Awesome Sights and Mighty Signs

Jesus refers to the end times of this world in the gospel reading; He tells us what must happen before His second coming. The path to eternal salvation is not easy and will become terrifying as the end approaches. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” Luke 21:11 How is it possible not to live in fear knowing all this must come to pass?

Many of us are about to celebrate Thanksgiving. It may not be so easy to find reasons to be thankful this year, which has been filled with many of the signs Jesus described, particularly a plague. However, Jesus also assures us we do not need to be afraid. Now that is a gift for which to be thankful! Our faith in the Lord will not only save us at the end of the world, but our devotion to Him will keep us safe while these insurmountable odds stack up against all those dwelling in this world before that time. We have our Savior who has promised never to desert us. Although others in the world may perceive these signs as reasons to fall into despair, we have the blessing of knowing these wars have already been addressed on the cross at Calvary. Furthermore, the war has been won and we are allied with the Victor.

This Thanksgiving may appear very different than past celebrations of the holiday. Many will be separated from their loved ones, but no one will be alone at the feast because Jesus will be attending each of our celebrations, the best Guest and our reason to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day of our existence.

The Third Servant

In today’s Gospel reading, the parable of the ten gold coins, Jesus calls us to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given, to grow and develop the skills and resources we have and use them toward building His Kingdom instead of sitting idle. A key element in this story is how the third servant, bewildered by his master’s ways and unable to understand him, buried his talents away out of fear. Instead of taking a chance and investing them, or even placing them in the bank, where they would gain steady interest, he avoided his responsibility and just let them sit. What angered his master about this response was not the amount of money he returned but the fact that he let fear hold him back from doing good, from gaining anything at all. He allowed his fear to paralyze him.

The Lord has entrusted each of us with particular gifts, and we are called to respond by employing those gifts in service to His mission for us. But too often we allow our fears to hold us back from developing our gifts to fruition. We are tempted to compare ourselves with others, to doubt whether our gifts will be good enough, whether our contribution even matters. We allow our pride to keep us from offering our gifts to the world, preferring to hide ourselves away rather than face the possibility of failure.

But when we give in to fear and allow ourselves to be controlled by it, we miss out on what God has in store for us. He wants to see our gifts, however humble they may be, placed before Him as an offering. If we entrust them all to Him, we can be sure that He will not leave us disappointed. God will provide what we need when we need it; there is no reason for us to live in fear.

During these November days, I am noticing just how little daylight remains. The night seems impossibly opaque and pitch-black, and its darkness encroaches little by little, day by day. It can feel all the more somber after this year of darkness and uncertainty. But as the daylight wanes, let us ever keep in mind that we are children of the day, for we bear the Light of Christ within us. It is only during a pitch-black night that we can recognize the beauty of the twinkling stars; similarly, it is against the backdrop of darkness that our own gifts are meant to shine brightly. But that can only happen if we step out in faith, trusting in God even amidst our fear. During these dark days, when we can’t see anything around us, let us not cover up the Light within us but rather respond to God’s call to illuminate the darkness.


Image: Andrey Mironov, Parable of the Talents / CC BY-SA 4.0

Judgement

The end of November marks the end of yet another liturgical year, and in preparation for this conclusion, we listen to scripture about the final judgment of this world. These scriptures are read every year, so there is nothing inherently new or surprising. Nevertheless, the Holy Sprit has the ability to enter into our souls at any and every moment in our lives and can transform a passage from the Bible into new revelations to be gleaned from it. The Holy Spirit is always talking to us, and He speaks through the Word of God.

He is breathing new life into our scriptures this year. This world is not the same since the calendar year began back on January 1, and we, as children of God, have also been changed throughout the course of it. We have suffered so much heartache, struggle and true fear. We were expelled from our home, the Church. Of course we would interpret scripture differently–we can look to it as a source of hope and faith. Take the story of Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector and a sinner, but when he had a chance to see Jesus, he stopped at nothing just to catch a glimpse of his savior. As most know, Zacchaeus was “vertically challenged” and had to climb a tree in order to do so. Jesus saw Zacchaeus for not only who he was, but who he would be. Zacchaeus repented and offered up everything he had for the greater good. Jesus, in return, celebrated with Zacchaeus, for He had found another soul that was lost and now was saved. “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

The truth is that with the conclusion of each church year, we come closer and closer to the final judgment and the end of the world. We must stay awake and be vigilant because we do not know when the final day will arrive. It is time to stay focused and give all we have to help the greater good of all God’s people just as Zacchaeus did. This world is fleeting, the goods of this world will pass away, and all that will be left is our Lord and His loving mercy.

