Thursday, February 22, 2018

Friday of the First Week of Lent - Pretending to Be and Truly Being Holy


“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for this time I can now spend with you. You constantly fill my life with so many blessings. How ungrateful I am at times! I wish to collaborate more perfectly in establishing your Kingdom on earth. I love you Lord, and with the help of your grace I will strive to become someone to whom any soul can come in order to discover your truth, your life, your love. Take my life, take this day and make it yours. Amen.

Petition: Father, help me to shun hypocrisy and seek true holiness.

1. Subjective Impressions: How much righteousness would it take to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees? Not much, we suspect. Theirs was holiness in appearance only, which is to say no holiness. And what would one discover on the “inside” of such a soul? Plenty of self-deception; plenty of self-indulgent complacency in a subjective impression of holiness; a repugnant holier-than-thou demeanor. It’s easy enough for us to read the Gospel and wrinkle our noses at those bad ol’ Pharisees. In fact, it’s about as easy as telling ourselves that we could never come under the spell of our own subjective impression of holiness. That is why we must always be ready to examine ourselves, before Christ and with an acute awareness of our misery and limitations. Do I live my life engaged in a genuine pursuit of holiness or in a genuine pursuit of my own vanity and self-glorification?

2. Humility is the True Test of Holiness: Pride and personal holiness mix about as well as oil and water. Where our ego is, little if any room is left for God. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ but to be someone who fills himself totally with God in order to bring him within the reach of everyone. But what union, grace or friendship with God can there be in a proud soul? What fervor, what degree of holiness? There is no possible compromise between God and a proud soul – either the soul would have to let go of itself, or God would have to stop being God.

3. Integrity is the Heart of the Matter: At the heart of genuine holiness is the virtue of integrity, a virtue rich in nuances and meaning. Integrity means being a person with only one face, a person who is the same on the inside and on the outside: “what you see is what you get”. Indeed, integrity is foundational for holiness, because it constitutes the very essence of personal honesty and sincerity, which are fundamental for the moral life and the seedbeds for a host of other virtues. In our pursuit of holiness, we should never tolerate duplicity of any kind in our behavior. We should avoid like the plague the least hint of ambivalence in our motivations, or incongruity between our thoughts, judgments, choices and actions. There can be no holiness without integrity. In fact, there can be no genuine human happiness unless it lies on the bedrock virtue of integrity.

Conversation with Christ: Lord Jesus, I want you to be the meaning and center of my entire life. Let me disappear and you appear more and more in my life so that, with a holiness that is genuine, humble and true, I will always be an instrument for the salvation of all people. Amen.

Resolution: I will take a hard look at my life to identify the areas where duplicity manifests itself and take a concrete step toward living with more integrity.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle - Rock of Peter


When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are 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 to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Introductory Prayer:

Jesus, I believe in you. I believe that you came into this world to suffer and die to give me a chance at eternal salvation. I want to draw close to you in this prayer. May this time I spend with you be an expression of my love.

Petition:

Help me, Lord, to enter into a deeper, personal relationship with you.

  1. Identity Crisis:

    Jesus isn’t interested in what “others” think of him. He wants to know what I think of him. The test of any relationship is how committed people are to each other. At some point a young woman will wonder, how serious is her boyfriend? After a few weeks of class, a professor wants to know, who are the serious students here? On the eve of battle a soldier might wonder, can I count on my buddies when the bullets start flying? Likewise, Our Lord wonders about us. What does Christ mean to me? Is he just a picture on a holy card? A dimly perceived do-gooder from the past? Or does he have a real place in my life? He is, after all, the Second Person of the Trinity who came into the world in order to save us. How does that truth affect my faith?

  1. Heavenly Revelation:

    Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. And Jesus in turn tells him that this knowledge doesn’t come from the world. It comes from God the Father. Recognition of Jesus as the Christ involves an act of faith. Throughout history skeptics have tried to figure out Jesus, using just their reason and tools of research. But since when do we try to understand the totality of a person with reason? Learning about another person can often require personal contact, above all, listening to him or her. Do I try to listen to Jesus in prayer, in Scripture? Or do I simply try to “figure him out”?

