Devout and Faithful Servant of God

“We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

– Luke 17:10

When I used to think of the word “servant” I thought of it as a dirty word. I thought a servant was someone without any authority, someone very low in class and poor, someone who had no choice but to do the work for others. My definition and understanding of who’s a servant was completely wrong. Jesus Christ came to earth not “to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28). As we are called to imitate Christ, we are called to be servants – that is to be devout and faithful followers of Christ.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, and to each of us, telling us that we should do what is commanded by God without complaining and without expecting to be praised. This might be difficult for many to take in as we all want to be seen and given due credit for whatever small deed we do. We attach our names to absolutely everything so the world can see; out of my kindness, out of my brilliance, out of my skills, out of my popularity I did that. On the other side of the spectrum when things aren’t to our standard we complain. We let the world know that we are not satisfied, that we are upset and angry, that we demand things to be as we want them to be. Neither of these characteristics are pleasing to God. We are servants to the Lord. What is pleasing to God is for us to follow His commands and be in accordance with His will. By doing this we show our love for God.

How can we be good servants? By serving as Jesus Christ served. We should take care of the poor, the sick, the hungry, those who mourn. We should be meek and humble. We should follow righteousness. We should be merciful and pure of heart. We should be peacemakers and stand firm in front of persecution. I learned that this is the true definition of what it means to be a servant; a devout and faithful follower of Christ.

In the catechism it states that the religious and ministers of the Church are servants of God. The pope’s proper title is servant to the servants of God. And one of the first steps in canonization of a saint is to pronounce them as a servant of God to the entire world. I mean, woah, think about that. To be a saint in heaven you will first take a title that the secular world walks all over: servant.

We are all unprofitable servants this is true. Because everything good is due to God alone. But, God is not like the man in the parable who is not grateful that his servant is being obedient. After the servant finishes plowing and tending the sheep his master orders him to serve food and drink. The servant’s work never ends and he is not rewarded. As servants of the Lord our work never ends either but, it does not end because we never stop being faithful followers of Christ! Our mission is to always preach and worship His good name. We will continue to plow and plant seeds of faith. We will continue to tend the sheep and build up the Church. The difference is that our God sees the work we do for Him and He loves us. When we enter the gates of heaven our Lord will joyously tell us “come here immediately and take your place at table”. We all have a place at His table and we will celebrate with a great heavenly banquet filled in abundance with food and drink.

Image Credit: Jesus looking over a servant [Public Domain]

Do What Is Righteous Now

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without shape and God formed it and gave it life. He created light, land, vegetation, animals. He separated the waters and created the moon and the stars. God created mankind and gave us dominion over all the earth: to fend for it, take care of it, and use it according to our needs. Over the many years of mankind’s existence we have learned many things about the earth: how to cultivate food, that it’s warm when the sun is out and cool at night, that different animals migrate throughout seasons, that clouds bring rain. All this and more we have learned, and we’ve used it to grow and prosper in our societies. All thanks to God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is saddened by the crowds because they do not know what time they are in; they don’t know who He is or why He is amongst them. Jesus reminds the crowds that they can easily tell when the earth is changing, when a cloud rises in the west and it brings rain or when the wind blows from the south and it’s hot. God created the earth; the signs that they interpret are God’s signs which He created so long ago. How come it’s so difficult to see God standing before them now and acknowledge Jesus’ miracles which are happening among them in the present time?

It is easy to only see what we want to see.

It is easy to only hear what we want to hear.

I read and think about the crowd in today’s Gospel and I think, how could they not realize the Son of God is among them?! But then I look at myself—how many times did I ignore the signs God gave me? Too many. I have walked down busy streets, I’ve gotten on the subway, and I have sat at my own dining table ignorant of all the signs God gives me of His presence. Signs to remember His commandments, signs to be kind and loving to my neighbors, signs that He loves me. I’ve chosen to be blind and deaf.

The crowds from the Gospel had missed the sign that God was giving them: it’s time to ask for forgiveness. Jesus is urging the crowds to choose what is right—following God—and asks them to repent. It’s important to ask for forgiveness not only from God but also from anyone to whom we might have done wrong. Jesus tells us that if we are in opposition with someone, we should work to resolve the matter on our own in good faith. If we still bicker and cannot soften our hearts to resolve the matter, a court (a higher power) would rule a decision over us, and the judge may throw us in prison. How much worse is this than if we were to settle things on our own? Friends, this is a clear depiction of Judgment Day. If we die in a state of unrepented sin, we risk our souls going to hell. What a terrible outcome this is! My heart breaks at the possibility that anyone’s soul would forever be separated from God the Father, who loves us so much.

Jesus will come again at the second coming, Judgment Day. But as we wait for Him, there are many signs we should be aware of in the 21st century. We live in a broken world where we will be tempted. People will try to deceive us. Our love for God will be tested. In the first reading, Saint Paul is telling the Romans that the law of man is not equal to the Law of God. By following the law of man alone, we are hurting our relationship with God and giving in to sin. Only God’s grace through Jesus Christ can help us repair that relationship.

As you go about your day and encounter different procedures, policies, regulations, rules—think for a moment: are these things of the world bringing me closer to God, or are they keeping me away from His saving grace? We must be able to see and hear the Word of God in order to do what is righteous now, in the present time.

Image credit: The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo. [Public Domain]

Our Identity In Christ

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:20

In today’s Gospel Peter confesses his faith by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one by God. This is the first time in the Gospel which a human on his own has the insight to KNOW that Jesus is Christ. In first-century Palestine, this declaration was a very big deal. For years and years and years, Israel has been waiting for the Messiah, the one anointed by God to come and save them. Earlier in his ministry (look at yesterday’s reflection) people were confused by Jesus’ identity, thinking he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet. But Peter, in an intimate moment, clearly and definitively states that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Christ. The new David that Israel has so earnestly been waiting for.

We declare our own confession of faith when we recite in the creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Frassati retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Called by Name.” A name is important. We fill out forms with our names. We wear name tags with our names. We write cards and letters and sign them with our names. Our names are special. Just as the name Jesus is special. There is power in a name. Just as the name of Jesus is powerful.

Throughout the retreat I was attentive to hear God call me by name, Mariela. And in hearing him say my name I was reminded of my identity. I am a child of God. Sometimes the world may confuse our identity, as the crowds had earlier been confused by Jesus’ true identity. The world may perceive us in such a way that they may neglect our feelings, deny our dignity, or make us feel less than welcomed. They do not know us. Our true identity is being a child of God.

After Peter speaks Jesus’ true identity, Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then he will rise on the third day. This is the first time that Jesus mentions his death, telling of the extreme and necessary means by which he would fulfill God’s will. Explaining how he is a different type of Messiah.

In the creed, we confess truth to his Passion when we say, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of his mission. The mission of the Messiah was much more than to be a military figure that would bring Israel out of Roman authority; Jesus’ mission is to save souls. The Catholic Church, the Church Jesus built—its mission is to save souls. You and I are a part of that mission.

Believing in Jesus’ name, in his identity, in his mission, is at the same time believing and trusting in God’s plan. If we were to ask God the same question Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—and let’s be real, we have asked that question every time we have lost our way, every time we wanted to feel loved and desired, every time we wanted to feel like we mattered—God would easily answer us by saying, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). God the Father would not leave his children out of his plan!

When we know with confidence who Jesus is, as Peter knew that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must also be confident in who we are. Our names are delicately engraved in the palms of God’s hands, and upon hearing him say our names, we should be reminded and reaffirmed of our own identity in Christ.

Suggested listening: Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship

Image Credit: Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter [Public Domain]

Representatives of God

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing so much good, so many miracles and teachings that people take notice and Jesus becomes, if you may say, a popular guy. Because of his popularity Herod wanted to know who he was. Who was this person everyone was talking about? The crowds didn’t quite know exactly who Jesus was. Some thought he was John the Baptist. Others thought he was Elijah or another ancient prophet risen. They may not have gotten his name correct but, one thing sticks out, they associated Jesus with good things. In the parallel passage in Matthew, Herod says that “mighty powers are at work in him” because he resembled John the Baptist. But, it’s not Jesus who is like John.

It was John who was like Jesus.

It was Elijah who was like Jesus.

It was Moses who was like Jesus.

People knew these great prophets and knew of the good they did. The people associated the mighty works that Jesus was doing with the good works of the prophets before him because John the Baptist, Elijah and Moses all did good works that reflected God. Jesus as second person of the trinity is God.

As a young child I remember going on field trips and being told that we needed to be on our best behavior because we represented the school. As an adult I’m being told that my demeanor at meetings and conferences reflects back on my company. Recently at a Frassati meeting for our next mission trip (Jamaica 2020!) we had a conversation on how the laity set the example for the religious which we invite to mission with us. This made me stop and ponder. We are the ones to set the example. Have you thought about how your actions constitute how someone views the Church? We represent something so much greater than schools or businesses, we represent God. Jesus told us to behave in such a way that when people saw us and witnessed our good deeds they would glorify our Heavenly Father.

Look in the mirror. Do you see Jesus?

Live your life in such a righteous way that those who do not know God may come to know Him through you.

Image Credit: Stained glass window, at St.Andrew’s R.C. Church, of John the Baptist, Moses and, Elijah. [Public Domain]

Casting Nets with Jesus

Implementing change in the workplace can take a long time. I work in the construction industry, and contractors are tough people. They all seem to know everything, and their way is the best way, the right way, because it’s always been done that way. However, things change. Industry standards, safety measures, construction codes—these things change.

In today’s Gospel, Simon is at the shoreline cleaning off his nets; it had been a long night and he hadn’t caught any fish. Along comes Jesus, who gets into Simon’s boat and teaches from the water to the people on the shore. After he is done teaching, Jesus instructs Simon to lower his nets into the water, and behold, the nets are full of fishes.

Simon is a fisherman—he owns his fishing boat, owns his nets, he fishes for a living, it’s his profession. Simon is a professional fisherman. When Simon goes out to fish he isn’t doing a lazy, recreational activity. He is doing hard labor: lifting heavy nets, moving bait around, dealing with waves, being dirty and smelly. A fisherman by trade knows that there is a right way to fish and a wrong way to fish. A fisherman by trade knows that certain fish bait at certain times of the day—given the climate in Israel, hot and dry, the higher temperature of the water would force the fishes to dive deep below to be at a cooler temperature. At night, the water temperature would cool off and fishes would swim upwards, closer to the surface. Simon, a professional fisherman, knew all of this and thus went fishing at night. But even with all his knowledge and tactics, he didn’t catch any fish. Imagine Simon’s first reaction when he hears Jesus tell him to cast his nets into the water. I imagine his initial reaction to be a little bit of annoyance that a carpenter is telling a fisherman how to fish and to cast nets in the middle of the day. You hear a little bit of Simon’s hesitation when he says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing…”

How many times have you doubted that God would provide for you? How many times did you not listen to what Jesus had to say to you? Too often I’ve been like Simon at the beginning of the Gospel, doubting. I have even questioned God: “Really? Is this really how it’s supposed to be? Are you sure this is what you want me to do?”

Notice that the beginning of the Gospel begins with the people listening to the word of God. When we listen and are obedient to God’s word, we change. This change allows us to fully accept God’s grace. Simon changed when, in his obedience, he casted his nets into the deep waters: “but at your command I will lower the nets.” In that instance Simon became Simon Peter. This internal change in Simon Peter allowed him to see that Jesus was not only Master but Lord.

We need to let go of any hesitations. Let go of all doubt. Or at times we need to let go of the pride. Sitting at meetings with the subcontractors on my job always leaves me baffled. How can we finish a building without the plumber or without the electrician? We simply cannot; we need all the skilled workers. Likewise we cannot build our own homes without the foundation of Jesus Christ.

No matter what we do in our lives, what we are skilled at, how many times we have done something and succeeded or done something and failed—let’s give that up to Jesus. Let us always remain humble and listen to each other and listen to what God has to tell us. In our society we take our jobs and our volunteer positions as finite. Let us remember that we’re good at what we do because God deemed it that we’d be good at it. And our work needs to be fruitful in such a way that it glorifies God. Sometimes, we aren’t so good and we fail. That is all right. In this failure we are reminded to trust in God. When Simon couldn’t catch any fish, Jesus entered his boat and Simon Peter caught an overwhelming abundance of fish.

Allow Jesus to enter your own boat—make yourself open so he can walk into your life, and cast nets wherever he tells you to cast them.

Image Credit: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by James Tissot [Public Domain]

Preparing for Our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!

A wedding is always something to get excited about: the decorations, the colors, the splendor of the Church, the bride’s dress, the groom’s smile watching her walk down the aisle. So much thought and dedication goes into planning a wedding. I have been a bridesmaid quite a few times and the excitement in seeing my friends get married is always the same, an abundance of joy, blessings and love.

In the time of Jesus, first-century Palestine, a couple was betrothed (legally married) for a period of about a year, and during this time the bride still lived at home with her family. After this period of betrothal the wedding feast would begin at sundown, when the bridegroom would go to pick up the bride from her family’s home and take her to their new home. Customarily, family and friends would come out of their homes and congratulate the newlywed couple as they passed by on the streets. Many would follow the couple in a procession of celebration through the streets to their new home and partake in the wedding feast together. This procession was guided by maiden torchbearers (bridesmaids!) as the crowd danced and sang around the newlyweds. Imagine it being the pitch darkness of nighttime, in first-century Palestine, and the one thing that guides you is this glowing light towards a feast.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us a parable about the ten virgins: five wise virgins with oil and five foolish virgins without oil, all of whom were waiting for the bridegroom to come to pick up his bride so they could celebrate and light the way in their procession. For some unknown reason the bridegroom was delayed and all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for him. When he unexpectedly came, the five foolish virgins realized that their flame was low and they would not be able to keep it lit as they did not prepare and pack oil. So they left to go buy some. In the meantime, the bridegroom arrived and the five wise virgins, who packed oil, were fine in relighting their lamps and joining the procession following the bridegroom to the wedding feast. By the time the foolish virgins came back with oil and made their way to the bridegroom’s home, the door was locked and they were not a part of the wedding feast.

That one line in scripture, “then the door was locked” (Matthew 25:10), really pangs at my heart. There is a clear distinction here on who enters the kingdom and who does not. As much as we focus on details and get ready for our friend’s earthly wedding, we must make all the effort to prepare for our own true wedding with Jesus Christ. Be prepared. Bring oil. What does this oil represent? It represents us living the faith, being true to our baptismal promises, celebrating and practicing the sacraments, praying, loving one another, doing good works of mercy. We are all in a state of waiting for our bridegroom to arrive; as Christians we have been waiting for over 2,000 years for the second coming of Jesus Christ. But we don’t know the exact day nor the hour when Jesus Christ will come again. So make sure you pack your oil. All ten virgins had intentions of going to the wedding feast and all ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom, but only five virgins had oil, and so only five virgins were ready to follow him into the wedding feast.

In the first reading, St. Paul tells us that we should conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God. And the instructions on how to live a holy life were given through our Lord Jesus. Before Jesus had told us this parable of the ten virgins, he taught us on the Sermon on the Mount. He told us to be the light of the world; our light must shine before others in such a way that they see our good deeds and glorify our Heavenly Father. In order to be this light and remain a burning flame, we must have a flask of oil and continue in a course of action, even in the face of difficulties, to commit to doing good works willed by the Father.

“This is the will of God, your holiness”

For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” Through God’s grace we are given every opportunity to continue in good works and so I pray that each of us are overjoyed, excited and well prepared for our own bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and our own nuptials in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Image Credit: 10 Virgins Icon [Public Domain]

Mighty Deeds Will Happen

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Imagine him there as a little boy playing outside, saying hello to his neighbors, helping with chores around the house, going to the synagogue to pray in community. As an obedient young man, imagine Jesus by Joseph’s side helping him do woodwork. At this time, in his early years, Jesus hadn’t made his divinity known. He was experiencing a fully human life and thus having fully human interactions with people.

After Jesus was done teaching in Capernaum he went back to Nazareth, his hometown. In Nazareth, Jesus began to teach at the Synagogue and do good works. The people who saw Jesus started to question him. The Gospel tells us that the people were astonished at Jesus, but not in admiration; they were in disbelief and denial. Most likely these were people Jesus grew up with, neighbors he said hello to, the fellow children he played with, his classmates. Now they became people who doubted the good works that Jesus was doing. “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?”

How many times have your actions been questioned? How many times have people doubted in what you could do? Perhaps they thought you didn’t deserve to be in a position of leadership or weren’t worthy enough to be promoted at work. One of the fears in today’s society is being stationary in one place for too long and not being able to grow in other areas. For example, in the design world, it may look negatively if you’ve only done work in commercial real estate and then want to move into residential design. In the fashion world, it may look negatively if you’ve only been in children’s wear and then want to move into high-end fashion. Or in the marketing world, it may look negatively if all your ad campaign work is on one brand and then you change brands. In all these scenarios when change happens people question your ability to be able to do the new work because they only knew you as you were in your previous position. Now can you imagine why the Nazarene people questioned Jesus’ doings? They saw big change happening. But, they only knew him as “the carpenter’s son” before the start of his ministry, before the miracles that came through his full divinity were known. They heard him preach and saw his miracles but chose not to believe. Remember this, you are never stationary in life and God calls you to different places at different times, always for the greater good of His glory and within that you will always grow.

You and I know Jesus better than those who had disbelief in Nazareth. He wasn’t just the carpenter’s son. We know that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. He is Son of Man and he is Son of the Father. We know the mighty deeds that he has done and we believe in future mighty deeds to come through God’s grace. I know and believe all of this and yet sometimes my own humanity makes me doubt the good things that will be to come. When work is stressful, when I fail an exam in school, when my family and I are at odds, I forget about God’s graces. In that moment I am like the people in Jesus’ hometown, doubting him. My friends, through the Frassati fellowship, have reminded me to focus on Jesus’ love. In moments of little faith I need to offer all of it up to God. He will do great things for me.

Continuing in the Gospel, after being rejected Jesus says that “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” People may expect us to be one particular thing, but our truth lies in God’s calling for where He wants us to be. We are not defined by our social status nor our jobs. We are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. God will always do great things and we are destined, through His will, for greatness.

At this moment, I am with missionaries from the Frassati fellowship in Peru. We are all far from our own houses. Prophets in our own distinct ways. We are in community and in prayer with each other and the people of Laderas, the small community in Peru in which we are on mission bringing the Gospel and building homes for the poor and most in need. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will do God’s will and mighty deeds will happen here.

Saint Eusebius of Vercelli, whom believed in Jesus’ full divinity, on your feast day today, pray for us.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, for your love of community that has brought this ministry of young adults together in Peru, pray for us.