Turn to Him

As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Luke 18:35–43

Dear friends,

How good it is to be writing for Frassati again! Rather than speak as if I were lecturing at the bully pulpit, I’ll speak to reach hearts and minds and try and be as succinct as possible. (No promises.)

In today’s Gospel, we are given the story of the healing of the blind man. The blind man, pleading to be recognized by Jesus, has his sight restored. Jesus tells the blind man, “Have sight, your faith has saved you.” It is an indeed an example of Christ’s miracles, but there are several takes I have on this narrative, especially in our climate these days in regards to our faith in Our Lord and in Holy Mother Church.

In my life, this Gospel narrative has several personal elements that deeply resonate with me. There are three crucial moments as I reflect on today’s Gospel:

  1. There is the crowd “rebuk[ing] him” and “telling him to be silent.”
  2. Christ then tells the man, “…Your faith has saved you.”
  3. The final element of my reflection pertains to “giving glory to God” after such a miracle has occurred.

First, how often in our lives have we reached out to the Lord? For many of us, especially at the beginning of this pandemic rife with mortal and economic loss, many of us may have felt brief or extended moments of confusion, heartbreak, maybe even despair. For me, it was a particularly turbulent moment in my life—I had no choice but to leave my PhD, the academic career I had envisioned for over a decade was now gone, and I found myself suddenly unemployed. I couldn’t find work for many, many months, and I was diagnosed with PTSD. With social distancing mechanisms in place, I, and many others, may have felt displaced from our prayer communities. I felt directionless. Some friends told me, in the midst of their despair, their belief that the Church, too, seemed in crisis. They subsequently said all was in flux, the Church was now in crisis, and they thought the world was ending.

Mind you, let me stop right here. I am not a “doomer.” I tried to be as empathetic as I possibly could with my friends, completely understanding how deeply lonely and heartbreaking this time was and still is. Some have been more active in talking to me; a lot of folks simply needed personal space. This time was and is turbulent in different ways for many of us, in a myriad of ways. I lost several family members and friends. I later contracted COVID-19 and became sick for quite some time in the spring. I was later reinfected with COVID-19 in late August. However, despite these times of trial and tribulation, my faith in Him was strengthened. This was also a sentiment I found with several of my friends: their faith was strengthened, not weakened. But how? Why? Amidst all this, how often have we given into stinging “rebuke?” Either from friends from ourselves? Perhaps we are not literally gathered amongst large crowds now, but the threat of stinging rebuke is still there. From ourselves. The maxim that “we can be our harshest critic” is not entirely without merit. Especially if we sometimes struggle with catastrophizing our interior lives. (Anyone? Sometimes I struggle with this! Struggling with anxiety is a real thing! But praise be to Jesus that I offer this to Him!) How often in the midst of these tragedies have we remained “silent,” instead of turning to Him, the Lord and Savior who died for our sins? He who wept when His friend Lazarus died? He who showed mercy to a thief being crucified next to Him? Turn to Him—He truly understands. If you’ve ever been mad at God or disappointed, whether it be with life, anxiety, or singleness, you can tell Him. He can take it. And Jesus will love you all the same.

Second, in my life, getting to the point of “your faith has saved you” could be the most difficult. Because we sometimes we may thrive on a quick, immediate emotional response in our consumerist society. We may want things now. In my life, I have realized that upon getting what we have wanted from prayer, we may then become lukewarm. We may sometimes have the tendency to turn to the Lord only in moments in despair. (More on this in my third point.) But the larger issue I want to point out is that no prayer is wasted. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said to a group of pilgrims that, “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost.” Often, I have been told that when we pray, God may think with His divine intellect one of the following things: “Yes;” “Yes, but not the way you expect, here is something even better;” “No;” or “Later.” While we cannot ascertain with our mortal intellect the divine intellect, we have probably had one of these moments that our prayers were answered in magnitudes even greater than we could have ever wanted!

