The Beatitudes

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them, saying:
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are they who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the land.
    Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be satisfied.
    Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the clean of heart,
    for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
    Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
   Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
   and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
   Rejoice and be glad,
   for your reward will be great in heaven.
   Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1–12

Hello friends,

In today’s gospel, we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, we are given the eight Beatitudes. Like many things Jesus preached, they were difficult to accept by the people of his time. Yet the reward is great: Heaven. Considering there are eight Beatitudes, I could go on and on speak about them all in great length, but I will speak about them generally (and focus on three) and of my own experiences as a Catholic as we all try and strive for holiness. (There are four other Beatitudes and four woes in the Gospel of Luke but that will be discussed another time.)

Of note is that many doctors of the Church and many spiritual writers have often compared the Beatitudes (or rather their completion) to climbing a staircase to see Jesus at the end of our life. If we are successful at leading lives of holiness, we’ll no doubt have a moment akin to the very end of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “But already my desire and my will / were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed / by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII 142-145 trans C.H. Sisson). Dante Aligheri firmly understood – from an artistic and theological point of view – that seeing the Triune God at the end of our lives was something so great that it was beyond our comprehension. It was “the Love” that moved the entire universe. Not a love that dribbles a ball, or cradles a baby lovingly. The whole universe and all its stars. Truly beyond our comprehension. Following the Beatitudes, in essence, would allow us to see God at the end of our lives. And what greater reward is there than Heaven?

St. Chromatius of Aquileia preached something about the Beatitudes that I had never heard, but which a friend had pointed out to me. What St. Chromatius said was understood by many of his contemporaries and many Doctors of the Church. In a sermon on Matthew, Chromatius once wrote, “Our Lord, our savior, establishes extremely solid steps of precious stones, by which saintly souls and faithful can climb, can rise to this supreme good, which is the kingdom of heaven…”

In short, climbing this staircase is definitely something we should all strive for. There’s an old Catholic saying I hear often: “Aim for Heaven. Because if you aim for purgatory, you might miss.” While many of us strive for excellent athletic abilities or enjoy hikes in the coming summer weather, are we also making sure to climb this spiritual staircase to Jesus? I know I sometimes certainly struggle. With that being said, considering there are eight beatitudes, let me focus on just a few of them and my final thoughts. I will be focusing on the first three, not just due to length, but because these are the ones I have struggled the most with. 

The first (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) and third (“Blessed are those who mourn”) Beatitudes refer to some kind of detachment from the world. Instead, we choose an attachment to Jesus. While there are many of us that struggled with some sort of economic or spiritual poverty due to the ongoing pandemic, this refers to a poverty that we choose. A poverty that we choose out of love for Jesus, and regardless of our state in life. You perhaps may have heard that if you are wealthy, it is more difficult to reach Jesus. Indeed, even Jesus states something akin to this: “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). (Jesus was, of course, making a point in larger content to other matters. Yes, you can reach Heaven if you are wealthy.) However, that being said, Jesus also refers to a sort of detachment and spiritual poverty. Material objects are good, but not if we enjoy them so much that we treat them as ends in themselves. (e.g.: If it takes us away from the life of faith.) For example, I used to jokingly tell people I lived the life of a starving artist (when I was in a PhD program for several years) so I was done with that. “No more!” I said. I wanted to move on to a more stable job where the salary was 2.5 times greater than I used to make. And while there is inherently nothing wrong with making a stable income, especially if you discern married life and have to provide for a family, was I also treating my soon to be newfound wealth in a rather facetious manner? Instead I thought, “My goodness! I can now get season tickets to the NY Mets! I can buy better shirts! I can move to a better place!” Why was I not thinking instead of living a more sustainable life with my income and giving more to the poor? In essence, when it comes to wealth, do we make that wealth self-centered and not Christ-centered?

When we take into account “blessed are those who mourn,” we have to remove our detachment to sin and remember Christ shares in our suffering. Indeed, tragedy strikes us all, and I lost several people I knew last year to COVID. Indeed, these past 17 months felt like such a moment of national mourning not unlike 9/11. Oftentimes, in my life, in some period of great mourning, I felt almost separated from Jesus, not because of Christ, but because I was so focused on my own mourning that I failed to see Christ was there with me. It also refers to the fact that we should mourn and repent from our former lives of sin. The suffering that we have to endure in our everyday lives is not “vengeance” or “punishment” but a sharing in His own suffering. Even when we ourselves face chastisement for sins, our repentance should be ordered toward our final bliss (Christ) and not our own destruction. Unfortunately, personal crises, even crises of faith, can arise from pride or suffering. I remember very profoundly that when I was first diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder in 2016, and contemplating medication and therapy for the first time in my life, I felt overwhelmed. I had a crisis of faith. I did eventually recognize not only was Christ with me in my suffering, but this was an opportunity to unite my suffering with His. Do we also allow ourselves to be cleansed with His grace, instead of second-guessing and regressing into sin?

The second beatitude (“Blessed are the Meek”) refers to detachment from self: choosing to be more like Jesus. Noteworthy about Jesus is that despite the myriad of miracles Jesus performed, there were plenty of occasions where Jesus told the townspeople *not* to tell others of what he had done. In essence, Jesus was the greatest superhero that ever lived, and He refused to flaunt His superpowers. Humility is at the heart of this. Before COVID hit, if you knew me, I liked to throw parties, liked to go out, and I was very extroverted. In many ways, I was a “social animal.” But while the gatherings I liked to organize were centered on Christian fellowship, there were many occasions where I honestly just enjoyed the attention. I liked accruing “social capital.” People in the NY Catholic scene knew me, they heard of me, and once COVID hit, we couldn’t really gather anymore. Here I was, alone at home, struggling to perhaps try and talk to people. We couldn’t see people, we had Zoom, we were told to pray, we were told to come up with some new habits. While we are all the Body of Christ and built for community, there are often many moments where we need to have peace in silence. And then rest in Jesus and make Him the center of our lives.  To no one’s surprise, one of Cardinal Sarah’s most popular books is entitled, The Power of Silence. Do we facetiously “hunger and thirst” for attention, when such hunger is better acclimated to nourishment that is not associated with gluttony? Or do we instead – because of grace – choose to put others and Christ first? I’m similarly reminded of something St. Teresa of Calcutta once came up with – the acronym J.O.Y. In short, it stands for focusing on Jesus (J), others (O), and then, and only then, yourself (Y).  

In many ways, the Beatitudes are like a spiritual staircase to Jesus. And when I think upon the gospels, I often think of Peter who could perhaps serve as some representation of someone who went through all of them, and then eventually acquired the best “job” – the Pope.  Despite all his faults, Peter became Pope and then willingly went to be crucified at the end of his life. Peter at first has some humility at Jesus’ miracles, and even tells the Lord, “I am a sinful man” in Luke. But even then, Peter has missteps and dares to correct Jesus when the passion is close, and Jesus simply responds in a way perhaps none of us wants to hear: “Get away from me Satan.” In essence, Jesus tells us, “Yes, the road will be difficult, there are no shortcuts to Heaven.” Jesus himself knows Peter will go from humility to boastfulness, and to even pride.  Peter, of course, denies Christ in his own act of self-centered behavior and in some haphazard attempt at survival. Peter is then nowhere to be found as only St. John and Our Lady are there when He is crucified.  When Christ rises from the dead, Christ doesn’t even have a semblance of vengeance towards Peter, the man who denied Him three times. Jesus simply asks three times, “Do you love me?” In many ways, could many of us actually do this when we feel betrayed by a friend or family member? And when Peter, who could have avoided death, sees Jesus once again, he chooses to be crucified, this time upside down. In many ways, because of righteousness. But it’s not due to self-centered behavior. Because compared to Jesus, Peter does not see himself as worthy enough to be crucified in the same upright position our Lord was.  In many ways, I think we can all learn a great deal from St. Peter.

