The Narrow Gate

Time is fleeting in this world, which is rapidly passing away. Since we cannot envision the glories of Heaven, it is almost impossible not to become somewhat attached to the allure this world can offer. In truth, the Lord did create this world and He created it out of love for us. Nevertheless, whatever God gives, He can also take away.

The story of Abram and his nephew Lot reveals that from the beginning, the Lord knows the hearts of His people. While Lot made decisions based on what would benefit himself and himself alone, Abram made decisions according to the will of God. There is no denying that Abram was attached to his possessions, but he did not depend on this attachment. He knew that the Lord would take care of him, regardless of what happened. Because of his sincere trust, God not only took care of Abram but made sure he flourished. “Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.” Genesis 13:14-15

Jesus showed us that if we choose to follow Him, life will not be easy, and as a result, many of His own followers left Him because they could not accept this. The road to Heaven is hard and torturous at times, but it is meant to be. God always gives us a choice; we can enjoy the treasures of this world and have our Heaven on earth, or we can walk with Jesus Christ and be rewarded with the treasures of Heaven when we get there.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13

Who Is Your Enemy

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34

Jesus continued to explain that you are to love your enemy! This commandment has always been difficult to carry out. Unfortunately, sin is imbedded into our human nature. It sometimes seems we can get caught up in the details. Who really is our enemy? A criminal, a murderer, a tax collector? If these were the only enemies we had, it would make sense that it would be a struggle to follow this commandment but most of us do not encounter such people on a daily basis. In that respect, we could easily fall into a false sense of security thinking we limit our interaction with our enemies. But what about the guy who cuts you off in traffic, the coworker who takes credit for work you did, or a friend who chooses to spread rumors against you. These people do not necessarily fall under the strict definition of enemy, but it may be more difficult to show kindness to them.

Jesus also says, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:43. In this world where selfishness, self preservation and egotism are common attitudes, we can lose sight of how a simple act of kindness is one of the most powerful weapons we have. In truth, we are all humans dealing with troubles. To that point, it is very probable that when someone wrongs you, that action has nothing to do with you and is taken to relieve some pain that person is enduring.

When put in that perspective, being kind to someone who wrongs you is the only way to take your enemy and make him or her your neighbor. There is no doubt that the initial act of kindness may be hard to perform, but the overall benefits are worth it. This act will not only grant you entrance into Heaven, but may help your enemy enter in as well.

Conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

We all want to be loved. To be wanted, and desired, and cherished. It’s this innermost longing to find someone in which we can be our most authentic selves and at peace. I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy movie. In the movie the plot is more or less the same; some couple (not yet together) try to follow this “longing” in their hearts to be loved and they stumble, fall, miss the very obvious signs, turn left when they should have gone right and somehow they end up broken-hearted. This is the part in the movie which is meant to make you go into your feelings—the main character has almost missed out on their one true love when suddenly there is this huge declaration of love and a happy ending. 

Oddly enough, those “sad” moments in the rom-com are some of the most important in the entire movie. The main character is tested, they go through trials, they figure out what truly is important to them, and when they figure out what truly matters they leave all the other pleasures and fun distractions behind to go get their love. Rom-com’s are entertaining. 

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates the immensity of the love that Jesus has for us. In the “rom-com” of my life I would be running all over NYC oblivious to Jesus inviting me to rest in him. When I am exhausted and overworked I would turn around—bumbing straight into him—and there would be Jesus holding his heart in his hands, outstretched for me to take it. This scene of my personal rom-com is on rerun quite often. But every single time I turn around and see Jesus, he gives me his heart and reminds me how much he loves me. 

Jesus loves YOU. He wants you, desires you, and cherishes you. The heart of Jesus longs to be with YOU. 

In the second reading today, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts! It is the power and strength of God’s love within us that gives us courage to live righteous lives, with the true knowledge that we are beloved children. The grandeur of God’s love for us is something that goes beyond human comprehension. God gives us everything that is good for us—all represented in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He loved us first. 

Pope Francis, in one of his homilies, tells us that “Jesus teaches us the kind of attitude a Christian should have; it is all about carrying on God’s own work in your own small way: that is feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, visiting the sick and the prisoner.”1 Our friend, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, carried the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside him in this way. Frassati dedicated his short young life to helping those in need and performing the corporal works of mercy that “pave the path of love that Jesus teaches us in continuity with God’s great love for us!”

