“Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by oral statement or by a letter of ours.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15
This first reading encouraged the followers of the Lord in Thessalonia not to be swayed by outside voices. The words have withstood the passage of time and now we, as children of God, must remain firm in our faith and our beliefs. We must not allow our minds to be filled with the lies promulgated by false prophets and lose hope. It is easy to fall prey to these “outside” voices for they are loud and insistent and constantly bombard all our senses through the different modes of media so pervasive in this modern age. During this pandemic, it has become increasingly hard to attend church and gather together with our fellow believers for support. We are faced with trials we have never experienced before. How do we fight an unfamiliar enemy?
“You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:26
In this passage from today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us a way to fight enemies by turning away from the world and focusing inward. We should allow the fear in our hearts to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into hope and let that hope fill our hearts where the Spirit dwells. Although the outside world may seem out of control, we can control ourselves with the help of God in response to it. If we cleanse the inside of our hearts, we can be an example for others in this troubled world, showing it is possible to “stand firm” in the face of all the evils that come from outside the traditions of our faith.
I remember when I was in elementary school and already consumed by the desire for material things. Recess became a competition for everyone to show off the latest and greatest toy. As I grew older, the “toys” turned into the coolest car or phone, and by the time I graduated from high school, there was an all-out battle to gain admission to the best college, then to have the best job that would make the most money. Looking back and thinking about my initial desires for toys, I realize I never needed those toys. My parents made sure I was always taken care of, but I still remember that feeling of true desperation as far as wanting those toys and the “if only” thoughts that my life would be complete if I had them.
As sinful humans we are bound by these thoughts because we live in a material world. We cannot comprehend the wonders of Heaven because we will not see Heaven until our death. Jesus Christ proclaimed, “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.” We must go to Jesus and ask the same question the disciples asked in the gospel, “Who then can be saved?” Matthew 19:23–30
The truth is that everyone on this earth has cravings; everyone is searching for their desires to be fulfilled, but so many of us do not understand what really satisfies. This makes the way to the kingdom of Heaven very difficult. We see the material goods we desire in our hearts every day, but we need to seek the kingdom of God. The path to wealth and riches is easy when compared to forsaking all our possessions to follow Jesus. Nevertheless, we are blessed because Jesus has promised us wonders beyond what we can imagine in Heaven if we simply follow Him. Jesus asks for our faith and trust; we may not be able to see what awaits us in Heaven, but we need to believe His promise that it will be worth abandoning all earthly pleasures.
A common lament in today’s society is that children are growing up too fast. This opinion is shared by both the Catholic and secular community. Children are faced with several hardships the generations before them never encountered. Children are forced to behave as adults before their physical bodies have matured into adulthood. There are numerous arguments positing why our youth is growing up so quickly, but the problem still remains. Our children are losing their innocence, and even worse, they are losing hope.
When a child has the ability to play and explore his or her world without any preconceived notions of its challenges, that child is free to rest in the Lord. The Gospel today states: “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.” Matthew 18:1-5. The innocence of a child allows him or her to see the kingdom of heaven more clearly because he or she has not lived in this earthly world long enough to have been effected by its sinfulness.
The time of true innocence is becoming shorter for the children of this world. It is in the grip of the enemy, and he is claiming it; the more our society gives into the fear that the enemy instigates, the more children are lost. The Gospel concludes with Jesus referring to the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one that goes astray. “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Matthew 18:14.
In these times of hardship, it is crucial to remember we are still the Lord’s flock, and Jesus is still the Good Shepherd. Even though it appears that more children grow up too fast, as they lose hope and go astray, Jesus will never stop seeking them and encouraging them to come back to the flock. There is always hope in the Lord.
With each new day, the world appears to be confronted with more disasters, increasing chaos and despair. It is hard to hear God’s voice above the turmoil, let alone keep the faith and remain hopeful. We forget that our Heavenly Father is still talking to us. When the terrors of this world are too powerful, and we lose our ability to discern what the Lord is saying, we can turn to the Bible, the Word of God. Consider the first reading for today, Jeremiah 30: 18-20: “Thus says the Lord: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,…You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” No matter what horrors and pain we must endure on earth, one truth will never change and that is the Lord’s promise to always be our God who will never abandon His people.
