The Life of Faith

A priest once said that the Church is at its best when its views do not align with the majority of people in the world. Jesus Himself never said the path of sainthood would be easy, yet He calls us all to be saints. Saints are called to share their faith with the world and that faith is not easy to accept! The first disciples and martyrs that followed Jesus were stoned, ridiculed, and put to death for their faith and for daring to proclaim it.

“The ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” John 14: 30-31

Jesus faced oppression throughout His entire ministry, and to a greater extent, His entire life, beginning with Herod’s attempt to have Him killed as a baby. When we embraced our faith, we accepted the responsibility to uphold the mission of Jesus. We do not choose a life of ease and simplicity, and at times it is possible to mourn the loss of that kind of life. No doubt Peter and Paul entertained similar feelings; Peter looked at other fishermen going out on their boats everyday, knowing exactly what their day would entail. Paul, who was wealthy, had “lorded over” many before his dramatic call from the Lord. These men willingly left their former lives to suffer for Jesus Christ.

Jesus was right about the ruler of this world. Satan has come into his own and will stop at nothing to lure us away from our faith and choose to believe in an earthly lifestyle. He has done a marvelous job of making this earthly life appear greater (and so much easier) than a life of faith.

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

Jesus asks us to follow a life path similar to His, which can be a hard request to accept, but when we do, our reward waits for us in Heaven. This reward is so great it is beyond anything we can possibly imagine on earth.

The Shepherd’s Voice

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Israel. During my visit, I saw that the land lived up to the way it was depicted in the Bible–there were a lot of shepherds caring for a lot of sheep. As we toured the country, the question arose as to how an individual shepherd knew which sheep were his. Several times we saw herds of sheep with multiple shepherds watching them. So how did these shepherds keep track of their own sheep? It turned out that a more accurate question was how did the sheep know which shepherd to follow? They actually do learn the voice of their shepherd and will indeed follow the sound of their master’s voice.

Jesus often compares us to sheep through numerous metaphors in the Bible. Considering the general behavior of sheep, this is not the most flattering comparison for us. Sheep are not known for their intelligence, which is why they often wander off or just follow the rest of the herd, regardless of where it is going. Clearly, we are much more intelligent than the averaged sheep; yet, we can fall into sheep-like habits.

We human beings can become distracted and stray from our shepherd and our flock, but if we know our Shepherd’s voice we should always be able to find our way back to Him. Our Shepherd, of course, is Jesus, but we may choose to follow other “shepherds.” Jesus said, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.” John 10:25-26. In our modern world, many shepherds’ voices clamor for our attention: money, fame, power, etc. It is easy to follow those voices because they are familiar and can provide instant (though temporary) comfort. At this time, it is more important than ever to learn the voice of the true Shepherd. It may not be so easy to follow Him, but He can provide the ultimate comfort–everlasting life with Him in those “green pastures beside still waters.”

Be Happy or Holy

I was told by a Franciscan friar that many people believe that we have a choice: we can either be happy or holy, but the truth is that we can be both. Consider the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church. He proclaimed the good news, yet the crowd who heard him rebuked him and then stoned him. “Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.” Acts 7:57 Even while Stephen was being tortured he still maintained a joyful appearance that surpassed all imagining.

Stephen was only the first of many early Christians who suffered and then were martyred for their faith. The stories of the trials and tribulations of most of the apostles ended in death. Nevertheless, these men went through all this pain while remaining devoted to the Lord. This devotion gave them holiness and because of their holiness, the Lord granted them happiness even in death by martyrdom.

Only God has the ability to instill the pure joy of knowing our Savior Jesus Christ within each of us. Stephen looked into the sky and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That was enough. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’.” John 6:35

There is no denying that life as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ can be difficult, sometimes unbearable, but if we hold fast to the word of God, we are guaranteed true happiness in life. In fact, we are guaranteed not only happiness, but we have the promise of so much more–the holiness that leads us to heaven.

We Are Witnesses

“God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior

to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.

We are witnesses of these things,

as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:31

Today in the first reading the Apostles, before the Sanhedrin, refuse to stop preaching the gospel. That Jesus is the long awaited savior, that he has come to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins!

My dear friends, Jesus is risen and he lives. How can we everyday be witnesses to the resurrected Christ? Not in a judgmental ” You are a heathen and going to hell, I’m so holy and close to Jesus,” way (I hope you have never heard those words from a Christian…I sadly have), but in a way that mirrors who our savior is, love.

