The Light in this World

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” John 3:16

This may be the most-repeated verse in the Bible. Unfortunately, after hearing it so much, the true depth and breadth of the significance might be ignored or not contemplated fully each time it is proclaimed. God does not just love us–He is love itself. There have been many more moments that I would like to admit when I have felt unworthy of this love. I am sure many others have shared this feeling, but I do also have good moments when I feel completely in touch with the will of God and His plan for me. Everyone of us is bound to experience their own good and bad moments accepting the love of their Creator, including Judas, the betrayer of Jesus Christ. No matter how terrible his final actions of life, he was still a child of God, created out of divine love.

Pondering the power of the Lord’s love in that context can seem almost unimaginable because from a human perspective, the behavior of Judas can cloud our judgment of him. I often forget that Judas was one of Jesus’ chosen 12 apostles. God has a purpose and plan for everything and everyone, and He can bring light even to the darkest circumstances.

As children of God, we can make the conscious decision to seek the Light as well. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6. We were created to serve as lights in this world, just as Jesus was before us. We are now approaching the end of Lent, the time of reconciliation, and looking forward to the resurrection of our Savior. This Easter Sunday, we will once again rejoice in reflecting on the new hope restored by Jesus rising from the dead. No matter how many struggles and failures we have suffered, Easter remains a reminder of our constant hope. God is love, and this Sunday we have the opportunity to be filled with His light, so we can shine it in our darkened world.

Our Gift of Love Is Never Wasted

By Sister Maria Frassati, S.V.

+Totus Tuus

“Why has there been this waste?”

The Passion Narrative that kicks off Holy Week begins with the account of the woman in Bethany with the alabaster jar of costly spikenard. To the utter shock of all those present, she breaks the alabaster jar loaded with nard over his head, letting it pour and anoint the head of our Lord. Some are filled with anger at the perceived waste. But Jesus responds, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me” (cf Mark 14:6). The Gospel account of this woman’s love for Jesus can become the lens through which we see the whole of Holy Week: the power of a total gift-of-self to Jesus, a gift which is never wasted, and is such a consolation to His heart.

Wait a minute– aren’t we supposed to be spending Holy Week contemplating the total self-gift of Jesus to us? Is this backwards? Both are important.  God loved us first, as St. John tells us (cf. 1Jn 4:10).  But when we come to know His crazy, reckless love in pouring out everything for us, as if it were for me alone, this realization inspires the response to the Divine initiative; a total self-gift in return.  St. John Paul II repeatedly reminds us in his writings that “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”  And still more, Jesus, in His total self-giving, reveals to us our deepest identity and calling (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22).

In giving myself, I come to discover who I really am. That’s a bold statement in a culture that revolves around self-fulfillment and gratification.  And, when I unite my life to Jesus in this total gift, not only is nothing ever wasted, but I become more myself, more truly who God made me to be.  Peter was no longer simply a charismatic fisherman, but a fisherman of souls who radically pierced the hearts of those who heard him with the power of God’s love. And Our Lady, through her constant yes throughout the life of Jesus as His earthly Mother, became a spiritual mother to all who believe in Jesus.

We can admit that this is hard. It often takes an act of faith to believe that my gift-of-self matters, that His grace is at work deeper in me than I can perceive.  What do I do when it feels fruitless, meaningless?

First, we can only give ourselves in trust when we are grounded in His gift of love to us, a gift He renews each day through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He tells us, you are worth everything. He would have given all for even just a single soul.  Jesus once said to St. Julian of Norwich, “It is a joy, a bliss, and endless delight to me that I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.”  Only when we know we are infinitely and unconditionally loved by the Father in Jesus, a truth we must steep ourselves in again and again, can we have the confidence to give ourselves to Him in total abandon.  Secondly, whether we feel it or not, it is in the Mass that we are reminded that His total offering of self in love gives value to all our offerings of love.  

Woman of Bethany: Our Gift of Love is Never Wasted.

