I remember a time when I desperately wanted to share a humorous story with a good friend of mine about something that had just transpired at work. A few days later, I had the opportunity to tell him what occurred and attempted as much as possible to hold back my laughter as the story progressed. Finally, when I arrived at the punch line and concluded the story, I burst out laughing. As I laughed for about a minute, I glanced at my friend and noticed that he was not. He looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t get it. Why is this so funny to you?” I responded, “You really don’t get it? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” And he replied, “I do, but I do not know why this story is so funny to you. I guess I just had to be there to appreciate it.”

 

Blessed Are Those Who Believe

            It is difficult for someone to treasure an experience that happened if he or she was not there to personally observe and undergo it. For this reason, Thomas the Apostle did not believe the other apostles when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:25) He doubted. Similarly, many of us have doubted God’s presence. Thomas’ response, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” is analogous to a popular saying that many people use today, particularly in the United States: “I have to see it to believe it.” Sadly, there are many Catholics and non-Catholics alike that still say this today regarding the presence of God. Many still are reluctant to believe God is present because they cannot see Him. Some continue to say that they have to see God to believe in God.

 

            Thomas the Apostle distrusted the apostles’ testimony. However, Jesus visited them a week later when Thomas was with them. Upon seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Put your finger here [Thomas] and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe,” (Jn 20:27) Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then said, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29) These last words of Jesus ring especially true when we speak about the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.

Continue reading “Believing in the Bread of Life”

            There comes a time in our faith journey when we become cognizant of the fact that we yearn to deepen our relationship with God. Very often this occurs after a period of time in which we were so engrossed in our daily tasks, occupations, and responsibilities that we gradually lost contact with God. Hence, we discover that our limited discussions with the Lord lack the closeness and intimacy they once had and that our visits to the Lord at church occur with a paucity of fervor and reverence. However, the Holy Spirit touches our heart at a moment of grace to encourage us to search for the Lord with renewed passion. Not surprisingly, this often occurs when we come before the Bread of Life.

 

            Many years ago, I experienced a period of spiritual dryness that was weakening my zeal for God and His service. At some point, I nervously acknowledged that it was vital that I spend more prayer time in church. I approached the Blessed Sacrament to pray, and, as I was praying before His divine presence, the Spirit of God helped me understand that I needed to deepen my relationship with the Lord. I remained there for Mass that day and attempted to pray attentively and fervently.

 

            For the next several days and weeks I visited the tabernacle, remained for Mass, and prayed ardently. As I drew closer to Christ Jesus I became increasingly aware of how I had lost contact with God, and how depthless and superficial I had allowed my prayer and sacramental life to become. The presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament gradually renewed me, and our conversations slowly regained their previous closeness and intimacy as I attended daily Mass.

Continue reading “Receiving the Bread of Life Worthily and Fruitfully”

Imagine you have been entrusted with the task of delivering a challenging message to a person or group that is extremely likely to reject it. What do you do? Almighty God instructs you that He is sending you with a message, but you will be encountered with either a rebellious spirit, a profound stubbornness, or an obstinate heart. Nevertheless, you must deliver the message.

Veteran pastoral ministers and servant leaders are not unfamiliar with this prophetic experience that we read about in the book of the Prophet Ezekiel (2:2-5). How difficult it is to speak with people who are unwilling to listen! But when “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for His mercy,” (Ps 123 [122]), we somehow are able to go forth, prophesy, and fulfill our mission.

A Prophet Is Not Without Honor Except…

This biblical passage from the book of Ezekiel is part of the readings for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B). These particular readings speak to the hearts of preachers and ministry teams devoted to Evangelization. Occasionally, we may “become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations,” (2nd reading – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or the abundance of wonderful deeds that have occurred through our apostolate. However, it is experiences like Ezekiel’s that remind us that without God we are nothing and cannot accomplish anything truly fruitful. No matter how challenging is the task we are confronting or how powerless we may feel, our Lord reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd reading)

Surprisingly, Jesus Christ felt somewhat “powerless” when He came to His native place and began to teach in the synagogue. We read in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 6:1-6) that the people who listened knew His family and background and did not embrace Him, rather they became uncomfortable, raised questions concerning His authority, and felt ashamed and humiliated as He spoke. Therefore, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Along with the two readings from Ezekiel and 2nd Corinthians, this Markan Gospel passage offers us three fundamental words to help address within our ministries some of the challenges we may encounter in the work of Evangelization. These connected words are authority, familiarity, and humility. Briefly defining these terms will serve to inform how our ministries can overcome certain obstacles that arise in our mission to proclaim the Good News.