God’s plan, completed with Jesus’ resurrection, is the plan of Israel’s and our salvation. To turn back (metanoia) to the Lord and receive forgiveness. To love God with all our hearts, and our neighbor as we love ourselves. Does my life as a Christian give witness to the person of Jesus? Do I speak boldly with charity, or boldly with injury seeking to condemn? Do I seek reconciliation or let judgement fester into malice? Do I seek to service God, or serve others? Do I walk humbly with my God or do I elevate myself?

Jesus crucifixion was witnessed by many. Jesus’ resurrection, was seen by a few. Those few witnesses eventually turned into many! The apostles saw Jesus, resurrected, with wounds, in their mist. Not a ghost but our God fully alive. The joy of our hearts is to be an Easter people. The same way Jesus shows his wounds to the apostles, is the same way we must preach the Gospel. Through our vulnerability, our humbleness and our boldness to live God’s plan. We know we do not do it alone, God always leads the way.

The wounds we no longer carry because Christ heals us, tell everyone who encounters us, everyone we have will be a witness to, that sin and despair do not win, the joy of the gospel is real and is for all who receive it.

Despite the careless wounding words of a friend, despite the family member that ruined Jesus for you, and in spite of the Christian who judges you using God’s words, but does not judge their own lives by the same measure; yes, in spite of all and more of these things, God reigns. A few people struggling to reflect Jesus to all do not get to tear down or define Christianity.

God is alive! What a huge responsibility we have now that we have come to know mercy and love. Now that our life is continuously transformed by God’s grace. Now that the responsibility falls to us to continue to witness these things.

Lord today and everyday allow me to receive your teachings, your mercy, your love. Teach me to make my whole life a witness to who you are, Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Faith

Can you imagine standing in front of the apostles and handing over all your earthly belongings? You do this out of faith that these men will take and use what you give them for the benefit of many others. This actually happened in the earliest days of the Church; we find an account of it in the Acts of the Apostles.

“Those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.” Acts 4:34

We currently live in a world of abundance. The more people obtain, the more they desire; some believe they need more in order to survive. Jesus calls us to detach as He called the early Christians. A Franciscan friar once told me: “It is a lot easier not to care about money when you do not have any.” That may sound odd, but it is true–the best way to relieve financial worries is to give all your possessions away. Clearly, this may not be a realistic solution for the majority of us; however, it sets a good standard for which we can all strive.

“If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.” John 3:12

We go to church, we fast, we pray and we truly do believe that Christ came and died on the cross for us. We believe that He rose from the dead, yet somehow we struggle believing that He will take care of our day-to-day worries. Jesus calls us to have faith, only faith. What does it take to completely surrender yourself to Jesus, our Savior? We need to start listening to Him about these “earthly things” and then detach ourselves from them. Only then can we completely understand the “heavenly things” and believe.

Born Again

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jn 3:1–8

Hello friends,

Today I’m given one of those passages that is often misquoted or used in a way unfamiliar to us—this is often called the “born again” dialogue. If you’re like me, you probably have family members that are non-Catholic Christians. I have several family members that are Jehovah’s Witnesses and take the born-again dialogue much differently than we do. In fact, they read the born-again dialogue quite literally, and in a way unfamiliar to us.  A lot of people are surprised when I tell this story, but I was once raised as a Jehovah’s Witness for several years in my youth under the recommendation of my aunt. She is still a Jehovah’s Witness. I, of course, am not. For many years, this resulted in many, many arguments—ironically stemming from a dialogue in the gospels about seeing and accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Oftentimes, in my younger years, the conversation would go like this: “Are you born again, Ryan?” “Yes, Tía Pilar, I was born again when I was baptized.” “No, no, you have to be born again in water, and as a Jehovah’s Witness.” (Tía means aunt in Spanish. All of my family members are of Ecuadorian descent. The majority of them have since splintered to Europe or the States.) This, of course, in my much more combative years, resulted in me being combative about how the truth needed to be discussed, rather than my being more charitable with a family member even though we stringently disagreed on matters of faith. The one thing we absolutely agreed upon was that baptism was the way the unsaved were brought to Christ. Ironically enough, this “born again” dialogue led to divisiveness between me and several family members. We weren’t talking about Jesus anymore, we were arguing over the phone. (Even though I pray for her that she returns to the Catholic Church, we no longer argue over the phone.) Evangelization, as you’re quite aware, can often lead to quite heated moments.

