Blessed Are The Servants

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls us to stay awake and be vigilant! The time of our Lord’s return is unknown, therefore, we must always be ready for that day. During the recent period of quarantine, we had to abstain from receiving the Body of Christ, and the message of this gospel seems to emphasize our situation of being cut off from that valuable source of sustenance.

Paul tells us: “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22. Jesus gave us the wonderful gift of Himself through the Eucharist. When we go to church every Sunday, it is not simply to listen to a priest preach and read scripture; we to to enter into the community of the Lord. The ceremony of the Mass is celebrated not only by human beings, but by the angels and saints alike. While we celebrate the Mass, the heavens open up and all who reside there join in our celebration. We share a meal and take in the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Because of COVID-19, we were forced to be denied receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Churches had to close their doors, and we were asked to remain in our homes. By the grace of God, we were able to attend Mass virtually and receive spiritual communion through prayer, but now churches are open again and we can return to Christ’s home, the Church. We do have to ask ourselves, are we still vigilant servants? The new reality of life in this world created by the pandemic has resulted in so much fear that people are afraid to leave their homes. Jesus calls us to be awake and vigilant by going back to His Bride, the Church, and receiving Him through the Eucharist.

The ability to attend Mass with fellow believers is a gift and can be taken away. We should be eager to go to church each Sunday and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever we can, as well as the Eucharist. We do not know what day the Master will return, and that day may be closer than we think.

Have Mercy on Me

How many times have we told ourselves–if we only prayed more, went to daily Mass, said the rosary everyday, gave more to charity…as humans we can easily believe that our actions are what will save us. Perhaps we fall into this trap because we can control our actions and we want to have control over achieving salvation. Reality has the ability to generate fear within our hearts. The road to redemption is only by the mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ, and it can be scary to realize that there is nothing we can do to climb the ranks and gain entrance to heaven over another.

Paul articulates this perfectly with great simplicity and understanding: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Gal 5:6

The Pharisees had succumbed to several false beliefs, but on the outside they did everything right. They observed the law and believed that made them clean. Jesus Christ revealed the truth: “The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” Luke 11:39

While good faith practices are always important because these will bring us closer to the Lord, finding intimacy with Jesus Christ is the way to fulfillment and ensuring we are walking the path the Lord intends us to tread. However, this will guarantee our salvation only through the mercy of Christ.

Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.Let your mercy come to me, O Lord,your salvation according to your promise.

By the grace of God, if we accept the Lord’s mercy, we will be able to live the life ordained by Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the light. Whenever we lose our way or struggle with our faith, we are called to return to Him and He will have mercy on us. Praise the Lord!

Mary and Martha

Today’s gospel reading seems like a “tale as old as time.” The story of the two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home so often was told to me over and over again throughout my childhood. Mary was always presented in a somewhat more favorable light than Martha. After whoever presented the story finished it, the question that always seemed to follow was “are you a Mary or a Martha?” Are you someone who worries constantly and is anxious or are you a person who simply seeks Jesus first?

This is really not the most appropriate question–we cannot always be as contemplative as Mary and hopefully those of us who lean toward Martha-behavior can’t always be fretting over every detail. The truth is we can be both a Martha and a Mary; neither one should be perceived as having the better approach to life. There is a time for everything, from doing the housework involved in preparing for a guest to sitting still and listening to that most important guest, Jesus. Maybe Jesus was trying to convince these sisters (as well as all of us who read this gospel today) to look at their lives and ask themselves if they were in balance.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Luke 11:28

Mary and Martha heard the Lord’s word and observed it, but in different ways. Mary obviously devoted her time with Jesus to focusing on everything He said, but Martha honored her Lord by serving Him and seeing to His physical comforts. Unfortunately, she let her stress and anxiety get the better of her in this situation. We can all become caught up in the present moment and lose sight of what is most important while having the best intentions. Mary may have “chosen the better part,” but Martha made sure her house was comfortable and clean so Jesus could share His words in a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere. Whether we are Marys or Marthas, we need to remember to look to the Lord for guidance in everything we do.

Let Us Offer Each Other the Sign of Peace

Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.

