Spiritual Reflections from the Frassati Fellowship of NYC
Mariela is a native New Yorker. She loves the diversity of her upbringing in a big city where almost every corner of God's people can be seen, loved, and cared for. She works as an assistant project manager, volunteers as a catechist, and is passionate about upholding everyone’s dignity and the common good. She has a great love for praying and studying Sacred Scripture, and has been involved with Frassati Fellowship since 2017.
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!”2
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.
I have gone fishing once in my life. I thought it was the most boring activity ever. Fishing is one of those activities that you need to truly enjoy the silence and the slowness of it. We spent the majority of the day on that lake and I caught nothing. My friend had caught the tiniest of fishes and threw it back in the lake. If the purpose of going fishing is to catch fish, I would classify our trip as unsuccessful. And for those people that enjoy the activity of fishing simply for the leisurely pleasure of fishing, whether they catch fish or not, I do not understand and can’t see how the act of fishing is to be exciting.
At the end of that day, we packed up all the fishing gear into the car and I thought to myself, in my frustration, “I’m not doing that again.” I imagine the disciples had a little bit of that frustration after spending an entire night at sea and not catching anything. For the disciples fishing wasn’t a leisurely activity, as it was for my friend; fishing for them was a necessity of life. Having just lost a truly special friend—Jesus, who was crucified by the Romans—they were also in grief.
In the Gospel of today seven disciples go out fishing at night but catch nothing. At dawn the resurrected Jesus appears to them and asks, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” After they admit that they could not catch any fish, Jesus tells them to drop the nets on the right side of the boat, and behold, they catch 153 large fish. John, the beloved disciple, is the first to realize that it is the resurrected Lord. And Peter, at hearing John say this, jumps into the Sea of Tiberias in all his clothes and swims to shore to be with Jesus.
When Peter reaches the shore, he finds that Jesus is in the middle of a barbecue on the beach! Jesus had a fire going with fish and bread on it. He invites the disciples to have breakfast with him. Peter with immense strength brings over the catch of 153 large fish to Jesus and all the disciples break bread together. I would consider their fishing trip a success.
A few things I will admit about my own fishing trip: it was hard, it took dedication and patience, it took the cooperation of nature and my own skills together. I have the fortune of just going to the fish market if I want fish—I don’t need to struggle like the disciples had struggled throughout the night. However, I struggle in other ways in life. I have difficulties at work, I have strained relationships with people, I fall into temptation. In all these instances I have to remember that I am not alone. Jesus is with me. If my human-way is too difficult in accomplishing the task, I need to listen to God’s voice and follow the way He tells me to do things. This is precisely what the disciples did—they listened to Jesus’ command!
How much easier life is when we listen to the Lord! We find that Jesus makes all things easier and that God already knows what we truly need. Just as Jesus knew that after a long night at sea the disciples needed a good meal, a meal being prepared in which Jesus already had all the necessities to feed the disciples. I imagine that beach barbecue to be amazing, for that fish and bread to be sweet as honey, for the company and love shared to be everlasting. We may come across obstacles on our mission to build up the Kingdom. But Jesus will help us through. There will be times where we feel unequipped, but like the charcoal fire on the beach burning hot, know that the Holy Spirit is burning a light within you to do the Father’s will. Like the seven disciples bringing fish to Jesus, we too are called to bring souls to Christ. We do this together as a family.
“When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family.”
–Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
To God, nothing is ever “unsuccessful.” Those moments which we don’t see as “successful” have a role to play in our formation. I needed to go fishing and not catch anything to understand how patience and cooperation of nature go together—God is in control. Even the death of God’s only Son was a success because it was part of His divine will. Through Christ’s death the sins of the world were forgiven, and through his Resurrection we partake in a share of eternal life in heaven. The beauty of this mission to be “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) is that we get to fish with our friends. And bringing souls to Christ is always exciting.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy, on the eve of Easter on April 6, 1901. What a joy for Alfredo and Adelaide (Pier Giorgio’s parents) to hold their newborn baby boy and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! God of all creation blessed the Frassati family with a son as the entire world began to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son.
Today is the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. I imagine, while he was alive, his family showering him with affection and birthday blessings. “Buon compleanno” would be said all throughout the house—throughout Turin by those who knew him by his good works.
My favorite part of celebrating someone’s birthday is writing a birthday card. The little gesture of picking out a card, writing an inscription that tells them about their quirky qualities, how thankful I am that they are in my life, prayerful wishes for health and blessings from God. Many of my friends are not Catholic, but I do not fail to thank God in their birthday cards because they are alive and healthy. A reminder of the gift of life. In Bl. Pier Giorgio’s letters, when a friend or family member had a birthday coming up, he too would thank God for their life and health.
