Let the Light In Again

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; 
nothing is secret except to come to light. – Mk 4:21-25

I do not remember how I learned to “hide things” but I am sure, like many things, I first saw my parents do it. If something broke, went missing, didn’t go well “don’t tell so and so … they’ll get really mad.” The classic picking up the phone and an adult in the house urging you to say, “sorry they’re not home right now…” These events shaped me for school, where despite every teacher’s encouragement to say the truth and although the worst thing that could happen was a time out, the law of the playground stated “Snitches get stitches.” There is a profound fear in lies. White lies, small lies, and lies of omission …they all stem from fear.

My lies always came from the fear rejection. I struggle to be vulnerable to get close by not telling the whole story. I was afraid what others might say or think about me, sometimes I still am. Even when I went back to church in college, I would simply leave, wherever I was and say “bye guys I’m going to bed,” and I would go to mass (it was at 9pm on Sunday, hello college), without any details or invitations, for fear that people would know I was Catholic. People cannot know, they will make fun of me or think I am a crazy fanatic. At least that is what I told myself.  

Beyond that surface level fear, was the fear that I needed to end the double life. That if someone knew how much God wanted me, that I wanted God too, that I would be held to a certain standard. That I would be encouraged in my faith, be set apart and I would have to leave the darkness and live out my faith.  Vulnerability shouldn’t be a fear but it is. The people that I assumed would be making fun of me didn’t really know me. The end of the double life meant I would have to let myself be known.

It was and still is a long journey to not hide anymore. To live out my freedom. To let my yes be my yes, to say no. To set boundaries. To know there is nowhere to hide from God’s loving gaze, from his will for my life.  “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence… If I say “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with you.”-Psalm 139 7, 11-12

Light of the world or a lamp, on a lampstand; imagine the work of His hands, hiding in fear. That is not the life that Jesus came to give us abundantly. So when I fail, when I lie, I go back into myself and find my Father in my dark room, and in the silence he meets me there, and I confess. And I confess again on some Saturdays and I try again to live out his will for my life.

Lord, thank you for the gift of confession. May we always seek to be reconciled to you and to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to live without fear and to lovingly encourage one another to let the light in again. Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

“I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world.
The star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, 1851-52

God Wants a Family

My dad is a songwriter, and when I was in high school, he wrote one called “Jesus Wants a Family.” The chorus was simple…

“God wants a family,

He made you and me,

Jesus opens up the door,

And He brings us in,

This is what we’re aching for.”

Ever since I learned this song of my dad’s, I continue to find myself in situations that remind me of these lyrics. One of the main reasons its message continues to ring true is that God is always calling out, asking us to join in the communal family banquet. In the first reading, Paul echoes this invitation to bring everyone to the table. Everyone is welcome there and has a seat at this family table.

The beautiful miracle Jesus performed was to create one Church where all people, no matter what their skin color might be, circumcised or uncircumcised, or whatever their past faith might have been, share one common important truth. We are sons and daughters of God. In the Gospel, Jesus confirms this while He is sitting at a table; “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35

Jesus does make a single request–that we keep His word and go out to spread it to others. If we do not share the good news with others, there is no way God’s family can grow. Our Father longs for this large united family. In order to make it possible, we must play our part, especially today when so many in this world are in despair. God will reach out and open the door, ready to welcome everyone in.

Apostle of Life

The Gospel reading today tells of Jesus’ calling of his twelve apostles. He appoints these ordinary people to do extraordinary things in His name.  As Christians He calls us to do the same.  It may seem daunting to be called to do extraordinary things, though if we break it down we realize that the extraordinary often happens in the simple everyday moments and it is all centered in a heart that desires to know and be with God. 

Mark’s Gospel emphasizes three aspects of what it means to be Jesus’ Apostle – the Gospel writer says He appoints them “that they might be with Him,” be “sent forth to preach,” and “have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3:14-15).