Imagine a world where there was no guarantee the blind man could have ever been healed. The blind man must have realized this small possibility. Obviously, Christ was always going to heal the blind man, but this was never a certainty in the mind of the blind man. I think the larger point to “Your faith has saved you” is to realize the point that it’s always possible that our prayers may never be answered in the ways we expect. And yet, we turn to Him. And we should. I think the larger issue that some of us may not realize is that in the midst of our tribulations, we may subconsciously believe we are beyond reproach or may not need to repent. How often do we feel relieved when we go to confession? Like a clean slate. The blind man felt lost—literally and figuratively. The issue we may not realize from reading this Gospel narrative is that we pretend we are beyond reproach, pretend we are not sinners, and we then become literally and spiritually “blind” to even our own spiritual blindness. Like if you desperately needed glasses to see. Like a glass half full. Like if you went out in the cold without a coat. One way we grow into much better young Catholics is to recognize how lost we are—how truly we actually need Jesus. Do we recognize this in prayer? It may be a hard thing to admit, mainly because it requires a large amount of humility in our lives. When the pandemic first hit, when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, and when I found myself temporarily directionless, I turned to Jesus. Who else would I turn to? I was a blind man, begging to see, temporarily becoming a recluse for many, many months. There was nobody I would rather turn to. Tell Jesus you love Him and how much you need Him. You’ll be surprised how readily He welcomes you with open arms. There are still many moments where I struggle with spiritual blindness, for our path to sainthood is a continual process for the rest of our lives. Remember you want to aim for Heaven, not purgatory, because you don’t want to miss. (Bad joke, I know.) Would I say I’m a much more mature and confident man than I was at the beginning of the year? Absolutely. Am I a saint yet? No, but I’m trying, Jesus.

Finally, comes the role of “giving glory to God.” This is the both the easiest and potentially the most difficult. Mainly because once we receive something in our prayer lives, we are immediately humbled, enormously thankful. How many times do we shout “Alleluia!” once our prayers are answered? But do we keep the faith afterwards? Even after we know Our Lord is with us and truly loves us? It has once been said we are “an Easter people,” who should always strive to shout, “Alleluia!” The most pressing example of this is what Our Lady must have felt at the Annunciation. Consider this moment from the Gospel of Luke:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

There is the moment of revelation. There is the moment where Our Lady accepts the Lord’s will. However, what people forget is what comes after. Do we try to emulate Our Lady’s example, keeping the faith? Imagine being a young woman, being given such a great mission, probably illiterate, probably scared, coming from Nazareth, where it is said that no good comes from there. (See John 1:46.) Mary kept the faith; we can, too.

Don’t be afraid to pray to God for relief of your burdens. If relief is not in sight, ask Him for the graces you need to endure in these troubled times. He will help you.

Don’t Look Back, Look Forward to Heaven

During holy week at my grandma’s house two things will happen, we will make habichuelas con dulce and we will watch some very old Bible-stories made movies on TV. For some reason one of the most vivid memories about this family tradition is watching the very old Bible-stories made movies. One scene in particular stands out to me, Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pile of salt and then being blown away by the wind. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “remember the wife of Lot”. It’s one verse in the middle of a parable and it doesn’t seem to make sense, until you look a little deeper at Scripture. If we are unfamiliar with Lot or his wife, we might be asking ourselves why does Jesus want me to remember her? In the Bible, Lot is the nephew of Abraham (patriarchal father) and his wife was a Sodomite woman. They lived in Sodom. Two angels had come to their family, urging them to leave the city at once because it was going to be destroyed, but they should not look behind them as they flee. Lot’s wife disobeys this order from God and as she looked behind to the city of Sodom, which was in flames, she turned to salt. My little kid brain just could not comprehend this – I was like, woah! God that’s kind of dramatic, all she did was look back. It was nothing, right?

The Father gives us everything that is good and all of himself. He is love himself and He gives all of Himself to us. All we have to do on our part is accept his love. Once we accept God and decide to walk with Him our lives change. They change for the better. A life in Christ is filled with peace, joy, and love. Nothing is missing from this life. 

However, being human as we are, we begin to think of all that we have to give up to walk with God. We give up being angry and mean towards other people. We give up getting drunk and using drugs. We give up being selfish to our own desires. We give up the pleasures of the world. We give up lying to get our ways. There are many things we give up – and sometimes we look back to those moments of “easy fun in the world” and start to want them back. We start to think “just a little bit of it won’t hurt”. What we need to realize when we do this is that we are telling God that He is not enough. By looking back to our old life, as Lot’s wife looked back to her old life, we are telling Jesus that his death is not enough. These are the lies that Satan whispers in our ear. 

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. – Luke 17:33

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is warning us to not look back on our old life. To live in Christ we must die to our old selves. When we choose to follow Christ we should follow him 100% of the way, not half way or part of the way. We shouldn’t just follow him when it’s convenient and easy for us, then turn around when it’s hard and requires work. We should follow Jesus all the way to heaven! All the riches awaiting for us in heaven are so much grandeur than anything of the world. This is why Jesus says that the man on the rooftop doesn’t need to go back into the house for his possessions. Or, that someone doesn’t need to go back into the field for something that was left behind. God always provides for us! 