Amusingly enough, we were talking about evangelization in my Lay Dominican formation class. It was a separate discussion that diverged from a larger discussion about Aquinas and the works of mercy. But one point we all agreed upon is that taking a largely combative stance during evangelization efforts “makes you lose the floor.” That’s sort of how it also is during arguments, right? Even amongst significant others and friends, if you raise your voice, both of you lose the floor. Even politics is tinged in this way for a reason—seeing a politician upset or livid about anything garners sound bites whether they’re in the right or wrong.

Jesus Himself says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” and, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” For Nicodemus, he was obviously baffled, because he at first takes Jesus’ words literally—how can anyone return to their mother’s wombs? Jesus, of course, speaks of being born of water and Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this further, “One becomes a member of this people [the Church] not by a physical birth, but by being ‘born anew,’ a birth ‘of water and the Spirit,’ (John 3:3–5) that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism” [CCC 782].

For my aunt, this is where the biggest point of contention was—what being born again consisted of. For my aunt, it sort of amounted to the fact that I must have had a major, epiphanic, “come to Jesus moment” in my adulthood. However, what I would tell the non-Catholic Christians I have disagreements about this with is to remember that we do have “come to Jesus” moments. At every Mass, I confess my sins and accept Christ, and every time I go to confession I accept Christ and accept His forgiveness and try to keep on the path towards holiness. The early Christians and Church Fathers knew of “being born again” via a trinitarian baptism, for example.

St. Pope John Paul II takes this a bit further, and this is really what I want to end on. He wrote in Catechesi Tradendae of “the problem of children baptized in infancy [who] come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ” (CT 19). To make the point more explicit, St. Pope John Paul II says, “It is true that being a Christian means saying ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ, but let us remember that this ‘yes’ has two levels: It consists in surrendering to the word of God and relying on it, but it also means, at a later stage, endeavoring to know better—and better the profound meaning of this word” (CT 20). In other words, being born again as following Christ requires a *commitment* to follow Him as His disciple.

What I want to focus on is this “yes.” Do we say yes? Or do we adopt an attitude of combative behavior while we evangelize? Do we focus on commonalities while evangelizing and then take it from there? When we make critical remarks about other Christians, are we still making that commitment to that “come to Jesus moment” we have at Mass? Are we helping others come back to faith when they struggle or when they feel they have strayed too far? When we see others who are perhaps misinformed or have sincere questions about the faith, do we scoff at them? Or do we help them understand what the faith and catechism teaches? The old adage of “it takes a village to raise a child” does have some merits when we remember that we—all of us—are the Body of Christ. Even while we believe trinitarian baptism is valid, the work is simply not finished once we are baptized. Baptism is almost like a constant and enduring “yes” to Christ and that is something that we should all remember.

Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday, and this fact has not escaped me while writing this. I have met many Catholics in my travels and conversations this past year. COVID or job loss had contributed to a loss—or struggle—of faith in some of them. And if you have struggled with belief before, you sometimes know this struggle with faith can often lead to sin that we later regret. I reminded someone yesterday of Jesus’ words to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my mercy.” Jesus always, always commits to embracing us when we return to Him. But are we always committed to Him?

St. Faustina, pray for us.

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

Eucharistic Fire – Beach Barbecue with Jesus

I have gone fishing once in my life. I thought it was the most boring activity ever. Fishing is one of those activities that you need to truly enjoy the silence and the slowness of it. We spent the majority of the day on that lake and I caught nothing. My friend had caught the tiniest of fishes and threw it back in the lake. If the purpose of going fishing is to catch fish, I would classify our trip as unsuccessful. And for those people that enjoy the activity of fishing simply for the leisurely pleasure of fishing, whether they catch fish or not, I do not understand and can’t see how the act of fishing is to be exciting.

At the end of that day, we packed up all the fishing gear into the car and I thought to myself, in my frustration, “I’m not doing that again.” I imagine the disciples had a little bit of that frustration after spending an entire night at sea and not catching anything. For the disciples fishing wasn’t a leisurely activity, as it was for my friend; fishing for them was a necessity of life. Having just lost a truly special friend—Jesus, who was crucified by the Romans—they were also in grief.

In the Gospel of today seven disciples go out fishing at night but catch nothing. At dawn the resurrected Jesus appears to them and asks, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” After they admit that they could not catch any fish, Jesus tells them to drop the nets on the right side of the boat, and behold, they catch 153 large fish. John, the beloved disciple, is the first to realize that it is the resurrected Lord. And Peter, at hearing John say this, jumps into the Sea of Tiberias in all his clothes and swims to shore to be with Jesus.

