Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 27: Opening Day - Crossing Home

Woke up with an extra spring in my step this morning.  Actually, I woke up at 4:30am and had to force myself to fall back asleep.  It's Opening Day!  Baseball is here!  This afternoon (after a year off), my father and I will continue our yearly pilgrimage to the ballpark on the first day of the baseball season.  Yes, the Heat run this town and I minister and hold supreme allegiance to my beloved Dolphins, but the sport of baseball is the closest I get to the spiritual realm.  Watch Field of Dreams.  If you have time (a LOT of time) treat yourself to the best documentary ever made: "Ken Burns' Baseball."  There's something about this sport, warts and all, that reminds me of our human condition and our need to find transcendence in the ordinary.

Back in 2000, I bought a book called "Crossing Home: The Spiritual Lessons of Baseball" written by a gentleman whose love for God and baseball led him to intersect these two passions.  At the beginning of his third chapter, he writes: "The goal of The Game is to return Home to the origin of the journey.  The batter begins a trek which will hopefully lead him Home to complete a circle of accomplishment.  On the way he will meet many obstacles and challenges, and many attempts by The Opponent to stop his progress."  In the spiritual life, as in baseball, the object is to get home.  Our longing to be home with the Father is at the heart of the Christian journey.  There will be "outs" and "strikeouts" and "errors" along the way, but the goal is to go from one point to the next and be "safe".

Later today, I hope I will find time amidst all the noise that filters through the modern game to contemplate these great mysteries.  I usually do.  If not, at the very least, I get to enjoy a baseball game with my father.  What can be better than that?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 26: How God Sees Us

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light...Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness...” (Ephesians 5:8,11)

Let me tell you about Eleanor.  Eleanor is a kind lady from my last parish.  Every Saturday evening, she would come with her husband to the 5:30pm Mass and sit in the back pew.  She is a lovely lady (a true gentleman will not reveal her years), and she has calming, peaceful demeanor that always brought me great peace when I was in her presence.  She is a woman of deep faith and has a great love for her priests.  Eleanor is legally blind.  Yet she would see things about our faith that even I couldn’t.  So she would sit there every Saturday night with her husband who had Alzheimer’s, and she would always get excited when I would celebrate that Mass.  She was very distraught when I was transferred here, but she tracked me down nonetheless and would give me a call to check on me and to tell me about how she and her husband were doing.  About a month ago, Eleanor called me and left me a message that her husband had died.  I tried for a week and half to call her back, but later discovered she was staying with her daughter.  We finally spoke, and even over the phone, her great faith was evident.  What I remember most about her is how she would light up when she heard my voice.  She never saw me as clearly as one of you could, but yet she loved me.  I’d like to think that this is how God sees us: past the imperfections and with great love.

In my ministry, I’ve encountered so many blind people who see so much more than we do when it comes to the faith.  In today’s gospel, Jesus cures a blind beggar.  The Lord “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” — which means Sent —. So he went and washed, and came back able to see (John 9:6-7).”  I was hearing a beautiful homily this morning from Father Robert Barron (I highly recommend his website, and he alluded to St. Augustine’s teaching on Jesus’ actions to cure the blind man.  This spittle coming from the mouth of Jesus evokes his divinity, for everything that comes from the mouth of the Living Word gives life, and the mud from the earth represent Jesus’ humanity.  The two natures, human and divine, come together to re-create this beggar and bring him his sight.  Jesus sends him to the pool which means “Sent” and Father Barron notes that this pool symbolizes baptism and the blind man is totally immersed by “the One who was sent” by immersing himself in this pool.  Just like St. Paul told us to “put on Christ,” this blind man is immersed in the light of the Lord.

Towards the end of the gospel, Jesus seeks the blind man out when the Pharisees throw him out of the temple.  There is so much going on here.  Jesus immerses this man in his light and then seeks him out to reveal to him that he is the Son of Man and that he is looking straight into his eyes.  Amazing!  The poor beggar goes from not seeing a thing to gazing upon the beautiful face of our Lord.  Jesus seeking this man out after he was rejected reminds us that God always goes in search of the ones the world pays no attention to.  In the first reading, when Samuel goes to find the next king of Israel at Jesse’s house, appearances are deceiving because the strongest and most handsome of Jesse’s sons aren’t the chosen ones, but the youngest, David, is the one chosen by God to be a king. 