This promise was not meant to guarantee that life will be easy or simple; in fact, just the opposite is implied. The gospel for the day shows how hard life was for the disciples of the Lord. Matthew 14:22-36 tells the story of the apostles in the midst of a frightening storm while fishing. Just as they had lost all hope of survival, they suddenly see someone drawing close to their boat. How is this possible? Who can walk on water? Peter chooses to focus on Jesus and have faith in Him. Peter leaves the boat and walks on the water toward His Lord; it is only when he becomes distracted and overcome by fear of the storm that he sinks into the waves. Even though Peter lost sight of Jesus, Jesus never lost sight of him.
Jesus would not let Peter drown, nor will He let any of us perish. We are all in the boat with the disciples now–fear surrounds us with no sign of conditions changing for the better. Now is the time to let go of all our fears and seek the Lord, instead of seeking worldly solutions. Jesus is with us and He asks us to get out of the boat and come to Him. We cannot allow our doubt to keep us from Him. Once we get out of the boat and place complete faith in our Lord, we can experience miracles like walking on water.
A few years ago I was telling a friend some difficult things I was going through. After describing my situation and things I was experiencing, she said it sounded like God was digging in deep. He was pulling some weeds, tilling the soil, doing some dirty work… because he was planting something new. He was laying the foundation for a garden.
You know those moments when God finds a way to speak a perfect word to your heart? A word of peace, of joy, of comfort… Whether it comes through the words of a friend, seeing something that speaks to you, or a sense in a chapel or out on a hike, God finds perfect ways to communicate to us. (Which He probably does way more often than I actually pick up on!) Looking back on those words from that friend, I see clearly how God was speaking to me in that moment and how in that time God was laying groundwork for me to step into my vocation of marriage.
Today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the sower, brought me back to the beautiful word my friend gave me years ago and the sense of consolation that came with it. My heart longs to be that of rich soil, not the path, rocky ground, or thorns which do not receive and cultivate the word of God and bear fruit. Jesus’ words have me asking myself, What does it mean to be rich soil? It seems that a heart poised to receiveis key – to receive the words of our Father in prayer, through the Scripture, through a friend or experience. However God comes to us, we must be open to receive Him. In this way the rich soil of our hearts may actually take in, nourish, and give life to the word of God and grow a garden that can bear fruit.
This image of a garden moves me more deeply than I can describe. I have a feeling it is because the Garden is what we were created for. Our hearts were designed to inhabit God’s perfect Garden. There is a deep ache within each of us for that paradise, especially as it represents perfect communion with our Father. Perhaps we can each take a moment today to find the garden God has sown in each of our hearts, where we can meet Him naked and unashamed. We are a work in progress, surrendering again each day to the Gardener’s perfect hand. May we allow Him today to enrich the soil of our hearts and lead us into communion with Him. He wants to walk with us. And in these days of much anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, we must remember He is always walking with us and making our hearts into a garden.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Matthew 9:38
This well-read passage is very familiar to most Christians but the Lord’s word can always reveal new meaning within scripture’s classic quotations such as this one. Our country is finally emerging from its time of quarantine and people now have the option of returning to a physical church building instead of watching a worship service on a screen at home. But will they actually return?
When the first order to stay home and celebrate Mass away from members of my extended family in faith was mandated for all Catholics, I had grand visions of the day when the churches would be open again. I believed it would be a great homecoming. In many ways, the “homecoming” was beautiful, and the peace I received when I was able to return to a church was unlike any I experienced before. Nevertheless, I did not see a “mass” return the first time I went to Mass the weekend my parents’ church in South Carolina was allowed to re-open. Indeed, the church was almost empty. I did not understand why people were not rushing back to attend Mass. The truth is that though restrictions have been lifted, the wounds from COVID-19 are deep and not easily healed. The time away from our physical churches has been full of hardship, suffering and death. It is not surprising that people now question their faith and hesitate before coming back to a church.