While none of us should ever hope to deny Jesus, Jesus sees the humanity in all of us and asks every day, ”Do you love me?”  To follow the Beatitudes is simply to love Jesus.

That’s not to say any of this is easy – it’s not. Jesus himself says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In fact, many of His followers turned away upon hearing the demands of Jesus. Do we turn towards Jesus every day and seek the great reward of Heaven? 

Born Again

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jn 3:1–8

Hello friends,

Today I’m given one of those passages that is often misquoted or used in a way unfamiliar to us—this is often called the “born again” dialogue. If you’re like me, you probably have family members that are non-Catholic Christians. I have several family members that are Jehovah’s Witnesses and take the born-again dialogue much differently than we do. In fact, they read the born-again dialogue quite literally, and in a way unfamiliar to us.  A lot of people are surprised when I tell this story, but I was once raised as a Jehovah’s Witness for several years in my youth under the recommendation of my aunt. She is still a Jehovah’s Witness. I, of course, am not. For many years, this resulted in many, many arguments—ironically stemming from a dialogue in the gospels about seeing and accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Oftentimes, in my younger years, the conversation would go like this: “Are you born again, Ryan?” “Yes, Tía Pilar, I was born again when I was baptized.” “No, no, you have to be born again in water, and as a Jehovah’s Witness.” (Tía means aunt in Spanish. All of my family members are of Ecuadorian descent. The majority of them have since splintered to Europe or the States.) This, of course, in my much more combative years, resulted in me being combative about how the truth needed to be discussed, rather than my being more charitable with a family member even though we stringently disagreed on matters of faith. The one thing we absolutely agreed upon was that baptism was the way the unsaved were brought to Christ. Ironically enough, this “born again” dialogue led to divisiveness between me and several family members. We weren’t talking about Jesus anymore, we were arguing over the phone. (Even though I pray for her that she returns to the Catholic Church, we no longer argue over the phone.) Evangelization, as you’re quite aware, can often lead to quite heated moments.

Amusingly enough, we were talking about evangelization in my Lay Dominican formation class. It was a separate discussion that diverged from a larger discussion about Aquinas and the works of mercy. But one point we all agreed upon is that taking a largely combative stance during evangelization efforts “makes you lose the floor.” That’s sort of how it also is during arguments, right? Even amongst significant others and friends, if you raise your voice, both of you lose the floor. Even politics is tinged in this way for a reason—seeing a politician upset or livid about anything garners sound bites whether they’re in the right or wrong.

Jesus Himself says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” and, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” For Nicodemus, he was obviously baffled, because he at first takes Jesus’ words literally—how can anyone return to their mother’s wombs? Jesus, of course, speaks of being born of water and Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this further, “One becomes a member of this people [the Church] not by a physical birth, but by being ‘born anew,’ a birth ‘of water and the Spirit,’ (John 3:3–5) that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism” [CCC 782].

For my aunt, this is where the biggest point of contention was—what being born again consisted of. For my aunt, it sort of amounted to the fact that I must have had a major, epiphanic, “come to Jesus moment” in my adulthood. However, what I would tell the non-Catholic Christians I have disagreements about this with is to remember that we do have “come to Jesus” moments. At every Mass, I confess my sins and accept Christ, and every time I go to confession I accept Christ and accept His forgiveness and try to keep on the path towards holiness. The early Christians and Church Fathers knew of “being born again” via a trinitarian baptism, for example.

St. Pope John Paul II takes this a bit further, and this is really what I want to end on. He wrote in Catechesi Tradendae of “the problem of children baptized in infancy [who] come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ” (CT 19). To make the point more explicit, St. Pope John Paul II says, “It is true that being a Christian means saying ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ, but let us remember that this ‘yes’ has two levels: It consists in surrendering to the word of God and relying on it, but it also means, at a later stage, endeavoring to know better—and better the profound meaning of this word” (CT 20). In other words, being born again as following Christ requires a *commitment* to follow Him as His disciple.

What I want to focus on is this “yes.” Do we say yes? Or do we adopt an attitude of combative behavior while we evangelize? Do we focus on commonalities while evangelizing and then take it from there? When we make critical remarks about other Christians, are we still making that commitment to that “come to Jesus moment” we have at Mass? Are we helping others come back to faith when they struggle or when they feel they have strayed too far? When we see others who are perhaps misinformed or have sincere questions about the faith, do we scoff at them? Or do we help them understand what the faith and catechism teaches? The old adage of “it takes a village to raise a child” does have some merits when we remember that we—all of us—are the Body of Christ. Even while we believe trinitarian baptism is valid, the work is simply not finished once we are baptized. Baptism is almost like a constant and enduring “yes” to Christ and that is something that we should all remember.

Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday, and this fact has not escaped me while writing this. I have met many Catholics in my travels and conversations this past year. COVID or job loss had contributed to a loss—or struggle—of faith in some of them. And if you have struggled with belief before, you sometimes know this struggle with faith can often lead to sin that we later regret. I reminded someone yesterday of Jesus’ words to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my mercy.” Jesus always, always commits to embracing us when we return to Him. But are we always committed to Him?

St. Faustina, pray for us.

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

The Name of God is Mercy

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Jn 8:1–11

Friends, in today’s Gospel reading, we are given the story of the woman caught in adultery. Similar to the content in my last reflection, this passage is one of the most studied Biblical accounts. (First, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Second, about not casting the first stone. Two in a row ain’t bad.)

We are given some food for thought when we pray upon today’s first reading in conjunction with the Gospel reading for today—Susanna and the elders in the Book of Daniel. And this section of the Book of Daniel and today’s Gospel are very much related, but in different ways. The first reading relates to Susanna triumphing in the face of a potential miscarriage of justice. When Susanna rebuffs the two elders’ lustful advances, she is accused of wanting to be alone in the company of a man in order to bed him. Susanna is wrongfully accused, the elders bear false witness, Susanna is in danger of being put to death, Daniel speaks up for virtue, and Susanna is subsequently acquitted. The elders are subsequently put to death. Virtue and justice triumph. But there is more at work when you take the stories of Susanna and the woman caught in adultery together.

Susanna was married. The law of Moses dictated that she would be unavailable to the elders. The elders knew this, and yet their lust was so strong it clearly began to affect their moral judgment. It is said in the story of Susanna and the elders that they desired to “seduce her” and that the elders did not speak of their lust for her publicly. This indicates two things: they were aware that what they were doing was morally wrong because they felt shame, and they made a conscious decision to sin and go against the law of Moses. It’s not difficult to think that Jesus perhaps had the story of Susanna and the elders in mind when He remarked in the Gospel of Matthew, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:28–29).