When Peter reaches the shore, he finds that Jesus is in the middle of a barbecue on the beach! Jesus had a fire going with fish and bread on it. He invites the disciples to have breakfast with him. Peter with immense strength brings over the catch of 153 large fish to Jesus and all the disciples break bread together. I would consider their fishing trip a success.

A few things I will admit about my own fishing trip: it was hard, it took dedication and patience, it took the cooperation of nature and my own skills together. I have the fortune of just going to the fish market if I want fish—I don’t need to struggle like the disciples had struggled throughout the night. However, I struggle in other ways in life. I have difficulties at work, I have strained relationships with people, I fall into temptation. In all these instances I have to remember that I am not alone. Jesus is with me. If my human-way is too difficult in accomplishing the task, I need to listen to God’s voice and follow the way He tells me to do things. This is precisely what the disciples did—they listened to Jesus’ command!

How much easier life is when we listen to the Lord! We find that Jesus makes all things easier and that God already knows what we truly need. Just as Jesus knew that after a long night at sea the disciples needed a good meal, a meal being prepared in which Jesus already had all the necessities to feed the disciples. I imagine that beach barbecue to be amazing, for that fish and bread to be sweet as honey, for the company and love shared to be everlasting. We may come across obstacles on our mission to build up the Kingdom. But Jesus will help us through. There will be times where we feel unequipped, but like the charcoal fire on the beach burning hot, know that the Holy Spirit is burning a light within you to do the Father’s will. Like the seven disciples bringing fish to Jesus, we too are called to bring souls to Christ. We do this together as a family.

“When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family.”

–Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

To God, nothing is ever “unsuccessful.” Those moments which we don’t see as “successful” have a role to play in our formation. I needed to go fishing and not catch anything to understand how patience and cooperation of nature go together—God is in control. Even the death of God’s only Son was a success because it was part of His divine will. Through Christ’s death the sins of the world were forgiven, and through his Resurrection we partake in a share of eternal life in heaven. The beauty of this mission to be “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) is that we get to fish with our friends. And bringing souls to Christ is always exciting.

James Tissot. Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles (Repas de Notre-Seigneur et des apôtres), 1886-1894. Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA.

See, Hear, Understand

Think about the moments you spend in prayer. Those moments when you are so close to Christ you have no idea what is going on but deep in your heart you know something important is happening. When I reflect on the greatest moments of my life, for most of them I am never conscious of how monumental those moments actually are until after they have passed. It is only when I bring those moments to prayer and invite the Holy Spirit in that the truth is revealed and miracles have then transpired.

During this time of deep prayer, it feels as though the Holy Spirit lifts a veil from my eyes. Suddenly, I become completely aware of how great and strong a presence Jesus has in my life. These times of understanding can be almost unbearable because my human body is so close to the divine. If these encounters in prayer were that powerful, no wonder I was unable to comprehend the immense impact of those moments at the time they actually occurred.

If experiences like these we have in prayer are so life-altering, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples who were in the true physical presence of Jesus Christ. It took me awhile to understand the stories told in the gospel like the one we read today about the road to Emmaus. How could these devout disciples not recognize their Savior?

“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” Luke 24:30

In truth, if these disciples had recognized Jesus immediately, the story told in the Gospel would not have been the same and would not have held the same impact. Jesus had His divine plan and chose to reveal Himself at pivotal moments.

What a blessing these disciples were given. They had this time with Jesus where they could relive other intimate moments with Him during His ministry, and then in the instant He showed them who He actually was, they could look back and see those moments unveiled just as I do in prayer.

We are all human and our ability to understand the divine can be limited because of sin. Nevertheless, when we are fortunate enough to gain insight into what the Lord is doing in our lives, that realization becomes totally and entirely life changing.

Happy Birthday, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati!

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy, on the eve of Easter on April 6, 1901. What a joy for Alfredo and Adelaide (Pier Giorgio’s parents) to hold their newborn baby boy and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! God of all creation blessed the Frassati family with a son as the entire world began to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son. 

Today is the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. I imagine, while he was alive, his family showering him with affection and birthday blessings. “Buon compleanno” would be said all throughout the house—throughout Turin by those who knew him by his good works. 