Reading this passage this week, it jumped out at me that the first description of Christian apostleship is to simply be with Him.  A relationship with Jesus Christ is the center of it all.  A friendship with Him.  Talking to Him about the things on our heart and asking Him to speak in turn to us.  Listening to His voice.  Receiving His love. This is what it means to be with Him.  The second call on the apostles is being sent forth to preach.  This may sound more daunting to some of us at first and we may think, well this was for the first apostles and certain Christians now… but not necessarily me, right?  But the truth is this call is on us and all followers of Christ, even if it looks different for different people. To preach is to witness and teach, and you probably do this much more than you realize in everyday interactions.  Mentioning to a co-worker that you went to Mass on Sunday, listening intently to a friend who needed someone, or waving and saying hello to a passing stranger even from behind your mask… all of these gestures done in Christ’s love can be a simple moment of preaching.  God will likely call each of us deeper into witnessing and teaching as relationship with Him deepens.  We may be asked outright about our faith, and even if we look back and see how we could have answered differently, our earnest attempts to share our experience of Christ’s love are valuable moments of preaching and witnessing.  God wants to give us wisdom to witness lovingly, humbly, and confidently to our faith.  The more we deepen our relationship with Him in prayer, Scripture, community and fellowship, the sacraments, the more confidence we will gain in witnessing to the love of God we have encountered.  His love will embolden us.

The third aspect of Christian apostleship is the “authority to drive out demons” in Christ’s name.  Okay, talk about daunting again! In the literal sense of Scripture, Christians are indeed called to drive out demons and bring the incredible gift of freedom and healing to those enslaved. When Christ and His apostles drive out demons they are freeing a soul from evil, bringing a soul from darkness to light. While there is a definite time and place for those who are called to specifically drive out demons, we are all called to act in the authority of Christ’s name and encourage people out of the darkness of evil and sin into the light of faith. The third call of apostleship is a call to faith in action. If we are faithful to the first two calls of apostleship (and when we aren’t faithful, we confess our unfaithfulness, receive God’s grace that is new with each day, and get ourselves turned back to Him!)… anyway, as we sink into the first two calls of being with Him and being a living witness of our faith, the third call to act in faith will flow from the first two. Great miraculous healing can happen in many ways.  Hearts can be opened and lives can be changed by an encounter with God’s love in a moment.  And we can be instruments of these miracles without even knowing. Serving in any form is an act of faith, and of course we have a special call to serve the poor and those in need.    Being a living witness of Christ’s love, bringing His light to others opens hearts and changes lives.  If we are rooted in prayer, He will show us what this looks like for each of our lives.

Today in our Catholic Church calendar is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  Today, I want us to reflect on this call of apostleship and ask the Lord how we can be an apostle for Life.  Being a witness to the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is an integral call of our time and it is a mission that can again seem daunting.  But I want us to remember the call of apostleship that Mark gives us today and apply these same steps to our Mission for Life.  First step – prayer, by which we can understand God’s heart for every unborn child, every pregnant mother, every expecting father.  I am writing this with my second child in my womb, 23 weeks pregnant.  His or her squirms and kicks remind me of the whole human life going on independently of my will right within my body – it’s a miracle!  I can also understand the very real and urgent fear of a mother who doesn’t have the support she deserves.  Motherhood is a sacrifice.  A physical, emotional, financial, and personal sacrifice – but a pouring out of yourself that brings the deepest joy and fulfillment. We must strive to understand God’s heart on this because we will not get far in speaking to others about it otherwise.  We can never speak on this without putting ourselves in the shoes of a pregnant mother who thinks she doesn’t have another choice.  We must strive to understand and listen.  And when we are called to the second step of apostleship in this, being sent forth to preach, we must speak the truth with the Lord’s compassion. Our third apostleship call is to drive out demons in Christ’s name. There are faithful priests doing incredible work to bring light to the darkness and demons of abortion.  How are we called to bring light to this place of great darkness? This is what I hope we can each pray about today.  How am I called to act in Christ’s name for the mission of protecting unborn life?  We can pray, we can financially support organizations for women in crisis pregnancies, we can educate ourselves on the facts of pregnancy and the history of the legalization of abortion, and we can volunteer at local life centers, educating ourselves by getting to know women who are actually living the experience of a crisis pregnancy.  (At the end of this post I included a list of ways that people can support life that I found inspiring and helpful this week.) 

I have been tempted many times to feel hopeless in our current culture for unborn life.  It can be tempting to think we can’t do anything to help.  But those are lies that distract us from the fact that we are not powerless, God does change hearts, and there are many ways we can act in faith and in love for the women, men, and unborn children at risk of the devastating harm of abortion.  This is not an easy call, but it does not need to be as daunting as we think.  With God all things are possible (Mt 19:26).

God has called you, my dear sister or brother.  He has called me.  And he has appointed us to be His apostles now. At this exact moment in history and in the place he has us. How is He calling each of us to be an apostle of life? 