In this, we also discovered another truth: He delights to receive our love, our company.  It matters to Him when we are simply there, with Him.  Do we have any idea how much our gifts to Him console His heart?  Not because we add anything to God or make Him more, since He is all-perfect and in need of nothing.  The woman in Bethany, before Christ’s Passion, reflects to Him her understanding of what He is about to do. And in this, she is with Him, demonstrating that she knows and supports the intentions of His heart.  During the pandemic, we heard stories upon stories of elderly married couples who would stop at nothing to visit their spouses in nursing homes and hospitals, even if it meant only standing on the other side of a window. They knew they couldn’t help or heal or ‘fix the problem’; they knew they simply had to be there.  Love desires to be with the one they love.  And this is what matters most to Jesus, that we are simply with Him.  In this, we can share the weight of His heart. St. Padre Pio once remarked that in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while Jesus was weighed down in agony by the sins of humanity, He was also consoled by the love of His future disciples who would give everything for Him. Even now, our efforts to be with Him and love Him console His heart more than we can ever know in this life.

As we enter the intensity of Holy Week, striving to contemplate His mysteries in the middle of our busy work, we can take comfort in the fact that spending time in prayer doesn’t need to be complicated. Just be with Him. And wherever you’re drawn in the mysteries of this week, give yourself permission to stay there. If we allow ourselves to simply sit in His presence, wherever we find ourselves —the garden, the pillar where He was scourged, His tomb on Holy Saturday—He will work to quietly transform us in His grace. And as He draws the mysteries of our lives into the mysteries of His own, nothing will ever be wasted; rather our lives will become more closely conformed to the mystery of His own, as we are brought to know the tender love of the Father through Him.

Planning Charity

“Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance” (Lk 8:15).

How can we keep the word with a generous heart? How can we keep the Word of God, Jesus, at the center of our lives, so that we may love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Lk 10:27)? In today’s first reading, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s love of God gives them the strength to persevere and refuse to worship the god of King Nebuchadnezzar, leading the king to exclaim, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (Dn 3:95). There are times in our lives when, by the grace of God, we see the harvest of our perseverance in ordinary and extraordinary ways.

There are times in our lives when we do not keep God’s word and fail to see him in the people and events we encounter. The first reading is juxtaposed with today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus rebukes those who believe in him, “I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you” (Jn 8:37). As Holy Week approaches, how can we make room for the Word of God and keep the word with a generous heart? How can we prepare our hearts to follow Jesus to the cross?

Saying “yes” to the small things in our everyday lives can train us to say “yes” to greater things, especially when it comes to loving and following the Word of God during difficult moments. Father Roger Landry, author of the book Plan of Life, suggests that we ask ourselves, “What do we do to concretize our love for God and others?” He describes how charity needs to be planned, such as planning to offer up each day for someone and reaching out to them. In the words of Fr. Landry, instead of showing random acts of kindness, we should plan acts of kindness. This Holy Week, let us fully participate in the holiest week of the year by planning our time around God and the people he places in our lives.

Choose and Obey

Why is it so easy to get angry at God? The Old Testament seems to provide examples of a constant tug-of-war between God and the Israelites. The Israelites are presented with an inconvenient situation; they get angry and complain to God, then God in turn becomes angry with the Israelites and inflicts a punishment on them. Finally the Israelites come to their senses and return to God, begging His forgiveness. Over two thousand years later, we, the modern day Israelites, still find ourselves engaged in this tug-of-war. The crucial difference between us and them is that we are fortunate enough to have a Savior who came before us and has already taken on the wrath meant to be inflicted on us due to our sins.

I admit I have fallen prey to this behavior. I found myself angry at God this past weekend. During this time of the liturgical year, we should return to our Lord and renounce any anger toward Him. In these final two weeks leading up to Easter, it is customary to cover all the statues in churches, including the crucifix–Jesus on the cross. This practice is symbolic of Jesus retreating from public ministry as He awaited His time to die on the cross. Although the Lord promises never to leave us, the symbolism we find before Holy Week holds great significance and the notable absence of the Savior is evident.

In my vulnerable and sinful state, my first response was anger and I wanted to cry out to my Father with the same words Jesus used: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” I know deep down He will never abandon me, but there are moments when it feels as though He has. This might be why God’s chosen people have always fallen back into the tug-of-war started in the Old Testament. We are made from dust and to dust we shall return; we really do not deserve anything from our Lord except those punishments that He justly bestowed on the Israelites. Nevertheless, we long for our Father’s love because we are His children. As children, it is natural for us to want things from our Father, and if we don’t get them, we throw temper tantrums. Like a good Father, He reminds us of who we are and who He is. No matter what, everything He does, He does for our ultimate good, even if it is difficult to accept at times.