Our God, thankfully, does not use human criteria to choose us and find us acceptable or pleasing.  “God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”  Unfortunately, sin clouds our eyes and we go around and judge those who are beautiful or ugly or tall or small or too skinny or too fat.  We too often judge by appearances and don’t look into a person’s heart. We do this unconsciously every time we go up to the supermarket check-out and start skimming through the magazines that obsess about what celebrities have gained weight, lost weight, how they look in swim wear, how they look in certain outfits at awards shows, and “who wore it best.”  Our culture trains us from early on to look suspiciously on those who look different and to admire fine physical beauty.  Yet our Lord looks past that.  Far too often in my years of teaching 8th grade girls, and some boys too, I would have to counsel these teenagers through great self-esteem crises as they found themselves not pretty enough or good enough.  I would always remind them that we are all beautiful in God’s eyes.  We are all supermodels and chiseled athletes.  We are all his children.  This is how He sees us, and this is how we should see each other.

But like I said, we don’t see with the eyes of God.  St. Paul reminds us today that we were once “darkness but now we are light in the Lord.”  We must walk out of the darkness of this judgmental world, and start appreciating real beauty:  that which lies within.  We must reject what St. Paul calls the fruitless works of darkness and see everyone with the light of Christ.  While they can’t see, this is how many blind people “see” those around them.  They probably see more clearly than we do.

Let me bookend the homily with another lady from this parish who sits to my right in about the fifth pew at the midday Mass.  She also is blind and from the moment I arrived here she would take great joy in greeting me after Mass.  She plays a fine piano, and she loves to dance.  In fact, whenever she greets me after Mass, she asks me, “when are we going to dance?”  Well, last summer during our parish gala, I pulled her out to the dance floor and danced with her.  I felt a bit like Bruce Springsteen pulling a young Courtney Cox up onto the stage in the “Dancing in the Dark” video (sorry for the dated 80’s music video reference).  She danced her heart out oblivious to the people dancing around her.  I had to kind of steer her away from others but she was so happy.  She brings her faith and her beautiful way of seeing the world every Sunday to Mass and every time we have a parish mission or event.  Her faith is remarkable.  So today, we can learn from these two blind women and their faith, we can learn from the blind man who sees the Lord face to face, we can learn from our Lord who looks on each of us as beautiful human beings made in his image, we can start looking at others the way God sees us, and we can walk out of the darkness of sin and immerse ourselves in the light of our Lord who looks upon our beautiful face and asks us: “when are we going to dance?”

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 25: The Pope's Confession

Pictures, videos, and images speak volumes and are at times the best homilies and sermons.  Yesterday Pope Francis led a Penance Service at St. Peter's Basilica.  The service included some readings, chants, and a homily by the Holy Father.  But what everyone will remember from last night is how the Pope, while being led to where he was going to hear confessions, surprised his secretary and went to confession himself:
To my knowledge, and I could be wrong (I have been before), this is the first photograph or video I have ever seen of a Pope going to confession.  It definitely speaks volumes.  The Servant of the Servants of God leading by example.  He has been pleading with us all Lent to go to confession, so he shows us the way like Christ did.  Which leads us to the question I posed yesterday on Twitter when I first saw this video:  "If the Pope goes to confession, what is holding you back?" 

P.S.  It's Saturday.  There's a church near you that's offering confessions today.  Consider this your invitation to return to the Lord through confession.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Day 24: Don't Limit God's Mercy

Too often a priest hears a parishioner tell him that they don't go to confession because their sins are "unforgivable."  I always respond: "Why do you put limits on God's mercy?"  His mercy is infinite.  It knows no bounds.  As I said earlier in the week, it defies logic and goes beyond any human comprehension.  We may look upon evil deeds that others do and think to ourselves that we cannot possibly forgive them, but God does.  Adultery? Forgiven.  Murder? Forgiven?  Abortion? Forgiven.  Even the greatest of sinners (insert name of evil dictator or despot here) can be forgiven by our God if they genuinely repent.  This concept of God's infinite mercy is something that I take with me every time I enter the confessional.  There we should find a place of healing, of peace, and of mercy.  So let's stop making excuses as to why we don't go to confession.  There is nothing so grave that it cannot be forgiven.  Even if the world doesn't forgive you for what you may have done, God will!!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 23: Jesus Heal Me