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes across a woman caught in adultery. This woman, unlike Susanna, actually did commit adultery. According to the law of Moses, she is subject to death. The elders demand she be stoned to death. The woman knows this is inevitable since she was caught breaking the Mosaic law. Jesus steps in and asks if the elders themselves are free of sin; if they aren’t, they may stone her to death. One by one, the elders leave, and the woman is told by Jesus to sin no more.

The two events are related, albeit differently. Most significant is that they are relatable on a personal level and pertain to our lives of prayer in ways we perhaps may not have thought about. We have probably all had accusatory, condemnatory, judgmental, and self-righteous attitudes at some point in our lives. Do we often see ourselves as Susanna or the woman caught in adultery? Being accused by loud voices, perhaps falsely? When we do sin, are we given a chance to repent, or are we hurt by the stirred passions of others in a too-quick pursuit of justice? Do we see ourselves as the elders, motivated by malice or self-righteousness? Or do we act like Jesus, with patience and mercy? In the Gospel, Jesus shows that He forgives, regardless of what we have done. No sin is too great. According to the Mosaic law, the woman caught in adultery could have been put to death. Jesus knows this, but instead of advocating for the old Mosaic law, He forgives her.

In my younger years, when I first came back to the Church, I very much had a gung-ho mentality about the “rules.” Not that there shouldn’t be any—there are. And for good reason. We know what mortal sins are. We know what constitutes venial sin. But in my pursuit of “the rules” after I came back to the Church, I was acting more like an elder driven by self-righteousness and not like Jesus. Time after time, I felt driven to “call people out,” sometimes even publicly, rather than speak to them and to show mercy, especially if they were struggling and wanted to turn away from whatever sin they were struggling with (gossip, struggling with chastity, etc.). As a Lay Dominican, I am driven by veritas (truth). In a world that has often been labelled as “post-Christian” or “postmodern,” the urge to succumb to a rallying cry for justice when we see individuals acting in a fashion that is anything but Christian—or in a way that is not consistent with virtue ethics—is a very real urge. Fraternal correction is indeed necessary, but even St. Thomas Aquinas recommends we speak to individuals privately first, not publicly as the elders did. In our pursuit of fraternal correction, do we also try and act like Jesus? Jesus indeed reprimanded plenty of people, but He was so, so merciful.

One woman (Susanna) was falsely accused and sentenced to die, but she placed her life in God’s hands and trusted Him. Daniel spoke up for the woman, and she was released. The other woman (the woman caught in adultery) was justly accused and was sentenced to die. She did not have any hope because it was the law that she was to die for her sin. Jesus spoke up for her, and she was forgiven. Jesus Christ did not come for the righteous but for sinners. Christ’s compassion for the adulteress surpassed the old rules. Pope Francis wrote a text, The Name of God is Mercy. (This coincided with the Year of Mercy.) This is no less relevant here. Pope Francis himself remarked, “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

Palm Sunday is soon upon us. Palm Sunday is often remarked as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After this, Jesus will soon be sentenced to death, carry His Cross, go through excruciating pain that we cannot possibly imagine, and then be crucified. He will ask God to forgive those who called for his death. He will even soon forgive Peter, the man who would become pope. Even after he denied him three times. Let us not forget that when Jesus eventually rises from the grave once Lent is over, it is also a victory for mercy.

Divisiveness

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and /quotesaid to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, 
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Luke 11:14-11:23

What a reading for today’s gospel, friends. Today I was given the privilege of discussing one of the most oft-quoted passages in the gospel: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

As many of you may know, it’s one of the most famous lines of the gospel, and plenty of theological discussion has been had about just these two verses. It has of course, even seeped into larger popular culture and if you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, you know how it’s mentioned—it’s even reached sitcoms, albeit with the message subverted for some comedic effect. But moving on from my tendency to ramble on or make pop culture references, there are two things to note from today’s gospel reading.

First, note how Jesus rebuffs the townspeople who demand a sign from Him to prove He is from Heaven. Jesus, of course, “knew their thoughts,” and rather than give in to their demands, Jesus simply gave words of wisdom. Jesus, of course, also rebuffs Satan in a similar fashion when He is in the desert for 40 days. (Feed himself and abstain from fasting? No. Christ speaks, “Man does not live on bread alone.” See the temptation of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

Rather than forcefully show his divinity to appease people, Jesus speaks the truth as He does to Satan. However, on another dimension, this often reminds me of the relationship we may have with Christ. Do we often make “deals” with Christ to prove He loves us? Do we often “ask for a sign from Heaven?” Have any of us ever prayed for something and claimed we’ll change our ways or stop habits that engender sin if we get something in return? And do we then simply forget to lead lives of virtue not because it was “proven” to us that God loved us, but because we should strive for lives of virtue because loving God is the ultimate good? This focus on virtue is something I want us to keep in mind because it’s significant. Thomas Aquinas cites caritas as “love,” or more specifically, the type of friendship based in the “the love which is together with benevolence, when to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him.” (See Second part of the Second part, Question 23 of Summa Theologica.) Additionally, Aquinas writes that caritas moves us to order our lives properly, gradually leading us to love and desire God for His own sake and nothing else. This “good” and the move towards virtue is what I want to focus on.

Second, God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one and united within the Holy Trinity. We are united with Christ, and we should expect to be in His good graces by living lives of virtue, leading others to Him, and by of course, loving Him. Why else did Christ call for the Great Commission? Well, for one, Christ knows that Satan is the one who causes division. This is especially apt when Christ makes the townspeople ask themselves, “If I drove out the demons by Beelzebul, well ok, how do you do it then?” This of course leaves them speechless. But which division am I speaking of? For some, it could be a loaded question. There is, of course, enough division in the American political sphere but that’s not where I’m going. In my experience, we as Catholics often do not present a united front or send an accurate reflection of our beliefs to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many explanations have been given from time to time for a decline in faith in America—changing cultural practices, postmodernism, inaccurate catechesis, etc. There is no singular answer, and debates rage on. The Lord said to His disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, but we could still lose an untold number of souls if we send often-conflicting messages and signals to others about our beliefs and practices. If the mission of Holy Mother Church is about saving souls, then sometimes we should be aware that how we may act and express ourselves could be sowing division. Even unintentionally!

Disagreements are often messy, but necessary. But I’m not talking about differences in opinion, I’m talking about divisiveness within the larger Church and the family unit. And as you can imagine, it can be an awkward conversation and can stir a lot of passions from a lot of people.

When the fall of man happened, a consequence of original sin was a disruption in our relationship with God. We know this and the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this as well.  We know this almost immediately from reading Genesis because upon eating the forbidden fruit of the tree, Adam does two things. First, he hides from God, because his relationship with the Lord has been disrupted due to sin. Second, he almost immediately blames Eve for his sin. This is something I have often seen in talking to spouses and it’s unfortunate—blaming your spouse for one’s sin. We have to remember—we’re supposed to be helping lead our spouse to Heaven! This is something we often see in families, often a core element of one’s growing up—a lot can be traced to early family life. Even sociologists and adolescent psychologists speak about how a child’s performance in school can be affected due to a messy and turbulent home. I don’t want to quote Jordan Peterson at length or ask your opinion of him, but he’s not exactly wrong when he states that for a lot of men, we have to keep our “house” (literal and metaphorically) in order. If we’re divided against ourselves due to sin or despair, how can we lead lives of virtue?