“‘The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.’ Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.”

John 8:30

The beauty of God’s design gives us free will. Just as Jesus before us, we have the choice to follow the Lord in spite of every hardship along the path. In choosing to obey our Father, we can trust and believe He will never leave us to be alone.

The Name of God is Mercy

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Jn 8:1–11

Friends, in today’s Gospel reading, we are given the story of the woman caught in adultery. Similar to the content in my last reflection, this passage is one of the most studied Biblical accounts. (First, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Second, about not casting the first stone. Two in a row ain’t bad.)

We are given some food for thought when we pray upon today’s first reading in conjunction with the Gospel reading for today—Susanna and the elders in the Book of Daniel. And this section of the Book of Daniel and today’s Gospel are very much related, but in different ways. The first reading relates to Susanna triumphing in the face of a potential miscarriage of justice. When Susanna rebuffs the two elders’ lustful advances, she is accused of wanting to be alone in the company of a man in order to bed him. Susanna is wrongfully accused, the elders bear false witness, Susanna is in danger of being put to death, Daniel speaks up for virtue, and Susanna is subsequently acquitted. The elders are subsequently put to death. Virtue and justice triumph. But there is more at work when you take the stories of Susanna and the woman caught in adultery together.

Susanna was married. The law of Moses dictated that she would be unavailable to the elders. The elders knew this, and yet their lust was so strong it clearly began to affect their moral judgment. It is said in the story of Susanna and the elders that they desired to “seduce her” and that the elders did not speak of their lust for her publicly. This indicates two things: they were aware that what they were doing was morally wrong because they felt shame, and they made a conscious decision to sin and go against the law of Moses. It’s not difficult to think that Jesus perhaps had the story of Susanna and the elders in mind when He remarked in the Gospel of Matthew, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:28–29).

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes across a woman caught in adultery. This woman, unlike Susanna, actually did commit adultery. According to the law of Moses, she is subject to death. The elders demand she be stoned to death. The woman knows this is inevitable since she was caught breaking the Mosaic law. Jesus steps in and asks if the elders themselves are free of sin; if they aren’t, they may stone her to death. One by one, the elders leave, and the woman is told by Jesus to sin no more.

The two events are related, albeit differently. Most significant is that they are relatable on a personal level and pertain to our lives of prayer in ways we perhaps may not have thought about. We have probably all had accusatory, condemnatory, judgmental, and self-righteous attitudes at some point in our lives. Do we often see ourselves as Susanna or the woman caught in adultery? Being accused by loud voices, perhaps falsely? When we do sin, are we given a chance to repent, or are we hurt by the stirred passions of others in a too-quick pursuit of justice? Do we see ourselves as the elders, motivated by malice or self-righteousness? Or do we act like Jesus, with patience and mercy? In the Gospel, Jesus shows that He forgives, regardless of what we have done. No sin is too great. According to the Mosaic law, the woman caught in adultery could have been put to death. Jesus knows this, but instead of advocating for the old Mosaic law, He forgives her.

In my younger years, when I first came back to the Church, I very much had a gung-ho mentality about the “rules.” Not that there shouldn’t be any—there are. And for good reason. We know what mortal sins are. We know what constitutes venial sin. But in my pursuit of “the rules” after I came back to the Church, I was acting more like an elder driven by self-righteousness and not like Jesus. Time after time, I felt driven to “call people out,” sometimes even publicly, rather than speak to them and to show mercy, especially if they were struggling and wanted to turn away from whatever sin they were struggling with (gossip, struggling with chastity, etc.). As a Lay Dominican, I am driven by veritas (truth). In a world that has often been labelled as “post-Christian” or “postmodern,” the urge to succumb to a rallying cry for justice when we see individuals acting in a fashion that is anything but Christian—or in a way that is not consistent with virtue ethics—is a very real urge. Fraternal correction is indeed necessary, but even St. Thomas Aquinas recommends we speak to individuals privately first, not publicly as the elders did. In our pursuit of fraternal correction, do we also try and act like Jesus? Jesus indeed reprimanded plenty of people, but He was so, so merciful.