Almost daily, someone comes into our church asking to be prayed for, blessed or anointed because they are sick.  It doesn't have to be a physical ailment.  It can be spiritual, mental, or even a sin that it is hurting the spirit.  They have something that is hurting and they simply want to be healed.  Here's the thing:  Jesus wants to heal us.  He spent most of his public life healing people, casting them free of their sins, and wants to do the same for you.  What is hurting you?  What do you need to be healed?  On this day, bring that ailment before the Lord, spend some time in prayer and simply repeat these three words:  "Jesus heal me."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 22: God's Creation

In looking for our own Mount Tabor to experience the glory of the Lord this Lent, it is most fitting to look for him in His magnificent creation.  For those of us who live in South Florida, it often difficult to look beyond the traffic and the endless sprawling jungle of suburbs and strip malls, but they all end where the Atlantic Ocean begins out east and where the Everglades begin out west and in points in between, there are little parcels of quiet green space where one can retreat to have their quiet moments with God and his creation.  Yesterday was one of those days for me where I ventured out to the ocean to just take in the majesty of God's handiwork.  It was a particularly windy, yet sunny day and the waves at times crashed rather violently along the seawall. There I stood on a pier gazing out at God's wonders.  The sun dancing so beautifully off the water, the waves crashing up against sailboats anchored offshore, the wind brushing through the palm trees.  Even the night before when it rained all night, it was fitting to see how God takes care of his creation with the much needed rainfall.  Today, find a green spot or a piece of creation where you can have a moment with God.  It could be your backyard, it could be a tiny little piece of grass near your work, but God has gifted us with such a beautiful day, don't let it pass without marveling at the work of His hands.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 21: Mary's Unreserved YES

Today we contemplate the beautiful encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel as we celebrate the Annunciation.  One of the great lessons we take from this encounter is Mary's freedom to say yes without reservations.  Let me explain.  When I was 17 years old and decided to enter the seminary to study for the priesthood, I said yes to God, but I also had reservations:  "Am I too young? What if it doesn't work out? What if…What if…What if…"  It's not that I didn't trust God.  It's that I didn't trust Him enough.  Yes, I was young (Mary was younger), but I still hadn't matured in my faith to the point where I could give an unreserved "yes" to God like Mary did.  Because she was without sin, Mary had the true freedom to respond to God's call, to say yes, and to accomplish his will.  When most of us set out to do God's will, we always have reservations because, let's face it, we're dealing with the divine and since we don't know where God is taking us, we enter this journey with reservations, escape plans, and exit routes in case we don't like where the journey is taking us.  But can God possibly steer us wrong?  Of course not!  We have to follow the example of the Blessed Mother and trust totally in him.  She and Joseph were thrown many curveballs, but they never wavered in accomplishing the will of God.  They had a mission and a destination, and they were not going to be deterred from reaching their goal.  We too have a destination.  Imagine driving on a highway that leads us to God, but this highway is littered with exits that tempt us to go in different directions.  Stay the course.  Don't get distracted.  Have total trust like Mary did when she said yes to the angel. If we are responding to a divine call, God will most definitely take care of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 20: Praying the Psalms

A couple of weeks ago, I recommended reading Psalm 51 as a Lenten practice.  In reality, all the psalms are a treasure that we have that help us focus our attention and praise on our God.  The psalm in today's Mass continues the theme of thirsting for God as we read from Psalm 42:  "Athirst is my soul for the living God?  When shall I go and behold the face of God? (verse 3)"  Our souls are indeed longing for God because there is nothing on this earth that can satisfy our thirst for him. 
The psalms take us through all of human emotions when it comes to our relationship with God: from despair to anguish to hope to consolation to longing to praise and adoration.  The entirety of Psalm 42 is a good psalm to meditate on today in its totality, but we all have a favorite psalm.  Sometime during this Lent, read your favorite psalm slowly and exult in the wealth we have in these wonderful treasures of the Bible.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 19: Hardened Hearts

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95:8)

A week or so ago, I was standing in front of the church when a parishioner passed by and asked why the water in the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes that was just in front of me was turned off.  I kind of smirked and half kiddingly told her that we were “awaiting the new waters of Easter”…and then I said, “I can’t lie to you.  One of the pumps is broken.”  But here’s the thing, even though I hadn’t intended to turn the grotto off, the waters did indeed stop flowing when Lent started.  So yesterday, I stood by the church entrance again and gazed upon the barrenness of the grotto, and thought about today’s readings.  The pump is being fixed and will probably be ready this week, but I decided to keep the grotto off until the Easter Vigil.  We are travelling though the desert, and Lent is supposed to make us thirst for Christ.  

