Jesus Christ Has Won. Love Has Won.

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
And let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
In the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily.
—Psalm 102:2–3

The responsorial psalm for today is piercing through my soul. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis in the world, how many of us are crying out to the Lord in distress, praying for a miracle? Many of us. How many of us might be feeling anxiety, fear, and loneliness? Many of us. How many of us are clinging to faith in this time of uncertainty? I hope, too, that the answer is many of us.

The last time in which I celebrated communion, I did not know it would be “the last time.” I had accepted the Body of Christ and rejoiced in a beautiful Holy Hour. I remember feeling FULL, feeling HAPPY, feeling THANKFUL. I am holding on to those feelings of peace as I obediently wait for the church doors to be opened to the public again. But, as I wait, I know that the Church is ALIVE. I know that God the Father loves all His children. I know that Jesus Christ has won.

In today’s first reading, the people of Israel were complaining about the manna bread that God had given them to eat in the desert. They had been wandering in the desert for years, only eating of the miraculous manna bread that fell from heaven to sustain their lives. Yes, they were in the hot and lonely desert. Yes, they did not have a variety of food to choose from. But the people of Israel failed to see the good within the situation that they were in; they had much to be thankful for. First, they were freed from slavery in Egypt—they had been enslaved for 400 years and God broke their chains. Second, they had food and water—the manna bread does not naturally grow in the desert; it was bread from heaven that God provided for His children to eat so they’d be nourished and remain strong. And have you heard of this rolling rock that just followed them in the desert and provided water?

As humans sometimes we tend to only focus on the bad and choose to sit with it. We neglect to acknowledge all the good that God has already done in our lives. And at times, even in the midst of living in the good of life, we fail to give proper thanks to God. The people of Israel eventually realized their sin in complaining against God and asked for mercy. God then instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole; anyone who had previously been ill had only to look at the mounted serpent and would be healed.

How interesting that God chose the image of a serpent to be mounted on the pole. A serpent was the creature that manipulated Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, causing the fall of mankind. A serpent, representative of sin; that is what the people of Israel looked at to be healed—their sins hung on a wooden pole. We also need to look at our own sin. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings, acknowledge when we complain against God and ask for mercy. We need to look at Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. We need to see the Son of God sacrificed for our salvation. Look at the cross, walk towards it, lay all that is weighing you down at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus heal you.

Throughout the bad that is present in the world, we must keep faith to that which is good. Our faith tells us that the battle is already won. Jesus Christ died and was nailed to a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Love has won.

These are very difficult and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has affected all of us. But have faith, the Church remains alive. Pray and invite God into your life for peace. The people of Israel asked for prayer—I encourage you to submit your prayer intentions HERE so that, as one body in Christ, we can pray for you as well.

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Image Credit: Moses showing the bronze serpent, mounted on a pole to the people of Israel [Public Domain].

We Are All Tenants in This Life

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a group of 7th graders about ownership. We talked about land and property: the homes they lived in, the clothing they wore, the cellphones they had. At the beginning of the discussion they had given me a list of a few items they each owned. As the conversation progressed they realized that none of the property they used was actually their own. It all belonged to their parents, but as their children, they are able to enjoy these possessions. 

In the book of Genesis, God creates everything into existence. He made light, the earth, the sky, vegetation, animals, and mankind. He made everything and everything was good. As God is the creator of all things, so, rightfully, He is the owner of all things. Everything belongs to God, and we have been gifted the opportunity to be His stewards, to use all of what He has created and bear fruit.

Today’s Gospel talks about ownership and stewardship. Jesus is telling the chief priests and elders of the people the parable of the tenants. A landowner planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When the landowner sent servants and even his own son to collect the produce from his land, the tenants killed them. Jesus asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” 

We are all tenants in this life. Everything that we have was given to us by God. Today’s society might not agree, and you may hear echoes of “this is my land,” “my body,” “I worked for this.” The truth is that the land we occupy was created by God, your body was created by God and in His image, and all your possessions have been delivered into your hands by God. It is right that we thank Him. Through His divine plan, we have been given different gifts and we must use those gifts for good: to bear fruit. If you find yourself in a position of power, use your platform for the common good. If you find that you’ve been granted material wealth, use it wisely and in consideration of those in need. If you’re a part of a ministry/group/organization in which they look towards you for leadership, be prudent in how you lead that you may lead others to the Kingdom of heaven.

As everything in our lives is a gift, it is also leased out to us—waiting for the rightful owner to come back and obtain the produce that was cultivated. Jesus warns us about being a tenant with empty hands: “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” Whatever gift (big or small) you’ve been given from God, He wants you to use it and fully enjoy it, while at the same time producing fruits—that is, building up the Kingdom and bringing people closer to God.

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Image Credit: Parable of The Tenants by Jan Luyken [Public Domain].

God the Father, Our Father

My earliest memory of learning to pray is closely tied with my mother; as a child sitting with a rosary that I thought was pretty and sparkly, while very quietly mumbling through the words of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys that I did not yet fully know. That memory of learning to pray is always full of love. It’s a warm feeling of someone comforting me and gently guiding me towards good.