Last year, with all the COVID-19 precautions, many of us probably didn’t get to celebrate our birthdays with loved ones nor Easter with our communities. The contrast of last year’s celebrations and this year’s made me think of the date of Bl. Pier Giorgio’s birthday, April 6th. Being born in the first week of April, his birthday would fall in the cycle changes of the Triduum and Easter—Jesus’ death and Resurrection. On some birthdays Pier Giorgio would reflect on the death of Jesus and on other birthdays he would reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus. Reflecting on life and death was something I did a lot this past year.
On the eve of Easter, I joined my community and sang profoundly, Alleluia. A reminder that there is so much life and goodness in the world, so much to be thankful for. Throughout his life Bl. Pier Giorgio had brought much happiness to all those around him. He cared greatly for his family, his friends, the poor and sick of Turin. As today’s responsorial psalm reminds us that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” we know that this goodness was shared by Pier Giorgio to everyone he encountered.
Birthdays are special. Blessed Pier Giorgio prayed for each of his family members and friends on their birthdays. Today, we will pray for him on his birthday. In one of his letters to his friend Bonini, Frassati writes, “I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits: union in prayer.” To join in prayer and celebration on the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, click here.
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
During the last few days the liturgy has taken us to the very beginning of creation, through the garden, and meeting Adam and Eve. So much happens in those first three chapters of the Bible. The maker of heaven and earth forms mankind in his image out of love and shows loving mercy after mankind’s disobedience, promising that things will be alright. Chapters 1-3 from the book of Genesis are short, but go back and read them slowly and prayerfully.
In today’s first reading Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, disobeying God and falling from grace. The serpent had asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” The woman answered that they could eat of any fruit in the garden except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because if they did eat of that fruit, or touch it, they would die. Now, I read Genesis many times and each time I read it I kept overlooking what Eve had said, that they could not eat the fruit or even touch the fruit, lest they die. Who told Eve this?! That wasn’t the original instruction that God gave to Adam in Gen 2:17! No where did God say that touching the fruit would kill them. Clearly there was some miscommunication going on between Adam and Eve. The serpent took advantage of this miscommunication by enticing Eve telling her that certainly she wouldn’t die by touching the fruit. The serpent deceived her into thinking that God didn’t love her. And having the fruit in her hand, touching it and not having died, doubt began to grow.
How could this happen after all the good things that God had given them? How could Eve doubt God’s love after He had created a beautiful paradise for them and given them literally everything in the world? How could Adam stand by and not say anything? All God created was good. The serpent came along and distorted everything that was good, casting doubt in the true love of God. That’s what the evil one does, he takes things that are good that the Father has given us and bends, twists, and deforms it. Suddenly this thing that was originally created to be good is now bad.
Finding pleasure in the taste of food may be distorted to having an eating disorder. Having a causal beer with friends may be distorted to build up into a drinking problem. Enjoying the company of another person may be distorted towards the path of promiscuity. Now I want to make clear that food, drink, and sex are not bad things. God created things that are good and only good. But, the serpent stands nearby and cunningly asks us, is that thing that you’re holding really bad? Then we start looking at those things that were once good as a means to an end in themselves. We start to doubt that God ever loved us and now we focus and try to find happiness in food, drink, and sex. Not realizing that our happiness is by God’s side.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus healed a deaf and mute man by looking up into the heavens and saying Ephphatha! Be opened! Let us ask Jesus to heal our ears and open up our hearts so that we may better listen and follow the Lord, our God. Pray for strength in fighting against the tactics of the evil one. God created all things good and by remembering in God’s merciful love we will be free from doubt and not be silent in times of need (as Adam was when he needed to speak up). Guided by the Holy Spirit may we listen to God, speak His good name, and show His love to others.
We live in a distorted world, but God promises that a distorted world will be made right because He made it to be good.
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.
During holy week at my grandma’s house two things will happen, we will make habichuelas con dulce and we will watch some very old Bible-stories made movies on TV. For some reason one of the most vivid memories about this family tradition is watching the very old Bible-stories made movies. One scene in particular stands out to me, Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pile of salt and then being blown away by the wind.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “remember the wife of Lot”. It’s one verse in the middle of a parable and it doesn’t seem to make sense, until you look a little deeper at Scripture. If we are unfamiliar with Lot or his wife, we might be asking ourselves why does Jesus want me to remember her? In the Bible, Lot is the nephew of Abraham (patriarchal father) and his wife was a Sodomite woman. They lived in Sodom. Two angels had come to their family, urging them to leave the city at once because it was going to be destroyed, but they should not look behind them as they flee. Lot’s wife disobeys this order from God and as she looked behind to the city of Sodom, which was in flames, she turned to salt. My little kid brain just could not comprehend this – I was like, woah! God that’s kind of dramatic, all she did was look back. It was nothing, right?