In the first reading, the Israelites are thirsty and are grumbling against God.  Even though they had seen the great works of the Lord as he led them out of Egypt from slavery into freedom, their hearts had become hardened.  Yet at the Lord’s command, Moses strikes the rock at Horeb and water flows from it.  God has mercy on them despite their grumbling, and quenches their thirst.  In the gospel, the Samaritan woman’s heart has been hardened by sin, but Jesus still looks on her with mercy and offers her life giving waters.  The Samaritan woman symbolizes the Church unredeemed that approached Christ and walks away redeemed by his life giving waters (cf. St. Augustine).    Like at the rock at Horeb, Jesus strikes our hardened hearts and washes away the stains of sin with the water he offers. 

But what hardens our hearts?  What makes us grumble against God?  Why do we approach him with skepticism as the Samaritan women initially did at the beginning of the gospel?  Why do our hearts harden when we hear his voice?  Quite simply, we know that if we let Jesus into our hearts, we must change.  As we read the gospel about the Samaritan woman, we are able to witness her conversion and transformation from a woman going about a daily chore and closed off to the world by sin to a woman who became a true disciple that spread the word about the Messiah.  Her life changed forever.  When we encounter the living Christ, we should sing like the psalmist today:  “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation (Ps 95:1).”  Christ is the rock of our salvation.  Scott Hahn had a beautiful mediation on this during the week when tying all these readings together specifically when Jesus speaks of his “hour” with the woman:  “Jesus’ “hour”…is the hour when the Rock of our salvation was struck on the Cross. Struck by the soldier’s lance, living waters flowed out from our Rock (see John 19:34-37).”  From the side of our Lord, we are cleansed, renewed, and refreshed.  Allow Jesus to soften your heart this Lent.  He thirsts for us.  He gives us life despite our sins.  How can our hearts possibly be hardened when we hear him calling out to us?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 18: With the Father

"My son, you are here with me always..." (Luke 15:31)

Today we read the gospel of the Prodigal Son at Mass, and I focused on this verse above that the Father tells the elder son.  Even though the elder son never went to distant lands like his younger brother had, and even though he stayed home obeying his Father, he was still distant, still far from his Father.  This is why he would not go into the house to join the feast for his brother who had been found.  This is why his Father had to go out to get him just as the Father had to go out to get the lost son.  The elder son complains about the feast and how unfair it is.  And it is.  The reception for the lost son defies logic.  But God doesn't deal in logic.  He deals in mercy and love.  This is why, like the father in the parable, God comes out to meet each of us where we are at to invite us to come in for the feast and to remind us that even though we are far away, he is with us always.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 17: A Unexpected Gift

All of us have been given gifts from God.  Some of us unfortunately hide them while others recognized that God gave us these gifts to share with others.  Imagine if Andrea Bocelli never opened his mouth to share his sublime voice with the world.  Yesterday, several people sent me a link to Italy's version of the singing show "The Voice."  In case you don't watch the show here, like me, the premise is that the judges have their backs turned to the contestants as they begin singing so that they are judged solely on their voice and if the judges like what they hear, they swing their chairs around to choose that contestant to advance in the competition (or something like that).  Well on Wednesday night in Italy, a religious sister was the voice the judges had their back to, and well, look at the results (it's in Italian, but the reactions don't need translation):
Suor Cristina told the judges that she simply wanted to share her gift and to evangelize.  Evangelize she has because as of this morning, this video has been viewed by more than 3 million people.  Suor Crisitna is an Ursuline Sister of the Holy Family and her appearance will no doubt shed a positive light on the religious life (it really is fun, people!), and she reminds us that we are called to share the gifts that God has given us with others regardless if we're wearing a habit, a collar, or just regular clothes. 

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture in the Vatican and is an avid Twitter user and admirer of the finer things of popular culture (he's an Adele fan!) lauded this sister on his Italian twitter account with the hashtag #suorcristina and added the biblical verse, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10)”.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 16: Trust in the Lord

The very first psalm tells us how blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord.  How very blessed indeed.  Yesterday, I was privileged to meet our new auxiliary bishop, Peter Baldacchino right before he was ordained a bishop.  I walked into his vesting room with another priest and found that the soon to be bishop was a little nervous (who wouldn't be?) yet very much at peace.  You could see that in his face during the entire ordination with his big, joyful smile.  All deacons, priests, and bishops commend themselves entirely to God during their ordination when they prostrate themselves before the altar during the Litany of Saints in a complete act of total trust in the Lord.  We recognize our own unworthiness and look to the Lord with complete confidence that he will guide us in our mission to proclaim the gospel and to offer his people the gifts of his love, mercy, and peace.

