We all want to be loved. To be wanted, and desired, and cherished. It’s this innermost longing to find someone in which we can be our most authentic selves and at peace. I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy movie. In the movie the plot is more or less the same; some couple (not yet together) try to follow this “longing” in their hearts to be loved and they stumble, fall, miss the very obvious signs, turn left when they should have gone right and somehow they end up broken-hearted. This is the part in the movie which is meant to make you go into your feelings—the main character has almost missed out on their one true love when suddenly there is this huge declaration of love and a happy ending.
Oddly enough, those “sad” moments in the rom-com are some of the most important in the entire movie. The main character is tested, they go through trials, they figure out what truly is important to them, and when they figure out what truly matters they leave all the other pleasures and fun distractions behind to go get their love. Rom-com’s are entertaining.
Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates the immensity of the love that Jesus has for us. In the “rom-com” of my life I would be running all over NYC oblivious to Jesus inviting me to rest in him. When I am exhausted and overworked I would turn around—bumbing straight into him—and there would be Jesus holding his heart in his hands, outstretched for me to take it. This scene of my personal rom-com is on rerun quite often. But every single time I turn around and see Jesus, he gives me his heart and reminds me how much he loves me.
Jesus loves YOU. He wants you, desires you, and cherishes you. The heart of Jesus longs to be with YOU.
In the second reading today, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts! It is the power and strength of God’s love within us that gives us courage to live righteous lives, with the true knowledge that we are beloved children. The grandeur of God’s love for us is something that goes beyond human comprehension. God gives us everything that is good for us—all represented in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He loved us first.
Pope Francis, in one of his homilies, tells us that “Jesus teaches us the kind of attitude a Christian should have; it is all about carrying on God’s own work in your own small way: that is feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, visiting the sick and the prisoner.”1 Our friend, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, carried the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside him in this way. Frassati dedicated his short young life to helping those in need and performing the corporal works of mercy that “pave the path of love that Jesus teaches us in continuity with God’s great love for us!”2
God loves you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you. To be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to care about the same things that Jesus cared about—the dignity and salvation of everyone around him. When you turn around and suddenly bump into Jesus holding out his heart to you, take it! Hold it tight and close to your own heart. He wants you to have his heart. He wants you to know that you will always be loved. Friend, that love flows so rich and deep that when we accept it it will overflow like rushing waters and we will want to share it with everyone around us.
Oh Lord, give me a heart like Jesus.
1. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018
2. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018
3. Image Credit: Jose Luis Castrillo. Cor Jesu Sacatissimim III. 2020.
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.”
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?
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.
Jesus raised His eyes to heaven, gave glory to God, and prayed for you.
Take some time and let that sink in. Jesus prayed to the Father for you. He prayed for your protection and for you to have eternal life alongside Him and the Father. Jesus wants you in heaven with Him. He loves you! Of course He has set aside a place for you in heaven.
“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” (JN 17:3)
I want to point out the very radical word that Jesus is using in His prayer: “Father.” In first-century Palestine, the Jewish people believed in one God but, they falsely believed Him to be a distant God, someone who was worshiped from afar. Jesus changed all this. By God becoming human an intense intimacy was established between God and mankind through His son, Jesus. Jesus expressed the greatness of this intimacy by calling God Father. And we call Him Father as well.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling the Father how He carried out His will: Jesus glorified God on earth with everything God gave Him, He taught the disciples about God’s love and mercy, and the disciples have come to accept and understand the words of Jesus. Notice this subtle exchange: God gives to Jesus, Jesus gives to the disciples, the disciples give back to Jesus, Jesus gives back to God.
We not only see the intimacy between the Father and Jesus—we also see the intimacy that is called forth between the disciples AND the Father and Jesus. We are called into that holy union. We are called because we are loved, and it is the Holy Spirit that unites us in communion. The Spirit is the one to reveal to us the true revelation of Christ, the love of the Father. The Spirit is the One sent to us while we remain in this world, preparing for eternal life. Jesus knew it would be hard for us. He knew exactly how hard it would be for us because His humanity lived and experienced the hardships of the same world we live in.
Jesus fully knew that He would be scourged, ridiculed, mocked, spat upon, humiliated, beaten, stripped naked, and crucified. Even so, He asked God to glorify Him in His death so that His humanity would have the strength to carry the Cross to Calvary. “I pray for them”—this is what Jesus told the Father before His Passion because He wanted us, in our own fragile humanity, to also have strength to carry our own crosses in this world.