The Father gives us everything that is good and all of himself. He is love himself and He gives all of Himself to us. All we have to do on our part is accept his love. Once we accept God and decide to walk with Him our lives change. They change for the better. A life in Christ is filled with peace, joy, and love. Nothing is missing from this life.
However, being human as we are, we begin to think of all that we have to give up to walk with God. We give up being angry and mean towards other people. We give up getting drunk and using drugs. We give up being selfish to our own desires. We give up the pleasures of the world. We give up lying to get our ways. There are many things we give up – and sometimes we look back to those moments of “easy fun in the world” and start to want them back. We start to think “just a little bit of it won’t hurt”. What we need to realize when we do this is that we are telling God that He is not enough. By looking back to our old life, as Lot’s wife looked back to her old life, we are telling Jesus that his death is not enough. These are the lies that Satan whispers in our ear.
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. – Luke 17:33
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is warning us to not look back on our old life. To live in Christ we must die to our old selves. When we choose to follow Christ we should follow him 100% of the way, not half way or part of the way. We shouldn’t just follow him when it’s convenient and easy for us, then turn around when it’s hard and requires work. We should follow Jesus all the way to heaven! All the riches awaiting for us in heaven are so much grandeur than anything of the world. This is why Jesus says that the man on the rooftop doesn’t need to go back into the house for his possessions. Or, that someone doesn’t need to go back into the field for something that was left behind. God always provides for us!
We are never alone when we are in the middle of our sins. If ever we feel like we’ve done too much wrong to ever be made right with the Father, know that to be a lie! Lot, his wife, and their daughters were in the middle of Sodom, a pagan city that had sinned against God, and the Father sent two angels to help them escape. God the Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to die so we could be set free. And the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is always available to us. God never leaves you alone when you need Him. Do not look back on your old sinful life, look forward to the new and eternal life that awaits for you in heaven.
O Lord, great peace have they who love your law (Ps 119:165a)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” The great crowd heard this with delight. (MK 12:35-37)
King David had his monarchy, his jewels, his gold, his army. King David would reside as judge over civil disobedience, civil disputes, civil disorder. He would be the one to give the command when Israel’s soldiers went into battle. He held power. But King David knew that there was someone even more powerful than himself! He knew that there was someone who has complete authority over the laws of man’s heart. That person is God. We know this to be true because even the king of Israel himself calls him “lord.” By calling him “lord,” David is acknowledging that God is more powerful. No law that King David would write in decree would ever be above God’s law. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
This is important to remember. Power and platforms that yield authority can become idols. And by following these idols we walk away from God and the law of God that is self-sacrificial love, agape.
We are meant to live in community. Our goal is to be in heaven where we will be in perfect communion with the Trinity and all the angels and saints. While we are on earth, we should be living our lives striving for heaven, as best we can in communion with all our brothers and sisters. Not just a certain group or a particular “kind of person” but everyone. The book of Revelation tells us that in heaven there is a great multitude from every race, nation, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9). God did not create man to be alone. And one of the hardest truths is that we cannot attain salvation alone, for we are indeed meant to be keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The Catholic Church’s social teachings are the best biblical “cheat-sheets” on how to live in society and in communion with God at the same time. It shows us how to be model citizens, how to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and how to be disciples of Jesus—we need to be all of these things at the same time. There are seven themes to Catholic Social Teaching, and you cannot explicitly talk about just one without touching upon the next theme because they are all rooted in the love of God. But for right now, let’s talk about solidarity.
We are one family, one human race, one body in Christ. It does not matter what ethnicity you are or what your cultural background is; it doesn’t even matter what religion you practice (I know, this one shocked me the most!). We are all loved by God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To genuinely believe that we are all one in Christ is to acknowledge that, no matter our differences, something inside each of us is exactly the same. This is the dignity of being human: that each one of us is formed by God and created in the same image and likeness of God.
We believe that every human life is precious from conception to natural death. Racism is an evil that disrespects the sanctity of life. It is a sin that puts brother against brother, sister against sister. It is a sin that breaks our communion with God and neighbor because we falsely perceive that someone, by the way they look, is inferior and non-deserving of a dignified life. The basics of a dignified life are universal because they were first given by God: the right to have food, to have shelter, to be clothed, to maintain your health, to be able to participate in just labor. I ask that you reflect on Adam and Eve when they left the garden. God did not forget about them. Even after the pain of their sin God properly clothed them, allowed continued dominion over animals, gave them a job on tilling the soil, provided food. These were not privileges that they had earned; rather, they were human rights that God granted to them simply because they existed. Sadly, in today’s society essential rights are not always given to everyone by their governments, making it difficult for everyone to be perceived as equal. Unlike in today’s Gospel —where King David, the civic law maker of Israel, acknowledged that God’s law was above his own laws as king—most governing authorities today do not seek God’s law above their own. However, as Christians, it is our duty to place God’s law first and foremost in our lives. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
Perhaps you do not cross the street when you see a black person walking on the same sidewalk as you. Perhaps you had never looked at a black person and automatically assumed that they were trouble. Perhaps you did not automatically think “uneducated” when hearing a black person speak or you did not assume “they do not belong” when seeing a black person in a nice suburban neighborhood. But what did you do about the person who did make these judgements? Did you correct them? Did you instruct them on the principles of the Gospel? Living the faith is actively loving your neighbor as God loves them, which means standing up for the sanctity of every individual human life. The Bible, Tradition, and Catholic Social Teaching all instruct us to take care of one another—why are we failing at this? Are we afraid to speak up, afraid to do something, afraid to demand change of the injustice and oppression of our brothers and sisters? We are indifferent toward racism in our society because it might not necessarily affect us. We may think racism is wrong, but we do not live out the Gospel to stop racism from happening. Joining a peaceful protest might not be for you, that is fine. But the Holy Spirit that is in all of us has given you particular gifts—use them. Write a reflection to bring awareness, coordinate a judgment-free zone where members of your community can voice their concerns, donate to organizations that help the oppressed or the wrongly convicted, read books, support black-owned business, join intercessory prayer teams, ask your priests to give more homilies that are specific on the sin of racism, volunteer in places that value the dignity of the black man who is poor and the black woman who is sick. I am being specific on how to use your gifts for the good that enhances the black community. Please, do not misinterpret this and think that no other ethnic group is important or needs help—this is not the case. We all need the mercy of God. But we cannot shout over each other about who is the most oppressed.
A mother with five children loves them all, feeds them all, clothes them all, takes care of them all. But when one of her children falls in the playground and breaks their leg, when the child is in pain and crying and full of blood—the mother rushes to that one child and gives them special attention, takes them to the emergency room to fix their wound, soothes their pain, reassures them that they will be okay. She is gentle with them and reminds them that they are loved. Does this extra attentive care take away from her love for the other four children? No.
Do not be afraid of the words “social justice.” The word “justice” is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible over and over. Our God is just and merciful. He will bring justice to those who are righteous. To seek justice is to render to someone his or her due as it was first given to them directly by God. We need to talk openly and honestly about racism without making it political. Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a universal sin that is rooted in hate and contradicts the teachings of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. This problem is not political. I refer once again to today’s Gospel where the King of Israel acknowledged that God’s laws are greater than his laws. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
The Devil is very intelligent; he is manipulative and conniving. He takes things that are good and twists and corrupts them into evil. He enjoys doing this because then it disrupts the person from continuing to do God’s will. Out of every strong movement in which the public wants pure change that will ultimately bring humanity closer together the Devil gets involved and makes havoc of it. He has us focus on the violence. He has us angry at the riots. He has us condemning the looting. He has us extremely ticked off that social distancing is all of a sudden out the door. And we should not dismiss any of those concerns. Most people would agree that violence and destruction are not the proper way for change. However, the Devil is very intelligent, because now he has us upset at our brothers and sisters; he has us ignoring the root of the sin, which is racism; he has us turned against one another; and he is winning at breaking apart our family and taking souls away from God. The Devil will always try to infiltrate a place in which there is potential for great good and conversion of hearts. Let us not allow the complexities of these events to distract from our responsibility to condemn the sin of racism at their core. Pray that we will be able to identify the enemy.
George Floyd, a black American man, was made in the image and likeness of God. His life was precious and belonged to God alone. It was wrongfully taken away. So many lives, in our country and around the world, have been wrongly taken away. The tragedy needs to end. Faith assures me that the deaths of so many black men and women is not in vain and will give way to black saints.
Jesus raised His eyes to heaven, gave glory to God, and prayed for you.
Take some time and let that sink in. Jesus prayed to the Father for you. He prayed for your protection and for you to have eternal life alongside Him and the Father. Jesus wants you in heaven with Him. He loves you! Of course He has set aside a place for you in heaven.
“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” (JN 17:3)
I want to point out the very radical word that Jesus is using in His prayer: “Father.” In first-century Palestine, the Jewish people believed in one God but, they falsely believed Him to be a distant God, someone who was worshiped from afar. Jesus changed all this. By God becoming human an intense intimacy was established between God and mankind through His son, Jesus. Jesus expressed the greatness of this intimacy by calling God Father. And we call Him Father as well.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling the Father how He carried out His will: Jesus glorified God on earth with everything God gave Him, He taught the disciples about God’s love and mercy, and the disciples have come to accept and understand the words of Jesus. Notice this subtle exchange: God gives to Jesus, Jesus gives to the disciples, the disciples give back to Jesus, Jesus gives back to God.
We not only see the intimacy between the Father and Jesus—we also see the intimacy that is called forth between the disciples AND the Father and Jesus. We are called into that holy union. We are called because we are loved, and it is the Holy Spirit that unites us in communion. The Spirit is the one to reveal to us the true revelation of Christ, the love of the Father. The Spirit is the One sent to us while we remain in this world, preparing for eternal life. Jesus knew it would be hard for us. He knew exactly how hard it would be for us because His humanity lived and experienced the hardships of the same world we live in.
Jesus fully knew that He would be scourged, ridiculed, mocked, spat upon, humiliated, beaten, stripped naked, and crucified. Even so, He asked God to glorify Him in His death so that His humanity would have the strength to carry the Cross to Calvary. “I pray for them”—this is what Jesus told the Father before His Passion because He wanted us, in our own fragile humanity, to also have strength to carry our own crosses in this world.
When you think that you are weak and defeated from the constant struggles in this life, know that it is the enemy that wants to keep you down. You are strong because you are loved by God, the Father and Jesus Christ. You are a beloved and precious child. You will succeed in carrying your cross because you are filled with the same Spirit.
In the Old Testament Jacob has a dream about a ladder that went all the way to heaven and God’s angels were going up and down on it. Climb that ladder. Just as our Father isn’t some faraway God, He is intimately close to us—heaven is close as well. The gates to heaven were opened wide with the blood of Jesus. You are called to heaven, to sainthood, to eternal life.
What is eternal life? It’s a gift from God, a gift made full by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift completed by our self-giving back to God. Eternal life is the perfect life in communion and love with the Trinity (CCC 1024).
Today’s first reading is about Stephen’s martyrdom. Stephen was stoned to death for defending the teachings of Jesus Christ. He stood up tall and he stood up proud to say what was not of God and what was from God. He proclaimed the good news until his last breath. What a man full of courage. It was the Holy Spirit that guided him to fulfill his mission. I read this scriptural passage and I wonder, was he not afraid? Did he not fear for his life? Did he not worry about the outcome of his actions? Above these questions I think, wow, this man, Stephen, had incredible faith. We have seen the power of incredible faith in many saints who were martyred after him. One thing they all have in common is that they trust in Jesus Christ.
Do you trust in Jesus Christ? Do you fully trust Him? Do you trust that He loves you and will provide for you? Do you trust that He knows and understands your suffering? Do you trust in His promise of everlasting life? All of this the martyred saints believed, giving all their trust and love in Jesus.
During these unprecedented times we should also fully trust in Jesus. The main conversation taking place is around COVID-19: people being infected, people dying, people being worried and filled with anxiety. We question everything around us and everyone who is in authority. Fear and anger have made us mistrust one another. Let’s center back to Jesus. Put your trust in Jesus. He is the one who will ease your pain. He is the one who will make your worries go away. What is God’s plan? How does this virus fall into His plan? Specifics do not matter. I understand that it might be super difficult for us to accept this. But you do not need all the specifics. All you need to do is trust in God. Part of His plan includes you and your salvation. Part of His plan includes you and the forgiveness of your sins. Part of His plan includes you and the love He has for you. Trust in God to get you through this difficult time. You are precious in His eyes and He wants the very best for you—which is for you to sit with Him in heaven. It’s hard to not worry about the difficulties of this world, but there is great treasure awaiting us in heaven.
Again, I read the scripture passage about Stephen’s death—he was the first of many to die for Jesus. Death is never glamorous and not something we look forward to. However, death is inevitable. It is as guaranteed as the air we breathe. Now I understand that Stephen was not afraid and he was not worried. He was a man that fully trusted in the Lord to take care of him. He fully knew that the Lord loved him. As he was being stoned, he looked up to heaven and fully knew he was going home. In his darkest hour Stephen was trusting in God and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”