One woman (Susanna) was falsely accused and sentenced to die, but she placed her life in God’s hands and trusted Him. Daniel spoke up for the woman, and she was released. The other woman (the woman caught in adultery) was justly accused and was sentenced to die. She did not have any hope because it was the law that she was to die for her sin. Jesus spoke up for her, and she was forgiven. Jesus Christ did not come for the righteous but for sinners. Christ’s compassion for the adulteress surpassed the old rules. Pope Francis wrote a text, The Name of God is Mercy. (This coincided with the Year of Mercy.) This is no less relevant here. Pope Francis himself remarked, “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

Palm Sunday is soon upon us. Palm Sunday is often remarked as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After this, Jesus will soon be sentenced to death, carry His Cross, go through excruciating pain that we cannot possibly imagine, and then be crucified. He will ask God to forgive those who called for his death. He will even soon forgive Peter, the man who would become pope. Even after he denied him three times. Let us not forget that when Jesus eventually rises from the grave once Lent is over, it is also a victory for mercy.

Believe

For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

John 5:47

In today’s first reading, freed from slavery the Israelites are wandering in the desert. Surviving slavery, witnessing the plagues, the parting of the red sea, but more importantly, how God did not forget them, His people, yet, they quickly forgot Him who saved them. Moses leaves them to commune with God on top of Mt. Sinai, (a period of about forty days). In their perceived fear of abandonment, the Israelites ask Aaron to build the golden calf. “They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it.” They would rather worship human creations, something they can see right now, rather than wait for God who has freed them and is taking them to the promise land.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees, present a façade of faithfulness but Jesus knows, “I know that you do not have the love of God in you.”  They have had many witnesses that give evidence to who Jesus is, the writings of Moses (“But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”), John the Baptist (“for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.“), the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refuse to see God in any of these things. “But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.” They worship their golden calf of pride, strict rules and empty encouragement; they too have turned away from God.

In both passages, the Israelites and the Pharisees believe they can attain the promise land or achieve eternal life on their own. We are not always wiser. Let us learn from Jesus, from scripture, from the witnesses in our lives, from the sacraments, from tradition, and from the personal relationship that the Father calls us to have with himself, that the way, the truth, and the life is through Jesus.  

In this season of lent, as we wait, as we journey further into the desert, as Jesus accompanies us, have courage and faith that the one who brought you to this point has not abandoned you, will not abandon you. Friends, believe that although you may not hear his voice, see the signs you want, have not heard a full yes or a full no, the Father’s promises are true. Believe that in your hearts, and strive to live a calling that witnesses to the immeasurable faithfulness and love of the Father. “The LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened.” His grace and his mercy are abundant and because of it, we are saved.  

The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Nicolas Poussin

Water of Life

Water is known for its many healing properties. There is no living thing that can survive without it. Any nutritionist would emphasize that for the body to function properly, it must be hydrated. Water is the key component of every ecosystem.

“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish.” Ezekiel 47:9

If there is fresh water, the land, the creatures and the people will be fruitful and multiply. God created water for this purpose. He gave us water to fuel ourselves and to use it in caring for this planet He created for us to live on. Water is the most crucial element on this earth. There is only one substance (or person) more crucial to life than water and He is Jesus Christ.

Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to fast not only from food but from water as well. This proves that Jesus is more powerful than the life-giving properties of water. If it is His will, we could live without water as we rest in Him, for the love of Jesus is strong enough to sustain us and even make us prosper.

This is not to say we should all give up water, believing the Lord will take care of us. God made water for our benefit. Nevertheless, just as Jesus is known as the Bread of Life, He is also called the Water of Life. When we accept Jesus into our lives and are baptized in water, our souls are revitalized with the Holy Spirit, and through faith we can see that Jesus Christ is the one and only life-giving presence we need. If we believe in Him, we will never be thirsty again.

The Greatest Commandment (Having a Heart like Jesus)

Three years ago, during Lent, part of my prayers were the words “give me a heart like Jesus.” I was in a very isolated place in my life, saddened and feeling betrayed. The only thing that gave me peace that year was reading the Bible. So, I dedicated myself to opening up the Word of God more often and I prayed that my heart could be like the heart of Jesus. I wanted the heart of that man who died loving the people who betrayed him. I wanted the heart of that man who forgave his enemies while they hammered nails into his hands and feet. I desperately needed a heart like Jesus so that I could be happy.