I can picture Jesus Christ walking through this world as He did when He traveled through Israel.
“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:37
Our world is hurting and crying out for hope. Jesus implores us, just as He urged His disciples, to go out and reap the harvest. We desperately need our Shepherd and He is here with us; we simply must listen for His voice. COVID-19 allowed fear to spread throughout the world creating chaos, but the Lord can heal us and calm our fears. If we place our faith and trust in Him, there will always be hope; it can never be destroyed
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I joined #rendyourhearts, a community that prayed the rosary, the St. Michael prayer, and the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for peace, justice, reconciliation, and reparation for the sins of racism in our homes, communities, government, and churches for nine days (ending today, June 19).
I’m glad to see that the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City are both in agreement about making Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a holiday. Since that day of emancipation, black Americans still had to continue to fight for full citizenship rights such as voting and integration. The experience that they endured, being treated in a way that denied their human dignity, is an inescapable part of American history.
Pope Francis called out racism for what it is: a sin, since it rips away the dignity of men. He said, “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Let us take time to look into our hearts and pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to have a new heart:
Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
I. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” Behold I knock, I seek, and ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
II. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be To the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
III. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away. ‘ Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours. Hail, Holy Queen….
In the first reading, 1 Kings 7-16, Elijah tells the widow, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.” Elijah was giving instructions to this widow who God intended to provide for him. When Elijah asked for food and water, the widow was terrified. She did not even have enough food for herself and her son, let alone Elijah. Despite this fear, however, she followed Elijah’s instructions. As a result, from then on, her jug of oil never ran dry and she never ran out of flour in her jar.
Keeping faith in the Lord is hard when what He tells you doesn’t make sense. In these current times, faith in the Lord is difficult to maintain. There are many people who can empathize with the widow when she was faced with Elijah’s request. The widow even told Elijah that she and her son were going to die; she had lost all hope. The trials of our world today give rise to increasing hopelessness each day, and not being able to receive the holy sacraments in our churches has not made it easier for any of us to hear the Lord’s voice and to follow His will. Now is the time to conquer this fear. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said. Sometimes all we need to hear is this phrase, even if we have no idea what is going to happen. The reassurance of these words renews our desire to live and carry on.
The Gospel reading asks us to take this desire a step further: not only are we to lose our fear; we are called to be examples to others who are afraid. When conditions in our lives seem to be at their worst, we must reveal our faith to the world and to be a light in its darkness. Jesus said, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Over the past few months, this world has been cast into darkness and people are falling victim to fear. When fear is so dominant, it can be challenging to rise above despair, but we have our faith and we can trust in it. We can be the change necessary to shine light in the darkness.
O Lord, great peace have they who love your law (Ps 119:165a)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” The great crowd heard this with delight. (MK 12:35-37)
King David had his monarchy, his jewels, his gold, his army. King David would reside as judge over civil disobedience, civil disputes, civil disorder. He would be the one to give the command when Israel’s soldiers went into battle. He held power. But King David knew that there was someone even more powerful than himself! He knew that there was someone who has complete authority over the laws of man’s heart. That person is God. We know this to be true because even the king of Israel himself calls him “lord.” By calling him “lord,” David is acknowledging that God is more powerful. No law that King David would write in decree would ever be above God’s law. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
This is important to remember. Power and platforms that yield authority can become idols. And by following these idols we walk away from God and the law of God that is self-sacrificial love, agape.
We are meant to live in community. Our goal is to be in heaven where we will be in perfect communion with the Trinity and all the angels and saints. While we are on earth, we should be living our lives striving for heaven, as best we can in communion with all our brothers and sisters. Not just a certain group or a particular “kind of person” but everyone. The book of Revelation tells us that in heaven there is a great multitude from every race, nation, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9). God did not create man to be alone. And one of the hardest truths is that we cannot attain salvation alone, for we are indeed meant to be keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The Catholic Church’s social teachings are the best biblical “cheat-sheets” on how to live in society and in communion with God at the same time. It shows us how to be model citizens, how to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and how to be disciples of Jesus—we need to be all of these things at the same time. There are seven themes to Catholic Social Teaching, and you cannot explicitly talk about just one without touching upon the next theme because they are all rooted in the love of God. But for right now, let’s talk about solidarity.
