The Harvest

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Matthew 9:38

This well-read passage is very familiar to most Christians but the Lord’s word can always reveal new meaning within scripture’s classic quotations such as this one. Our country is finally emerging from its time of quarantine and people now have the option of returning to a physical church building instead of watching a worship service on a screen at home. But will they actually return?

When the first order to stay home and celebrate Mass away from members of my extended family in faith was mandated for all Catholics, I had grand visions of the day when the churches would be open again. I believed it would be a great homecoming. In many ways, the “homecoming” was beautiful, and the peace I received when I was able to return to a church was unlike any I experienced before. Nevertheless, I did not see a “mass” return the first time I went to Mass the weekend my parents’ church in South Carolina was allowed to re-open. Indeed, the church was almost empty. I did not understand why people were not rushing back to attend Mass. The truth is that though restrictions have been lifted, the wounds from COVID-19 are deep and not easily healed. The time away from our physical churches has been full of hardship, suffering and death. It is not surprising that people now question their faith and hesitate before coming back to a church.

I can picture Jesus Christ walking through this world as He did when He traveled through Israel.

“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:37

Our world is hurting and crying out for hope. Jesus implores us, just as He urged His disciples, to go out and reap the harvest. We desperately need our Shepherd and He is here with us; we simply must listen for His voice. COVID-19 allowed fear to spread throughout the world creating chaos, but the Lord can heal us and calm our fears. If we place our faith and trust in Him, there will always be hope; it can never be destroyed

A Light in Dark Places

In the first reading, 1 Kings 7-16, Elijah tells the widow, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.” Elijah was giving instructions to this widow who God intended to provide for him. When Elijah asked for food and water, the widow was terrified. She did not even have enough food for herself and her son, let alone Elijah. Despite this fear, however, she followed Elijah’s instructions. As a result, from then on, her jug of oil never ran dry and she never ran out of flour in her jar.

Keeping faith in the Lord is hard when what He tells you doesn’t make sense. In these current times, faith in the Lord is difficult to maintain. There are many people who can empathize with the widow when she was faced with Elijah’s request. The widow even told Elijah that she and her son were going to die; she had lost all hope. The trials of our world today give rise to increasing hopelessness each day, and not being able to receive the holy sacraments in our churches has not made it easier for any of us to hear the Lord’s voice and to follow His will. Now is the time to conquer this fear. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said. Sometimes all we need to hear is this phrase, even if we have no idea what is going to happen. The reassurance of these words renews our desire to live and carry on.

The Gospel reading asks us to take this desire a step further: not only are we to lose our fear; we are called to be examples to others who are afraid. When conditions in our lives seem to be at their worst, we must reveal our faith to the world and to be a light in its darkness. Jesus said, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Over the past few months, this world has been cast into darkness and people are falling victim to fear. When fear is so dominant, it can be challenging to rise above despair, but we have our faith and we can trust in it. We can be the change necessary to shine light in the darkness.

The Time Has Come

“They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.'”
—Acts 14:22

After several weeks, it appears that the restrictions imposed on us due to COVID-19 are coming to an end. Now we are faced with difficult questions as to what life after quarantine will be like. Can we really go back to the way things were before this pandemic? For many people, there is a sincere desire to return to those ways because they were comfortable and familiar. However, as stated in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, it is necessary to go through hardships in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them but that they should not be afraid. He called them to go and spread the good news. In much the same way, we are now being called to the same mission. We will be released from isolation to go back into the world, which will no doubt be filled with great fear. We will be faced with new trials and uncertain approaches to interact with our communities. There will also be a powerful opportunity to show the world how mighty our Lord is. “The world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). The Lord has given us a chance to revitalize this world, and thanks to our time in isolation, we are equipped with the armor of God. The harvest is more plentiful than ever, and God needs more laborers! The world does not need to be convinced of our faith but to truly witness our faith. Through our example of hope, others will see the face of God and believe.

Why Are We Weeping?

The Gospel for today highlights a beautiful and candid moment shared between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. It is a story we have read over and over again, and though we know the meaning of it by heart, the feeling and emotion the passage evokes in us may feel slightly different this year. As I read it, I found my eyes filled with tears. My feelings of joy welled up in me as I read of the excitement in Mary Magdalene as she recognized her Lord standing in front of her. Our Savior had risen and conquered the grave.

Jesus spoke these sweet words: “Why are you weeping?”

I think these soft and comforting words can be posed to every one of us by Jesus this Easter Sunday. Throughout this Lenten season, we have been plagued by a pandemic. We have fasted, we have prayed unceasingly, we have truly suffered and learned what it really is like to be without the Body and Blood of Christ. We are all weeping while growing weary in these times of uncertainty. We were not even able to celebrate Easter with our family in Christ. We have lost all hope, just as Mary Magdalene did when she discovered her Lord was not in the tomb.