So many times because of our own pride we trust too much in ourselves and our ability to get out of problems.  We must learn to trust more in our God like Jesus did.  Jesus always turned to his Father.  This morning Pope Francis talked about this trust in the Father for those who have lost their way and forgotten that they are children of God: 
"To the end, to the end, to the end there is always a possibility. And this man, when he realized that he had lost his name, he had lost everything, everything, looks up and says one word: ‘Father.’ And God's answer is one word: ‘Son!’ If one of us in life, having so much trust in man and in ourselves, we end up losing the name, losing this dignity, there is still a chance to say this word that is more than magic, it is more, it is strong: ‘Father.’ He always waits for us to open a door that we do not see and says to us: ‘Son.’ Let us ask the Lord for the grace that He would give to each of us the wisdom to have confidence only in Him — not in things, not in human powers; only in Him.” (Pope Francis 3/20/14)  May we learn to look to God always in our time of need even if it's to simply call out to him "Father."  Our God will always reply.  Learn to trust in Him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 15: Joseph and our Lenten Journey

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and turn to him to aid us in our journey.  He is held up by the Church as a model of faith and virtue for protecting the Holy Family from all harm.  He was a just man who listened to God's will and through all the gospels, he does not say a single word.  We do well to learn from Joseph's example who through his silence was more attune to the will of God in his life and became a model of faith through his actions and not his words.  As we were reminded in the Gospel last Sunday, Lent is a time of listening to God and putting his will into action.  Two traits that St. Joseph was able to beautifully exhibit throughout his life.  We pray for the Church on this day, and for our all of our fathers:  that they may be inspired by the example of Joseph and courageously lead their families closer to God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 14: Call Timeout

Its midday.  Are you having one of those days?  Then stop!  God is giving you, at this very moment as you read this, the opportunity to take a timeout.  It doesn’t have to be long.  Take a few seconds or a few minutes to give him thanks for his incredible love and mercy.  Take a timeout to take a deep breath if you’re having one of those days.  Take this time to marvel at how much God loves us and to contemplate how blessed we truly are despite the problems that life throws at us.  When life is going too fast, it never hurts to call a quick timeout to reconnect with the Source of our strength.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day 13: An Irish Smile

As is tradition on this blog, we pause on St. Patrick's Day to smile.  Jesus wants to smile and laugh more often.  That is the hallmark of a Christian.  A Christian must be joyful and share that joy with others.  So as always, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the very moving rendition of "Oh Danny Boy" by...the Muppets!  Have a good laugh and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

And if you would like to say the prayer of St. Patrick to drive out the snakes from your life, here you go:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day 12: Our Goal

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)

Every year the Church offers us the gospel of the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent to remind us of what we are working towards as a Christian people.  The resplendent and radiant Christ is our goal, for we hope to be that radiant and in the Father’s presence one day as well.  As we journey through the desert of Lent, we look towards the glorious Christ who offers us hope.

Goals are important in our lives as we strive to live better lives.  In the Miami Dolphins meeting room in their training facility, there are two huge pictures hanging on the wall of the championship teams of 1972 and 1973 with an inscription on the bottom that reads “Super Bowl Champions.”  But there is also a third frame hanging on that same wall that is empty that also has the inscription of “Super Bowl Champions.”  It is to remind the players that they too can be forever immortalized on that wall like those great 70’s teams if they set out to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.  When training camp starts, everyone receives their schedule for the season, including the team priest, and the schedule doesn’t end on the last regular season game…it ends on Super Bowl Sunday.  That is our goal.  That is what the team sets out to do.  If we don’t set goals, it is truly impossible to achieve them.  The same thing goes for our faith.  We look at the transfigured Christ and we want to be like him, but is that our goal?  Is holiness our goal?  We may think that our sins are to grave for us to ever be like Christ.  Christ says otherwise.  His mercy is more powerful than your doubt.  We may think that we may never be holy or achieve sainthood.  How do you know if you do not try to live a holy life?  We look upon the transfigured Christ and see our goal.  This is what Christ wants for all of us.  This is why he took the disciples up to Mount Tabor.  He showed them a glimpse of what is to come.  The disciples in turn hear the voice of the Father telling them to listen to his Son.  All of us are called to listen to Jesus during this Lenten season so that we may achieve our heavenly goal.  Yet, it is impossible to listen clearly to the Lord if sin is still reigning in our hearts.  Lent is a time to cast sin aside, go up to your mountain where you encounter God and listen to him.  He has a plan for each of us.  We will never know what that plan is or how to achieve the goals he has for us until we make the time to really listen to the voice of God.  Then we will realize that heaven isn’t just a goal for us but our destiny.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 11: First Confessions