We are one family, one human race, one body in Christ. It does not matter what ethnicity you are or what your cultural background is; it doesn’t even matter what religion you practice (I know, this one shocked me the most!). We are all loved by God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To genuinely believe that we are all one in Christ is to acknowledge that, no matter our differences, something inside each of us is exactly the same. This is the dignity of being human: that each one of us is formed by God and created in the same image and likeness of God.
We believe that every human life is precious from conception to natural death. Racism is an evil that disrespects the sanctity of life. It is a sin that puts brother against brother, sister against sister. It is a sin that breaks our communion with God and neighbor because we falsely perceive that someone, by the way they look, is inferior and non-deserving of a dignified life. The basics of a dignified life are universal because they were first given by God: the right to have food, to have shelter, to be clothed, to maintain your health, to be able to participate in just labor. I ask that you reflect on Adam and Eve when they left the garden. God did not forget about them. Even after the pain of their sin God properly clothed them, allowed continued dominion over animals, gave them a job on tilling the soil, provided food. These were not privileges that they had earned; rather, they were human rights that God granted to them simply because they existed. Sadly, in today’s society essential rights are not always given to everyone by their governments, making it difficult for everyone to be perceived as equal. Unlike in today’s Gospel —where King David, the civic law maker of Israel, acknowledged that God’s law was above his own laws as king—most governing authorities today do not seek God’s law above their own. However, as Christians, it is our duty to place God’s law first and foremost in our lives. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
Perhaps you do not cross the street when you see a black person walking on the same sidewalk as you. Perhaps you had never looked at a black person and automatically assumed that they were trouble. Perhaps you did not automatically think “uneducated” when hearing a black person speak or you did not assume “they do not belong” when seeing a black person in a nice suburban neighborhood. But what did you do about the person who did make these judgements? Did you correct them? Did you instruct them on the principles of the Gospel? Living the faith is actively loving your neighbor as God loves them, which means standing up for the sanctity of every individual human life. The Bible, Tradition, and Catholic Social Teaching all instruct us to take care of one another—why are we failing at this? Are we afraid to speak up, afraid to do something, afraid to demand change of the injustice and oppression of our brothers and sisters? We are indifferent toward racism in our society because it might not necessarily affect us. We may think racism is wrong, but we do not live out the Gospel to stop racism from happening. Joining a peaceful protest might not be for you, that is fine. But the Holy Spirit that is in all of us has given you particular gifts—use them. Write a reflection to bring awareness, coordinate a judgment-free zone where members of your community can voice their concerns, donate to organizations that help the oppressed or the wrongly convicted, read books, support black-owned business, join intercessory prayer teams, ask your priests to give more homilies that are specific on the sin of racism, volunteer in places that value the dignity of the black man who is poor and the black woman who is sick. I am being specific on how to use your gifts for the good that enhances the black community. Please, do not misinterpret this and think that no other ethnic group is important or needs help—this is not the case. We all need the mercy of God. But we cannot shout over each other about who is the most oppressed.
A mother with five children loves them all, feeds them all, clothes them all, takes care of them all. But when one of her children falls in the playground and breaks their leg, when the child is in pain and crying and full of blood—the mother rushes to that one child and gives them special attention, takes them to the emergency room to fix their wound, soothes their pain, reassures them that they will be okay. She is gentle with them and reminds them that they are loved. Does this extra attentive care take away from her love for the other four children? No.