Lord, show us the way.   

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

Psalm 85:11-12

Icon of the Visitation

Some practical ways to support unborn life:

His Covenant Forever

The Lord is incapable of lying; throughout the Old Testament we hear of how He kept His covenants with His people. The Lord continues to make unbreakable covenants with us today. “When God made the promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, and said, ‘I will indeed bless you and multiply you.’ And so, after patient waiting, Abraham obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:13

The Lord swore by Himself to ensure and emphasize that He would never break the bonds He has created between Himself and His creatures. These covenants that were first established in the Old Testament continued in the New Testament with Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of these covenants. However, the road to salvation has not been easy, and even after the coming of Jesus Christ, we current pilgrims still have a difficult road to follow if we want to enter His kingdom. We are still in a fallen world, and still waiting on the Lord.

Noah was asked to be patient in undertaking the task God set for him, and so were Abraham, Moses, David and so many others throughout the Old Testament. God makes grand and wonderful promises but they involve long waiting periods. Today, we are waiting, but in a sense, we are more fortunate than our ancestors because we already have the promise of salvation fulfilled by Jesus, although we remain in this fallen world for as long as the Lord wills. While we wait, it is easy to become distracted and disregard the divine promises. When life becomes more trying than ever with pandemics, riots, and elections consuming our waking moments, the reassurance of our Lord can be swept away as we crave swift relief from these tribulations. The true and best relief remains with the Lord in His covenant.

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:28

The Lord understands that patience is hard, and the waiting He requires seems endless. But He has promised that it will end, and when it does, the result will be unimaginably wonderful. During our time of waiting, we can find hope and comfort in the Son of Man (and God) who is also our Lord and our Savior.

Interior Healing

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what 
they were thinking to themselves, 
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once, 
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Mk 2:1-12

Hello friends,

In today’s Gospel we’re once again given the story of the healing of the paralytic. I touched upon this back in December, but so as not to rehash entirely what I said last time, I’ll focus on some different things today.

When I last touched upon this Gospel reading, I highlighted the obstinance of the Pharisees, the unceasing faith of the paralytic, and the need for community as we are all the Body of Christ.

Notable is that Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic, but then afterwards He heals his paralysis.

Of course Our Lord and Savior knew the paralytic needed interior healing (his sins forgiven) before physical healing (his paralysis). A number of years ago, I went to one of speaker Matthew Kelly’s talks. You probably know him as the founder of the Dynamic Catholic institute, and he’s well known for writing Rediscovering Catholicism. Kelly referred to Jesus as “the divine psychologist” when He instituted the sacrament of confession and, with it, our Sacred Tradition of Aposotolic Succession. The document Dei Verbum from The Second Vatican Council elaborates on this. (Specifically, see n. 7–10 on “Handing on Divine Revelation.”)

What do I mean by all this? This is certainly not one of those long-winded rhetorical detours I’ve become infamous for. Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years know what I’m talking about. “Ryan, you’re going off topic! Get to the point!” What I mean is that in the Catholic faith we acknowledge woundedness and brokenness are real. We acknowledge the sacrament of reconciliation is real. And indeed, maybe Kelly remarking that Jesus is “the divine psychologist” isn’t such a far-fetched idea when we consider the healing of the paralytic. Indeed, in both depictions of the healing of the paralytic in Luke and Mark, Jesus heals the paralytic internally before he heals his physical ailment.

Many years ago, when I first began seeking assistance for major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, I began navigating a deeply bureaucratic, and at times, callous medical and psychiatric system. A number of doctors I saw simply saw “the solution” for my diagnosis as, “Here, take this. Once a day. That doesn’t work? Ok, come back and you’ll take something else. You won’t need anything else.” It was awfully dismissive behavior. But in life, it mirrors a lot of things. We often want “easy” or “fast” solutions. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with antidepressants! They absolutely work! But that’s not my larger point.

One reason why I was diagnosed with major depression in the first place was my own brokenness after struggling for years with so many different things—one of them growing up in a broken family and growing up without a father. I carried feelings of resentment and abandonment over the years, and some of it unintentionally spilled over as resentment towards not just my earthly father but my Heavenly one. I eventually began speaking to a good Catholic therapist. I frequented Mass and confession more often shortly afterwards.

