“Thus says the LORD of hosts:
I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.” -Zechariah 8:2
God wants your heart with such an intense ferocity.
He always has. He always will. On the cross, when He said “I thirst,” He was thirsting for you.
Today’s first reading and some popular worship songs describe God’s love as jealous or reckless. Some people argue against that and say, “No, that can’t be possible. That doesn’t sound like God’s love.” But the truth is that it is indeed the reality of this wild love of the Lord for us that is so far beyond our comprehension. To us, it seems reckless, but to Him, it’s exactly how things are supposed to be. God is love and mercy itself, poured out fully and freely without ever counting the cost.
Jesus just gives, and gives, and gives some more. He loves, and loves, and loves…forever. In every moment.
Jesus’ love is jealous and reckless because He took on human flesh to show us the Father’s love. He made Himself an outcast so we could be set free. Through His death and resurrection, He ripped open Heaven because He wants to be with us forever. He puts His whole self in the bread of the Eucharist so we can receive Him and adore Him.
Jesus knows we sin. He knows we mess up over and over again. He knows some people turn away and never come back. He knows some people hate Him. Yet He gives, and gives, and gives. And He loves, and loves, and loves.
Can we open our hearts to receive the extent of Jesus’ jealous, longing cry to love us? Can we declare our love and longing for Him in response?
Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:20
In today’s Gospel Peter confesses his faith by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one by God. This is the first time in the Gospel which a human on his own has the insight to KNOW that Jesus is Christ. In first-century Palestine, this declaration was a very big deal. For years and years and years, Israel has been waiting for the Messiah, the one anointed by God to come and save them. Earlier in his ministry (look at yesterday’s reflection) people were confused by Jesus’ identity, thinking he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet. But Peter, in an intimate moment, clearly and definitively states that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Christ. The new David that Israel has so earnestly been waiting for.
We declare our own confession of faith when we recite in the creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Frassati retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Called by Name.” A name is important. We fill out forms with our names. We wear name tags with our names. We write cards and letters and sign them with our names. Our names are special. Just as the name Jesus is special. There is power in a name. Just as the name of Jesus is powerful.
Throughout the retreat I was attentive to hear God call me by name, Mariela. And in hearing him say my name I was reminded of my identity. I am a child of God. Sometimes the world may confuse our identity, as the crowds had earlier been confused by Jesus’ true identity. The world may perceive us in such a way that they may neglect our feelings, deny our dignity, or make us feel less than welcomed. They do not know us. Our true identity is being a child of God.
After Peter speaks Jesus’ true identity, Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then he will rise on the third day. This is the first time that Jesus mentions his death, telling of the extreme and necessary means by which he would fulfill God’s will. Explaining how he is a different type of Messiah.
In the creed, we confess truth to his Passion when we say, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”
Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of his mission. The mission of the Messiah was much more than to be a military figure that would bring Israel out of Roman authority; Jesus’ mission is to save souls. The Catholic Church, the Church Jesus built—its mission is to save souls. You and I are a part of that mission.
Believing in Jesus’ name, in his identity, in his mission, is at the same time believing and trusting in God’s plan. If we were to ask God the same question Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—and let’s be real, we have asked that question every time we have lost our way, every time we wanted to feel loved and desired, every time we wanted to feel like we mattered—God would easily answer us by saying, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). God the Father would not leave his children out of his plan!
When we know with confidence who Jesus is, as Peter knew that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must also be confident in who we are. Our names are delicately engraved in the palms of God’s hands, and upon hearing him say our names, we should be reminded and reaffirmed of our own identity in Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing so much good, so many miracles and teachings that people take notice and Jesus becomes, if you may say, a popular guy. Because of his popularity Herod wanted to know who he was. Who was this person everyone was talking about? The crowds didn’t quite know exactly who Jesus was. Some thought he was John the Baptist. Others thought he was Elijah or another ancient prophet risen. They may not have gotten his name correct but, one thing sticks out, they associated Jesus with good things. In the parallel passage in Matthew, Herod says that “mighty powers are at work in him” because he resembled John the Baptist. But, it’s not Jesus who is like John.
It was John who was like Jesus.
It was Elijah who was like Jesus.
It was Moses who was like Jesus.
People knew these great prophets and knew of the good they did. The people associated the mighty works that Jesus was doing with the good works of the prophets before him because John the Baptist, Elijah and Moses all did good works that reflected God. Jesus as second person of the trinity is God.