When you think that you are weak and defeated from the constant struggles in this life, know that it is the enemy that wants to keep you down. You are strong because you are loved by God, the Father and Jesus Christ. You are a beloved and precious child. You will succeed in carrying your cross because you are filled with the same Spirit.
In the Old Testament Jacob has a dream about a ladder that went all the way to heaven and God’s angels were going up and down on it. Climb that ladder. Just as our Father isn’t some faraway God, He is intimately close to us—heaven is close as well. The gates to heaven were opened wide with the blood of Jesus. You are called to heaven, to sainthood, to eternal life.
What is eternal life? It’s a gift from God, a gift made full by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift completed by our self-giving back to God. Eternal life is the perfect life in communion and love with the Trinity (CCC 1024).
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. O Lord, hear my prayer, And let my cry come to you. Hide not your face from me In the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; In the day when I call, answer me speedily. —Psalm 102:2–3
The responsorial psalm for today is piercing through my soul. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis in the world, how many of us are crying out to the Lord in distress, praying for a miracle? Many of us. How many of us might be feeling anxiety, fear, and loneliness? Many of us. How many of us are clinging to faith in this time of uncertainty? I hope, too, that the answer is many of us.
The last time in which I celebrated communion, I did not know it would be “the last time.” I had accepted the Body of Christ and rejoiced in a beautiful Holy Hour. I remember feeling FULL, feeling HAPPY, feeling THANKFUL. I am holding on to those feelings of peace as I obediently wait for the church doors to be opened to the public again. But, as I wait, I know that the Church is ALIVE. I know that God the Father loves all His children. I know that Jesus Christ has won.
In today’s first reading, the people of Israel were complaining about the manna bread that God had given them to eat in the desert. They had been wandering in the desert for years, only eating of the miraculous manna bread that fell from heaven to sustain their lives. Yes, they were in the hot and lonely desert. Yes, they did not have a variety of food to choose from. But the people of Israel failed to see the good within the situation that they were in; they had much to be thankful for. First, they were freed from slavery in Egypt—they had been enslaved for 400 years and God broke their chains. Second, they had food and water—the manna bread does not naturally grow in the desert; it was bread from heaven that God provided for His children to eat so they’d be nourished and remain strong. And have you heard of this rolling rock that just followed them in the desert and provided water?
As humans sometimes we tend to only focus on the bad and choose to sit with it. We neglect to acknowledge all the good that God has already done in our lives. And at times, even in the midst of living in the good of life, we fail to give proper thanks to God. The people of Israel eventually realized their sin in complaining against God and asked for mercy. God then instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole; anyone who had previously been ill had only to look at the mounted serpent and would be healed.
How interesting that God chose the image of a serpent to be mounted on the pole. A serpent was the creature that manipulated Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, causing the fall of mankind. A serpent, representative of sin; that is what the people of Israel looked at to be healed—their sins hung on a wooden pole. We also need to look at our own sin. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings, acknowledge when we complain against God and ask for mercy. We need to look at Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. We need to see the Son of God sacrificed for our salvation. Look at the cross, walk towards it, lay all that is weighing you down at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus heal you.
Throughout the bad that is present in the world, we must keep faith to that which is good. Our faith tells us that the battle is already won. Jesus Christ died and was nailed to a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Love has won.
These are very difficult and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has affected all of us. But have faith, the Church remains alive. Pray and invite God into your life for peace. The people of Israel asked for prayer—I encourage you to submit your prayer intentions HERE so that, as one body in Christ, we can pray for you as well.
A few weeks ago, I was teaching a group of 7th graders about ownership. We talked about land and property: the homes they lived in, the clothing they wore, the cellphones they had. At the beginning of the discussion they had given me a list of a few items they each owned. As the conversation progressed they realized that none of the property they used was actually their own. It all belonged to their parents, but as their children, they are able to enjoy these possessions.
In the book of Genesis, God creates everything into existence. He made light, the earth, the sky, vegetation, animals, and mankind. He made everything and everything was good. As God is the creator of all things, so, rightfully, He is the owner of all things. Everything belongs to God, and we have been gifted the opportunity to be His stewards, to use all of what He has created and bear fruit.