The solution—for me—was clearly not just to take antidepressants. More needed to be done as well. (I am not giving psychiatric advice.) Personally speaking, I needed interior healing after not addressing years of brokenness. In Matthew Kelly’s words, I needed “the divine psychologist.” Jesus, because He has the divine intellect, saw that whatever was plaguing the paralytic, required interior healing first. There was clearly something in the paralytic’s past that was either not clearly resolved or that needed forgiveness first and foremost. In a sense, Jesus was the “divine psychologist” who cleaned the rubbish off this man’s soul that had built up over the years. This immediately prepared the paralytic to once again walk. He certainly helped clean the rubbish off my soul.

I remember speaking to a Dominican nun several years ago when I was in Poland for World Youth Day 2016. This sister elaborated that not going to confession, not seeking interior healing, being in a state of mortal sin, was equivalent to a child standing before a mirror with their clothes all muddy, with even the glass of the mirror dirty. You’ve probably heard the analogy of going to confession as akin to taking a shower. The larger point is they all work. We’ve all had rubbish or woundedness weighing down on us, and we have Jesus, the Church, and the sacraments for a reason!

Jesus Himself says, “Come and see,” in the Gospel of John. Jesus will never forcibly take anything from you by force; He is always waiting for you to open up to Him. It’s perhaps no surprise that the Church chose “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” as the motto for the Jubilee 2000. Because God exists outside of time, and because yesterday is the same as today for Jesus, He can always forgive us and heal us of our brokenness. If we can unite our sufferings to Jesus, it’s even better. 

Jesus is always awaiting a “new deed” in your life anytime you turn to Him. Even in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Jesus tells Our Lady as He is carrying the cross, even in enormous indescribable pain, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” (Yes, I know it’s a slight alteration of what is found in Revelation 21. It still works.) Jesus, indeed, makes “things new.” He made it new for the paralytic. He will make it new for you.

Think of all the times Jesus went to sinners and removed the rubbish from them in the Gospels. The larger point is in this pandemic age we live in, where we may think Christ has abandoned us, is that He hasn’t. Go to Him. Go to Him for healing. Go to Him and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not the priest you meet in confession, but Our Lord and Savior. I’m sure once you seek Jesus, you’ll be able to rise and walk as the paralytic did.

Finding God in Times of Trial

Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.
—Hebrews 2:18

All around the sick and all around the poor I see a special light which we do not have.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

During these times of trial, we may begin to feel that God has abandoned us in our suffering. When we are sick, lonely, anxious, or strained, it can be harder to see how God is present. But these readings are a reminder to us of a profound paradox: that in the midst of our suffering, God draws even closer to us. He shares in our most difficult experiences in a deep, intimate way.

Jesus willingly took on flesh for our sake, entering into all the mess and pain that accompanies our humanity, taking on death itself in order that He could destroy death forever and set us free from its grasp. Ultimately, He desires to heal us and set us free, but He allows us to experience suffering along the way as a means of growing closer to Him. If Jesus Himself did not spurn the Cross, then who are we to run from our own crosses? Alone, we cannot carry them, but He promises to stay alongside us, to help us when we are being tested.

In this Gospel reading, Simon’s mother-in-law is lying sick with a fever when Jesus enters the house:

He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
—Mark 1:31

After this encounter with Jesus, who met her in her suffering and understood more deeply than anyone else the pain she was experiencing, she arises and is made new. And the first thing she does is to serve the One who healed her. May we, too, allow Jesus to draw close to us in our most painful moments, and when we have encountered Him, let that experience change and restore us. When we have weathered the trials of our lives, let us turn back and serve God in praise and thanksgiving for all that He has done for us.

Image: Rembrandt, Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law / PD-US

True God and True Man

The first reading and the gospel for today both address the mystery of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly God but He humbled Himself to take on human form. He was not born into royalty, but chose to be born in the home of a poor carpenter. Since He had been given no privileges, when He spoke with such authority in public places, people were astonished. According to the gospel, they remarked: “Is this not Jesus, son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” John 6:42

Under normal circumstances, the son of a poor man should not have had the ability to speak with authority concerning scripture, and yet Jesus even cast out demons from those who were possessed. The Bible defines demons as fallen angels that turned against God. Although not dogma of Catholicism, there are theories that one of the reasons these angels “fell” was because they could not accept being subordinate to Jesus, who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that “by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9. Demons hate the idea of having to follow someone who seems to be “lower” than they are.

