium of the Legion of Mary in the Diocese of Lafayette, and assistant Diocesan Master of Ceremonies.
beautiful shiphrah jpeg

Dear daughter, you’re beautiful, regardless of what the media tells you

Sr_Lisa:

Early one morning I made my way to the Parish to meet with our 8th grade girls’ Bible study group. Sixteen of our students from Annunciation School were there, not in their school uniforms, but dressed in their personal best. It was picture day. My last words to the girls as they gathered up their things to go to class, “Remember girls, your real beauty lies inside of you. Let it shine through!”

beautiful shiphrah jpeg

How many of our girls today need to hear this message that they are more than what society sells them? The Church teaches all is made by “the author of beauty” (CCC 2500, Wisdom 13:3). Yet because of sin that good is often distorted, seeking something not created by God, but is of human origin.

Matt Walsh does an excellent job unpacking this theme, addressing his post to his very young daughter. It is a message we all should compose to the girls in our lives that we love and have concern for. I share his post here, hoping it will reach the ears of all the lovely girls and young women I know (you know who you are!). Let us take to heart the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians (4:8):

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Archbishop Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles spoke about the falsification of human beings, and the distorted image society creates in an address delivered August 1, 2013 in Napa:

“What’s going on is that we are living in a culture of extreme individualism. And people
believe they have the ability to “create” and “re-create” themselves, through science and
psychology, especially in the areas of their sexuality.

They don’t see their lives as a gift from God, but as a kind of “raw material” which they
can modify and re-fashion according to their own desires and their own sense of
meaning and purposes.”

(Read the whole discourse here). [hat tip: Mirror of Justice Blog]

Originally posted on The Matt Walsh Blog:

Dear daughter,

You’re far too young to be aware of this, but, in the last few days, many people have watched a video of a model being “altered” by photoshop. It shows her artificial transformation from real and attractive to fraudulent and malformed — or, as they call it in the fashion world, “sexy.”

See, nowadays we use computers to “improve” images of real women, which is quite appropriate. After all, computers are manmade creations, just as our modern conception of “beauty” is a manmade creation. Modern “beauty” — or whatever you want to call it — certainly isn’t natural, and it most assuredly doesn’t come from God. It’s manufactured. It’s a product. True beauty, on the other hand, is art. It’s full of life. It’s unique and dynamic and vibrant.

It’s real. It’s you.

Hollywood and the fashion industry have concocted a “beauty” that is separate and apart from…

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jesus-mary-and-martha

Preoccupation and Trust

jesus-mary-and-martha“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.”

– Luke 10:11

It wasn’t that Martha wasn’t doing good things, only she let those things preoccupy her and get her off-balance. Martha needed to learn to love Jesus with a proper measure of serving him, and to stop her busy-ness and sit down and just listen to him. This is an important lesson for all of us. How many of us can attest to being so caught up with what is coming, and what we need to do that we put off those things that really matter to us: our family, our community, quality time with friends … quality time with the Lord in prayer. Everything must be in right measure.

Dearest Lord Jesus, let me not think about the tomorrow that will never come, nor for the yesterday that will never return. May you always be before me, behind me, above me, below me, encompassing me at every moment, that I may walk always closer toward you, with Mary, Your mother and mine, to be my one companion.
 
Trust. Trust. Trust. 
Word of God

The Word and Our Hearts

Word of God“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

***

The Word. It is always effective, ready to penetrate the hardened heart as easily as a well-tuned chain saw slices into heart of a tree, to reveal its age and history. So God’s word has the power to divide our being between what the world tries to define us as, and that which we truly are in our call to holiness in the image of our Maker. Just as God knows the core of the tree before it is revealed, so He understands fully our hearts. Nothing is concealed from His gaze.

It is for our sake that sometimes in taking up the Word of God, our hearts are pierced. The Good Physician opens the wound to free us from the poison of our lives, and heal us, making us ready containers for His Spirit to dwell. Sometimes, when we read or listen to the Word of God, it doesn’t seem to penetrate anything; it seems to be just words. But just as the passage from Isaiah claims, the Word ‘shall not return to God void, but shall do his will, achieving the end for which it is sent.’ Over time, and perseverance, we begin to see the workings of the Word in our lives.

Saint Teresa of Avila is very encouraging on this point. She would tell her Sisters, when they find themselves confronted by an obstacle – whether it be a person, an attitude, a sin – to simply ask God to remove it. And keep asking until He does.