God loves you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you. To be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to care about the same things that Jesus cared about—the dignity and salvation of everyone around him. When you turn around and suddenly bump into Jesus holding out his heart to you, take it! Hold it tight and close to your own heart. He wants you to have his heart. He wants you to know that you will always be loved. Friend, that love flows so rich and deep that when we accept it it will overflow like rushing waters and we will want to share it with everyone around us. 

Oh Lord, give me a heart like Jesus.

—–

1. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

2. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

3. Image Credit: Jose Luis Castrillo. Cor Jesu Sacatissimim III. 2020.

From Glory to Glory

Brothers and sisters:
To this day, whenever Moses is read,
a veil lies over the hearts of the children of Israel,
but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed.

Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is freedom.
All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
as from the Lord who is the Spirit.

—2 Corinthians 3:15–18

This passage from today’s first reading speaks to the nature of the human heart. We all have a natural inclination to veil our hearts, to protect the innermost part of ourselves that is most vulnerable and keep it closed off. However, the veils we place around our hearts keep us from receiving the transformative gaze of the Lord.

In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord tells us, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). He wants to utterly transform our hearts, but He can only do so if we give Him permission. We must remove the veils that we’ve constructed in our defensiveness and allow Him to look upon our hearts as they truly are. He will not deal with us as the world does; He will not wound us but will bring healing beyond what we can measure. Only by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with the Lord will we find our true identity and purpose.

As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus tomorrow, let us open our own hearts to receive His. May we take down any barriers that stand between us and God and receive the gift of His transformative gaze.


Image: Giovanni di Paolo, Saint Catherine of Siena Exchanging Her Heart with Christ / PD-US

Joy, Joy, Joy

As true sons and daughters of Christ, we are called to evangelize. I hated this idea while growing up. The idea of standing on street corners and proclaiming the gospel to total strangers held no appeal. I did not believe I had the authority to tell others what they should believe. I lacked confidence, knowledge, and courage to speak out in such a way. Deep down, I did not feel the strength of my own faith, and if I could not convince myself that it would lead to God, how could I convince others?

It was not until I was able to voice that I was a “child of God,” that I understood the confidence, knowledge, courage, and especially wisdom were not attainable without the gift of these qualities by the Holy Spirit. I did not have to aggressively pursue people to convert—the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s divine Providence would take care of the audience. The more I personally pursued Jesus and continued to invite Him into my life, the more I lived my life by faith. To my great surprise, people actually noticed and began to ask me about my life. There was no need to prepare a speech or recite scripture, which I thought would be necessary—instead, I emphasized my own experience and described my personal relationship with Christ.

“Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father. “ Matthew 5:16
There is a familiar children’s song with the lyrics

“I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart.” Joy is different from happiness because it comes directly from the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. Joy does not guarantee you will always be happy; the sense of joy simply allows you to place your trust in the Lord. Even if something goes wrong in our lives, we can still find peace because we are in the Lord’s hands. This assurance provides the light that other people will see when everything in our lives is directed by God.

The Beatitudes

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them, saying:
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the land.
    Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be satisfied.
    Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the clean of heart,
    for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
    Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
   Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
   and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
   Rejoice and be glad,
   for your reward will be great in heaven.
   Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1–12

Hello friends,

In today’s gospel, we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, we are given the eight Beatitudes. Like many things Jesus preached, they were difficult to accept by the people of his time. Yet the reward is great: Heaven. Considering there are eight Beatitudes, I could go on and on speak about them all in great length, but I will speak about them generally (and focus on three) and of my own experiences as a Catholic as we all try and strive for holiness. (There are four other Beatitudes and four woes in the Gospel of Luke but that will be discussed another time.)

Of note is that many doctors of the Church and many spiritual writers have often compared the Beatitudes (or rather their completion) to climbing a staircase to see Jesus at the end of our life. If we are successful at leading lives of holiness, we’ll no doubt have a moment akin to the very end of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “But already my desire and my will / were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed / by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII 142-145 trans C.H. Sisson). Dante Aligheri firmly understood – from an artistic and theological point of view – that seeing the Triune God at the end of our lives was something so great that it was beyond our comprehension. It was “the Love” that moved the entire universe. Not a love that dribbles a ball, or cradles a baby lovingly. The whole universe and all its stars. Truly beyond our comprehension. Following the Beatitudes, in essence, would allow us to see God at the end of our lives. And what greater reward is there than Heaven?