Each day during lent that year, I prayed for goodness and blessings for everyone which I had an estranged relationship with. It was the most intimate moment near the Cross. I prayed to the Lord, “God I don’t know what to do. I am angry and saddened. I feel hurt. I want to love these people. I want to forgive them. But I don’t know how. Take my heart and give me the heart of Jesus. Give me his heart so that I may love them. Give me his heart so that I may forgive them. Give me his heart so that I may truly want all the goodness and blessings for them that you want for them. Give me a heart like Jesus.”

The Cross is love. The Cross is happiness. The Cross is obedience.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments? In first-century Palestine it was much of a debate to know which of the 613 mosaic laws was the most important to follow. Jesus immediately quotes Scripture saying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Loving God above all else, with all of our souls, with all of our hearts, with all our minds, with all of our strength— that is the first of the greatest commandment. Quickly Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself.

It almost seems as if Jesus gave the scribes two different answers when their question was in search for one answer, the most important commandment of all. But the scribe understood what Jesus meant in giving them the two greatest commandment together. There is only one God in all the universe who created everything, and to love the God of Israel with everything that you are automatically means that you love your neighbors, God’s children. These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot fully follow one while ignoring the other.

How can you say you love God, but in your everyday actions you dismiss and ignore the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you say you love God when you ignore those that are hungry, without shelter, are sick, or imprisoned? Can you say you love God when you walk past someone in the midst of their struggles, marginalized and not see the face of Jesus? God would never ignore us, never abandon us in our need. To follow the greatest commandment is to love like God, to have a heart like Jesus and be charitable towards everyone because you recognize their dignity— that they were made in the image and likeness of God.

Following the greatest commandment isn’t easy. I have failed and fallen many times. I have purposely told God, no I’m not loving this person today because they made me upset or I’m not loving that person today because their struggles don’t affect my way of life and I am going to sit with my anger and my comfort for a while and not care for them. I allowed sin to consume me. But Jesus died out of love for his enemies! He died out of love for you and for me. The virtue of charity calls for us to be all self-giving. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati says that to follow the greatest commandment is to conform our entire lives to loving God and loving our neighbor because this is the essence of the Catholic faith.

Pray friends, that this Lenten season brings you closer to the Lord, that you may grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. That you may have a heart like Jesus and through him be obedient to the greatest commandment.

“Each of you knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. Without it, our religion would crumble. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our entire lives to the two commandments that are the essence of the Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves… With charity, we sow the seeds of that true peace which only our faith in Jesus Christ can give us by making us all brothers and sisters. I know that this way is steep, and difficult, and strewn with thorns, while at first glance the other path seems easier, more pleasant, and more satisfying. But the fact is, if we could look into the hearts of those who follow the perverse paths of this world, we would see that they lack the serenity that comes to those who have faced a thousand difficulties and who have renounced material pleasure to follow God’s law.” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Peter Paul Rubens. The Raising of the Cross. 1610. Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, Belgium.

Divisiveness

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and /quotesaid to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, 
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Luke 11:14-11:23

What a reading for today’s gospel, friends. Today I was given the privilege of discussing one of the most oft-quoted passages in the gospel: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

As many of you may know, it’s one of the most famous lines of the gospel, and plenty of theological discussion has been had about just these two verses. It has of course, even seeped into larger popular culture and if you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, you know how it’s mentioned—it’s even reached sitcoms, albeit with the message subverted for some comedic effect. But moving on from my tendency to ramble on or make pop culture references, there are two things to note from today’s gospel reading.

First, note how Jesus rebuffs the townspeople who demand a sign from Him to prove He is from Heaven. Jesus, of course, “knew their thoughts,” and rather than give in to their demands, Jesus simply gave words of wisdom. Jesus, of course, also rebuffs Satan in a similar fashion when He is in the desert for 40 days. (Feed himself and abstain from fasting? No. Christ speaks, “Man does not live on bread alone.” See the temptation of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

Rather than forcefully show his divinity to appease people, Jesus speaks the truth as He does to Satan. However, on another dimension, this often reminds me of the relationship we may have with Christ. Do we often make “deals” with Christ to prove He loves us? Do we often “ask for a sign from Heaven?” Have any of us ever prayed for something and claimed we’ll change our ways or stop habits that engender sin if we get something in return? And do we then simply forget to lead lives of virtue not because it was “proven” to us that God loved us, but because we should strive for lives of virtue because loving God is the ultimate good? This focus on virtue is something I want us to keep in mind because it’s significant. Thomas Aquinas cites caritas as “love,” or more specifically, the type of friendship based in the “the love which is together with benevolence, when to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him.” (See Second part of the Second part, Question 23 of Summa Theologica.) Additionally, Aquinas writes that caritas moves us to order our lives properly, gradually leading us to love and desire God for His own sake and nothing else. This “good” and the move towards virtue is what I want to focus on.