-Luke 10

I used to dread the part of the Mass where, all of a sudden, I had to interact with other humans to give the sign of peace. Here it comes: smile, shake hands, be friendly and non-threatening, be prepared for some people to pull away and just give you the nod or the two fingers. Oh, I did my best to avoid sitting next to people that I didn’t know—couples, families, anyone who seemed friendly, a talker…because let’s face it, my illogical, irrational, selfish fear tells me things that are simply not true.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives several instructions to the disciples he is sending ahead of himself. One such instruction is to give a blessing, a greeting, a love to any home they may enter. If accepted, the recipient is given peace and receives the blessing of the disciples; if they reject it, no big deal (really, Jesus?)—that peace, that blessing, returns to those same disciples who shared it.

We as disciples are charged with the same task. No matter where we are—at work, at home, at church, with whomever, Christians, non-Christians, people we like, people we don’t like—our love for God compels us to wish others peace and share the good news! This requires joy, trust, and humility. Joy, because we have received the peace of the Lord, trust, because we must trust in the grace of the Lord, and humility, because it is not, as I believed, a thing to own, but a gift to receive and to share.

Going back to Mass after quarantine has been a real blessing. I notice now that I receive such immense joy as I receive the peace of the Lord. His peace is strengthened in me not only when I am blessed but also too, now I realize, when I bless others with it. We give each other the sign of peace because as a sheepfold we feed one another, as God wants us to.

In situations where someone may reject your greeting, your invitation, your attention, your affection, your friendship—or reject you—our God reminds us that his peace comes back right at us. This rejection does not defeat the giver. Let us be courageous, knowing perfectly well that, received or rejected, we have the peace of the Lord always with us.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you. Looking forward to the time once more when I can give you the sign of peace.

The Call

In the gospel for today, Jesus calls to Nathanael by name and tells him he will see wondrous things. Jesus spoke of the angels coming from heaven to earth. Just as He called Nathanael, Jesus calls each one of us by name, asking us if we believe.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:51

What an incomprehensible promise Jesus is making to us, if we simply believe in Him. As human beings, it is sometime easy to forget the great divine presences that surround us. While we live out our daily lives, angels are all around us, working for our greater good. As Christians, we claim to believe in God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We profess this belief so often; every Sunday in church as we recite the Creed, but how often do we really stop and consider what we are saying? By believing in Jesus and who He truly is–the Son of God–we also acknowledge the majesty and extraordinary components involved in the Kingdom of Heaven. As believers in Christ, we claim our place in the dominion of God. The world we see everyday is only a small piece of what we will actually inherit.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Archangels–the three who are specifically named in the Bible (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael). It is traditionally believed that there are seven archangels, but only three are given names in scripture. Angels and archangels, as well as seven other “orders” of these spiritual beings, are our guardians and messengers of God. Even in these times of uncertainty, their message will remain the same: “love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them.” Rev 12:12. Let this feast day and the message of these archangels serve as a beautiful and powerful reminder that the battle for our souls is already won. Michael banished Lucifer from heaven; Gabriel brought the knowledge that Mary would be the mother of Jesus Christ to her, and Raphael healed the blindness of Tobias. Their heavenly powers are still invoked by us today, especially St. Michael’s, whose prayer is recited after every Mass. As we profess, Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we have inherited the Kingdom of Heaven, where we will one day join the nine choirs of angels in praising Him forever.

What Would Jesus Do?

When I was in early elementary school, there was a very popular bracelet that almost all my classmates wore. It was an inexpensive piece of leather or cloth with the inscription “WWJD” which stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” The bracelet’s popularity made it more of a fashion statement than a reminder of a Christian axiom, and the actual meaning of those words was soon lost or ignored. I think I got the bracelet before I was aware of “WWJD” stood for, but remembered it when I read today’s Gospel.

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Luke 8:21

This Gospel passage can be confusing; it sounds as though Jesus is turning away His own mother and brothers who were waiting to see Him. Of course, that was not His intention. Jesus used His circumstances to serve as an example for the crowd He had just addressed, and also for everyone of us who read His words in this modern age. Not all who hear the word of God believe it, nor do all of us act in accordance with what Jesus proclaimed.

