We Are Witnesses

“God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior

to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.

We are witnesses of these things,

as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:31

Today in the first reading the Apostles, before the Sanhedrin, refuse to stop preaching the gospel. That Jesus is the long awaited savior, that he has come to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins!

My dear friends, Jesus is risen and he lives. How can we everyday be witnesses to the resurrected Christ? Not in a judgmental ” You are a heathen and going to hell, I’m so holy and close to Jesus,” way (I hope you have never heard those words from a Christian…I sadly have), but in a way that mirrors who our savior is, love.

God’s plan, completed with Jesus’ resurrection, is the plan of Israel’s and our salvation. To turn back (metanoia) to the Lord and receive forgiveness. To love God with all our hearts, and our neighbor as we love ourselves. Does my life as a Christian give witness to the person of Jesus? Do I speak boldly with charity, or boldly with injury seeking to condemn? Do I seek reconciliation or let judgement fester into malice? Do I seek to service God, or serve others? Do I walk humbly with my God or do I elevate myself?

Jesus crucifixion was witnessed by many. Jesus’ resurrection, was seen by a few. Those few witnesses eventually turned into many! The apostles saw Jesus, resurrected, with wounds, in their mist. Not a ghost but our God fully alive. The joy of our hearts is to be an Easter people. The same way Jesus shows his wounds to the apostles, is the same way we must preach the Gospel. Through our vulnerability, our humbleness and our boldness to live God’s plan. We know we do not do it alone, God always leads the way.

The wounds we no longer carry because Christ heals us, tell everyone who encounters us, everyone we have will be a witness to, that sin and despair do not win, the joy of the gospel is real and is for all who receive it.

Despite the careless wounding words of a friend, despite the family member that ruined Jesus for you, and in spite of the Christian who judges you using God’s words, but does not judge their own lives by the same measure; yes, in spite of all and more of these things, God reigns. A few people struggling to reflect Jesus to all do not get to tear down or define Christianity.

God is alive! What a huge responsibility we have now that we have come to know mercy and love. Now that our life is continuously transformed by God’s grace. Now that the responsibility falls to us to continue to witness these things.

Lord today and everyday allow me to receive your teachings, your mercy, your love. Teach me to make my whole life a witness to who you are, Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Believe

For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

John 5:47

In today’s first reading, freed from slavery the Israelites are wandering in the desert. Surviving slavery, witnessing the plagues, the parting of the red sea, but more importantly, how God did not forget them, His people, yet, they quickly forgot Him who saved them. Moses leaves them to commune with God on top of Mt. Sinai, (a period of about forty days). In their perceived fear of abandonment, the Israelites ask Aaron to build the golden calf. “They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it.” They would rather worship human creations, something they can see right now, rather than wait for God who has freed them and is taking them to the promise land.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees, present a façade of faithfulness but Jesus knows, “I know that you do not have the love of God in you.”  They have had many witnesses that give evidence to who Jesus is, the writings of Moses (“But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”), John the Baptist (“for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.“), the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refuse to see God in any of these things. “But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.” They worship their golden calf of pride, strict rules and empty encouragement; they too have turned away from God.

In both passages, the Israelites and the Pharisees believe they can attain the promise land or achieve eternal life on their own. We are not always wiser. Let us learn from Jesus, from scripture, from the witnesses in our lives, from the sacraments, from tradition, and from the personal relationship that the Father calls us to have with himself, that the way, the truth, and the life is through Jesus.  

In this season of lent, as we wait, as we journey further into the desert, as Jesus accompanies us, have courage and faith that the one who brought you to this point has not abandoned you, will not abandon you. Friends, believe that although you may not hear his voice, see the signs you want, have not heard a full yes or a full no, the Father’s promises are true. Believe that in your hearts, and strive to live a calling that witnesses to the immeasurable faithfulness and love of the Father. “The LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened.” His grace and his mercy are abundant and because of it, we are saved.  