St. Chromatius of Aquileia preached something about the Beatitudes that I had never heard, but which a friend had pointed out to me. What St. Chromatius said was understood by many of his contemporaries and many Doctors of the Church. In a sermon on Matthew, Chromatius once wrote, “Our Lord, our savior, establishes extremely solid steps of precious stones, by which saintly souls and faithful can climb, can rise to this supreme good, which is the kingdom of heaven…”

In short, climbing this staircase is definitely something we should all strive for. There’s an old Catholic saying I hear often: “Aim for Heaven. Because if you aim for purgatory, you might miss.” While many of us strive for excellent athletic abilities or enjoy hikes in the coming summer weather, are we also making sure to climb this spiritual staircase to Jesus? I know I sometimes certainly struggle. With that being said, considering there are eight beatitudes, let me focus on just a few of them and my final thoughts. I will be focusing on the first three, not just due to length, but because these are the ones I have struggled the most with. 

The first (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) and third (“Blessed are those who mourn”) Beatitudes refer to some kind of detachment from the world. Instead, we choose an attachment to Jesus. While there are many of us that struggled with some sort of economic or spiritual poverty due to the ongoing pandemic, this refers to a poverty that we choose. A poverty that we choose out of love for Jesus, and regardless of our state in life. You perhaps may have heard that if you are wealthy, it is more difficult to reach Jesus. Indeed, even Jesus states something akin to this: “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). (Jesus was, of course, making a point in larger content to other matters. Yes, you can reach Heaven if you are wealthy.) However, that being said, Jesus also refers to a sort of detachment and spiritual poverty. Material objects are good, but not if we enjoy them so much that we treat them as ends in themselves. (e.g.: If it takes us away from the life of faith.) For example, I used to jokingly tell people I lived the life of a starving artist (when I was in a PhD program for several years) so I was done with that. “No more!” I said. I wanted to move on to a more stable job where the salary was 2.5 times greater than I used to make. And while there is inherently nothing wrong with making a stable income, especially if you discern married life and have to provide for a family, was I also treating my soon to be newfound wealth in a rather facetious manner? Instead I thought, “My goodness! I can now get season tickets to the NY Mets! I can buy better shirts! I can move to a better place!” Why was I not thinking instead of living a more sustainable life with my income and giving more to the poor? In essence, when it comes to wealth, do we make that wealth self-centered and not Christ-centered?

When we take into account “blessed are those who mourn,” we have to remove our detachment to sin and remember Christ shares in our suffering. Indeed, tragedy strikes us all, and I lost several people I knew last year to COVID. Indeed, these past 17 months felt like such a moment of national mourning not unlike 9/11. Oftentimes, in my life, in some period of great mourning, I felt almost separated from Jesus, not because of Christ, but because I was so focused on my own mourning that I failed to see Christ was there with me. It also refers to the fact that we should mourn and repent from our former lives of sin. The suffering that we have to endure in our everyday lives is not “vengeance” or “punishment” but a sharing in His own suffering. Even when we ourselves face chastisement for sins, our repentance should be ordered toward our final bliss (Christ) and not our own destruction. Unfortunately, personal crises, even crises of faith, can arise from pride or suffering. I remember very profoundly that when I was first diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder in 2016, and contemplating medication and therapy for the first time in my life, I felt overwhelmed. I had a crisis of faith. I did eventually recognize not only was Christ with me in my suffering, but this was an opportunity to unite my suffering with His. Do we also allow ourselves to be cleansed with His grace, instead of second-guessing and regressing into sin?