Consider the words of the responsorial psalm and the Alleluia verse: “Guide me, Lord, in the way of Your commands,” and “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

As Christians, we are called to be living examples of the Lord’s words. Only through our testimony will others be able to know Christ and then turn to Him and believe. That simple bracelet worn by my classmates and myself back in the 1990s had a great deal of power if we had taken the time to really consider the true meaning of the initials on it. By choosing to do what Jesus would do, we can bring the presence of Jesus into this world through our actions.

The world desperately needs the example of Jesus Christ in these trying and uncertain times. “What Would Jesus Do” can be words to live by and to cling to as we go forward through what appears to be a difficult period for all human beings alive today.

Sorrow

This world is clearly enduring a great period of sorrow right now. The circumstances under which we live could cause anyone to question whether we will survive all these trials. If we truly believe in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished through His death on the cross, the answer is “Yes.” The crucifixion of Jesus on the cross at Calvary took away all the sins of the world, past, present and future, which means He knew the tragedies we would be experiencing today. The agony Jesus suffered in the garden at Gethsemane was so painful that He sweated blood. The pain of His passion was so excruciating no human being could have survived it, and so we owe our lives (present and eternal) to Jesus. He was the only one who could save us from the sins we have committed and will commit.

Praise the Lord that we have been forgiven for our sins. If not for our faith in Jesus Christ, life in this world would appear completely hopeless. Not only do we have the promise of eternal life given to us through our Savior, however, but we have the example and intercession of His mother Mary, who is also our mother. More than any other human being, she may be the one who can relate to and empathize most with the sorrows plaguing this world at this time.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” —Luke 2:34–35

The prophet Simeon spoke these words to Mary at the presentation of Jesus when He was an infant. Her sorrow would be so great that she would feel a sword pierce her heart. What must have gone through her mind on hearing those words? The amount of trust she held in God had to continue her whole life. The commitment she made to doing His will exemplifies the kind of trust we need to strive for in our relationship with Him.

We are undergoing undeniable hardships that may appear unbearable, but there is always hope. Our Father in heaven holds all of us in the palm of His hand and He sees our faith. He will not allow this faith to fail. On this day when we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, let us pray to have the same faith she had in our Lord–that amidst all our sorrows, we may receive the grace to accept them and to be made stronger people because of them.

We Can Only Imagine

The readings for today highlight how Jesus Christ came into this world through His genealogy but also through the prophecies foretold in the Old Testament.

“Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Mt 1:22-23

Since there are no readings in scripture that describe Mary’s life before she conceived through the Holy Spirit, these passages for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary seem the most fitting. Nevertheless, Mary’s early life before she gave birth to the Son of God was full of experiences that molded her into the young girl who was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and asked to say “yes” to God’s call to her to become the mother of His son.

What was it like for Mary growing up? How was her faith formed? How was she perceived by her family and community? There must have been some indication that she was special. The Catholic church honors the nativity of the Blessed Virgin with a feast day, giving us the opportunity to meditate on the untold story of Mary. We can be certain she was conceived and born without sin. Mary’s birthday is a crucial part of our history, for if she had never been born, Jesus would never have been born. We can use this wisdom and apply it to our own lives. Mary was born with a purpose in God’s plan for humanity, and all of us are born with a purpose in fulfilling God’s plan as well.

“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

When we are born, it is because God calls us to accept the destiny He has in mind for us, and He is waiting for us to give our “yes” to Him and to His call as Mary did.

New Wine: Thoughts on Stewardship & Renewal

When I first moved to NYC 9 years ago, I often babysat and dog-sat for families to make money. There was always a sense of heightened attention and care for the kiddos and animals I watched, and a sense of knowing how precious they were to their parents (and/or owners). Can you remember a time when something valuable to someone else has been placed in your care? There is a sense of honor knowing someone has entrusted you to take care of and look after someone or something so valuable to him or herself.

The God of all creation has entrusted you, and every baptized and then confirmed son and daughter, with His most precious mysteries. A relationship with His Son, the good news of the Gospel, the sacraments of the Church, the richness of His Word in Scripture – these are just some of the many gifts God has given all of us to be stewards of. Paul says in today’s first reading that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1). What an honor. Further, God invites each of us individually to be stewards of the gifts He has given us that are unique to our individual life. He has given each of us specific gifts, or charisms, for the building up of the Kingdom – gifts to serve and nourish the church and the world. For some it is a gift of administration, of teaching, of service, of music, just to name of few. For those of us who are married, God has gifted us a spouse to be a steward of – to reverence, to look after, to care for, to help get to Heaven. Our priests are stewards of their parishes, our consecrated religious brothers and sisters are stewards of the others in their communities and the people they serve. Though we may currently feel limited, unable to share our gifts in some of the ways we’d like to, we can always grow in our posture of wonder and awe in God’s presence. And from that posture we can ask Him to remind us, or show us anew, the gifts He has placed in our individual lives to be stewards of.

As a Byzantine Catholic family, my husband, daughter, and I have just begun the new liturgical year on September 1st! (In the Latin Rite, often called the Roman Rite, the new year begins on the first Sunday of Advent. This is just one of many differences in tradition that distinguishes these two rites of the Catholic Church, both beautiful and rich in their own right…or rite…) Growing up Latin Rite, I just learned about the September 1st new year last Sunday from our priest, Fr. Michael. (Also shout out to Fr. Michael, who inspired the vast majority of this reflection with his recent Sunday homily!) This reality and Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel have me reflecting on the gift of renewal. There is an innate sense of refreshment and of hope in a new year. A chance to begin again, an opportunity to refocus, a time to hope for the future. As Christians, we live in relationship with the One who renews us day to day, even moment to moment.

As we ask God to reveal how He is calling each of us to be a steward of His mysteries, let us open ourselves up to something new He wants to do in us. He is the God who makes all things new, and He promises to constantly renew us from the inside out. He is “making new wine…” (see today’s Gospel + song link below). If the circumstances of COVID have made you feel that one day blurs into the next, and months blur into each other, we can find our renewal and hope in our incredible God. He has entrusted Himself to us, and we have entrusted ourselves to Him. He is the greatest steward of all – He is our Good Shepherd. You are precious to Him, and He delights in you. May you grow ever more deeply in this reality and be consumed by His great Mystery.

Lord God, Almighty Father, I come into your presence in awe of you. I desire to know you more and stand in wonder of the depths of you I cannot grasp. Thank you for entrusting me to be a steward of your mysteries. Reveal the gifts you have given me and help me to be a faithful steward of them. Lord, renew me. Purify my heart so I may see you. I place my trust in you. I place my hope in you. I adore and love you, my dear Father.

Song for Reflection — NEW WINE by Hillsong

More info on the Liturgical Year according to Byzantine Tradition: https://www.archpitt.org/the-liturgical-year-according-to-the-byzantine-tradition/

To Intercede

“Intercession (MEDIATION). –To intercede is to go or come between two parties, to plead before one of them on behalf of the other.” According to Catholic Answers

In today’s gospel, the term “intercede” is used in reference to the intercessory aid of Jesus in curing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a severe fever. The practice of intercession continues this day. We often invoke intercessory prayer on behalf of others and implore the Lord to help or heal our fellow sufferers.

Throughout Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth, He constantly healed the sick and cast out demons. Before He ascended into heaven, He gave us His authority to do what He did. We often forget the power and the strength He has bestowed on us as believers. We fall prey to the lie that we are helpless, and the world’s problems are too insurmountable for us to conquer on our own. This is true; alone we can do nothing, but through Jesus Christ, we can do anything if it is the will of God. The war fought today is not won on a battlefield but through prayer. Using intercessory prayer, we can approach Jesus Christ and ask Him to perform miracles as He did when He lived on earth with us. We have the same authority Jesus gave to the apostles. All we need to do is pray in His name. “In the name of Jesus Christ…” we have the power and can fight any enemy.

“He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Cor 3: 1-9

God is the Master Builder, and He wants us to be a part of His creations. What a blessing that we can enter and contribute to His grand design through prayer.