The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Nicolas Poussin

Choose to Live

“I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse
.
Choose life,” Deuteronomy 30: 19-20

“I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” Moses will experience this soon, as he will be unable to enter the promise land. The choices we make in life everyday are about life and death. Is that too dramatic? Yes and no. Yes because we are bound to fail but God can always take our crooked paths and straighten them. No, because we have to choose to say yes to God, daily.  

Are we making decisions based on God’s will or our will? Are we allowing God to penetrate those dark places in our hearts and mind and illuminate them? Are we allowing him to transform us? We live in a world where every desire seems available to us, every need you could have should be met, everyone has a talent or gift displayed on social media. People seem to be living very much abundantly…but it is all distorted if those gifts, talents and desires are not orientated towards God.

Let us pause and think of our current appetites, wants and needs. Are they of God? Or is it of greed? Lust? Desperation? Do they bring glory and honor to God? Or am I ready Lord to put it to death? To surrender what I think is life and give it to you? This is what Jesus calls us to do, “daily.” To give up our trappings, what we believe are necessities, so that He can gives us the gift of a full life.  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(LK 9:23) Jesus asks us to put death those things that get in the way of our joy, loving the lord.

I can admit that this is the first time I have read this sentence and noticed the word, “daily.” Daily, is not only during lent, it is every day. Every day we must choose the abundant life that God has imagined, created and laid out for us…even if we cannot see it or even feel it on some days. There is hope in every new day. Say yes again. It is not always easy because God’s timing is His, and my way seems faster and easier, but no decision I have made without Him, outside of Him, was better.

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him, for that means life to you.” (Deut. 30: 20) Everyday allow yourself the space and time to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and bring those decisions (big or small) before the Lord. Allow God to transform your will so that it is conformed to His will for you. Choose to live and hold fast to him, for He is your life. 

Lord today we pray for our conversion, daily. For our hearts, ears and mind to be transformed by your love and wisdom. That we put to death, daily, the disordered appetites and thoughts that prevent us from loving you with our whole life. In Jesus’ name we pray amen.

Let the Light In Again

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; 
nothing is secret except to come to light. – Mk 4:21-25

I do not remember how I learned to “hide things” but I am sure, like many things, I first saw my parents do it. If something broke, went missing, didn’t go well “don’t tell so and so … they’ll get really mad.” The classic picking up the phone and an adult in the house urging you to say, “sorry they’re not home right now…” These events shaped me for school, where despite every teacher’s encouragement to say the truth and although the worst thing that could happen was a time out, the law of the playground stated “Snitches get stitches.” There is a profound fear in lies. White lies, small lies, and lies of omission …they all stem from fear.

My lies always came from the fear rejection. I struggle to be vulnerable to get close by not telling the whole story. I was afraid what others might say or think about me, sometimes I still am. Even when I went back to church in college, I would simply leave, wherever I was and say “bye guys I’m going to bed,” and I would go to mass (it was at 9pm on Sunday, hello college), without any details or invitations, for fear that people would know I was Catholic. People cannot know, they will make fun of me or think I am a crazy fanatic. At least that is what I told myself.  

Beyond that surface level fear, was the fear that I needed to end the double life. That if someone knew how much God wanted me, that I wanted God too, that I would be held to a certain standard. That I would be encouraged in my faith, be set apart and I would have to leave the darkness and live out my faith.  Vulnerability shouldn’t be a fear but it is. The people that I assumed would be making fun of me didn’t really know me. The end of the double life meant I would have to let myself be known.

It was and still is a long journey to not hide anymore. To live out my freedom. To let my yes be my yes, to say no. To set boundaries. To know there is nowhere to hide from God’s loving gaze, from his will for my life.  “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence… If I say “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with you.”-Psalm 139 7, 11-12

Light of the world or a lamp, on a lampstand; imagine the work of His hands, hiding in fear. That is not the life that Jesus came to give us abundantly. So when I fail, when I lie, I go back into myself and find my Father in my dark room, and in the silence he meets me there, and I confess. And I confess again on some Saturdays and I try again to live out his will for my life.