I’ve spoken at some length previously in prior reflections how one’s home life—however unfortunate—can lead to disruption in the life of faith. Adam refuses to take responsibility for his actions, blames his wife, and he is in essence, a symbolically divided individual. For me, when my father left at an early age, I traced the absence of an earthly father to our Heavenly Father not caring for me. In my experience (at least anecdotally) in talking with other Catholic men, this rings true. An absence of a father, divided families, leads to disruptions in the life of faith and brokenness and woundedness that we then unfortunately (and incorrectly) associate with God not caring or “abandoning us.”  Because the adage goes, if we can’t trust an earthly father, how can we trust our Heavenly Father? (We of course can. I am of course not dismissing woundedness in any way.) This then, of course, leads to a symbolic and literal divisiveness in each one of us. That’s divisiveness in the family and in our own lives affecting the life of faith.

However, there is another kind of divisiveness that I see that happens in how we express our thoughts on other Catholics we may disagree with. And I’ve been guilty of doing it a few times just as well. We often lob terms of “liberal” or “conservative” Catholic as insults and pejoratives in the context that we feel certain groups of people are not fully living holy lives. Mind you, however, that’s not to say fraternal correction is never necessary. It absolutely is needed at times. And Church teaching is well, Church teaching for a reason. Doctrine is not subject to change. I don’t have to explain what these terms mean—you’ve all heard some variation of what they mean and simply giving my take on what terms these may or may not mean isn’t instructive in the slightest. Point being—both of them have nuggets of truth, but not in ways you might expect. My larger point? Every Catholic should be “conservative” in that we wish to pass on, live, and conserve sacred truths of the Apostolic and lived faith. Every Catholic should also similarly be “liberal” in that we wish to “liberate” people from sins as Holy Mother Church asks of us so that we all can lead truly holy lives. I’m reminded of my therapist’s tattooed wrists—she tattooed broken chains on her wrists to demonstrate her life of faith was to show that by following Christ, she was choosing a life away from sin. Free of the chains of sins. Liberated.

But why do people use the terms “liberal” and “conservative”? For one, It’s often a woefully convenient (and inconvenient) shorthand in American politics, but it’s not entirely accurate and it unfortunately leads to a lot of divisiveness. One may have “liberal” or “conservative” ways (on a larger level of public policy for example) how best to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. But most people will tell you they want to alleviate poverty and show the poor person Christ’s love. And of course, perform the corporal works of mercy. And why shouldn’t we?

Today’s gospel reading is not lost on me during this time of Lent. Divisiveness leads us away from Christ, Our Lady, and Holy Mother Church. Jesus is not ambiguous or vague. We should put our faith in Him and turn away from lives of sin and turn to Him. Or scatter.

Humility

Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.

Mk 7:24-30

I’ve been Catholic for a while now. But today’s Gospel reading—from my experience at least—has been among the most misunderstood of all Gospel passages. At least to me it is simply based on “anecdotal evidence.” This event in the Gospels is termed as the exorcism of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter.

The Gospel passage is pretty simple. Jesus is running His ministry, goes to Tyre, enters a house, sees a woman whose daughter is possessed by demons; the woman pleads for relief for her daughter, Jesus appears to rebukes her first, the woman pleads again, the woman’s daughter is healed. In the midst of the miracles Jesus performs throughout His time on Earth, it’s a pretty run of the mill event: Jesus goes to a town, frees a woman’s daughter of demonic possession. A miracle, right? I’m often told by my non-Catholic friends this is an example of Jesus’ “unsympathetic” nature. “Why doesn’t Jesus just heal the woman’s daughter immediately!? Why make an allusion to a woman being a dog!?” It’s more complex than that.

I’m currently being trained as a Lay Dominican. (Then again, learning as a Lay Dominican and as a Catholic never ends. The journey of faith and towards sainthood is always present until death!)  I’ll be fully professed in August. We’ve recently had a discussion on the Bible and what are called “historical-critical” methods and how to read the Bible proper, especially as the Vatican doesn’t have a wholesale guide on how to read every *single* passage of the Bible. Believe it or not, the Vatican doesn’t! We of course have doctrines and traditions of the faith that mandate a certain reading of the Bible. And this is where one has to be careful of reading certain passages and letting our emotions get the best of us. I’ve heard plenty of individuals ask me, “Well, did this woman teach Jesus to be tolerant?” Well, no. Because to suggest otherwise would be to suggest Jesus lacks what is often called the “divine intellect.” This isn’t exactly new. We may have heard of “rogue” priests who say things that distort Church teaching, but this is a larger historical problem. And the Truth always prevails! Arius of Alexandria caused a scandal in the 4th century when he suggested Jesus was *not* the Son of the Father, but a “first” creature who became divinized and got a promotion. This scandal is often called “Arianism,” and historical figures as far as Isaac Newton believed it. Saint Nicholas, according to legend, once punched Arius for promoting this heresy. (Now, don’t go around doing this!)

That being said, how do we answer to some folks who claim Jesus in this Gospel is unsympathetic? 

Let’s break it down.  

First, it’s important to note that the woman called Jesus “Lord.” Not “sir.” “Lord.” Like many other individuals who come across Jesus, this woman knew and believed Jesus was the Son of David, God’s Son, the Lord, and the Messiah. This woman never met Jesus but knew and believed. Her faith was truly great, and so great, despite her despair at her daughter suffering for so long. She didn’t need signs to believe, and this woman was not a “doubting Thomas”; she truly believed through the thick and thin. No doubt she also heard of many stories of Jesus’ miracles—healing a leper. Healing a paralytic.

The woman’s faith will soon be tested. This is made all the more apparent if you read Matthew 15’s retelling of this event: “But He did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked Him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us’” (Matthew 15:23). Imagine that! Asking Jesus, and Jesus simply does not respond. I am sure we have all felt this in prayer—not getting a response, and simply not getting the response we expect. Even Jesus’ disciples tell her to go away! Throughout history, and through the lives of the saints, we are given plenty of stories where their faith is tested, and they are rewarded. But can you imagine being at home and not getting a response during countless days of prayer? Sure. We all can. But this woman was in front of Jesus and His disciples! I’m often reminded of the story of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes who was mocked by the townspeople and insisted the grotto was where it was. Of course, she was proven right. This woman’s faith will also soon be rewarded.

Then Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” It’s this passage, my non-Catholic friends tell me, that makes Christ “unsympathetic.” This is where analyzing the language and context of the books of the Bible is important. This is especially the case as the Bible was, of course, not written in English. As some of you know, the Gospels were written in Greek. In Greek, there are two words for dogs: kunaria and kyon. Kyon refers to wild dogs, kunaria refers to dogs that are pets. Obviously, one term is more affectionate and endearing than the other. At that time, many people referred to the Canaanites as “wild dogs” (i.e.: kyon). (Tyre is a Canaanite region.) But Jesus refers to kunaria, or pets. The woman herself is not insulted and, in the original Greek of the Gospel passage, says, “Lord, even the [kunaria] under the table eat the children’s scraps.” In many ways, the woman used the word “pet” in a larger analogy: she already saw herself as a follower of Christ, in the same way a dog follows their master, or owner. And isn’t Jesus the Master? In many ways, this already rings true to me. All Dominicans are referred to as “hounds of the Lord.” (St. Dominic is often portrayed with a dog. St. Dominic legit is a saint whose intercession you should ask for if you’re a dog owner!)