Perhaps there is an obstacle that we are not aware of? Then let us ask God to reveal it. Naming our obstacles takes away any power they may have over us, in the same way that confronting our vices makes it possible for us to avoid their occasions and build resistance to them.

The Word, by picking it up daily,  is consenting to have God work in our lives. And, little by little, it will cleanse and purify our hearts to desire God more and more, giving us strength to endure. In this way, the Word of God will ‘achieve the end for which it was sent’.

First Angelus

First Angelus of Pope Francis

On Sunday, Pope Francis took to the window of the Papal library to give a brief talk on the Sunday’s Scripture readings, and lead the faithful in the praying of the Angelus (he first appears in the video at the 5min mark):

His address was given in Italian and the below text was translated by the Vatican Information Service:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning! After our first meeting last Wednesday, today I again give my greetings to you all! And I am happy to do it on Sunday, the Lord’s Day! This is beautiful and important for us Christians: to meet on Sunday, to greet one another, to talk as we are doing now, in the square. This square that, thanks to the media, takes on worldly dimensions.
 
In this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel presents us with the story of the adulterous woman whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. It captures Jesus’ attitude: we do not hear words of contempt, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion. ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more!’ Well, brothers and sisters! God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience that He has with each of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, is always patient with us, understanding us, awaiting us, never tiring of forgiving us if we know how to return to him with a contrite heart. ‘Great is the Lord’s mercy’, says the Psalm.
 
In these days, I have been able to read a book by a cardinal—Cardinal Kasper, a talented theologian, a good theologian—on mercy. And it did me such good, that book, but don’t think that I’m publicizing the books of my cardinals. That is not the case! But it did me such good, so much good… Cardinal Kasper said that hearing the word mercy changes everything. It is the best thing that we can hear: it changes the world. A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand God’s mercy well, this merciful Father who has such patience… Think of the prophet Isaiah who asserts that even if our sins were scarlet red, God’s love would make them white as snow. That is beautiful, [this aspect of mercy]. I remember when, just after I was made bishop, in 1992, the Madonna of Fatima came to Buenos Aires and a large Mass for the sick was celebrated. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. Near the end of the Mass I got up because I had to administer a confirmation. An over 80-year-old woman came up to me, humbly, very humbly. I asked her: “Nonna,” [grandmother]—because that’s how we address our elderly—“Nonna, you want to confess?” “Yes,” she told me. “But if you haven’t sinned…” And she said to me: “We have all sinned…” “But perhaps the Lord will not forgive you…” “The Lord forgives everyone,” she told me, with certainly. “But how do you know that, ma’am?” “If the Lord didn’t forgive everyone, the world would not exist.” I wanted to ask her: “Tell me, have you studied at the Gregorian [Pontifical University]?”, because that is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives: the inner wisdom of God’s mercy. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, never! ‘So, Father, what is the problem?’ Well, the problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us never get tired. Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us. And let us also learn to be merciful with everyone. Let us call upon the intercession of the Madonna who has held in her arms the Mercy of God made human.
 

Pope Francis then led the faithful in the Angelus prayer in Latin, and thanked the pilgrims for their show of support and asked again for our prayers.

Let us continue to offer our prayers for Pope Francis as he settles into his new responsibilities. And let us also not forget to keep Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in our prayers, that his new service as a man of prayer will be a great service for the whole Church.

Miserere: A Penitential Prayer

Miserere, by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), is a setting of Psalm 51: It is the best known of the seven Penitential Psalms; the others are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143. These prayers are essential to our prayer life, leading us to reflect on God’s mercy, and our need to turn back to Him and be welcomed like the Prodigal Child when he recognizes his need for His father.

Take a moment and reflect on the Miserere (Psalm 51):

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. *
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt *
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them; *
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned; *
what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence *
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt I was born, *
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart; *
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean; *
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness, *
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face *
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God, *
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, *
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help; *
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways *
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper, *
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips *
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight, *
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. *
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion: *
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice, *
holocausts offered on your altar.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1669

burden

Gifted to Make Burdens Light

Our religious community meets together every Wednesday morning following lauds to read the coming Sunday’s readings together, and to share and comment how those readings can be applied in our life, both in our community as well as in our various ministries. Here’s a bit of the fruit of our discussion.