Lord, thank you for the gift of confession. May we always seek to be reconciled to you and to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to live without fear and to lovingly encourage one another to let the light in again. Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

“I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world.
The star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, 1851-52

What Plans?

and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.” –Mt 1:18-25

I had many plans this year. I think we all did. Plans to travel, to be better physically, mentally, to be a better daughter, a loving friend…plans to be more present, be a better volunteer, to serve better, to pray more, to truly live out my faith, to move up, whatever up is, to really stick to the plans this year…what plans?

Joseph had plans, to be a good husband, to have a companion, enjoy her company, learn how to be a husband, a provider, do well in the business, be looked upon with high praise, to be a father to many children, as many as the lord provides…and here he is….scared and confused and wondering….what plans?! The woman chosen to be my wife is pregnant… I have to divorce her, but I don’t want to bring her shame, I don’t want shame upon me…I must do it quietly…no one can know, no one will understand…my plans….dust. Moreover, God sent his angel, his messenger, “Do not be afraid…”

How can he not be afraid, how can we? With all we have experienced, seen, heard, and been confronted with this year. How can we not be afraid? Through a global pandemic, through a changing of economic circumstances, through an increase awareness of death, because of Covid-19, because of racial violence, we are experiencing an increase in awareness of racial trauma, isolation, emotional trauma, mental illness, loss, pain, loneliness,  hunger, anxiety, fake news, fear mongering…how can we not be afraid?

Little did Joseph know that he would have to leave what he had built, what he thought was good enough, to become a refugee, flee to Egypt with a very pregnant Mary, entrusted with the son of God, and provide food and shelter in an unknown place, and be a protagonist in the plan of salvation. Rewind and read that again….what plan? God’s plan. Queue the Drake song…sorry had to! God challenged us this year in the same way he challenges us every day to live out the truth of the gospel. Never was there a year it was so hard.

I did not find refuge in what I knew…I found refuge in the angels that God sent me. God destroyed what I thought were safe places and comfort zones to bring out real peace and progress.

That peace came in an invitation from a friend I was not so close with, to pray the novena to Saint Katherine Drexel; peace came in the invitation to grow deeply in Catholic Social Teaching, it came in an invitation to intercede for our world in a praise and worship zoom call on a day my heartbroken and I most needed it, the world needed it, it came in the call to serve my family as we continue to struggle to support one of our own through a battle with depression.

Peace came in an invitation to intercede for others, to grow closer to a friend also experiencing isolation and loneliness; it came in the call of supporting my father through his Covid-19 illness. Peace came in supporting a friend through a battle with a tumor, through a friend’s continued struggle to find meaningful employment, through a book club with four amazing Catholic women. Peace came in opportunities to grow deeper into relationship and to take deep fresh air outside. Peace came….(FILL THIS IN FOR YOURSELF RIGHT HERE)! Whatever God has taken away, he has given and will continue to give greater than what WE can imagine.

WHAT PLANS? The obsessive planner in me is freaked out. The Christian in me, is Lord, your plan not mine.

God has greater plans for us then we can dare to dream or imagine. He did not lead us to this point to abandon us. our God is here where you are he is present, EMMANUEL!

In the comfort that you receive and the comfort you must give, in the joy of a smile, that you receive and that you must give. In the help, you receive and you must give, in the faith you must witness and you must show, in the love that you receive and you must show. God is present in the prayers you receive and the prayers you must lift up. Someone entrusts you to the Lord, and you entrust them to God.

It’s ok to be afraid. God will remind you, “Do not be afraid.” Hear his angels, there is a good solid plan that you cannot even imagine. Do not despair, do not lose hope! EMMANUEL!!!! That’s a plan we were not expecting, or could imagine! If you are lonely reach out, if you are struggling call a friend, if you are overwhelmed by attention call that friend who could use more people in their life, if you are bored by your comfort, call that friend who struggles! God has angels and saints all around, he will put us, them, you, to good use. Pray with me, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”- Prayer of Saint Francis

Señor, gracias por el aire que respiro, por este día, por esta Noche Buena, y cada hora que nos regalas. For your angels Lord. Continue to strengthen our hearts, to do your will, serve in your plan and teach us to love and be loved. Thank you for the awesome gift of your incarnation that we eagerly await this night. Te rogamos Señor, por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu hijo, que vive y reina contigo en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos. Amen!