This woman was not insulted; she was happy to think of herself as a member of Jesus’ household, one of His favorite pets! Jesus then immediately grants her prayer. These analogies aren’t terribly new throughout the Gospels, either: even at the Last Supper, Jesus refers to the twelve apostles as “children.” In this woman’s great humility, she was not insulted; she merely asked for anything. Of course, it is at this moment, the woman’s faith is rewarded and her daughter is free of demonic possession. What can we learn from this woman? She inspires us to persevere and place a childlike trust in Him. Jesus Himself says, “Great is your faith!” Do we place the same faith in Jesus when the times are rough? Do we give in to others who tell us to go away and not persevere in prayer? Ash Wednesday (and the start of Lent) is next week, and I often wonder if we’re all placing a childlike faith in Jesus. And is our faith as great as the Canaanite woman’s?

Interior Healing

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what 
they were thinking to themselves, 
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once, 
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Mk 2:1-12

Hello friends,

In today’s Gospel we’re once again given the story of the healing of the paralytic. I touched upon this back in December, but so as not to rehash entirely what I said last time, I’ll focus on some different things today.

When I last touched upon this Gospel reading, I highlighted the obstinance of the Pharisees, the unceasing faith of the paralytic, and the need for community as we are all the Body of Christ.

Notable is that Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic, but then afterwards He heals his paralysis.

Of course Our Lord and Savior knew the paralytic needed interior healing (his sins forgiven) before physical healing (his paralysis). A number of years ago, I went to one of speaker Matthew Kelly’s talks. You probably know him as the founder of the Dynamic Catholic institute, and he’s well known for writing Rediscovering Catholicism. Kelly referred to Jesus as “the divine psychologist” when He instituted the sacrament of confession and, with it, our Sacred Tradition of Aposotolic Succession. The document Dei Verbum from The Second Vatican Council elaborates on this. (Specifically, see n. 7–10 on “Handing on Divine Revelation.”)

What do I mean by all this? This is certainly not one of those long-winded rhetorical detours I’ve become infamous for. Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years know what I’m talking about. “Ryan, you’re going off topic! Get to the point!” What I mean is that in the Catholic faith we acknowledge woundedness and brokenness are real. We acknowledge the sacrament of reconciliation is real. And indeed, maybe Kelly remarking that Jesus is “the divine psychologist” isn’t such a far-fetched idea when we consider the healing of the paralytic. Indeed, in both depictions of the healing of the paralytic in Luke and Mark, Jesus heals the paralytic internally before he heals his physical ailment.

Many years ago, when I first began seeking assistance for major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, I began navigating a deeply bureaucratic, and at times, callous medical and psychiatric system. A number of doctors I saw simply saw “the solution” for my diagnosis as, “Here, take this. Once a day. That doesn’t work? Ok, come back and you’ll take something else. You won’t need anything else.” It was awfully dismissive behavior. But in life, it mirrors a lot of things. We often want “easy” or “fast” solutions. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with antidepressants! They absolutely work! But that’s not my larger point.

One reason why I was diagnosed with major depression in the first place was my own brokenness after struggling for years with so many different things—one of them growing up in a broken family and growing up without a father. I carried feelings of resentment and abandonment over the years, and some of it unintentionally spilled over as resentment towards not just my earthly father but my Heavenly one. I eventually began speaking to a good Catholic therapist. I frequented Mass and confession more often shortly afterwards.

The solution—for me—was clearly not just to take antidepressants. More needed to be done as well. (I am not giving psychiatric advice.) Personally speaking, I needed interior healing after not addressing years of brokenness. In Matthew Kelly’s words, I needed “the divine psychologist.” Jesus, because He has the divine intellect, saw that whatever was plaguing the paralytic, required interior healing first. There was clearly something in the paralytic’s past that was either not clearly resolved or that needed forgiveness first and foremost. In a sense, Jesus was the “divine psychologist” who cleaned the rubbish off this man’s soul that had built up over the years. This immediately prepared the paralytic to once again walk. He certainly helped clean the rubbish off my soul.

I remember speaking to a Dominican nun several years ago when I was in Poland for World Youth Day 2016. This sister elaborated that not going to confession, not seeking interior healing, being in a state of mortal sin, was equivalent to a child standing before a mirror with their clothes all muddy, with even the glass of the mirror dirty. You’ve probably heard the analogy of going to confession as akin to taking a shower. The larger point is they all work. We’ve all had rubbish or woundedness weighing down on us, and we have Jesus, the Church, and the sacraments for a reason!

Jesus Himself says, “Come and see,” in the Gospel of John. Jesus will never forcibly take anything from you by force; He is always waiting for you to open up to Him. It’s perhaps no surprise that the Church chose “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” as the motto for the Jubilee 2000. Because God exists outside of time, and because yesterday is the same as today for Jesus, He can always forgive us and heal us of our brokenness. If we can unite our sufferings to Jesus, it’s even better. 

Jesus is always awaiting a “new deed” in your life anytime you turn to Him. Even in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Jesus tells Our Lady as He is carrying the cross, even in enormous indescribable pain, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” (Yes, I know it’s a slight alteration of what is found in Revelation 21. It still works.) Jesus, indeed, makes “things new.” He made it new for the paralytic. He will make it new for you.

Think of all the times Jesus went to sinners and removed the rubbish from them in the Gospels. The larger point is in this pandemic age we live in, where we may think Christ has abandoned us, is that He hasn’t. Go to Him. Go to Him for healing. Go to Him and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not the priest you meet in confession, but Our Lord and Savior. I’m sure once you seek Jesus, you’ll be able to rise and walk as the paralytic did.

Rise and Walk

One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. 
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. 
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus. 
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” 

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies? 
Who but God alone can forgive sins?” 
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts? 
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” 
He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God. 
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”

Luke 5:17-26

Friends, in today’s Gospel we are given the story of the healing of the paralytic. In my previous reflection on the healing of the blind man (based on Luke 18:35–43), I pointed to the blind man having faith in Christ despite being literally blind. He could not see Christ raising Lazarus, could not see Christ turning water into wine, couldn’t even see Christ multiplying loaves of bread. However, despite this, in his heart of hearts, he believed in Christ and the miracles He could accomplish. He had faith, despite being literally blind. How many of us could say the same and remain firm in the faith despite being able to literally see what Christ has done in our lives? Do we have the faith of the blind man? The majority of us are not blind, yet we often struggle in our faith. The blind man gambled [correctly] the Lord would see him and heal him only if he asked, and He did. In contrast, the men around him rebuked him and “asked him to be silent.” The Lord healed him anyway, stunning those who rebuked this man’s faith.

I say this here because there are similar elements in the narrative of  today’s Gospel. Once again, faith inevitably triumphs. This time it involves a paralytic and the Pharisees.