Second, God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one and united within the Holy Trinity. We are united with Christ, and we should expect to be in His good graces by living lives of virtue, leading others to Him, and by of course, loving Him. Why else did Christ call for the Great Commission? Well, for one, Christ knows that Satan is the one who causes division. This is especially apt when Christ makes the townspeople ask themselves, “If I drove out the demons by Beelzebul, well ok, how do you do it then?” This of course leaves them speechless. But which division am I speaking of? For some, it could be a loaded question. There is, of course, enough division in the American political sphere but that’s not where I’m going. In my experience, we as Catholics often do not present a united front or send an accurate reflection of our beliefs to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many explanations have been given from time to time for a decline in faith in America—changing cultural practices, postmodernism, inaccurate catechesis, etc. There is no singular answer, and debates rage on. The Lord said to His disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, but we could still lose an untold number of souls if we send often-conflicting messages and signals to others about our beliefs and practices. If the mission of Holy Mother Church is about saving souls, then sometimes we should be aware that how we may act and express ourselves could be sowing division. Even unintentionally!

Disagreements are often messy, but necessary. But I’m not talking about differences in opinion, I’m talking about divisiveness within the larger Church and the family unit. And as you can imagine, it can be an awkward conversation and can stir a lot of passions from a lot of people.

When the fall of man happened, a consequence of original sin was a disruption in our relationship with God. We know this and the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this as well.  We know this almost immediately from reading Genesis because upon eating the forbidden fruit of the tree, Adam does two things. First, he hides from God, because his relationship with the Lord has been disrupted due to sin. Second, he almost immediately blames Eve for his sin. This is something I have often seen in talking to spouses and it’s unfortunate—blaming your spouse for one’s sin. We have to remember—we’re supposed to be helping lead our spouse to Heaven! This is something we often see in families, often a core element of one’s growing up—a lot can be traced to early family life. Even sociologists and adolescent psychologists speak about how a child’s performance in school can be affected due to a messy and turbulent home. I don’t want to quote Jordan Peterson at length or ask your opinion of him, but he’s not exactly wrong when he states that for a lot of men, we have to keep our “house” (literal and metaphorically) in order. If we’re divided against ourselves due to sin or despair, how can we lead lives of virtue?

I’ve spoken at some length previously in prior reflections how one’s home life—however unfortunate—can lead to disruption in the life of faith. Adam refuses to take responsibility for his actions, blames his wife, and he is in essence, a symbolically divided individual. For me, when my father left at an early age, I traced the absence of an earthly father to our Heavenly Father not caring for me. In my experience (at least anecdotally) in talking with other Catholic men, this rings true. An absence of a father, divided families, leads to disruptions in the life of faith and brokenness and woundedness that we then unfortunately (and incorrectly) associate with God not caring or “abandoning us.”  Because the adage goes, if we can’t trust an earthly father, how can we trust our Heavenly Father? (We of course can. I am of course not dismissing woundedness in any way.) This then, of course, leads to a symbolic and literal divisiveness in each one of us. That’s divisiveness in the family and in our own lives affecting the life of faith.

However, there is another kind of divisiveness that I see that happens in how we express our thoughts on other Catholics we may disagree with. And I’ve been guilty of doing it a few times just as well. We often lob terms of “liberal” or “conservative” Catholic as insults and pejoratives in the context that we feel certain groups of people are not fully living holy lives. Mind you, however, that’s not to say fraternal correction is never necessary. It absolutely is needed at times. And Church teaching is well, Church teaching for a reason. Doctrine is not subject to change. I don’t have to explain what these terms mean—you’ve all heard some variation of what they mean and simply giving my take on what terms these may or may not mean isn’t instructive in the slightest. Point being—both of them have nuggets of truth, but not in ways you might expect. My larger point? Every Catholic should be “conservative” in that we wish to pass on, live, and conserve sacred truths of the Apostolic and lived faith. Every Catholic should also similarly be “liberal” in that we wish to “liberate” people from sins as Holy Mother Church asks of us so that we all can lead truly holy lives. I’m reminded of my therapist’s tattooed wrists—she tattooed broken chains on her wrists to demonstrate her life of faith was to show that by following Christ, she was choosing a life away from sin. Free of the chains of sins. Liberated.