But there is hope, a great and deep hope. Our Lord has risen from the dead and He has saved us. I can see, clear as day, Jesus coming to each one of us this Easter season, looking deep into our eyes and hearts, asking us “why are you weeping?” In true anguish, we fall into Him because we have grown tired of this burden we carry. He takes this burden away because He is our Savior. I believe this Easter season is bringing new hope to us. This pandemic will come to an end because Jesus Christ already conquered it on the cross two thousand years ago. We have a responsibility just like Mary Magdalene’s—we need to go and proclaim the good news. Our Lord is alive! There is no need to fear any more!

Remember Your Mercies, O Lord

The chaos in which we find our world these past few weeks is difficult to ignore: almost every state in our country declaring a “state of emergency,” grocery stores unable to keep paper products in stock, and, perhaps the most frightening of all, the suspension of Masses and other church services until further notice. With all this “mass” hysteria taking over our lives, it is almost impossible not to give in to it and let it cripple our spirits. It is so easy to allow the loud voices of the media to dictate the way we think. As the situation continues, the natural instinct is to let selfish tendencies take over. How do we combat this drive to focus on our own needs above those of others when the sanctuary of our Church and of Sunday’s holy rest has been denied to us?

The Lord is so subtle in His helpful reminders. It could be seen as an actual blessing that this chaos is happening during Lent since it is in this penitential season that we are called to fast and deprive ourselves. In addition, as we fast we are called to replace that from which we are fasting with practices that bring us closer to Jesus Christ. In the Gospel today, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother and Jesus responds with the well-known answer: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants” (Matthew 18: 22-23). Perhaps this is the time to heed God’s call to truly put our neighbors before ourselves. In the crazed setting of the depleted grocery store, take your time and allow others to go ahead of you as you shop, trusting the Lord will provide you with what you need. The Lord already has mercy on us—we should remember His mercy, and return His mercy to others. We are in a time where what we need most cannot be found in the bare essentials supermarkets stock, but in the true essentials of God’s love and His mercy.

“And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”
—Daniel 34–43

During this period of great uncertainty and unknown, we must remain devoted to the word of God and not fall away from His teachings. Fear has a powerful way of distracting us, but we must place our faith in Jesus and His promises for us, that He will always be with us.

Spiritual Understanding

It is so easy to look to the apostles for wisdom and understanding. Catholic children are often brought up with those well-known Bible stories where the apostles truly shine and present great examples of faith and trust in the Lord. Not many people choose to focus on the stories of when the apostles truly fell short of those grand expectations we all seem to have placed on them, just because they were the chosen apostles of Jesus Christ. This is the beauty of the Lord’s plan. He chose the lowest of the low from the society of His days on our earth. Why would He do this? For us! If Jesus had chosen highly esteemed people for His followers, we would be doomed to always fall short of God’s expectations. We would be faced with the fate of constantly striving to be the best because God only chose the best. God did not do this; He wanted to give us this hope and faith that every time we fall short, He would still love us for who we are, imperfections and all.

Jesus is calling us to strive and seek to be better, however. He taught His apostles so that through their imperfections, they could rise above their worldly selves and gain spiritual understanding. This Gospel reading is a perfect example of the Lord teaching His apostles and pushing them to achieve wisdom that surpasses the so-called wisdom of this world.

Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
—Mark 8:14–22

Jesus was calling His apostles to step outside the basic way of thinking (we might call it “thinking outside the box”). Whenever Jesus gave them a warning, they only interpreted it based on society’s expectations regarding actual bread. At that point, the apostles really did not understand what Jesus was saying, but they would come to understand. This is how Jesus works with us; He uses everything in our lives to teach us and is always asking us to dive deeper and to pose harder questions. Everything that happens is for a purpose, and if we pay attention, it will lead us to a spiritual understanding that is as great as, if not greater than, the understanding the apostles achieved after Christ’s death on the cross.

The Shepherd

The Lord has a beautiful way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Observing this continuous pattern throughout the Bible should bring us great peace and comfort. He always uses the least of us in glorious ways. Consider David in today’s first reading–he was the least of his brothers, not seen or thought of as worthy to be king, even by Samuel, the priest who came to Jesse of Bethlehem to find a king. Samuel looked at each of David’s brothers first, before seeking David.

“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.” —Samuel 16:1–13

David was the humblest of his brothers, and the Lord recognized this. In this world, we all strive to be seen and given recognition. We are upset when passed over for a promotion or a job. We are often left degraded after a break-up, especially if someone else has broken up with us. Siblings often quarrel with each other, trying to get their parents’ attention and when one sibling gets a better deal, the other siblings feel less worthy.

If we allow our lives to be judged based on earthly matters, we will always fall short. It is in the Lord that we receive our true worth for He sees us for everything we are and loves us just that way. The Lord will never judge us as the world does. What the world considers important is not really important at all. David was a shepherd and became king. Jesus was born in a stable and was the Messiah.