Today’s Gospel talks about ownership and stewardship. Jesus is telling the chief priests and elders of the people the parable of the tenants. A landowner planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When the landowner sent servants and even his own son to collect the produce from his land, the tenants killed them. Jesus asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
We are all tenants in this life. Everything that we have was given to us by God. Today’s society might not agree, and you may hear echoes of “this is my land,” “my body,” “I worked for this.” The truth is that the land we occupy was created by God, your body was created by God and in His image, and all your possessions have been delivered into your hands by God. It is right that we thank Him. Through His divine plan, we have been given different gifts and we must use those gifts for good: to bear fruit. If you find yourself in a position of power, use your platform for the common good. If you find that you’ve been granted material wealth, use it wisely and in consideration of those in need. If you’re a part of a ministry/group/organization in which they look towards you for leadership, be prudent in how you lead that you may lead others to the Kingdom of heaven.
As everything in our lives is a gift, it is also leased out to us—waiting for the rightful owner to come back and obtain the produce that was cultivated. Jesus warns us about being a tenant with empty hands: “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” Whatever gift (big or small) you’ve been given from God, He wants you to use it and fully enjoy it, while at the same time producing fruits—that is, building up the Kingdom and bringing people closer to God.
Two pots were on the stove, both were empty. My grandmother had just finished portioning out dinner for everyone; a little bit of white rice and one piece of meat. Simple. There was no fancy side dish. No stewed beans. No green salad. The rice that was boiled and the meat that was cooked was measured out exactly to feed the nine people that lived under one roof. Simple. Small. Sufficient.
One night I came home with an unexpected guest. I hadn’t told my family that I was bringing my friend, and so dinner—already scarce and proportioned out—was not made to include her. Already knowing the answer would be no, I asked my grandmother if there was any extra food that she may eat. I remember seeing a quick flash of emotions in my grandmother’s eyes: shock and anger, sadness and concern.
“There isn’t any more food left,” she told me, “but we can take a little from our plates and make her a portion.”
Today’s Gospel is about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. This miracle is so grand at showing the mighty hand of God that it’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Friends, this should immediately tell you something: in our faith, community and communion are important. We attend Mass, we pray and worship as one body. We receive the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ together.
After much work, Jesus and the twelve disciples had gone into the desert to be alone and rest. The crowds of people saw them leave and followed. They went by foot, which was a longer and harder journey, and followed Jesus into the desert. They wanted to be near Jesus, to be healed by Jesus and through him know God. They wanted this so badly that they traveled to a place that was far away, isolated and alone. The disciples told Jesus to dismiss the people so that the people could find their own food. Jesus did not agree to this. For some unknown reason the disciples were not speaking with reason—God never walks away from His people. He is with them through everything. Just as God was with the chosen people of Israel providing for them in the desert for 40 years, so too God will provide for His people here and now. After wrongly suggesting that the people be dismissed, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people themselves. Naturally the disciples question this, just as we question all the obstacles in our own lives in disbelief that we cannot overcome them. How can we possibly feed so many people? How am I supposed to do this? But something beautiful happens. The disciples give Jesus the very little food they had, five loaves of bread and two fish (now being without any food themselves) and Jesus performs a miracle.
“Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish.”
How similar is this to the blessing Jesus said at the Last Supper? How similar are these words to the liturgy of the Eucharist? They are one and the same. It is the same God speaking then and now. It is the same grace and the same love. The Gospel tells us that Jesus fed 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Now given that approximately half the population is women, let’s double that number and add a few thousand more for the underage children. That number in your head, multiply it by two and double it again and multiply it by itself (yes, a little bit of math here). The new large number in your head, it’s still itty-bitty small compared to the love our God has for you.
I remember my grandmother taking from the very little we had and sharing it with someone she did not know. I learned a valuable lesson that day. We didn’t have much in material possessions and at times we didn’t even have enough food, but grandma’s heart was gentle when it came to feeding people. Every time I cook I am reminded of my family. Every time I cook I do so with love—because God is love—hoping that by inviting those to my home I not only feed the physical body but also help in feeding the spiritual body.
God is good. He fed the people in the desert before they entered Canaan. He fed the people throughout Jesus’ ministry. He continues to feed His people as we await for the Second Coming. God feeds us with everything we need. Give yourself completely to Jesus. Give him the little that you have and watch how he multiplies it: an overabundance of grace. God always provides. Share it with others.