But why do people use the terms “liberal” and “conservative”? For one, It’s often a woefully convenient (and inconvenient) shorthand in American politics, but it’s not entirely accurate and it unfortunately leads to a lot of divisiveness. One may have “liberal” or “conservative” ways (on a larger level of public policy for example) how best to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. But most people will tell you they want to alleviate poverty and show the poor person Christ’s love. And of course, perform the corporal works of mercy. And why shouldn’t we?

Today’s gospel reading is not lost on me during this time of Lent. Divisiveness leads us away from Christ, Our Lady, and Holy Mother Church. Jesus is not ambiguous or vague. We should put our faith in Him and turn away from lives of sin and turn to Him. Or scatter.

Pillar of Cloud

“For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

—Deuteronomy 4:7–9

In today’s first reading, Moses speaks to the Israelites and reminds them of all that the Lord has done to lead them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land, which they are about to enter. His admonition to carefully keep God’s commandments is accompanied by this call to remember, to repeat the stories of the marvels God has done for this people through every generation. Moses knows that the people will struggle to carry out God’s commands, but if they keep those stories close and kindle a devotion to the God who has rescued them from slavery and led them through the wilderness, they will be more likely to observe God’s law because of their love for Him.

While they traveled in the wilderness, God led them in a more tangible way: in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. As they enter into the Promised Land, His guidance will not be so immediately apparent. As they enjoy all the new comforts of the land, it will become all too easy to forget their need for God. And so Moses implores the people to remember: to keep God’s Word engraved upon their hearts, instilled in the minds and hearts of their children, and ingrained within all their habits and traditions. The covenant God has made with them is everlasting; it should be the root and foundation of their lives, for all generations. We see Jesus affirm this in today’s Gospel reading, that He has come not to abolish but to fulfill the law. Jesus brings to fruition every letter of these promises that Moses is asking the Israelites to remember.

Right now, we are approaching spring, both literally and metaphorically. The snowbanks are melting, and buds are just starting to appear. We are still in the midst of the long winter of this pandemic, but it feels like we might be beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. During this past year, we have been brought to our knees by suffering, loss, anxiety, and helplessness. As our lives start to get somewhat back to normal, let us look to Moses’s admonition and not forget what God has done for us in the wilderness. Even in the most difficult moments, even when we strayed and complained and doubted in Him, He has been leading us. As we transition from night into day, God will continue to lead us, but by a pillar of cloud instead of a pillar of fire; we must adjust our eyes to keep our focus upon Him.

By day, we are led by Mystery; by night, we are led by Fire and Light. In our darkest moments, the Lord draws us forward by illuminating the path at our feet: always just the next few steps, leading us as a beacon in the night. We may be overwhelmed by the unknown terrors that surround us, but He stays before us, and we follow close, utterly dependent on His Light. But in the daylight of our lives, when we are surrounded by so many distractions and could go any way we choose, His Presence is the one thing that is veiled in mystery, drawing us toward a divinity beyond our comprehension. In the daylight, it can be all too easy to allow our eyes to drift away from the that pillar of cloud and instead grasp toward things that we can take hold of and understand.

Sometimes it seems easier to follow God by night, when we are in survival mode and it seems there is only one possible step to take at a time, than by day, when we are overwhelmed by distractions and indecision. Whenever we find ourselves in this place, let us remember Moses’s call to remember, to set God at the center of our hearts and recall all the marvels He has worked in our lives. Then, as we travel onward, we can turn our eyes toward the cloud of His Presence, gently guiding us deeper into His Mystery.

Prayer of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in you as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.
May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your Mystery.


1. Benjamin West, Joshua Passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant / PD-US
2. Ivan Aivazovsky, Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea / PD-US