  1. Binding and Loosing:

    Keys were a symbol of authority. Our Lord had all authority on earth (see Matthew 28:18 and Mark 2:10). Authority implies the ability to delegate it; hence, Jesus gave Peter, as the first pope, the power to bind and loose, that is, to make disciplinary rules within the Church. A child who disobeys a licit command from its mother is committing a sin. Why? Not because Mom is God, but because Mom has authority from God. Authority, in this case papal authority, is not an imposition but rather a service. The Pope’s unique authority gives us a sure guide on moral questions. The Pope doesn’t have the power to make morality but rather to define authoritatively on issues at hand. How well do I know papal teaching? Do I make an effort to learn why he teaches as he teaches? When a difficulty arises, do I consult Church teaching? “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

 Conversation with Christ:

Lord, help me to love my faith as an expression of my personal relationship with you. Keep me from ever growing cold in my faith. Grant me a renewed appreciation for the gift of papal authority.

Resolution:

I will read a few paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, a few about the papacy (880-887, 895, 1559).

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent - Queen, the Ninevites and Me


While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord, I believe that you are present here as I turn to you in prayer. I trust and have confidence in your desire to give me every grace I need to receive today. Thank you for your love, thank you for your immense generosity toward me. I give you my life and my love in return.

Petition: Lord, help me to recognize the signs of your presence in my life. 

  1. Three Days in the Fish: When Jonah is swallowed by the whale he dies, and when he is spit out onto the shore, he comes to life again. This is the only sign that Christ promises to his listeners who seek a sign. Christ will be seen by them as truly dead, swallowed by the tomb of the earth. Then, after three days, he will come to life again in the Resurrection. As Jonah preached conversion to the Ninevites after coming back from the dead, so Christ would bring conversion and peace to some of the very ones who abandoned him or cried out for his crucifixion. Even in rebuking the “evil generation”, Christ promises them a sign that will bring hope to any of them who—like the Ninevites—later repent. If later in life they realize their evilness, Christ himself will be there to guide them back to friendship with his Father.
  1. Even the Queen Came: Christ is reminding his unbelieving listeners that the Queen of Sheba traveled from afar to hear Solomon’s wisdom. The distance from the Kingdom of Sheba in southern Arabia to Jerusalem would have taken weeks to traverse. It would have been an exhausting and expensive journey, especially considering the entourage that would have accompanied the Queen. She recognized the gift of God in him and relished the pearls of divine wisdom that he shared with her. We need to reflect on how often we avail ourselves of all that God offers us that is not a journey of weeks away, but is just a few miles away: Christ in the Eucharist. Closer still, the Bible on the shelf is filled with Christ’s message of love. All this is within easy reach and is much more than anything Solomon could share with us.
  1. Greater than Jonah: The whale was greater than Jonah. It swallowed him whole. Yet that violent death and subsequent resurrection was the key moment in Jonah’s life and mission. It was necessary not only for Jonah’s own salvation (he had been running from God), but it also was necessary for the salvation of the whole city of Nineveh. Christ makes this reference to Jonah as a forewarning to his listeners: He is greater than Jonah. He is greater than the death that would swallow him. This should inspire our faith and confidence in Christ. There is nothing greater than he. There is no greater prophet; no greater event can consume him. All things are under his dominion except one: our free will. That he doesn’t force; that he doesn’t conquer. He leaves it perfectly intact, so that we might respond freely to his call to ongoing conversion, just like the citizens of Nineveh.

Conversation with Christ: Lord Jesus, the sign of love that you give is your willingness to die a cruel and humiliating death. Yet that is not everything: You give me your Word in the Gospel. You give me your Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Help me to appreciate these great gifts and to make the most of every opportunity to receive them.

Resolution: At some point today I will offer a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking Christ for the blessings received over the past few days.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - Master, Teach Us to Pray


Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord, I am aware that you know what is best for me, and that is why I believe in you. You are more interested in my spiritual well-being than I am, and that is why I trust in you. You always give me your loving forgiveness in spite of my sins, and that is why I love you.

Petition: Lord, teach me how to pray.

1. Prayer is the Fruit of Silence: Some people like to talk. They demand to be listened to, but they don’t have the same interest in listening. However, you usually can’t listen if you aren’t used to silence. St. Theresa of Calcutta once wrote that prayer is the fruit of silence. Jesus wants us to understand that prayer is more about listening than about talking. When you are with someone who knows much about a topic that interests you, you limit yourself to asking questions and dedicate yourself to listening. Jesus is the revealer of God the Father. That means our main interest in prayer should be asking Jesus, our Lord, about his Father and then dedicating ourselves to listening.