“We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”
When I used to hear the word “servant,” I thought of it as a dirty word. I thought a servant was someone without any authority, someone very low in class and poor, someone who had no choice but to do the work for others. My definition and understanding of who’s a servant was completely wrong. Jesus Christ came to earth not “to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28). As we are called to imitate Christ, we are called to be servants—that is, to be devout and faithful followers of Christ.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, and to each of us, telling us that we should do what is commanded by God without complaining and without expecting to be praised. This might be difficult for many to take in as we all want to be seen and given due credit for whatever small deed we do. We attach our names to absolutely everything so the world can see: out of my kindness, out of my brilliance, out of my skills, out of my popularity, I did that. On the other side of the spectrum, when things aren’t to our standard, we complain. We let the world know that we are not satisfied, that we are upset and angry, that we demand things to be as we want them to be. Neither of these characteristics are pleasing to God. We are servants of the Lord. What is pleasing to God is for us to follow His commands and be in accordance with His will. By doing this we show our love for God.
How can we be good servants? By serving as Jesus Christ served. We should take care of the poor, the sick, the hungry, those who mourn. We should be meek and humble. We should follow righteousness. We should be merciful and pure of heart. We should be peacemakers and stand firm in front of persecution. I learned that this is the true definition of what it means to be a servant: a devout and faithful follower of Christ.
In the catechism it states that the religious and ministers of the Church are servants of God. The pope’s proper title is servant of the servants of God. And one of the first steps in the canonization of a saint is to pronounce them as a servant of God to the entire world. I mean, whoa, think about that. To be a saint in heaven, you will first take a title that the secular world walks all over: servant.
We are all unprofitable servants, this is true. Because everything good is due to God alone. But God is not like the man in the parable who is not grateful that his servant is being obedient. After the servant finishes plowing and tending the sheep, his master orders him to serve food and drink. The servant’s work never ends, and he is not rewarded. As servants of the Lord, our work never ends either, but this is because we never stop being faithful followers of Christ! Our mission is to always preach and worship His good name. We will continue to plow and plant seeds of faith. We will continue to tend the sheep and build up the Church. The difference is that our God sees the work we do for Him, and He loves us. When we enter the gates of heaven, our Lord will joyously tell us, “come here immediately and take your place at table.” We all have a place at His table, and we will celebrate with a great heavenly banquet filled in abundance with food and drink.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing so much good, so many miracles and teachings that people take notice and Jesus becomes, if you may say, a popular guy. Because of his popularity Herod wanted to know who he was. Who was this person everyone was talking about? The crowds didn’t quite know exactly who Jesus was. Some thought he was John the Baptist. Others thought he was Elijah or another ancient prophet risen. They may not have gotten his name correct but, one thing sticks out, they associated Jesus with good things. In the parallel passage in Matthew, Herod says that “mighty powers are at work in him” because he resembled John the Baptist. But, it’s not Jesus who is like John.
It was John who was like Jesus.
It was Elijah who was like Jesus.
It was Moses who was like Jesus.
People knew these great prophets and knew of the good they did. The people associated the mighty works that Jesus was doing with the good works of the prophets before him because John the Baptist, Elijah and Moses all did good works that reflected God. Jesus as second person of the trinity is God.
As a young child I remember going on field trips and being told that we needed to be on our best behavior because we represented the school. As an adult I’m being told that my demeanor at meetings and conferences reflects back on my company. Recently at a Frassati meeting for our next mission trip (Jamaica 2020!) we had a conversation on how the laity set the example for the religious which we invite to mission with us. This made me stop and ponder. We are the ones to set the example. Have you thought about how your actions constitute how someone views the Church? We represent something so much greater than schools or businesses, we represent God. Jesus told us to behave in such a way that when people saw us and witnessed our good deeds they would glorify our Heavenly Father.
Look in the mirror. Do you see Jesus?
Live your life in such a righteous way that those who do not know God may come to know Him through you.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest… and He more or less gives two answers. (Jesus is very clever like that.) The first commandment is the greatest and “the second is like it.”
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Jesus teaches us that
loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul is inherently connected to
I recently listened to a Catholic podcast on hospitality (for link to the podcast episode, see below or click here – I highly recommend listening!). This has had me thinking and praying… What does hospitality mean for us as Christians and what does it look like lived out? I know it can look different for each person, depending on stage of life, vocation, etc, so it calls us to pray about what it looks like for each of us. But at its heart, hospitality is a universal Christian call. One of the priests on the podcast makes a beautiful connection between hospitality and receptivity. In fact, ‘warm reception’ is a synonym for hospitality. This receptivity, or openness, is not only at the heart of a hospitable person who opens their door to warmly welcome a visitor, but also at the heart of the visitor who openly accepts (receives) this gesture. Being hospitable doesn’t require a perfectly clean home, the ability to cook a fabulous meal, or having a guest room – it requires a heart open to a visitor, or any person you encounter. At the heart of Christian hospitality is a quality of being present to the person and the moment. Thusfar, I’ve spoken of hospitality in specific terms of welcoming a guest, which is what I initially think of when I hear the word. While this is a very tangible and beautiful example of hospitality, it is a specific example and many of us can think hospitality doesn’t really apply to us unless we often welcome visitors into our home. (Though I do hope we will think of these things the next time we do host a friend or family member in town).