In today’s Gospel, this is how Jesus teaches us to pray:

“Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
—Mt. 6:9–13

I am imagining the reaction of the disciples and the crowds while listening to Jesus: Did he just call the Lord his Father? Abba? Dad? For at the time it was acknowledged that God was indeed “Father.” He was God and Father of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. But at the same time, God was thought to be distant, someone far away and out of reach. God was to be respected, praised, and given sacrifice. But He remained at the temple, and you went back home. There wasn’t an established relationship. Jesus changed this. By teaching us to pray the Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), Jesus taught us how to be in close relationship with God. That He is not just some distant God (as the false gods were) but that we are His children whom He loves, and He resides in our hearts. We are called to have an intimate relationship with God the Father, the same intimate relationship that God the Father shares with Jesus, His Son.

The Our Father is a perfect prayer, divided into seven petitions. The first three petitions are everything that belongs to God, given to Him first: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. As Jesus calls us to be in relationship with God the Father, He also calls us to be in relationship with one another. Note that we begin the prayer as “Our Father,” not “My Father.” In the remaining four petitions we ask God for ourselves and for our community of brothers and sisters in Christ: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.

I imagine God the Father as my protector, and I just want to run into His arms and be comforted by His embrace, knowing that each one of my worries or struggles is minuscule to the love He has for me. Everything is just oh-so-little in comparison to the love He showed by giving up His only Son for me and for you. He has given us everything we need. He has given us all of His love.

Friends, I encourage you to embrace the title of “daughter” or of “son” that’s given to you by the Lord. Allow yourself to be wrapped in the Mother’s mantle and gently rocked in the Father’s arms. To know that His name is Holy, to know that you have a place in His kingdom, and to always be open to do His will.

“At the Savior’s command and formed by Divine teaching, we dare to [always] say, Our Father.”

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Image Credit: Art by Jen Norton; Painted prayer featuring the Our Father woven in the branches of an olive tree. [Public Domain]

Ephphatha!

A baby in the womb, at 18 weeks, can begin to hear noises. At 24 weeks, a baby can detect noise outside the womb and can turn their eyes and head towards the direction of the sound. Can you imagine a tiny human baby in utero searching for your voice as you talk to them from outside the womb? Then after they are born, often between parents there is a fun and friendly competition about whether the baby will say “mama” or “dadda” first. We talk to babies in ranges of voices. We make goofy faces and funny noises. They see us. They listen. And they try to imitate us. They try to speak back to us and eventually they do.

In today’s reading, Jesus heals a deaf man who had a speech impediment. The Gospel of Mark tells us that before Jesus healed this man, he took him away from the crowds of people to be alone. Jesus then “put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue.” Looking up to heaven Jesus groaned and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” and instantly the man was healed.

You will notice that someone who is deaf often times has a speech impediment. This is because they cannot hear their own voice, which affects their ability to speak. Being deaf, they cannot hear other people speak and distinguish speech and dialect. It makes sense that the deaf man in the Gospel had a speech impediment—it’s not that he couldn’t speak but that he couldn’t speak clearly. Jesus was known and sought after for his ability to heal the physical body. Every time he heals the physical body, he also heals the spiritual body.

At one point or another in our lives we were deaf and unable to speak. We couldn’t hear God’s voice nor his commanding Word. We couldn’t hear the Father because something was blocking our ears. As a result we could not speak about the Father, about his love, about his Son, Jesus Christ. What was it that you were doing at that point in your life? What worldly pleasure were you enjoying that made you turn away from God, that closed your ears to his voice? Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowds to heal him—away from the bad influences, away from worldly treasures, away from temptation, away from the indecent culture. Jesus took the man away to a place where is was just the two of them—to a place where the man, with newly opened ears, could freely listen and talk to God.

Let Jesus take you away to a quiet place, free of distractions, where you can listen to him. Let him into your life and allow him to heal you.

Ephphatha! Be opened to God’s love. Be opened to God’s mercy. Be opened to follow God’s Word. Be opened to accept him. And then you can clearly speak God’s truth to others.

Image Credit: [Public Domain] Christ healing a deaf and dumb man by Domenico Maggiotto

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

The Miracle of God’s Food

Two pots were on the stove, both were empty. My grandmother had just finished portioning out dinner for everyone; a little bit of white rice and one piece of meat. Simple. There was no fancy side dish. No stewed beans. No green salad. The rice that was boiled and the meat that was cooked was measured out exactly to feed the nine people that lived under one roof. Simple. Small. Sufficient.

One night I came home with an unexpected guest. I hadn’t told my family that I was bringing my friend, and so dinner—already scarce and proportioned out—was not made to include her. Already knowing the answer would be no, I asked my grandmother if there was any extra food that she may eat. I remember seeing a quick flash of emotions in my grandmother’s eyes: shock and anger, sadness and concern.