San José de Nazaret, pray for us!

Joseph’s Dream- by Barent Fabritius and other artists in Rembrandt’s  studio Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Lord, Thank You

As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.” LK 17: 11-19

I once attempted to do an activity where I reflected on where I saw evidence of God in my childhood, my adolescence and my adulthood. Having had a difficult childhood this exercise proved to be too much….very much like reading the ordinary time, end of days reading for today! I did not want to go back because there were many wounds and a lot of unreconciled pain. I called my sister for confirmation that it as a bad as I imagined it! I needed proof for the pit in my stomach, the tears on my face and more importantly so I did not have continue this activity any further.

Now here I am fully knowing how faithful the Lord is (or so I think), and I reach out in want of desperation! My sister listened and then reminded me, it was not always bad. “There weren’t numerous, but there were moments,” and she listed things that tore my heart in a better way, going to the park, learning to read time, and watching movies…these cherish small moments with our father and our aunt.

My sister is a non-believer. When we talk about God we do not always end up in a good place. There is judgement on both ends. In that moment, God knew I needed my sister to pull me back. Moreover, as she recalled these moments, I thought she does not know God but she sure is grateful…and I who practice my faith; I needed this refresher, to look back and give the lord thanks.

The gospel reading for thanksgiving took me away. I am one of those lepers, who asked for healing, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us” me! I received healing but I did not return to give thanks and praise… I was not grateful because I did not realize that I had been healed.  I wanted to stay wounded, and go straight to despair. “As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned.”

We have an opportunity today and every day to wake up and be thankful, thank HIM who heals and saves us! We should not forget, but we do, to hold on to the evidence of his faithfulness, the wounds that he heals, the steadfastness of his promises. God has never let us down, so every day ( it’s a reminder for me), I will say thank you Lord, not just for this day on earth (I have to grow this prayer) but for everything you have done for me, for the people in my life, for allowing me to know you.

How much does the Lord care for those of us who are close to him? How much does the Lord care for those who we think are not close to him? How much does Lord care for those who glorify his name, live as children of the resurrection and give HIM thanks, for things received and things not yet received? “He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.” (Psalm 50:23) It was a stranger, not one of the chosen people of Israel, who returned to thank God!

Take these words in, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? None but this foreigner. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21). In my judgement of my sister, I did not think that she could help me or be instrumental in my spiritual growth! I was hoping she help me go to despair. And here is the lord reminding me again, you too were far away from me and I used everything and everyone to bring you back.

Lord, thank you, for my sister (put whomever you need in here). For her compassion and her love. Thank you for giving me a friend in her and many friends to bring me closer to you. Lord remind me you are in her, as you are in me, and remove thoughts of judgement, I too was a stranger to you Lord. Help us have healthy discussions to grow spiritually. Lord use me; speak to her through me, just as you have spoken to me through her! May we continue to encourage one another to serve our neighbor! Lord allow us to, move closer to you, wherever on the path we are.

Help us all (especially those whom I dare to judge) to realize lord, we have been healed, we are healing, we will be healed.

For this and for all your blessings we praise you our God! For your goodness and your mercy!

Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum (Guérison des lépreux à Capernaum), 1886-1894. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.89 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.89_PS1.jpg)

All We Are

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
When day came, he called his disciples to himself,
and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles:
Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew,
James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew,
Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon who was called a Zealot,
and Judas the son of James,
and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

—Luke 6:12–16

I never had the pleasure to attend, but I worked at a sleepaway camp! I was the counselor to very lively little girls between ages 9 and 10, nicknamed the Super Debs. They were quiet and awkward, and these girls could not have been any more different from each other. Despite what seemed to be many barriers, they became the best of friends in the four weeks they spent together! Camp relationships are like that. You tend to spend an incredible amount of time with a small group of people. You learn what you think is everything about them, and you do all the activities together. On the last day, forget it! You cannot say goodbye! Summer is over! You are overwhelmed and cry for these amazing friends you did not choose! Friends that loved you. Although my Super Debs may not have stayed friends beyond that summer, that friendship, I am sure, changed them forever.