The Christian essence of hospitality is its sacrificial and serving nature. It’s the sacrifice of your time, your energy, yourself to receive another person, even, and especially, when it’s unexpected or last minute. This can happen with a visitor from out of town, or a stranger at church who strikes up a conversation maybe looking for someone to talk to for a moment, or something as simple as being present and receptive to the person working the register at the coffee shop or grocery store. For many of us, welcoming visitors into our homes may not happen often, but we all encounter strangers, acquaintances, friends, family – others – everyday. These are all our neighbors. Our current cultural challenge is to be present or to be receptive to our neighbors… to love our neighbors… to welcome each as though he or she is Christ. This can be more simple than we think. Making eye contact with the person ringing up my coffee order, instead of checking my phone. Saying hello to her and asking “how’s your day?” Taking a moment to ask an acquaintance at church or work how he is doing. Being receptive to those around us, as Christ is to us in every moment. The two commandments Christ speaks of today are so interwoven because loving God is to receive from Him… and this moves us to love to our neighbors. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we are transformed to see every person for who they are – a soul loved by God, a soul whose very human nature reflects God. We see Christ in them. And we learn to welcome them as such.
In our culture of inwardness, where it is easier to stay inside of ourselves, in our bubble, and not extend ourselves out into the reality around us, we can easily begin to lose touch with our call and ability to be present. This not only challenges our ability to extend hospitality, but also to receive the hospitality of others. We feel bad if someone offers to help us…we don’t want to inconvenience them…it will be easier to just take care of this on our own… We are uncomfortable receiving. (Listen to the podcast for more on this). This doesn’t mean we must forgo all sense of personal boundaries and, for instance, lose the ability to end a conversation when necessary or decline a visitor at a truly inconvenient time for your family. Though, if we fail to practice and become aware of how to live hospitality and receptivity in our day-to-day lives, we may miss opportunities to share Christ’s warm reception and hospitality with others when He is calling us to. It can be a great challenge to stay present to our reality. But it is in this very reality that we meet God and others. This is the receptive heart of hospitality – being present to opportunities, big or small, to serve another.
It may just be my perception… reading through my modern lenses and bias… but in the first reading today, I perceived Naomi being uncomfortable with Ruth joining her. As though it would be easier if Ruth stayed with her native people and Naomi was able to go on her journey alone. But Ruth has a heart full of love for God and wants to be with her mother-in-law Naomi out of her total love – heart, mind, and soul – for the Lord. His love takes us outside of ourselves and our inner worlds and connects us to each other in the tangible world. It leads us to our neighbors. But the source of this kind of service must be the love of God. We must first allow ourselves to receive His love so we can emulate this authentic love to our neighbors.
As the Lord leads each of us into our vocation, our mission, or as He guides those of us already in our vocation, I pray we are each given opportunities to extend Christian hospitality in many ways. Some days it may be sacrificing time you ‘need’ to get something done to be present to a friend, a parent, your spouse or child, or a fellow friar or sister in your community. And sometimes it may be hosting visitors you know through a friend of a friend and welcoming them into your imperfect (maybe even slightly disorganized) home with the respect and attentiveness you’d give to Christ. The Christian host is not defined by the perfection of her home, but by the warmth and openness of her heart. But a Christian does not have to own a home to be hospitable or to be a host in the Spirit of Christ. He can be a young person, living anywhere, who extends a warm, open heart to those he encounters.
Let’s pray together for an awareness of what Christian hospitality can look like for each of us – in our individual stages of life, in our vocations, or wherever we are on our path of discerning our vocations and the mission God is calling us to.
Lord, how are you calling me to be more hospitable in my life? How can I be more receptive of others? Help me to receive your love more deeply into the crevices of my heart, mind, and soul. Transform me and conform me to your heart, so I may understand what it means to be truly hospitable, to truly love my neighbor. Thank you, Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray all of these things. Amen.