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 in. 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, whom they know can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to loose 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 has 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 grandmother’s (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]

A Highway for Our God

There are some moments in our lives where we just feel lost and out of place. For me, the moment of complete and utter confusion happened my senior year of college. In preparation for my future, this should have been the year in which I checked off all the boxes on my master plan. But that was not the case; I checked off none. I didn’t even have a plan. I was lost. Although I knew my physical location—on the University campus—I couldn’t find myself anywhere on the map. Someone could have arranged fluorescent direction markers and flagged me down with bright orange batons and I still would not have known in which way to turn. I would have blindly walked past them, lost and uncertain with myself.

I have known about the parable of the lost sheep since I was a child—seeing this Biblical passage through the eyes of a child, I always saw a perfect, fluffy sheep in a picture book. I didn’t realize the impact in my heart this parable would make until my adulthood, when I found myself, no longer lost, in the Catholic Church.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of them goes astray and is lost. Just one. Jesus asks for our opinion, will you go in search of the lost sheep? I’m sure the disciples listening to Jesus were thinking: “Well, the man has ninety-nine other sheep left. He should be fine. He has more than what he lost. He should just let that one sheep go.” Jesus, however, continuing with the parable tells them the answer to his question: the man will leave the ninety-nine on the hill and go off in search of the one lost sheep. In the children’s picture book the shepherd and even the perfect, fluffy sheep look happy surrounded by beautiful green pastures and mountains, both underneath a beautiful blue sky. The reality, in first-century Palestine, is that a shepherd must have been crazy to leave ninety-nine sheep behind and travel the dangerous, unknown, and hard terrains of the mountains for one lonely sheep.

Who would realistically do this? God would. God would do this for you. Because out of one hundred, one thousand, one million, one billion sheep in his flock, God loves you and He will go after you.

Notice that in the parable it’s not the shepherd who loses the sheep. It’s the sheep that went astray. We are that one sheep. We expect God to love only those who listen to Him and follow His commandments. We forget that God does not love by the boundaries of this world. His love is immeasurable and powerful because God is love. Where we limit our love to those who are undeserving, where we neglect those who disobey or do not follow orders—God gives them His love. He follows these lost sheep, and when they are ready, He guides them home.

In the first reading the Israelites have been called back home after being in exile. They have been in the wilderness, and the Biblical passage describes the way they need to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. Normally it’s a dangerous and rough journey, but God is with them in preparing the way for them to come home. Every mountain and hill is made low and the rugged lands will be made plain and easy to travel. Here is God gathering his lost sheep and leading them home.

“A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”

Back in my senior year of college, my lost years, I found myself on my knees lovingly admiring the altar. The place of sacrificial love. I kept thinking about the lost sheep and painfully acknowledged that it was me. I kept thinking that I wasn’t the sheep from my childhood picture book. I wasn’t “fluffy and perfect.” I was a mess. Dirty. Broken. Defeated. I realized that I was looking at myself through the world’s eyes and wrongly thought I didn’t deserve love. But God’s love knows no boundaries. The sheep in the picture book is “perfect” because God always sees you as his perfect child. In the Catholic Church looking at Jesus on the cross, truly knowing that the good shepherd had walked through the wilderness to find me and bring me home—I believed him when he told me he loves me. God’s love is unconditional and no matter how long ago you’ve gone astray, what mountain or valley you’re lost in, no matter how deep of a mess you’ve made of things, if you haven’t gone to Mass in years, or you carry anger or guilt, nothing that you do will take away from God’s love for you. The good shepherd is in search for his lost sheep to come back home. And He will help you to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Image Credit: The Lost Sheep [Public Domain]

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]