This morning 100 children from our parish will go to confession for the first time as they prepare for their First Communion later this spring.  They will be nervous and anxious, yet they will approach the sacrament with an innocence that us "big people" can learn from.  Children see God as their loving Father.  Their minds aren't yet clouded with confusing ideologies that make them question everything.  They simply place themselves in God's hands, no questions asked, and trust in his loving mercy.  No doubt. No cynicism.  Just pure and simple trust.  If you are preparing to make a good confession during this Lenten season, perhaps you should approach the sacrament as a child would.  Look up at your God and see a Father who loves you to no end and places no limits on his mercy.  We are the ones that limit his mercy when we think: "he can't possibly forgive me for this."  He is God.  We are not.  He is our Father.  We are his children.  He is pure mercy!  May we approach him with the innocense and simplicity of a little child as we ask for his mercy and forgiveness.  Approach the sacrament like a child approaching it for the very first time.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 10: Old Grudges

"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." (Matthew 5:23-24)

I've never understood grudges.  Yes, people wrong us and do us harm.  They may betray us and do horrible things to us, but what is the point of holding a grudge against someone?  Does it do us any good?  Does it enrich our lives any?  Does it allow us to move on from the hurt that person caused?  Hardly.  All grudges do is foster hatred and darken our hearts.  When we forgive and forget, we are liberated from past hurts and old wounds are healed.  Jesus understood this when he says in today's gospel that before we approach the altar we must be reconciled with our brother or sister.  If you are holding on to a past hurt, let it go.  Place it in the hands of our Lord.  Feel the liberating power of forgiveness and free yourself of anything that may darken your heart.  If it is too hard for you, just think of that person and repeat the words that Jesus said on the cross over and over again: "Father, forgive them...Father, forgive them...Father, forgive them."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 9: A Year With Pope Francis

No doubt today that many in the media will have stories of the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election and talk about how he has “changed the Church.”  Thing is, we still believe in the same things we believed in a year ago.  We still hold to the same doctrines and morals that we held on to a year ago.  We still celebrate the Mass the same way we celebrated it a year ago.  The secular media keeps waiting for a seismic shift in Church doctrine to conform with the world’s “values” if you can call them that, but unfortunately that isn’t coming because what Francis has set out to do is change our hearts.  A Vatican newspaper this morning called it the “Gentle Revolution.”  We remember his gestures of humility and simplicity far more than anything he may preach on.  You can apply that to any Christian.  But truth be told, Pope Francis has delivered some great homilies and messages over the last year beginning with his “journey, confess, and build” homily which was his first as Pope, the “smell like sheep” homily to the priests on Holy Thursday, the “be protagonists of history” homily to the youth in Rio for World Youth Day, and every single day he has a different message through his daily homilies.  But we return to his simplicity and his call to be a Poor Church for the poor.  The poor are never far from his mind as it was the center of his Lenten message.  It affects our lives in our parishes because it makes us ever conscience of those that are in need around us.  So yes, Francis has changed a great many things to focus our attention on Christ, but then again, aren’t we all called to daily conversion and change as we seek out the living Christ?  May we all pray for our Holy Father as he continues to lead our Church.  May the Good Shepherd give him the health and wisdom to be a shepherd after His own heart.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 8: The 51st Psalm

Every Friday morning, priests and religious and a great many lay people read this psalm during their morning prayer.  It is penitential in character and goes to the heart of what we are striving for this Lenten season:  a humbled and contrite heart.  Some years ago after a confession, my confessor asked me to pray this entire psalm slowly and deliberately.  Today we hear this psalm in the Mass and as we continue to cleanse our hearts of sin during our Lenten journey, I also invite you to pray this beautiful psalm slowly and deliberately at some point today, for we are all longing for clean hearts and the psalmist recognizes that the only one who can provide this clean and pure heart is the Lord.  So go, get your Bible, pray Psalm 51, or if you want to simply meditate on the six verses read at Mass today, here you go:

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;

a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.