Every friendship we experience changes us. The friendships that spark fast, burn out quickly, the friendships that weaken over time, the ones that we work hard for and make stronger…the ones we pick up over and over again as if time never stops, the fun friendships, the life-giving ones…the friendships we take for granted or actively avoid. Which of these friendships is real? They all are real. Each one touches us and transforms us. As we grow in friendship, our heart’s capacity to love grows too.

Who are Simon the Zealot and Saint Jude? There are very little Scripture references besides the Gospel today, which tells us that they were disciples and Jesus’ very close friends. Christ prayed for them and loved them as the gift they are from the Father. Saint Jude has a hospital named after him, he’s the saint of impossible causes…but how? Why am I looking for Saint Jude’s résumé? Why am I asking what sort of man Simon the Zealot was, when I should be asking what his love for Christ inspired?  It does not matter who they were before, because their friendship with Christ—and our friendship with Christ—is transformative.

Jesus loved them all until to the very end. These very imperfect men, who appeared to be of little consequence, were chosen for this friendship that allowed them to learn who Love is and how to love.

Being in friendship with Christ doesn’t always feel like smooth sailing! We read in the Scriptures that the Apostles competed, quarreled amongst each other, and frankly were always a bit confused. Jesus, I am sure, was patient. But like the disciples, like Peter, we stay, because to whom else shall we go? (John 6:68) Jesus is the greatest love: the way, the truth, the life.  Judas Iscariot was loved, he was chosen by Christ himself. That friendship ended badly, or we could say that friendship ended and God’s plan for our salvation continued its motion. We can be Catholic and say both/and.

When we enter into friendship with Christ, on the good days and the bad days all that we are is who God wants us to be. When we love our neighbor, all we are doing is loving them because he loves us first. Yes, we are imperfect; we are sinners, and yet God invites us each, unworthy though we may be, into friendship daily.

Lord, help us to grow in friendship, love, and service. Lord, place a desire in our heart to meet you in every person at work, at home, at camp, to grow in friendship with you every day. God our Father, our best friend, help us to be your hands and to lead a life that points to you.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, pray for us!

Let Us Offer Each Other the Sign of Peace

Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.

-Luke 10

I used to dread the part of the Mass where, all of a sudden, I had to interact with other humans to give the sign of peace. Here it comes: smile, shake hands, be friendly and non-threatening, be prepared for some people to pull away and just give you the nod or the two fingers. Oh, I did my best to avoid sitting next to people that I didn’t know—couples, families, anyone who seemed friendly, a talker…because let’s face it, my illogical, irrational, selfish fear tells me things that are simply not true.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives several instructions to the disciples he is sending ahead of himself. One such instruction is to give a blessing, a greeting, a love to any home they may enter. If accepted, the recipient is given peace and receives the blessing of the disciples; if they reject it, no big deal (really, Jesus?)—that peace, that blessing, returns to those same disciples who shared it.

We as disciples are charged with the same task. No matter where we are—at work, at home, at church, with whomever, Christians, non-Christians, people we like, people we don’t like—our love for God compels us to wish others peace and share the good news! This requires joy, trust, and humility. Joy, because we have received the peace of the Lord, trust, because we must trust in the grace of the Lord, and humility, because it is not, as I believed, a thing to own, but a gift to receive and to share.

Going back to Mass after quarantine has been a real blessing. I notice now that I receive such immense joy as I receive the peace of the Lord. His peace is strengthened in me not only when I am blessed but also too, now I realize, when I bless others with it. We give each other the sign of peace because as a sheepfold we feed one another, as God wants us to.

In situations where someone may reject your greeting, your invitation, your attention, your affection, your friendship—or reject you—our God reminds us that his peace comes back right at us. This rejection does not defeat the giver. Let us be courageous, knowing perfectly well that, received or rejected, we have the peace of the Lord always with us.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you. Looking forward to the time once more when I can give you the sign of peace.