The second beatitude (“Blessed are the Meek”) refers to detachment from self: choosing to be more like Jesus. Noteworthy about Jesus is that despite the myriad of miracles Jesus performed, there were plenty of occasions where Jesus told the townspeople *not* to tell others of what he had done. In essence, Jesus was the greatest superhero that ever lived, and He refused to flaunt His superpowers. Humility is at the heart of this. Before COVID hit, if you knew me, I liked to throw parties, liked to go out, and I was very extroverted. In many ways, I was a “social animal.” But while the gatherings I liked to organize were centered on Christian fellowship, there were many occasions where I honestly just enjoyed the attention. I liked accruing “social capital.” People in the NY Catholic scene knew me, they heard of me, and once COVID hit, we couldn’t really gather anymore. Here I was, alone at home, struggling to perhaps try and talk to people. We couldn’t see people, we had Zoom, we were told to pray, we were told to come up with some new habits. While we are all the Body of Christ and built for community, there are often many moments where we need to have peace in silence. And then rest in Jesus and make Him the center of our lives.  To no one’s surprise, one of Cardinal Sarah’s most popular books is entitled, The Power of Silence. Do we facetiously “hunger and thirst” for attention, when such hunger is better acclimated to nourishment that is not associated with gluttony? Or do we instead – because of grace – choose to put others and Christ first? I’m similarly reminded of something St. Teresa of Calcutta once came up with – the acronym J.O.Y. In short, it stands for focusing on Jesus (J), others (O), and then, and only then, yourself (Y).  

In many ways, the Beatitudes are like a spiritual staircase to Jesus. And when I think upon the gospels, I often think of Peter who could perhaps serve as some representation of someone who went through all of them, and then eventually acquired the best “job” – the Pope.  Despite all his faults, Peter became Pope and then willingly went to be crucified at the end of his life. Peter at first has some humility at Jesus’ miracles, and even tells the Lord, “I am a sinful man” in Luke. But even then, Peter has missteps and dares to correct Jesus when the passion is close, and Jesus simply responds in a way perhaps none of us wants to hear: “Get away from me Satan.” In essence, Jesus tells us, “Yes, the road will be difficult, there are no shortcuts to Heaven.” Jesus himself knows Peter will go from humility to boastfulness, and to even pride.  Peter, of course, denies Christ in his own act of self-centered behavior and in some haphazard attempt at survival. Peter is then nowhere to be found as only St. John and Our Lady are there when He is crucified.  When Christ rises from the dead, Christ doesn’t even have a semblance of vengeance towards Peter, the man who denied Him three times. Jesus simply asks three times, “Do you love me?” In many ways, could many of us actually do this when we feel betrayed by a friend or family member? And when Peter, who could have avoided death, sees Jesus once again, he chooses to be crucified, this time upside down. In many ways, because of righteousness. But it’s not due to self-centered behavior. Because compared to Jesus, Peter does not see himself as worthy enough to be crucified in the same upright position our Lord was.  In many ways, I think we can all learn a great deal from St. Peter.

While none of us should ever hope to deny Jesus, Jesus sees the humanity in all of us and asks every day, ”Do you love me?”  To follow the Beatitudes is simply to love Jesus.

That’s not to say any of this is easy – it’s not. Jesus himself says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In fact, many of His followers turned away upon hearing the demands of Jesus. Do we turn towards Jesus every day and seek the great reward of Heaven? 

The Kindness of Strangers

While growing up, I somehow developed the notion that accepting charity was a sign of weakness. From the outside looking in, it might appear that society as a whole has also adopted this perspective. Charity is only for the poor and downtrodden, but who determines the appropriate ways to judge a person as such? In truth, everyone has experienced hardships at one point or another, and has been in need of help from their community, whether they are willing to admit this or not.

When personally denying charity in the past, I made myself believe this was a sign of strength. It was not till I found myself lacking everything, with no choice but to accept charity, that I realized true strength comes from the acceptance of help from others. In light of Pentecost, we should be reminded that we are all different with varying gifts, but still part of the one body. The simple act of allowing another to help you allows the Holy Spirit to unite the body and make it stronger. Jesus said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:17. It seems as though society has lost sight of what real charity means. Charity can be a one-way transaction as opposed to a mutual exchange. A mutual exchange of love is essentially an exchange of trust in the Lord, who is Love itself.

When I finally got over my egotistical attitude toward charity, I was able to discover new and stronger relationships with the people around me. Charity permits people to become vulnerable and this vulnerability opens opportunity to build up friendship because it is based on who the people involved are at their core–children of God.

“May the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ

enlighten the eyes of our hearts,

that we may know what is the hope

that belongs to his call.” Eph 1:17-18

With this revitalized witness to the coming of the Holy Spirit, may the Spirit once again bring forth life-giving acts of charity. After the deprivations caused by the worldwide pandemic, and especially during this time of rebuilding the world, charity has never been more needed.