2. God is Our Loving Father: Jesus tells us that God the Father knows what we need before we ask him. Still, we should ask, because in asking we become aware that we have needs that only God our Father can grant us. We learn to ask God what we most need for our salvation. That is why Jesus taught us the “Our Father.” Praying the “Our Father” reminds us that he is the father of all, and therefore every human person is truly our brother. In praying the “Our Father,” we essentially ask for three things: that God have the first place in our lives, that he give us our material and spiritual sustenance, and that he grant us his forgiveness.

3. Forgive in Order to Be Forgiven: Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. As the First Letter of John reminds us, we are all sinners (cf. 1:8). One of the essential characteristics of Christian life is seeking to encounter Christ’s loving mercy. We can really experience it only when we put it into practice ourselves. We can admire a person who parachutes off a plane, but we won’t understand the experience until we skydive ourselves. We grasp the true meaning of mercy when we forgive others. Our mercy will not be the same as Christ’s: He never sinned, and therefore he forgives us even though we don’t deserve it. If Christ has forgiven us, how can we dare not to forgive others?

Conversation with Christ: Lord, I thank you for teaching me to pray to the Father. I don’t always pray as much as I should. Please help me to pray more and better. Please help me to want with all my heart to give God the first place in my life, preferring his will to mine. Help me to treat others as I would like them to treat me, forgiving them when they offend me.

Resolution: I will dedicate a specific time to prayer each day.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Monday of the First Week of Lent - Holiness and Community


“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘p, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are my Savior and Redeemer. I place all my hope and trust in your divine heart. United to you, all things are possible — even my holiness. With childlike faith and trusting you without limits, I know that I will experience the triumph of your grace in my life. I wish to grow in holiness today, so that I will love you, my God, above all else. Amen.

Petition: Lord, help me to appreciate that growth in holiness occurs within a Christian community.

  1. Holiness is Essentially Seeking the Good of Others: The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it ‘governs, shapes and perfects all the means of sanctification.’” And quoting St. Therese of Lisieux, it reminds us:If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a heart, and a heart burning with love. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the apostles would forget to preach the Gospel, the martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 826).In today’s Gospel Jesus grants eternal life to those who did good to others, whom he identifies as his very self. Contrariwise, he sends to eternal damnation those who did nothing to help others, whom he identifies as his very self.
  1. Holiness Necessarily Entails a Dedication to the Christian Mission:Hand-in-hand with genuine charity is our sense of Christian mission. There is no genuine holiness apart from a radical orientation toward the spiritual and material good of others. In a word: there is no holiness without mission. As Pope Saint John Paul II reminds us:The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission. This was the earnest desire of the [Second Vatican] Council, which hoped to be able “to enlighten all people with the brightness of Christ, which gleams over the face of the Church, by preaching the Gospel to every creature.” The Church’s missionary spirituality is a journey toward holiness … (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 90).Our times cry out for this kind of holiness, one enflamed by the ardent determination to bring as many of our brothers and sisters as possible to Christ.
  1. Holiness Occurs Within the Christian Community: This universal call to holiness and mission is meant to be fostered within the context of a Christian community. We are meant to spur each other on by our devotion, good example, generosity and encouragement.Dear brothers and sisters: let us remember the missionary enthusiasm of the first Christian communities. Despite the limited means of travel and communication in those times, the proclamation of the Gospel quickly reached the ends of the earth. And this was the religion of a man who had died on a cross, ‘a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’! (I Corinthians 1:23). Underlying this missionary dynamism was the holiness of the first Christians and the first communities (Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 90).Do I strive to build up my family and Christian community with missionary awareness? Do I value the example and help I receive, and do I strive to help others along this same path of holiness?

Conversation with Christ: Lord, make my holiness real. Let it be characterized by a heartfelt, growing and universal love for all people. Let my heart beat in unison with yours. Open my eyes to all the good that I can do for my brothers and sisters, and don’t allow me to walk away from any opportunity to show this world your love. Amen.

Resolution: I will take some time today to examine my conscience and honestly assess the spontaneity, depth and extension of my charity towards others, especially those I supposedly love the most.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

First Sunday of Lent - Temptation’s Hour

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, I believe that you are leading me and that when I go astray it’s because I take my eyes off you and cease to follow you. I know that you will never abandon me. Thank you for your unconditional and restoring love. I place all my trust in you, and I long to love you in return with all my mind, heart soul and strength.

Petition: Lord Jesus, help me to be steadfast in moments of temptation.