Continue reading “Building Up Prophets with Honor Within Our Ministries”

Paul’s Faith Proclaims Christ is Risen

          “We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our ancestors He has brought to fulfillment for us, [their] children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33a) Saint Paul the Apostle preached these powerful words as he addressed his fellow Israelites and others in the Synagogue at Antioch. His speech was passionate, his faith was robust, and his surrender was inspiring. Jesus Christ is risen and his conviction in Christ’s resurrection was unshakable.

            Saint Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus formed an integral part of his conviction in Jesus’ resurrection. Prior to this conversion experience, he, Saul of Tarsus, was a fierce persecutor of anyone who was a disciple of the Lord. He traveled with the intention of hunting down as many followers of the Way as possible at Damascus and bringing them back to Jerusalem as prisoners.

            However, the Risen Lord manifested Himself to Saul in a flash of light from the sky as he was arriving at Damascus and questioned his persecuting spirit. The suddenly blind Saul rose from the ground and ultimately arrived at the house of a man named Judas. For at least three days, he prayed to the Risen Lord, who revealed that Ananias the disciple would pray for him to regain his sight. When Ananias finally arrived, Paul encountered the power of God, regained his sight, was baptized, and was filled with the Spirit of the Risen Lord.

Continue reading “They’ll Know Christ is Risen Through our Christian Experience”

Holy Week

On Palm Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrates the day in which Christ, in order to generously fulfill the Will of God, solemnly entered Jerusalem where He would die for our salvation. With palms, we glorify and praise the King of Kings, who has come into this world in the form of a slave (1st reading: Flp 2, 6-11) to offer to humanity the greatest service possible: “give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28)

Indeed, we must meditate more intensely on the great mystery of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having full authority, chose to suffer everything for love of us and for our salvation. Therefore, it will be beneficial to do the following five things in the coming days:

 

1)On Holy Monday: consider whether or not our lives honor Jesus Christ, and ask Him for the grace to be able to live more for Him.

2)On Holy Tuesday: meditate on the times in which we, like Peter, have denied Christ, and how we need Him to give us the strength to be His true witnesses.

3)On Holy Wednesday: meditate on the times in which we, like Judas, have betrayed Jesus, and say to Him throughout the day, “Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, have pity on me.”

4)On Holy Thursday: spend at least an hour after Mass with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who asks us, as He asked His disciples, “Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.”

5)And on Holy Friday: participate, with great fervor and contrition, in the Via Crucis.

 

These five resolutions will help us have a Holy Week.  The following parable/story sums up well the significance of what we celebrate during Holy Week:

Continue reading “5 Ways to Have A Life Changing Holy Week”

The Season of Lent

The Season of Lent is a forty-day period that occurs annually beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday. There are actually forty-six days in total between these two days. However, the six Sundays of Lent are not part of the forty-day count since Sundays are not days of fasting and acts of penance—except the required Eucharistic fast. This great season is an invitation to follow Jesus of Nazareth into the desert to pray, to do penance, and to discover, accept and accomplish the will of God. Though we are encouraged to practice prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving on a daily basis, we are ardently encouraged to do so during the Lenten season.

 

What to Give Up For Lent

Prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving are crucial if we desire to know, love, and follow Christ better. Ultimately, these three spiritual works are indispensable to live as children of God. Therefore, we should pray and sacrifice well, and we must contemplate cautiously the sacrifices we decide to offer during the Lenten season—they should challenge us to grow.  Sometimes we may elect to surrender something that we enjoy eating or drinking for the sake of renouncing something during Lent, but this can be too effortless. Some abstain from sweet chocolate, soda, alcohol, fatty foods, or other sweets during Lent. But we must ask ourselves whether these sacrifices truly help us draw closer to Christ. This is an important question especially if we return to these things when the Lenten period is over.

 

These dietary sacrifices can certainly be physically helpful over time and can strengthen our bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit. However, many people quickly return to them when the Alleluias reappear and consume them without moderation. On the other hand, refraining from something because it will permit us to fulfill God’s will more thoroughly is not as easy. When we shun anger and selfishness, hatred and resentments, as well as pride and lust, we sacrifice those things that can truly distance us from God. Taking all this into consideration, we may need to ask ourselves, “During this Lenten season, is there something in particular that I need to give up for Lent? Or might there be something that I should be taking up?”