Synopses

This coming Sunday we celebrate the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Our readings are:

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10: Ezra the scribe reads aloud to the people old enough to understand from the Book of the Law of Moses. The people show much reverence for the Law as the word of God, and their hearts wept when they heard the Law, but are encouraged to be people of joy in the celebration of the day of the Lord.

Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 15: Describes the beauty of God’s Law as perfect, trustworthy, wisdom, clear, true and just. We respond to the Psalm with “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” (John 6:63c)

1 Corinthians 12:12-30: Saint Paul reflects how the Body of Christ is diverse in its call to unity. It begins, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” All parts of the Body of Christ are necessary, he explains, and we cannot have disdain for one because we don’t recognize its value.

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21: Our reading includes the beginning of chapter 1, the prologue, as was commonly used in Greek and Roman writing of Luke’s day (and, that was Luke’s intended audience). The writing is addressed to Theophilus (meaning ‘Friend of God’), with the purpose of affirming the teachings he has already received as true. After the prologue, our reading skips to chapter 4, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This passage follows on the heals of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and temptation in the desert. So, in Luke’s account, it is the first contact Jesus had with people following those two events and sets the stage for his public ministry.

When Jesus is handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, he finds the passage he wants and reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

He proclaims to the people that the passage from Isaiah was fulfilled in their hearing it.

Reflection

The passage Jesus reads, taken from the prophet Isaiah was understood by the Jews to point to the coming restoration of Zion. Jesus takes this passage and uses it as his personal “Mission Statement”, outlining the purpose for His coming into the world. He has come to restore all things, and specifies three particular signs:

– by preaching;
– free people from their slavery (whatever kind that is involved); and
– give sight to the blind.

In retrospect, we can see clearly how these signs were hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In very literal – and miraculous ways – Jesus did these things, and in doing them, restored people to their right dignity as children of God.

The challenge for us becomes one in the sequela Christi – in our own call to follow Christ. By baptism we are called to witness to Christ and our faith in Him, through our actions and words. The question then is:

“How am I called to preach, free and enlighten others in a way that gives a compelling witness of Christ?” 

Enthusiasm. The enthusiasm found by the people in hearing the Word of God proclaimed to them in the reading from Nehemiah gives example of right attitude. They ‘listened attentively’. They responded to the word – with hands raised high (enthusiasm!) – Amen! (I believe!). There is a sense of excitement in their readiness to hear and live by the statutes of God. How much more should we have such enthusiasm having heard the Good News of our Lord Jesus who has come as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Savior? Do we listen attentively to the Word of God? To we respond with our hands (and hearts) raised high? Do we respond “Amen!”?

Use our Gifts. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that as the body of Christ is made up of many members, our ways and gifts are different, and our expressions and means of serving will also be so. It is true, sometimes there are people in our communities (religious and parishes) that are gifted, and it seems that they have all that is needed to do the work. Yet, Paul warns that it is the weakest that are most necessary (this sentence alone is enough for another post!).

Therefore, if we are strong, let us be mindful of the weaker members, and find ways in which to appreciate their contribution to building up the body of Christ. They too are called to preach, liberate and enlighten as a witness of Christ in their lives (perhaps to us directly?). If we are weak, let us take hope in the Lord, we are called to be patient witnesses and to do the best with what we’ve been given.

Paul also challenges us to ask ourselves:

“What gift have I been given to help alleviate the burden and/or suffering of others?”

Burdens

Our society is so burdened by many different things. Finances. Illness. War. Feuding. Fear of death and dying. Hatred and Violence. Concerns for the future for her children. Retirement. Unemployment. Injustice. Debt. The list seems endless.

Do I recognize their burden? how can I help lift it from their shoulders?

A more difficult question for us to answer is, “Am I, in some way, a burden for my sister, brother or friend?” Do I cause them to fall in some way?

Let us imagine ourselves standing before those we’ve encountered during our week, and hear us reading the same passage from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus read above. Are the words fulfilled in their hearing you speaking the Word of God to them? Can they recognize your sequela Christi by the way you live your life?

Lesson from Saint Francis

Saint Francis is my Patron Saint this year, and so I would like to share his prayer as a model of how we can help lighten the load for those we encounter. I chose to use the version adapted by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, used when addressing the United Nations in 1985:

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Amen.