1. The Role of Temptation Jesus’ public life begins by a duel with Satan: Before working any miracles, before speaking any parables, before gathering any disciples, the Lord makes clear what his life and mission are to be about: they are to destroy the works of the devil and establish the kingdom of grace. To do this, Jesus confronts Satan’s greatest weapon against the human person: temptation. Satan seduces the human spirit into a life of sin, which involves focusing on oneself. Jesus meets the devil on his own terrain and — in the face of mysterious temptation — remains focused on the Father and his will. Temptation plays an important role in the plan of redemption. It helps us define ourselves: directing our lives either toward God by embracing grace or toward sin by turning in on oneself.

2. Wild Beasts and Angels: We bear within ourselves the potential to become either saints or sinners.  No one’s fate is predetermined. Even the angels had to make a free choice of good or evil and, by this choice, forge their personal destinies. The love and dedication of the angels that chose the good made them faithful instruments of God’s will and plan. The vicious self-centeredness of the demons made them into ravenous beasts endlessly looking for someone to devour. Our person and our most intimate, most secret choices are part of this ongoing and cosmic struggle between good and evil. The hour of temptation is the hour of both choice and decision. The stronger the temptation, the stronger the decision must be. A repeated choice for a good decision makes a habit of good. Many good habits build a good character. A good character, open to God’s grace, is holiness.

3. We need to Take a Position: Here and Now Christ’s appearance in Galilee was marked by a call to decision. No one remains indifferent before Jesus Christ; no one hears his message without some sort of subsequent decision. Jesus calls all men and women to his kingdom, and this call constantly brings people to choose either to draw ever closer to him, or to pull further away. The best time to choose is always now, and the best place is always here. If not now, when? If not here, then where?

Conversation with Christ: Lord Jesus, I want always to choose you, but I know that I am weak. Please give me strength in my hour of temptation. Please keep me steady and inflame my heart with love so that I choose you and your ways even though it’s costly. May the temptations I overcome become the stepping-stones to a holy life.

Resolution: I will be attentive today to the subtle ways in which I am tempted to center my life around myself. When these temptations come, I firmly commit to following Christ instead of my own selfish path.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday - Forgiveness: The First Step to Love


Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Introductory Prayer: Sunny days, cloudy days and rainy days all come from you, Lord. You surprise us each day as you make each day different to bring us closer to your coming, in which we hope. Lord, your love explains everything and guides all things. I wish to respond to your infinite mercy and love by loving you more each day.

Petition: Lord you know how difficult it is for me to forgive. Help me to do so always.

1. The Doctor Who Cures the Sick: What a great reply: “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” It is a statement open to all humanity in need of redemption. It is an affirmation that shows us that God is not exclusive. Christ has come for all sinners, and he extends to everyone his call to repent and be transformed by his grace. It shows us that Christ wants to reach everybody and forgive everybody. He is not like us, who discriminate and hold grudges. When someone sins more, God makes particular efforts to reach that person and offer his pardon and his elevating grace. What an example for us to follow when we have difficult moments in our dealings with others! Christ teaches us patience. Christ teaches us that we must love and build bridges whenever the opportunity arises.

2. We Must Evangelize the Sick: Christ sets the example and sends us to evangelize people who do not know him, or who offend him knowingly, half-knowingly, or even unknowingly. Interestingly enough, it is those who oppose Christ whom he calls the “righteous,” because they are inflexible, and their criteria cannot be bent. Christ calls us, on the other hand, to forgive, as often as is necessary (Luke 17:4). We need to learn how to forgive in a world that tells us to be tough and not to let anything get past us.

3. Forgiveness Can Only Come from Love and Lead to Love: This Gospel reminds us of the story of the adulterous woman who was brought before Jesus. The Law of Moses was clear, yet Jesus knew that something had to be changed in order for man to be able to reach heaven. He knew that only forgiveness and love for everyone would unite all men in paradise. He knew all men had sinned, and therefore they could not accuse someone else without indirectly accusing themselves. That is why Christ answered to those who accused the adulterous woman, “Let the one who is sinless cast the first stone” (John 8:7). We are all sinners. We all need to be forgiven and to forgive one another. We all need to allow love to invade our hearts so that it may be the bond that reunites us.

Conversation with Christ: Thank you, Lord, for giving me the solution to my life. Help me to forgive wholeheartedly those who have done me wrong. Help me to love them, pray for them and do good to them even though they hinder and harm me. Help me to strive tirelessly to bring to the world your solution to division, discrimination, hatred and war.

Resolution: I will think of the people I dislike or am indifferent to, and I will consider at least one of their good qualities. If the opportunity arises, I will speak well of them, and if I can, I will do a good deed for them.