Continue reading “What to Give Up for Lent”

 

            Challenging life experiences and intimidating circumstances constantly remind us that we need to continuously rebuild our confidence in God. As I reflected on Scripture and our world this week, this word – confidence – emphatically stands out. It is a word that not only the disciples struggled with, but also the people of Israel and Judah.

 

            Long ago in the ancient world, a powerful empire emerged in the north of Mesopotamia. Assyria was a mighty force, feared by numerous regions, and was an intimidating presence to Israel and Judah. This empire took pride in their dominion and arrogantly strove to displace God as the supreme ruler of the world. For their outright rejection of the Lord and their usurping ambitions, God eventually punished them. Isaiah the prophet proclaimed:

“The LORD of hosts has sworn: As I have resolved, so shall it be; As I have planned, so shall it stand: To break the Assyrian in my land and trample him on my mountains; Then his yoke shall be removed from them, and his burden from their shoulder. This is the plan proposed for the whole earth, and this the hand outstretched over all the nations. The LORD of hosts has planned; who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out; who can turn it back?” (Is 14:24-27)

Continue reading “The Difference it Makes When Our Confidence is in God”

sacred heart of jesus novena prayers

When Christians pray for nine days for a special occasion or intention they are participating in novena prayers. The first novena ever prayed occurred immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven. The Sacred Scriptures tell us, “When they entered the city [of Jerusalem] they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:13-14) 

The Apostles and other disciples gathered in the upper room together with Mother Mary and prayed for the descent of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. For nine days, they prayerfully gathered until the feast of Pentecost. Certainly, this must have been a powerful nine-day experience as many present-day novenas are. Novena prayers also offer us some extra good news. In addition to obtaining a particular favor by praying a novena, there are five benefits of doing novena prayers that we gain and that I would like to share with you.

Continue reading “5 Surprising Benefits of Doing Novena Prayers”

I’m certain most people reading this will recognize the name Samuel, particularly since we hear about him at Mass these days. It is in the Old Testament that we read about a woman – his mother – named Hannah, who was barren for many years until God eventually blessed her with a son. In gratitude to the Lord, she dedicates her boy, Samuel, to serve at the shrine of Shiloh under Eli the priest. One night, the young Samuel heard his name being called at a late hour. However, when the young one approached Eli three times, the latter responded the first and second time, “I did not call you, go back to sleep.” Then, the third time, he perceived clearly what was happening and instructed the young Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Sam 3:1-10)

Why would God call Samuel?

Certainly, many have wondered why God would elect to call someone like him at such a young age. This naturally leads to the question: “Who does God call?” I reflected upon this when I read the book Awakening Vocation, by Edward P. Hahnenberg. It examines the history of how vocation has been understood and challenges its readers to rethink vocation in light of a revitalized theology of grace. Indeed, God yearns to communicate Himself to all people. Therefore, He also invites all people to know, love, and serve Him.

As we saw with Samuel, a vocation is formed when God calls.

Indeed, His call is ultimately one that has as the primary goal the salvation and sanctification of souls. Nevertheless, when we consider the term vocation, we are reminded – as Hahnenberg stated in his book – that, “for centuries, Catholicism restricted the category of vocation to the priesthood and religious life.” Lay people were “those who were not clergy, those ‘who were not consecrated for the service of God.’” (Hahnenberg, 7) Holiness and evangelical action were seen as belonging only to the monks, to those consecrated to the religious life, and to the clergy. The lay faithful were viewed as people who lived in the world and only involved in worldly affairs, and they were viewed quite negatively. However, Vatican II emphasized that all Christians in every state of life are called to holiness, and now “three vocations stand out in postconciliar Catholic teaching as the paradigmatic way of living out the universal call to holiness: ordained ministry, consecrated life, and the lay life.” (41)

Continue reading “Vocation of the Laity”

When momentous incidents unfold and present us with various alternatives, we must choose wisely. This became apparent when Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem before Herod the Great. King Herod had been appointed “King of the Jews” – that is, ruler of Judea – approximately thirty-six years prior to their visit. Upon hearing the Magi’s inquiry, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage,” the Matthean Gospel tells us that all of Jerusalem, as well as this King from an Edomite family, were greatly troubled. To put it differently, Herod the King felt threatened and, therefore, desired to end the threat.

Continue reading “The Adoration of the Magi – Lessons Learned”