We are never alone when we are in the middle of our sins. If ever we feel like we’ve done too much wrong to ever be made right with the Father, know that to be a lie! Lot, his wife, and their daughters were in the middle of Sodom, a pagan city that had sinned against God, and the Father sent two angels to help them escape. God the Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to die so we could be set free. And the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is always available to us. God never leaves you alone when you need Him. Do not look back on your old sinful life, look forward to the new and eternal life that awaits for you in heaven.

Image Credit: Lot’s Wife turning to Salt [Public Domain]

Live a Godly Life

We live in a flawed world that seems to increasingly “forget” what it means to be devoted, upstanding and genuinely good. People are losing faith and falling into despair because they are accepting lies as truth. Only the Father’s truth remains constant and His will never waver.

“For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope.” —Tim 2:11

Our salvation is promised, thanks to Jesus Christ’s death on a cross. He has already defeated the sins plaguing our world today. We still have the responsibility to live our lives by following the example Jesus set for us. We need to do what our Master commands.

“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” —Luke 17:10

What are we obliged to do at this time? Jesus also suggested we behave like servants staying awake because we do not know the hour the Master will return, and we must be vigilant so we are ready when He does. In the face of all the trials in the world, now is the best time to follow these commands, to live our lives as examples for others and thereby reveal a life governed by Christ as our King.

Hail to the True King

Today the eyes of the world will focus on this nation because we will elect the next leader of our country. This election has reached the point where everyone believes that its result will either make or break the United States. In light of all the issues the world currently faces, it is understandable that our next president would be the determining factor in how this nation proceeds in dealing with these issues. So much pressure placed on one election and to an extent, one person! It also instills a great deal of trepidation on the citizens of the free world. What if we elect the “wrong” person?

The good news is that we are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ, and U.S. citizens second. Our foundation and our identities are rooted in our faith, which means we have already chosen our true leader and He is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 21:22. Yes, it is our civic responsibility to cast our vote and to do so in accordance with the teaching of the Church, but more than that, it is our responsibility to give ourselves to our Lord.

“God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10-11

Under the leadership of Jesus Christ, we can rest assured that we will always be provided for in every way that matters. God has been governing us since the beginning of time; He created us and He loves us. We can place our hope in Him, confident that His plan will be accomplished. Jesus humbled Himself on the cross and has conquered all the trials we are currently enduring in the world. Who we elect as our next government leaders is yet to be determined, but the true King of our hearts and souls has already been revealed after His death on that cross on Calvary.

Death does not have the final word.

On this All Souls’ Day, we may find ourselves with a different perception of death this year. The weight of lost loved ones is always painful, but this year definitely hits deeper with the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19, with the pain of not being able to have funerals in the spring, and with a greater awareness of our own mortality in all the pandemic has brought on. Life is short and sacred and so precious.

First, I will say this: it is *good* to mourn, to grieve, to cry. Even if you don’t have someone close to you that died of COVID-19, but you find yourself aching and sad about the immense loss, amen! That shows the love in our hearts for others, the Christlike love that we are supposed to reflect. It is *okay* to feel overwhelmed by death, especially during this time–how could we not? Jesus is very close to us, that is for sure. Let Him hold you, let Him love you, and hold onto Him for everything you need.

So how do we grapple with all of this, with this heavy burden that has just been so brutal and overwhelming? When we look to Jesus in this, what do we see?

I see our Lord who knows our pain better than we can understand, who made Himself weak to take on all our weaknesses and sin and pain. I see our Lord who when we cry, our tears become His tears. I see our Lord who wept over His friend Lazarus and who promises to wipe all our tears away. I see our Lord who is with us in our grief and sees us through: “Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23).

I see our Lord who redeems, who is not afraid of death, because He would not let Himself be held by it. I see our Lord who took all of our sin and suffering onto Himself, tortured and bloody on the Cross. I see our Lord who thought of each of us with intense longing and love as He died, choosing death so that death would never have to have the final word for us or for our loved ones: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8).

I see our Lord who makes all things new, who opened Heaven for us. I see our Lord who constantly draws us close to Himself. I see our Lord who wants to spend eternity with us in Heaven and made that possible for us because He loves us just that much: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wisdom 3:1).

The cries of our hearts when we lose someone we love are very dear to our Lord. He has not forgotten them. And so we unite our hearts today to pray for the souls of all those who have died, that everyone may reach eternal life in Heaven. Death does not have the final word, dear friends.

Pray with me: Lord, we offer everything today for the souls in purgatory, for the souls of all of our loved ones who have died, and for the souls of all the lives lost in the pandemic. We unite our aching hearts to Your Sacred Heart, pouring out everything at Your feet as a sacrifice of praise. May our cries rise like incense to Your throne, and may we grow in holiness every day to one day see You face to face. Thank You for dying and rising for us, Lord. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.