As a young child I remember going on field trips and being told that we needed to be on our best behavior because we represented the school. As an adult I’m being told that my demeanor at meetings and conferences reflects back on my company. Recently at a Frassati meeting for our next mission trip (Jamaica 2020!) we had a conversation on how the laity set the example for the religious which we invite to mission with us. This made me stop and ponder. We are the ones to set the example. Have you thought about how your actions constitute how someone views the Church? We represent something so much greater than schools or businesses, we represent God. Jesus told us to behave in such a way that when people saw us and witnessed our good deeds they would glorify our Heavenly Father.
Look in the mirror. Do you see Jesus?
Live your life in such a righteous way that those who do not know God may come to know Him through you.
When he anxiously asked, I had been seeking the solution for over a year. Well before he even knew his need, the plan was put into motion. He doesn’t see the moving pieces – the way things are slowly coming together nor has he seen the many options that have been rejected and thrown out. He didn’t need to.
Sitting on the other side of the desk, it was easy to see there is a loving God who works “behind the scenes” so that all things work together for our good. When we want answers to the questions we each hold, can we trust the Lord moves mountains for the plans He has for our lives – plans for a future and a hope? As I sit and wait for my own questions to be answered, I too will live my way into the answers, directed by the One who makes crooked paths straight.
Today is the feast of St. Padre Pio. He was an extraordinary priest who took on great sufferings for souls. He spent hours upon hours of his life hearing confessions, because his desire for everyone to know the love and mercy of Christ in a tangible way was so great.
St. Padre Pio was known for saying this simple phrase to anyone who came to him with a troubled heart: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” He then went on to say, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Have courage and do not fear the assaults of the devil.”
There is great depth to be unpacked here. Within these straightforward words, St. Pio gives us a road map of trust and surrender, all pointing the way to Christ.
Pray. Prayer is our relationship with God. If we’re not praying, we are failing. Prayer is where we get to come before God with our whole hearts laid bare, sin and all, and be in communion with Him. Prayer is the open space of resting with God, speaking to Him what is on our hearts, and listening to the word He desires to speak to us. Prayer is the first step to surrender.
Hope. One of my best friends always says, “Steer into hope.” We need this theological virtue of hope to infuse our lives, because God is trustworthy, and God will never abandon us. St. Paul writes, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). There is always, always, always hope. We may not see the way, but we can hope. No matter how bad things get, there is the hope of God always being with us. His light shatters all darkness. He so desires your good.
Don’t worry. Worry can be such a slippery slope. There is so much in life that is worrisome; we certainly all experience it. Worry leads to despair, doubt, and discouragement. Worry robs us of our peace. Worry suffocates us, growing into a dull hum in our hearts that tells us God is not here, or that God cannot overcome whatever situation we find ourselves in. Worry breeds lies. Jesus commanded us to not worry in Scripture several times, and St. Pio reminds us of His words—don’t worry. God is here. God is greater. You will not be overcome.
Let’s join together and pray, hope, and refuse to worry. Surrender and trust is not easy, but it sure is liberating. It allows us to let go and allow God into everything. He’s not worried. Big problem or small fear, He’s got us, in every single way.
**If you need an anthem for letting go of worry, I recommend this song by Housefires. The bridge says, “God’s not worried, so why should I worry?”
[The readings for this reflection are taken from the option for the Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr, and Saint Paul Chong Hasang, catechist and martyr, and their companions, martyrs]
I was once told the following story by a religious sister:
In the 50s, there was a young Jewish boy growing up in NY. He had a bunch of Catholic friends in his neighborhood. Every Saturday, they would have to stop playing for them to go along with their parents to confession. This young boy was sad whenever they would quit their games and would tease his friends about confession, saying it was a waste of time and didn’t mean anything. One day, he decided to prove to them that he was right in his conviction. He biked over to the nearby Catholic church and got in line for confession. When it was his turn, he began to tell the priest elaborate lies of the sins he had committed. The priest, being very wise, knew the kid was fibbing and told him that since he had wanted to experience confession, that he would give the boy a penance. For his penance the boy had to go kneel before the tabernacle, above which hung Jesus on a large, beautiful crucifix. The priest told the boy to kneel there and say ten times to Jesus on the crucifix, “You did this for me…and I don’t care.” The young boy was bewildered but did as he was told. He knelt down in the silent church, looked up, and began to say his penance. He couldn’t say the words more than three times before tears started flowing down his cheeks. Looking up at the Crucified Christ, he was granted the grace of conversion. He eventually began his journey to become a baptized Catholic.