Do not be afraid of the words “social justice.” The word “justice” is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible over and over. Our God is just and merciful. He will bring justice to those who are righteous. To seek justice is to render to someone his or her due as it was first given to them directly by God. We need to talk openly and honestly about racism without making it political. Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a universal sin that is rooted in hate and contradicts the teachings of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. This problem is not political. I refer once again to today’s Gospel where the King of Israel acknowledged that God’s laws are greater than his laws. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
The Devil is very intelligent; he is manipulative and conniving. He takes things that are good and twists and corrupts them into evil. He enjoys doing this because then it disrupts the person from continuing to do God’s will. Out of every strong movement in which the public wants pure change that will ultimately bring humanity closer together the Devil gets involved and makes havoc of it. He has us focus on the violence. He has us angry at the riots. He has us condemning the looting. He has us extremely ticked off that social distancing is all of a sudden out the door. And we should not dismiss any of those concerns. Most people would agree that violence and destruction are not the proper way for change. However, the Devil is very intelligent, because now he has us upset at our brothers and sisters; he has us ignoring the root of the sin, which is racism; he has us turned against one another; and he is winning at breaking apart our family and taking souls away from God. The Devil will always try to infiltrate a place in which there is potential for great good and conversion of hearts. Let us not allow the complexities of these events to distract from our responsibility to condemn the sin of racism at their core. Pray that we will be able to identify the enemy.
George Floyd, a black American man, was made in the image and likeness of God. His life was precious and belonged to God alone. It was wrongfully taken away. So many lives, in our country and around the world, have been wrongly taken away. The tragedy needs to end. Faith assures me that the deaths of so many black men and women is not in vain and will give way to black saints.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring
As I consider the sadness and struggles of this pandemic time, I can identify with Frodo’s sentiment. Three months ago, I truly couldn’t have fathomed a world where friends didn’t gather, people couldn’t go in to work, children didn’t attend school in person, and families stayed home… where shops, restaurants, and theaters were dark… where hugs had to become air hugs from 6 feet apart. The tragic reality of illness has shaken the social and emotional fabric at the core of humanity.
As much as I identify with Frodo, I find equal inspiration and encouragement in Gandalf’s response. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us (Tolkien). We have received everything from an all-powerful, loving, and merciful Creator. Everything we have and everything we are has been bestowed on us by God. Our very creation is a gift from Him that we have received. So also, we have received from Him our identity and our mission. Our identity in Him, our relationship with our Heavenly Father is the core from which all else flows. And He has created you and me for a purpose, for a mission. We don’t get to choose the time in which we live, but we can choose to receive our mission from God, the one who chose to create us in this specific earthly time and place. Frodo may not have initially loved receiving the mission he was given, but he chose to receive it. He chose to move forward each and every day of the adventure, saying yes to the mission he was given.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ words echo a similar sentiment:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
God has created each of us in this specific time for a specific purpose and mission. It seems He is giving us an opportunity to mature in our faith… Jesus associates maturity with greater surrender and selflessness, a disposition of being led rather than leading oneself. The Gospel tells us Jesus says this signifying His death and how it will glorify God. It is not a sin to be upset, hesitant, or genuinely wish God had not put us where we are. We also know we are limited in our humanity. We cannot see the bigger picture. And Jesus, the Son of God, received the greatest mission of all. His receptivity and acceptance of his mission restored all of creation to its Creator.
We all have a part to play in the story of salvation. Our piece of the puzzle is here and now. We can partake in the ongoing movement of humanity toward God. We may wish that a pandemic “need not have happened” in our time. But we know who our God is. We know He is good. We know He gave His only Son for our salvation, and we know that by Christ’s death, suffering has become redemptive.
So knowing these truths, we must ask God for the grace to be grateful that we are living in such a time as this. For we know He has created each of us and gifted us life in this time for a purpose and for an ultimate good. We must decide “what to do with the time that is given us.”
Christ’s words from the Gospel that I mentioned above were to signify “by what kind of death he would glorify God.” Christ willingly received His mission from the Father out of a heart of love. So too, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us receive our mission and decide what to do with the time given us by God from a posture of love for our good Father. From where we stand, it may not look appealing, comfortable, safe or sane, but when the Father calls us out of the boat He is our security and He will not forsake us. The Gospel passage concludes: “And when he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.'”
Let us decide what to do with the time we are given. Let us follow Him.