It is easy to become lost in the “important” things of the world. The Pharisees in the gospel reading were so focused on the laws the disciples of Jesus were breaking that they could not see who was standing right in front of them. Placing our desires on worldly goods and/or expectations takes us further away from the Lord. Just as the Lord sees us for who we truly are, we must also strive to see the Lord for who He really is.

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

Look to the Lord in everything you do. He will reveal to you “the way, the truth and the life.”

Silent Night

Today is Christmas Eve—in my opinion, the most peaceful day of the year.  To quote the classic song:  “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”  This is the conclusion of the Advent season, the season of hope.  Even though it is the shortest season in the liturgical year, it does not lack in excitement or anticipation.  Advent is focused on building up hope within ourselves and looking toward the future, the coming of our Savior.  Tomorrow is the birth of Jesus, the answer to all the Lord’s promises to HIs people.  No wonder this night is so peaceful because at this moment in time all is right with the world.

It is important to acknowledge these moments of peace and give honor to them.  They do not happen all that often.  Life’s chaos and conflict along with the enemy’s constant waged wars can easily enter into our souls and disrupt our sense of harmony and essentially draw us away from the Lord.  The Lord will never let these times of trouble overcome His true love for us.  He graces us with instances of silence to call us back to Him.  In the first reading, King David experienced one of these crucial moments.

King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side…The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.  And when your time comes, and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm.
—2 Samuel 7

It is during these times that we can be confident that we are the closest to God, and He uses these times to reveal His will for us; promises are made and covenants are created.  On this night, the most silent of nights, all of the Lord’s promises are fulfilled.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
—Luke 1:79

On this most holy of nights, let us pray for those who are struggling, all who are in a state of darkness, all who cannot hear the voice of their loving Father.  Pray that we can all find peace on this silent night and allow our hearts to be opened by the Holy Spirit and to be made ready for everything that is to come in this new year.

The End Of Time

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms
and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. –Daniel 2:44

The kingdoms Daniel referred to were made out of iron, bronze, silver and gold. These metals were considered precious, and some virtually indestructible, but not to the almighty God. God’s kingdom is greater and stronger than any created on earth. This passage is a powerful reminder to place all our investments in Jesus Christ for He is more precious than iron, bronze, silver, and even gold.

The Gospel takes this idea further, and Jesus Christ directly addresses the end of the world and how we will know when it is coming:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. –Luke 21:11

All goods and possessions we hold onto on this earth will be destroyed, and then what will be left? Only God, with His glorious kingdom far grander and more superior to anything we have ever known. It is so easy to fall into the trap of living for this day, the one that marks the end of time. We convince ourselves we need to be prepared for it, but instead of preparing our souls, we prepare for the earthquakes, famines, and plagues. Jesus Christ rebukes us, telling us not to fear these acts of nature, for He will be there and give us what we need to survive. We must be concerned about the condition of our souls. When these “mighty signs” arrive, we will have no control over them, but we will have control over how we respond. Will we seek comfort in the strength of iron, bronze, silver, or gold, or will we seek refuge in Jesus Christ? Jesus also said we will be asked to testify, even be handed over by our own family, but we need not fear because the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak when our time comes.

Turn to Jesus Christ in everything and throughout all time, both now in the present day and in the turbulent time to come. Glory, tragedy, and the basic day-to-day events of life will happen, but as long as we keep our gaze fixed on Him, we can have faith that we will be prepared, not just for the end of the world, but more importantly, for the afterlife as well.

The Kingdom of Heaven

It is often difficult to remember what we are truly meant to do on earth. We were not created for this earth; we were created for the kingdom of Heaven. From that perspective, our earthly lives are spent in a waiting “room” until we are called to return to the home of our heavenly Father. However, we were not made to simply sit idly by until our time to go to Heaven arrives. God is always calling us to a higher purpose, and if we seek the kingdom of Heaven on earth, the riches of Heaven will appear far greater than we can ever imagine. What we do in this life prepares us for the next, but more importantly, it is who we are that can transform us into the people we are meant to be as we enter into the kingdom of Heaven.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God.”
—Romans 8:18–19

As we wait upon the Lord, we are filled with great hope. Living the life of a child of God means to live life in anticipation, always living in the hope of the grace to come, knowing that by living this life devoted to Christ, we will inherit His kingdom.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a perfect example of living in constant hope. Mother Teresa adopted a spirit of gratitude. She endured all the deprivations of grave poverty, yet she never lost her smile and always radiated joy. She could do this because she recognized every good thing, no matter how small, that the Lord placed in her life and she gave thanks for it. Through this act of thanksgiving, she lived each day in anticipation of the kingdom of Heaven.

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed “that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches” (Luke 13: 18–19).

Through each action of kindness and love, we can contribute to the kingdom of Heaven. With every expression of gratitude, we strengthen our hope in the promises the Lord has given to us of what is to come.