However, even when Jesus was in human form, the true strength and power of His divine nature shone through, and He made these fallen angels cower before Him in fear. Despite Christ’s humility, His authority over the demons rendered them powerless.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.” Mark 1:24-27

The inhabitants of the world today continue to seek leaders who establish their power through force. It is understandable that just like the people who witnessed Jesus cast out demons, we would question how anyone who comes from poverty could perform such deeds. Even the most humble among us can change the world. If we speak with the authority given to us through faith in Jesus Christ, we can make demons tremble, simply by living in accordance with the way Jesus showed us, humbling ourselves and following His every word.

Be Made Clean

This past Wednesday we celebrated Three Kings Day. It’s the day when Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar finally finished their long journey and found the newborn King. I imagine that they saw baby Jesus sound asleep, wrapped snugly in Mary’s arm. So pure, so sweet, so innocent. Some cooing and ahhs (because who can resist baby-talk in front of a baby?). Their hearts would have strongly leaped in their chests at the joy of seeing the messiah, their eyes filled with that longing of pure love.

That intense look of love is the same longing Jesus would have had in his eyes as he looked upon the face of the leper. In today’s reading, a man with leprosy fell prostrate at seeing Jesus walk by him. The leper, without having met Jesus before but having heard of him, came to believe in him and asked to be cleaned. That was how strong the leper’s faith was, that he pleaded with a man he never met before but fully believed that Jesus would be able to clean him.

In the Bible, being made clean is so much more than just looking nice or taking a bath. Being clean is being presentable in front of God. One would not think of going to an important job interview in ragged and dirty clothing. It is customary in western culture to go in a suit. One would not expect to see a bride walking down the church aisle in jeans and a T-shirt. It’s expected she would be wearing a wedding gown. We dress appropriately for the occasion. Likewise, we must be made clean and “dress” appropriately to be before God. But this isn’t the type of clothing that you can go to the department store and buy; you won’t find this on clearance. Only Jesus can dress you for this occasion, just as the leper knew that only Jesus could make him clean.

[The leper] fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”

I imagine Jesus looking into the leper’s eyes, tenderly and lovingly. The leper’s heart strongly thumping in his chest. The warmth and intensity of Jesus’ healing hand on the leper’s skin at being touched for the first time. When the world told the leper he was weak, an outcast, and disposable. The love of Jesus showed him that he was beloved, wanted, and deserving of a dignified and righteous life. 

Jesus willed to clean the leper. He wanted the leper to be clean. He wants all of us to be made clean. To be holy and without blemish, so that we can be in the presence of God in heaven. It does not matter how long our journey to find the newborn King may be taking (even the magi took a wrong turn and ended up at King Herod’s palace). The important thing is to continue the journey, to know the love of Jesus, and ask him to make us clean.

Image Credit: Jesus cleaning the leper [Public Domain]

God So Loved The World

When I was growing up and talking about the first commandment with my mother, she always said she struggled with keeping it. The first commandment tells us to love the Lord your God with all your heart. My mother believed she might love me, her own and only child, more than God, or at least, she might put me and my needs before His will. I always thought that was a nice compliment, but it also made me wonder if I might feel the same way about a child of mine one day. Your child is your own flesh and blood; I could imagine how it would be difficult to place someone else before him or her. It was not until I heard my priest express this idea in another way that I was finally able to understand why we all need to love God first.

We must love Him first because He loved us first. If this world never knew how the Lord loved us, it would be impossible for us to love anyone else. To take that notion a step further, God is love, so to love without Him would not be real love. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” John 1 4:10. In a way, my mom was right–she could not love anyone else more than me, but the only reason she could love me that much is because she knows God and the love He has for her.

The Gospel reading offers a perfect example of the powerful love God has for us, providing us with one of the many examples of the true meaning of love. God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him will always be satisfied. Hunger is one of the most basic human needs that must be fulfilled each day. The Gospel passage refers to the thousands of people who sought Jesus out, listening to Him before feeding themselves. Jesus realized this and in turn, He saw to the needs of this vast crowd, “taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.” Matthew 6:41

What a strong message! God’s love is not only great enough to save us from our sins, but His love encompasses all our needs, even the basic one like food. The world just entered into a new year, which always brings many new resolutions from its inhabitants. Perhaps one resolution could be to seek Jesus more often, like the thousands who heard Him in the Gospel reading. If we seek the Lord first, we will be satisfied in all our needs, because He is love and that is our greatest need