Consider several things. The Pharisees saw Christ cure the sick. However, despite all this, it could be said they were literally blind. They could see with their own eyes that Christ and God the Father were “one.” They refused to entertain the idea the messiah was in front of them and walking the earth “to fulfill the law.” Can you imagine what it would be like to walk among Jesus? Think at this point how it would be if you were a parent. You remind your child to not touch the stove when the gas is on. Why? Because it’s hot and your child will burn their hand. DUH. However, they don’t listen. I can’t fathom how God the Father must have thought at seeing the Pharisees being so obstinate. “THE EVIDENCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” anyone would exclaim. For those who are parents, how many times have you had to scold your child time after time, often for the same thing? Do we not go to confession often for the exact same sin, time and time again, seeking absolution? Does the priest yell at you? No. Mind you, I do not have the patience of a priest. (I’m trying, God!)

However, this doesn’t happen. Instead, example after example does nothing to sway the hearts and minds of the Pharisees. Miracle after miracle changes nothing. Historically, disease, for the Pharisees at least, was a sign of sin. So what does Jesus do? He does something so decisive that there can longer be any unbelief. However, the Pharisees are too wrapped up in their own plans and their own honor to ascertain God’s mercy when Christ heals the paralytic. The Pharisees simply say, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?” They don’t marvel at the Lord’s grandeur, they simply question. Instead of marveling at what had just taken place, the Pharisees still doubt. Let’s say I ask Christ tomorrow to win the lottery.  However, instead of winning one million dollars, I only win ten thousand dollars. How obstinate and ungrateful would I be if I instead said, “meh.” It’d be something else, right? How often do we want God to give us a sign so we can follow His plan? And how often are we not open to what He tells us, simply and directly because we’re too focused on achieving our own plans? Similar to my last reflection, there is also a similar element of “rebuke” that also takes place here.

Remember when I referred to my last reflection in regards to the blind man’s faith? We should all be similarly impressed with the faith of the paralytic. Think about it—neither the blind man nor the paralytic needed any signs. They simply believed and knew Christ would help them. The paralytic’s faith in Him was so strong, it overcame literal adversity. If he couldn’t walk, he’d ask others to carry him to Christ. I’m reminded of that brilliant moment of friendship near the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins, physically and mentally exhausted carrying the One Ring, tells his friend Samwise Gamgee he cannot walk any longer. He’s exhausted, he’s battered, he looks absolutely defeated. If Frodo does not throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, evil will triumph. Now imagine the paralytic: “And some men brought on a stretcher a man.” He could not physically walk to Christ. Here, Samwise Gamgee takes the initiative, “Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you…but I can carry you!” (Cue the manly tears.) (Yes, I know I am quoting the film and not the book.)

The paralytic’s faith moved him so much it didn’t matter. If he couldn’t walk, he would make sure he saw Christ.  It didn’t matter to his friends if the paralytic couldn’t walk, either—they brought him in through the roof just to make sure Christ saw him. Theirs was a living faith.  It was so strong, it moved him and them into action. Their living faith was far stronger than the durability of a Thomistic argument.  What have you done to seek Christ face to face today? What do we do when we don’t measure up to the faith of the paralytic? What have we done in order to make sure we receive His grace?

In the midst of all this, remember that we too are the Body of Christ. The paralytic struggled physically to see Christ, so his friends helped him. Oftentimes, in moments when we can obsess over clericalism or scruples over which form of the Mass is better, remember that our mission—as established in the great commission Christ professed—is to bring others to Heaven. There are many Catholics at this time who may, because of the pandemic or economic reasons, feel unable to move, frozen. Do we help bring those individuals to Christ as the paralytic’s friends did?

Now mind you, there is a little more to this.  Everyone glorified God after the miracle was done. Christ only sought God’s glory when He healed the paralytic. I only say this because how often do we seek gratitude in doing an act of charity or a favor for a friend? Instead of desiring the “thank you,” do we instead remember we are here on this Earth to glorify God? Oftentimes, we should also remember to purify our own intentions and make sure the reasons we do certain things are for the right reasons. 

Now that we are in the season of Advent, let us not forget the reason for the season. We are awaiting the celebration of the birth of Christ. Oftentimes, Advent is called a season of waiting. But are you going to Him, instead of waiting for signs as the Pharisees did?

Turn to Him

As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Luke 18:35–43

Dear friends,

How good it is to be writing for Frassati again! Rather than speak as if I were lecturing at the bully pulpit, I’ll speak to reach hearts and minds and try and be as succinct as possible. (No promises.)

In today’s Gospel, we are given the story of the healing of the blind man. The blind man, pleading to be recognized by Jesus, has his sight restored. Jesus tells the blind man, “Have sight, your faith has saved you.” It is an indeed an example of Christ’s miracles, but there are several takes I have on this narrative, especially in our climate these days in regards to our faith in Our Lord and in Holy Mother Church.

In my life, this Gospel narrative has several personal elements that deeply resonate with me. There are three crucial moments as I reflect on today’s Gospel:

  1. There is the crowd “rebuk[ing] him” and “telling him to be silent.”
  2. Christ then tells the man, “…Your faith has saved you.”
  3. The final element of my reflection pertains to “giving glory to God” after such a miracle has occurred.

First, how often in our lives have we reached out to the Lord? For many of us, especially at the beginning of this pandemic rife with mortal and economic loss, many of us may have felt brief or extended moments of confusion, heartbreak, maybe even despair. For me, it was a particularly turbulent moment in my life—I had no choice but to leave my PhD, the academic career I had envisioned for over a decade was now gone, and I found myself suddenly unemployed. I couldn’t find work for many, many months, and I was diagnosed with PTSD. With social distancing mechanisms in place, I, and many others, may have felt displaced from our prayer communities. I felt directionless. Some friends told me, in the midst of their despair, their belief that the Church, too, seemed in crisis. They subsequently said all was in flux, the Church was now in crisis, and they thought the world was ending.

Mind you, let me stop right here. I am not a “doomer.” I tried to be as empathetic as I possibly could with my friends, completely understanding how deeply lonely and heartbreaking this time was and still is. Some have been more active in talking to me; a lot of folks simply needed personal space. This time was and is turbulent in different ways for many of us, in a myriad of ways. I lost several family members and friends. I later contracted COVID-19 and became sick for quite some time in the spring. I was later reinfected with COVID-19 in late August. However, despite these times of trial and tribulation, my faith in Him was strengthened. This was also a sentiment I found with several of my friends: their faith was strengthened, not weakened. But how? Why? Amidst all this, how often have we given into stinging “rebuke?” Either from friends from ourselves? Perhaps we are not literally gathered amongst large crowds now, but the threat of stinging rebuke is still there. From ourselves. The maxim that “we can be our harshest critic” is not entirely without merit. Especially if we sometimes struggle with catastrophizing our interior lives. (Anyone? Sometimes I struggle with this! Struggling with anxiety is a real thing! But praise be to Jesus that I offer this to Him!) How often in the midst of these tragedies have we remained “silent,” instead of turning to Him, the Lord and Savior who died for our sins? He who wept when His friend Lazarus died? He who showed mercy to a thief being crucified next to Him? Turn to Him—He truly understands. If you’ve ever been mad at God or disappointed, whether it be with life, anxiety, or singleness, you can tell Him. He can take it. And Jesus will love you all the same.