“There isn’t any more food left,” she told me, “but we can take a little from our plates and make her a portion.”

Today’s Gospel is about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. This miracle is so grand at showing the mighty hand of God that it’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Friends, this should immediately tell you something: in our faith, community and communion are important. We attend Mass, we pray and worship as one body. We receive the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ together.

After much work, Jesus and the twelve disciples had gone into the desert to be alone and rest. The crowds of people saw them leave and followed. They went by foot, which was a longer and harder journey, and followed Jesus into the desert. They wanted to be near Jesus, to be healed by Jesus and through him know God. They wanted this so badly that they traveled to a place that was far away, isolated and alone. The disciples told Jesus to dismiss the people so that the people could find their own food. Jesus did not agree to this. For some unknown reason the disciples were not speaking with reason—God never walks away from His people. He is with them through everything. Just as God was with the chosen people of Israel providing for them in the desert for 40 years, so too God will provide for His people here and now. After wrongly suggesting that the people be dismissed, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people themselves. Naturally the disciples question this, just as we question all the obstacles in our own lives in disbelief that we cannot overcome them. How can we possibly feed so many people? How am I supposed to do this? But something beautiful happens. The disciples give Jesus the very little food they had, five loaves of bread and two fish (now being without any food themselves) and Jesus performs a miracle.

“Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish.”
—Mark 6:41–43

How similar is this to the blessing Jesus said at the Last Supper? How similar are these words to the liturgy of the Eucharist? They are one and the same. It is the same God speaking then and now. It is the same grace and the same love. The Gospel tells us that Jesus fed 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Now given that approximately half the population is women, let’s double that number and add a few thousand more for the underage children. That number in your head, multiply it by two and double it again and multiply it by itself (yes, a little bit of math here). The new large number in your head, it’s still itty-bitty small compared to the love our God has for you.

I remember my grandmother taking from the very little we had and sharing it with someone she did not know. I learned a valuable lesson that day. We didn’t have much in material possessions and at times we didn’t even have enough food, but grandma’s heart was gentle when it came to feeding people. Every time I cook I am reminded of my family. Every time I cook I do so with love—because God is love—hoping that by inviting those to my home I not only feed the physical body but also help in feeding the spiritual body.

God is good. He fed the people in the desert before they entered Canaan. He fed the people throughout Jesus’ ministry. He continues to feed His people as we await for the Second Coming. God feeds us with everything we need. Give yourself completely to Jesus. Give him the little that you have and watch how he multiplies it: an overabundance of grace. God always provides. Share it with others.

Image Credit: The Multiplication of the Loaves by Musée de Valence [Public Domain]

Say Yes to God

Could Mary have said no?

This was the question one of my confirmation students asked me. Could Mary have said no?

Well, yes, she could have said no. She could have said to the angel Gabriel that this was just too much, that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t ready to be talked about behind her back or be disgraced because it wasn’t Joseph’s child. She could have said that she didn’t want the responsibility. She could have freely said no. Lucky for us, that’s not the way the Annunciation goes.

Mary said yes to God.

Through Mary’s “yes” the word became flesh and God was amongst us. Through Mary’s “yes” a child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary freely and willingly accepted her mission as the mother of God. She knew that the fruit of her womb, her son, Jesus Christ, was our redeemer, the perfect lamb by which the world would find its salvation. And she pondered on all of this in her heart because God chose her to love and take care of a small, innocent, and special baby. Mary’s “yes” aligned the will of God with her own will, obediently allowing herself to be an instrument of the Lord.

Mary’s “yes” was powerful.

In the Gospel reading for today, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” That message is for us as well. The Most High, almighty and omnipotent God can do everything and anything—He made every inch of the universe. And nothing is impossible for God. Let us remember that in our hearts when we pray and when we walk up to the altar. Let us remember that the impossible does not exist to God. Whatever fear or doubt we might have in accepting God’s good word, let us renounce it. Whatever uncertainty we may experience that is stopping us from going forth with God’s plans, let us be aware to walk away from it.

In today’s society we are always busy. Our calendars are full of meetings, appointments, dinner parties, sports tournaments, work, and classes. The list goes on and on. We plan our schedules thinking that we are in control. The hardest thing for us to realize is that our lives are not our own; our lives belong to God and therefore should be centered around God. He is the one in control, and He is the one in charge of our final schedules.

God made us in His image to love us and for us to love Him. That love has to be given freely. So, yes, Mary could have said no. But it was her love for God that willed her to say yes and be open to receive baby Jesus in her womb. It is that same love for the Lord that will shape our individual lives. Through our own “yes” to God, we will be open to receive His many gifts of grace.

During this Advent season, as we are waiting and preparing our hearts for Jesus, let us prepare in a special way to do God’s will. Pray that when God changes our schedules we’d be open and willing to accept this change, always aligning our will with the will of God. Let us prepare to always want to say YES! to our God. That the uniqueness of our individual “yes” may be as powerful as Mary’s fiat.

Image Credit: The Annunciation, 1742, by Agostino Masucci [Public Domain]