My favorite part of celebrating someone’s birthday is writing a birthday card. The little gesture of picking out a card, writing an inscription that tells them about their quirky qualities, how thankful I am that they are in my life, prayerful wishes for health and blessings from God. Many of my friends are not Catholic, but I do not fail to thank God in their birthday cards because they are alive and healthy. A reminder of the gift of life. In Bl. Pier Giorgio’s letters, when a friend or family member had a birthday coming up, he too would thank God for their life and health. 

Last year, with all the COVID-19 precautions, many of us probably didn’t get to celebrate our birthdays with loved ones nor Easter with our communities. The contrast of last year’s celebrations and this year’s made me think of the date of Bl. Pier Giorgio’s birthday, April 6th. Being born in the first week of April, his birthday would fall in the cycle changes of the Triduum and Easter—Jesus’ death and Resurrection. On some birthdays Pier Giorgio would reflect on the death of Jesus and on other birthdays he would reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus. Reflecting on life and death was something I did a lot this past year. 

On the eve of Easter, I joined my community and sang profoundly, Alleluia. A reminder that there is so much life and goodness in the world, so much to be thankful for. Throughout his life Bl. Pier Giorgio had brought much happiness to all those around him. He cared greatly for his family, his friends, the poor and sick of Turin. As today’s responsorial psalm reminds us that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” we know that this goodness was shared by Pier Giorgio to everyone he encountered.

Birthdays are special. Blessed Pier Giorgio prayed for each of his family members and friends on their birthdays. Today, we will pray for him on his birthday. In one of his letters to his friend Bonini, Frassati writes, “I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits: union in prayer.” To join in prayer and celebration on the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, click here.

Image shows Bl. Pier Giorgio, an avid lover of the outdoors. [Public Domain]

Great and Holy Friday | A Reflection from the Byzantine Catholic Tradition

The Deposition (Descent) from the Cross
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking Christ down from the cross after his crucifixion (John 19:38-42)

“Together with Nicodemus, Joseph took you down from the wood –
you who are wrapped in light as with a robe
and beholding you dead, naked and unburied,
he began to mourn you with deep sympathy saying:
Woe is me, sweetest Jesus!


Just a little while ago, the sun saw you hanging on the cross
and veiled itself in somber hues.
The earth rocked with fear and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Now that I see how you willingly underwent death for me,
How can I bury you, my God? How will I wrap you in a shroud?
How will I touch your spotless body with my hands?
What dirges shall I sing at your departure, O Compassionate One?


I extol your passion and I praise your burial together with your resurrection,
crying out: O Lord, glory to you.”
(Apostichera from Good and Holy Friday Vespers – Byzantine Catholic Tradition)

Good and Holy Friday can be a difficult day as we remember in sorrow the crucifixion, death, and burial of our Savior Jesus Christ. These age-old Holy Friday prayers of the Byzantine tradition remind us of the hope we can always cling to. These ancient words of the church teach us that we can indeed ‘praise His burial together with His resurrection.’ As we sorrowfully remember His death, we wait in hope for the joy that is to come — the salvation Christ promised. Praise Him whose ultimate sacrifice has saved us. Glory to you, O Lord Jesus Christ!

May we end this Holy Friday reflection guided by Joseph of Arimathea and, most poignantly, the wisdom of Christ’s Mother, our Mother, as depicted so beautifully in this closing hymn:

“Come, let us bless the ever-memorable Joseph,
who went to Pilate by night to beg for the Life of all:
Give me this Stranger, who has no place to lay his head.
Give me this Stranger, who was handed over to death by his wicked disciple.
Give me this Stranger, whose Mother wept, seeing him hanging on the cross,
mourning and crying out in a motherly lament.
Woe is me, my child!
Woe is me, my Light, my Beloved whom I bore in my womb.
What was foretold by Simeon in the temple comes to pass today:
A sword has pierced my heart,
but change my tears into the joy of your resurrection.
We bow to your passion, O Christ!
We bow to your passion, O Christ!
We bow to your passion, O Christ and to your holy Resurrection!”

(Closing Hymn from Good and Holy Friday Vespers – Byzantine Catholic Tradition)

I encourage you to spend some time praying with the Descent of the Cross icon at the beginning of this reflection. Icons are windows into Heaven, a sacred way for us to pray and be in the presence of the Lord. May God be with you in a special way on this most sacred day of our Catholic faith. Wishing you a truly Holy Good Friday. Glory to Jesus Christ!