Second, in my life, getting to the point of “your faith has saved you” could be the most difficult. Because we sometimes we may thrive on a quick, immediate emotional response in our consumerist society. We may want things now. In my life, I have realized that upon getting what we have wanted from prayer, we may then become lukewarm. We may sometimes have the tendency to turn to the Lord only in moments in despair. (More on this in my third point.) But the larger issue I want to point out is that no prayer is wasted. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said to a group of pilgrims that, “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost.” Often, I have been told that when we pray, God may think with His divine intellect one of the following things: “Yes;” “Yes, but not the way you expect, here is something even better;” “No;” or “Later.” While we cannot ascertain with our mortal intellect the divine intellect, we have probably had one of these moments that our prayers were answered in magnitudes even greater than we could have ever wanted!

Imagine a world where there was no guarantee the blind man could have ever been healed. The blind man must have realized this small possibility. Obviously, Christ was always going to heal the blind man, but this was never a certainty in the mind of the blind man. I think the larger point to “Your faith has saved you” is to realize the point that it’s always possible that our prayers may never be answered in the ways we expect. And yet, we turn to Him. And we should. I think the larger issue that some of us may not realize is that in the midst of our tribulations, we may subconsciously believe we are beyond reproach or may not need to repent. How often do we feel relieved when we go to confession? Like a clean slate. The blind man felt lost—literally and figuratively. The issue we may not realize from reading this Gospel narrative is that we pretend we are beyond reproach, pretend we are not sinners, and we then become literally and spiritually “blind” to even our own spiritual blindness. Like if you desperately needed glasses to see. Like a glass half full. Like if you went out in the cold without a coat. One way we grow into much better young Catholics is to recognize how lost we are—how truly we actually need Jesus. Do we recognize this in prayer? It may be a hard thing to admit, mainly because it requires a large amount of humility in our lives. When the pandemic first hit, when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, and when I found myself temporarily directionless, I turned to Jesus. Who else would I turn to? I was a blind man, begging to see, temporarily becoming a recluse for many, many months. There was nobody I would rather turn to. Tell Jesus you love Him and how much you need Him. You’ll be surprised how readily He welcomes you with open arms. There are still many moments where I struggle with spiritual blindness, for our path to sainthood is a continual process for the rest of our lives. Remember you want to aim for Heaven, not purgatory, because you don’t want to miss. (Bad joke, I know.) Would I say I’m a much more mature and confident man than I was at the beginning of the year? Absolutely. Am I a saint yet? No, but I’m trying, Jesus.

Finally, comes the role of “giving glory to God.” This is the both the easiest and potentially the most difficult. Mainly because once we receive something in our prayer lives, we are immediately humbled, enormously thankful. How many times do we shout “Alleluia!” once our prayers are answered? But do we keep the faith afterwards? Even after we know Our Lord is with us and truly loves us? It has once been said we are “an Easter people,” who should always strive to shout, “Alleluia!” The most pressing example of this is what Our Lady must have felt at the Annunciation. Consider this moment from the Gospel of Luke:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

There is the moment of revelation. There is the moment where Our Lady accepts the Lord’s will. However, what people forget is what comes after. Do we try to emulate Our Lady’s example, keeping the faith? Imagine being a young woman, being given such a great mission, probably illiterate, probably scared, coming from Nazareth, where it is said that no good comes from there. (See John 1:46.) Mary kept the faith; we can, too.

Don’t be afraid to pray to God for relief of your burdens. If relief is not in sight, ask Him for the graces you need to endure in these troubled times. He will help you.

Becoming Like Children

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
(Matthew 18:1-5)

The USCCB has designated today as the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. As such, I’ll be talking about one of the gospel readings recommended by the USCCB to be proclaimed during the liturgy. (Depending on where you reside in America, your parish may observe this day, or your parish will follow the readings today that fall under Ordinary Time.)

Not many know this about me, but I share the same birthday as my mother. My mother was born on April 1st, 1963; I was born on April 1st, 1989. Aside from it being a cute piece of trivia about me, it’s a fact that I have always been close to my mother. I often joke that the relationship and friendship I have had with my mother has been one akin to the one shared by Rory Gilmore and her mother, Lorelai, from the dramedy Gilmore Girls. But on a larger and more relevant note, it’s an even lesser-known fact that my mother was *almost* never born. My grandmother, already married in 1962 and raising one child, felt pressure from relatives to terminate her second pregnancy. Upon going to an abortion clinic, my grandmother felt a sudden thrust of pain in her abdomen.

Ignoring that pain, my grandmother went to the abortion table, but heard a voice urging her, “Don’t do this!” My grandmother then fled the abortion clinic in tears, not caring about getting her money back. My grandmother told me the voice sounded feminine and that she presumed it was Our Lady who urged her not to go forward with the abortion. (Was it an interior locution similar to the ones St. Teresa of Avila writes about in The Interior Castle? I don’t know. Ultimately, my grandmother decided against the abortion.)  In a very real way, my mother was almost never born. Similarly, I could have never been born and never ensouled. I may have never written the reflection you are now reading. I am thankful for the life I have been given. My mother is too. Neither of us hold any resentment towards my grandmother.

I don’t want to politicize my reflection, because that’s not my intent. But the Church does recognize the need to pray for the unborn with days such as today, and with other days such as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (That’s when we pray for the souls of the children lost in the massacre ordered by Herod I in Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:1.)

When I read that gospel reading from Matthew, I am constantly reminded of the infighting that occurred with Christ’s twelve disciples. I am reminded too of the attempts by the Pharisees to catch Christ in a “gotcha moment” when they question Christ about the law of divorce. (See Matthew 19.) I am reminded of my own struggles with heartbreak, loss, and tragedy and when I have often gone to Christ, angry and resentful, demanding, “How can this be?” It is of particular importance that Christ is asked whom is “the greatest” by his disciples. Christ doesn’t say St. Peter; Peter is the disciple who gets the “best job” (becoming the first Pope) despite his thrice-denial of Christ. Christ doesn’t say St. John; John is considered “the beloved disciple.” Instead Christ does something else. Christ simply directs them to a child and asks them to become child-like in their disposition in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For the innocence and mind of a child is a wondrous thing.

Consider this. Many of us, upon being asked what God is, might be tempted to say, “God is the Alpha and the Omega.” Or if you enjoy Thomistic theology, you may cite the following, as declared by Pope Pius IX in 1914, “The metaphysical motion of the Divine Essence is correctly expressed by saying that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own being, or that it is subsistent being itself. And this is the reason for its infinite and unlimited perfection” (Postquam Sanctissimus §23). (Hey now, I’m a Lay Dominican and it’s practically a requirement to enjoy some Thomistic theology.)

Asides from that being a very profound statement, such a statement may read dense to some of us. In contrast, a parent simply tells a child, upon being asked what God is that, “…God is love” (John 4:8). A child understands immediately what God is, because they often equate the love of God to the warmth of their parents. And indeed, God is a loving father.