This story illustrates that it is only after a deep, personal encounter with the infinite love of our Lord that we ourselves are moved to love. When we grasp what it means that God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Rom 8:32) and that He greatly desires to “give us everything else along with Him” (Rom 8:33), that truth has the power to transform our hearts and lives. Jesus Crucified shows us that there is nothing God will not do for us. Only in response to such a love from which nothing can separate us (Rom 8:35–39) can we ourselves dare to love so selflessly.
This is the very love that filled the lives and deaths of the saints honored today.
Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest, Paul Chong Hasang, a layman, and the other Korean martyrs (98 lay people—47 women and 45 men), along with 3 French missionary priests, were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984. Before he was killed, St. Andrew wrote his fellow Christians: “We have received baptism, entrance into the Church, and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name only and not in fact?”
Suffering persecutions for their faith was not unfamiliar to these men and women martyrs. The Korean monarchy feared Christianity as a colonizing force and repressed it with several violent persecutions between 1791 and 1866. St. Andrew’s family had converted to Christianity, and his own father, grandfather and uncles were executed when he was a boy. It was around 1777 that a lay Church began, and it wasn’t until a dozen years later that a priest was able to enter Korea secretly, finding there 4,000 Catholics who had never seen a priest.
Picking up their crosses daily was not a figure of speech but a reality (Lk 9: 23–26). But even more real than the sufferings they were undergoing was their love for Christ and their belief in His promise of eternal life. It’s astonishing that even though they had lived all this time without the Sacraments, their faith was tested and found true. I can only imagine the great wonder and joy at their encountering Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.
While we may not be called in our lifetime to shed our blood for our faith, we can shed our own will to seek God’s, dying to ourselves. We can shed our pride and care for human respect to stand firmly in our identity as beloved of Christ, as His friends and disciples. We can kneel at the feet of the tabernacle before Jesus Crucified, coming to know ever more His deep love for us, and say along with the great cloud of witnesses, “You did this for me…and I love You.”
Through the intercession of these saints of God may we have the courage and strength to always proclaim the victory of Christ Crucified and Resurrected in our lives. May we ask for the grace to love boldly with a martyr’s heart.
Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and all you holy men and women martyrs of Korea, pray for us!
Spend some extra time before Jesus in Adoration this week, praying to grow deeper in the knowledge of His love for you and asking that He may increase your love for Him. You can also pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith today. Or you can spend some time meditating on the Passion using the Ignatian method to vividly imagine yourself in the scene, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you. To learn more about our saints of the day, read here and here.
“It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” -1 Timothy 2:8
We express with our God-given bodies the very disposition of our hearts.
I remember watching a video all the way back in my college psychology class about how our body language not only conveys things to other people about who we are and how we are feeling, but to our own minds, as well. If we sit hunched over with our arms folded, that sends signals to our brain that we are unhappy or closed-off. If we stand up straight, that sends signals to our brain that we are confident and at ease.
What are we conveying to other people with our bodies? Do we use the hands and feet God has given us to serve others with compassion? Do we meet the gaze of people who need Christ’s love? Do we use our voices to bring God glory?
St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
We are not our own. We belong to God. So when it comes to prayer, too, how we express our love for God with our bodies makes a difference. Now, I’m not talking about a particular spirituality here, because I think our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is sometimes too fragmented by the, “I’m this kind of Catholic” mentality. Let’s meet for coffee if you’d like to discuss that haha.
I will give you an example to describe what I am getting at: my spiritual director once told me, after a season of difficulty, that I needed to pray with open hands again. Without even realizing it, I had been praying with my hands over my heart out of fear, as if I was shielding myself from letting God in. Interiorly, I had walls of self-protection up, and exteriorly, it was manifesting in my expression of prayer.
God gave us our bodies to physically express our love for Him. Do we pray in a way with our bodies that tells God we are open? Prayer and worship are not about us, in the first place; it’s about giving God the glory He deserves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being. God deserves all of us. And we have the awesome opportunity to offer our very beings as a sacrifice of praise to our almighty God. With an open physical expression, our disposition of heart is opened to God, like the centurion in today’s Gospel who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Luke 7:6).
There is something so powerful about praying with an exterior posture of surrender. It expresses worship, surrender, trust, and vulnerability. It admits our own weakness. It declares our total dependence on our Heavenly Father. It changes things, takes us out of ourselves, and helps us focus totally on the Lord, body and soul aligned in love for Him. We get to give God all that we are, holding nothing back from Him.