My larger point is this: do we approach God as a child in prayer and in our daily lives? As an obedient disciple? To the men out there (including myself!), do you act as a servant-leader rather than as leader-servants? Do we treat others, such as the homeless, as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, with love and affection, because they [the homeless] are “God in His most distressing disguise?” Do we take up our crosses joyfully, and offer up our sufferings lovingly for the souls in purgatory, or in today’s case, for the unborn? Or. Do we approach God as a Pharisee? Do we question God at every turn? Do we approach God in anger with different shades of resentment? If we see a mother who has decided to go through with an abortion, do we judge them, or do we show them mercy and love? Do we tell them to seek the services of the Sisters of Life? Do we treat them with mercy and compassion? Do we pray for them? Do we tell them that no sin is beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness? You are unique! You are loved! You are truly a daughter or son of Christ, King of the Universe!

I am grateful for the life I have been given. My mom is too. And I pray every day for a greater culture of life. I have dealt with many tragedies in my life, have dealt with the loss of many family members and friends, and I have had many personal struggles in my past and present. (As we all have.) As followers of Christ we are to believe that every person is valuable, sacred, good, and wholly unique. Every person’s life has profound meaning and worth. And I pray every day that I treat everyone I meet in my life, from friends, family, and strangers, as Christ would. I pray everyday that I go to Christ as a child, wholly and completely reliant on Him.

Our Holy Father Francis remarks in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, of his lament and grief of the adverse impact we have had on creation. Remember, as directed in the Book of Genesis, we are to be stewards of God’s creation: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The culture of today can often be a “throwaway” culture. Such a culture has also had a tragic impact on the unborn. Today’s day of prayer is meant to recognize the right to life and ask for acts of prayer and penance for violations of the dignity of the human person, particularly through abortion. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Our Lady, Our Mother

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
Vita, Dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.

—Excerpt of Salve Regina (Latin text)

What a blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God! And it’s the 8th day of Christmastide! And of course, I hope you all have a wonderful and happy new year! On this holy day of obligation, we take a moment as we start our new year to honor our Blessed Mother, who in her “yes!” to God brought the Savior into the world to redeem us. 

What, however, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? Pope Saint Paul VI says, in his apostolic letter, Marialis Cultus, that, “This celebration, placed on January 1… is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the ‘holy Mother…through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life’” (§5). 

Isn’t that so beautiful? Speaking from personal experience, asking for intercession from Our Lady, and praying the Rosary, contributed in bringing me back to Our Lord. Whenever one of my non-religious friends would remark that women didn’t have much of a part to play in salvation history, I always point to Our Lady and remark, “The greatest saint in history was, and still is, a woman who trusted Our Lord and bore the very Incarnation of Hope itself. There’s a reason why the Devil fears Our Lady and the Rosary so much.” Before I get back to Our Lady, you’ll have to allow me one digression about fatherhood. I promise I’ll get to my larger point. 

Some of you know this, but I’m not particularly close to my earthly father; my mother and father separated when I was very young and he wasn’t very involved in my upbringing. My father doesn’t live in America anymore, and hasn’t for 15 years, and getting a hold of him is a both a difficult, and awkward affair. I grew up without a father and it left a very large hole in my heart for many years. In my adolescence, my mother was often told she was doing “two jobs” by being a mother and a father; Rightly so, my mother remarked that’s simply not true. (Complementarity exists for a reason!) 

Suffice to say, for a very long time, I discovered that this absence of my father had, in fact, created a very large God-shaped hole in my heart. My not being being able to rely on my earthly dad subconsciously translated into difficulty in trusting in God. This dad-shaped hole, in fact, contributed to my lack of trust in The Father in my prayer life for many years. (I came to this realization many years later. Addressing your wounds through prayer, Eucharistic adoration, the mass, good Christ-centered fellowship, and via a good therapist or Catholic therapist is extraordinarily important.) Indeed, as St. Augustine once remarked in his Confessions that, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” It was no accident that one of the themes for one of our Frassati retreats several years ago, during the spring of 2016, was called “Rest for the Restless.”

I became a re-revert to the Church in late 2014. I give myself this term because I came back to the Church in 2009, fell away in 2011, and came back again in late 2014 with the help of the Frassati Fellowship. One of the things I had to teach myself upon becoming a practicing Catholic again was re-learning how to pray and how to trust. I didn’t go to Catholic school; I simply received the sacraments vis-à-vis an after school program for children. On the home front, in my youth, my mother didn’t take her faith very seriously so much of what I was being taught wasn’t really staying in my head. I had little to no Catholic friends growing up. When I came back to the Church five years ago, it felt like I had been transported to a video game produced in the 1980’s. You may know those older ones, like the ones on NES. Some of them had punishingly hard difficulty.  If you lost all of your lives, you wouldn’t continue at the beginning of a level, you’d have to start all over from the very beginning of the game. That’s how I felt, a sort of, “Now what? Everyone knows so much about their faith. I know so little. I feel alone.” Of course, I wasn’t actually alone: Christ was there. But so was Our Lady.

I mentioned that I had difficulty appealing to God in prayer in my younger years because of my own dad-shaped hole. Then I thought about Our Lady and the Rosary. Our Lady doesn’t often speak in the bible, but it’s noteworthy that the very last time she does speak in the gospels, it’s at the Wedding at Cana. The last recorded utterance of Our Lady in the gospels is when she tells the wedding servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). I then thought, “Well, I’m having difficulty going to Our Lord, so I’ll appeal to Our Lady in the hopes I’ll grow closer to Him.” And that’s exactly what happened. As Our Lady led the servants to Our Lord then and appealed to them to listen to Him, Our Lady subsequently did the same with me. Our Lady isn’t just the mother of Christ, but she’s our mom too. And what a wonderful mother she is!  Suffice to say, Our Lady holds a special place in my heart. After so many years away from Our Lord, Our Lady played a part in my own story of coming back to Christ. Now as a Lay Dominican, years later, the significance is all the more palpable: Church history says that Our Lady gave St. Dominic the Rosary! 

Today’s feast is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus.  The title “Mother of God” comes from the Greek Theotokos, which means “God-bearer.”  On this day, we are reminded of the role that Our Lady played in the plan of our salvation. I know that she certainly played a role in mine. Our Lady does in yours, too. Christ’s birth was made possible by Mary’s fiat, or sanctioning of God’s plan with her words, “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).  Calling Mary “Mother of God” is the highest honor any of us can give to her. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace.” As we begin another year, we draw inspiration from the selfless love of the Theotokos, who never hesitated to do the will of God. And we trust in her prayers to God for us, that we might, as the years pass, become more like her. And that we may listen to Our Lord and go to Him. O Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Optional Side note: Some of you may heard of something called Marian Consecration. (It’s really a consecration to Jesus through Mary.) It’s too long to discuss this at length here, but I consecrated myself to Our Lady several years later, in 2017 for the first time. Suffice to say, I was missing out! I myself am doing it again, and I started it again on Christmas. By doing so, you will be placing yourself under the mantle of Mary’s protective care as the Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church, and Mediatrix of All Graces. I humbly implore you to look into that if you haven’t. It will give you so many graces.

References:

Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974.

Marian Consecration Links:

Starting out: 

If you’re looking for something more: