Be Made Clean

This past Wednesday we celebrated Three Kings Day. It’s the day when Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar finally finished their long journey and found the newborn King. I imagine that they saw baby Jesus sound asleep, wrapped snugly in Mary’s arm. So pure, so sweet, so innocent. Some cooing and ahhs (because who can resist baby-talk in front of a baby?). Their hearts would have strongly leaped in their chests at the joy of seeing the messiah, their eyes filled with that longing of pure love.

That intense look of love is the same longing Jesus would have had in his eyes as he looked upon the face of the leper. In today’s reading, a man with leprosy fell prostrate at seeing Jesus walk by him. The leper, without having met Jesus before but having heard of him, came to believe in him and asked to be cleaned. That was how strong the leper’s faith was, that he pleaded with a man he never met before but fully believed that Jesus would be able to clean him.

In the Bible, being made clean is so much more than just looking nice or taking a bath. Being clean is being presentable in front of God. One would not think of going to an important job interview in ragged and dirty clothing. It is customary in western culture to go in a suit. One would not expect to see a bride walking down the church aisle in jeans and a T-shirt. It’s expected she would be wearing a wedding gown. We dress appropriately for the occasion. Likewise, we must be made clean and “dress” appropriately to be before God. But this isn’t the type of clothing that you can go to the department store and buy; you won’t find this on clearance. Only Jesus can dress you for this occasion, just as the leper knew that only Jesus could make him clean.

[The leper] fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”

I imagine Jesus looking into the leper’s eyes, tenderly and lovingly. The leper’s heart strongly thumping in his chest. The warmth and intensity of Jesus’ healing hand on the leper’s skin at being touched for the first time. When the world told the leper he was weak, an outcast, and disposable. The love of Jesus showed him that he was beloved, wanted, and deserving of a dignified and righteous life. 

Jesus willed to clean the leper. He wanted the leper to be clean. He wants all of us to be made clean. To be holy and without blemish, so that we can be in the presence of God in heaven. It does not matter how long our journey to find the newborn King may be taking (even the magi took a wrong turn and ended up at King Herod’s palace). The important thing is to continue the journey, to know the love of Jesus, and ask him to make us clean.

leper
Image Credit: Jesus cleaning the leper [Public Domain]

A God Who Surprises

At that time,
John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask,
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 
When the men came to the Lord, they said,
“John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask,
‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”
At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits;
he also granted sight to many who were blind. 
And Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

—Luke 7:18B–23

Amongst the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, there was much confusion about the identity of John the Baptist and the identity of the Messiah. Even after witnessing Jesus’s miracles, many still doubted Him. But John the Baptist, who was fully rooted in the Scriptural context of the Messiah, would have been highly attuned to all the signs of the Messiah’s arrival. When Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized, John recognized Him immediately as the One whom the Scriptures foretold, the One who anointed him in his mother’s womb, the One whose sandals he was not worthy to untie.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see John the Baptist send messengers to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah they have been awaiting. At this point in the Gospel, John had already met and baptized Jesus. Why, then, is John questioning Jesus’s identity?

We don’t know fully what was going on in John’s heart and mind when he sent those messengers, but we do know that by that point he was in prison. Alone, facing the end of his public ministry, he heard news of the miracles Jesus had been performing. Perhaps he found himself wondering if he had correctly understood God’s call, since languishing in prison was not how he had expected things to go. Maybe there was more that God needed him to do. Or perhaps these reports of Jesus were surprising even to him, and he wondered if there was something he was missing, something he didn’t quite understand. He desired to be faithful until the end to the mission God had given him, and so he sought confirmation that he was following the right path.

John knew that God had called him to be a herald of the Messiah and to prepare the way of the Lord, but today’s Gospel reading reveals that while he knew his purpose within God’s plan, he didn’t know the details of how God would unveil that plan in its entirety. This underscores for us what complete trust John had in God. He couldn’t see the big picture, but he remained ever faithful to his own role, trusting that God would handle the rest. Today’s reading gives us a perfect example of faith seeking understanding. When John struggled to fully understand what he had heard, when he found himself wrestling with questions, he went straight to the Source, to Jesus Himself.

As modern Christians, we profess a much greater understanding of who Christ is. But to those who awaited the Messiah, Jesus was surprising. He fulfilled the messianic prophecies, but He did not fit all the people’s expectations. The prophecies of Isaiah foretell a Savior who would bring liberation, healing, and joy, but Isaiah never quite understood that this Messiah would be God Himself, the Word become Flesh, humbled to become for us a little child, sharing in our humanity.

God comes to us in a quiet moment, when we least expect it. He defies all our expectations and surprises us with joy. During this season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, let us also prepare for Christ’s coming in our own lives by looking to the example of John the Baptist. If we stay in relationship with Jesus, bringing to Him all that is in our hearts, then we will recognize Him when He comes. And if we are rooted in faith and trust in God, then we just might be able to let God surprise us with something far beyond our expectations.


Image: Giovanni di Paolo, Saint John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Two Disciples / PD-US

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.

Trust in Jesus to the End

Today’s first reading is about Stephen’s martyrdom. Stephen was stoned to death for defending the teachings of Jesus Christ. He stood up tall and he stood up proud to say what was not of God and what was from God. He proclaimed the good news until his last breath. What a man full of courage. It was the Holy Spirit that guided him to fulfill his mission. I read this scriptural passage and I wonder, was he not afraid? Did he not fear for his life? Did he not worry about the outcome of his actions? Above these questions I think, wow, this man, Stephen, had incredible faith. We have seen the power of incredible faith in many saints who were martyred after him. One thing they all have in common is that they trust in Jesus Christ.

Do you trust in Jesus Christ? Do you fully trust Him? Do you trust that He loves you and will provide for you? Do you trust that He knows and understands your suffering? Do you trust in His promise of everlasting life? All of this the martyred saints believed, giving all their trust and love in Jesus.

During these unprecedented times we should also fully trust in Jesus. The main conversation taking place is around COVID-19: people being infected, people dying, people being worried and filled with anxiety. We question everything around us and everyone who is in authority. Fear and anger have made us mistrust one another. Let’s center back to Jesus. Put your trust in Jesus. He is the one who will ease your pain. He is the one who will make your worries go away. What is God’s plan? How does this virus fall into His plan? Specifics do not matter. I understand that it might be super difficult for us to accept this. But you do not need all the specifics. All you need to do is trust in God. Part of His plan includes you and your salvation. Part of His plan includes you and the forgiveness of your sins. Part of His plan includes you and the love He has for you. Trust in God to get you through this difficult time.  You are precious in His eyes and He wants the very best for you—which is for you to sit with Him in heaven. It’s hard to not worry about the difficulties of this world, but there is great treasure awaiting us in heaven.

Again, I read the scripture passage about Stephen’s death—he was the first of many to die for Jesus. Death is never glamorous and not something we look forward to. However, death is inevitable. It is as guaranteed as the air we breathe. Now I understand that Stephen was not afraid and he was not worried. He was a man that fully trusted in the Lord to take care of him. He fully knew that the Lord loved him. As he was being stoned, he looked up to heaven and fully knew he was going home. In his darkest hour Stephen was trusting in God and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

I invite you to pray the Litany of Trust.

stephen
Image credit: Stephen’s Martyrdom, Photograph taken by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. from the Great Hall of Hampton Court [Domain: flickr.com]

Blessed Is She Who Believed

As a child I loved Holy Saturday. It was a day of Much Anticipation. The more sad and somber liturgies were completed, as was the long Lent and the fasting of Good Friday. Night would bring the wonderful Easter Vigil. I loved beginning in complete darkness, then the lighting of a single flame, the spreading of the light from candle to candle, and then finally the whole church lit up at the Gloria!

I looked forward to going to sleep, anticipating the arrival of the Easter Bunny, who promised plentiful chocolate and all sorts of other treats!

Holy Saturday was also the day of the annual village Easter Egg Hunt. We would eagerly climb the hill to the Tribute Gardens, armed with empty baskets, to search for colored Easter eggs. Hidden among the newly green grass, the flowers about to bloom, between rocks and moss-covered tree roots, we would find sweet treasures. There was something about the search itself, about seeking and finding, that thrilled my young heart, then and even now.

Of course the first Holy Saturday was not a day of anticipation, but only grief. It was not a day of finding but of great loss. It was not a day of new life and beginnings, but of the realization of the stunning end of everything hoped for.

Locked in their homes for fear of what might come next, filled with self-reproach and blame for their own failings, the disciples hid away, despairing and dismayed, their hearts sealed as surely as the stone-blocked sepulcher.

Why had God allowed this? How had it happened that the one they thought of as Savior could not in the end even save Himself? The Kingdom of God had come to an end.

Except in one heart.

Only Our Lady had a heart of holy anticipation. Only she held the faith, not letting it waver or slip, even through the cracks of her broken heart.

For Mary the mystery was not Why? or How? but Who?

Mary knew the goodness of God. She knew that the goodness of God was greater than what she saw, than the dead body she cradled in her arms and then laid forsaken in the tomb. She, who was the first to receive and accept the message of the Incarnation, carried this faith on through the empty stillness of Holy Saturday.

She must have pondered anew the words of the angel, promising Emmanuel, God with us. She knew that Promise was not past tense.

She must have seen again His human body, so tiny then, for the first but not last time swaddled in linens. The myrrh from the Magi—did she summon again its scent? A strange gift to celebrate new life!

She must have recalled that first time Jesus went missing for three days, and how her heart had searched for Him, how even then He was “about my Father’s business.”

She must have remembered His words at Cana, “my hour has not yet come.” His hour has now come, but she knows it is not past. The joy of the wine at the wedding feast was only a foreshadowing.

During this day, she alone “heard the words of the Lord and kept them,” taking to heart when He said, “I will rise after three days.”

Her broken heart held together the faith of the whole church, for the whole world. Saint John Paul II: “After Jesus had been laid in the tomb, Mary alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection.”

On this Holy Saturday, we are invited to remain in the heart of Mary, to keep vigil with her, to allow her hope to kindle our own.

Even as we are locked in our homes, and even as, for many of us, the Body of Christ is locked away in closed churches, we are invited to be with her in trust and peace.

We are invited to remember that God is even bigger than what we have seen so far: that He is still bringing greater good from evil, still resurrecting, still making all things new. We are invited to seek Him, anticipating the joy of the sweetness in finding Him, even in unexpected places.

Holy Saturday

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

INRI: Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews

The greatest love story ever told is that of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross for you.

What makes this so great is that this love story is not fictional, it is not a fairy tale, it is not a myth. This love story, of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross for you, is 100% real historical truth.

This week I was teaching my students about the importance of the Cross: how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples and instituted the Eucharist, how Jesus was betrayed by a close friend and handed over to the Roman soldiers, how Pontius Pilate sentenced him to be crucified like a criminal, and how Jesus knew all of this would happen and willingly chose to die for each of us because he loves us.

We know how this love story ends. It ends with victory on Easter morning, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. One student, knowing about the Resurrection of Jesus, asked if Jesus and Judas became friends again after he came back from the dead. If Judas had not killed himself and instead asked forgiveness for his offenses, do you think Jesus would forgive the man who turned him over to his death? Yes, he would. Jesus loves everyone, and Jesus dying on the Cross was for the forgiveness of everyone’s sins, no matter how big or small. You just need to ask from your heart for forgiveness.

In today’s first reading, from the book of Isaiah, we read about the suffering servant—the prophecy that spoke about Jesus Christ bearing all the sins of the world upon himself and taking them all to his death.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
—Isaiah 53:4–6

It was no coincidence that it was Jesus Christ on that Cross—it didn’t happen by chance. This was God’s plan for salvation. The prophets in the Old Testament told all of Israel that a servant of the Lord would bear their sins. Israel was told that the servant of the Lord would be ridiculed, humiliated, harshly treated, mocked, and scourged. It would be this servant, a man of great suffering, who would redeem the world. We often run away from suffering—not wanting to be weighed down or made to feel small and useless. We turn away and lament to be in pain, distress, or hardship. We think suffering is to be weak. But we must not think of suffering as society tells us it is—we need to look at the Cross and know that suffering is to be strong; suffering as Jesus suffered is to love.

God is not distant from us. Mankind was made in the image and likeness of God. He breathed life into us and is in the dwelling place of our hearts. God loves his children so much that his plan was to send his beloved Son to earth, so the Son could experience the hardships of sin. The second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way” (Heb 4:15). Jesus knows the anguish that you are feeling. He knows that you are scared. He knows that you are full of anxiety. He knows that you worry about how you will be able to pay your bills. He knows that you worry about the health of your family and friends. Jesus knows it all because he is fully human and fully divine. And he wants you to trust in him. Trust in the sacrificial love of Jesus.

What ever sins you have committed in the past, sins that you think are too great to be forgiven, know that Jesus has already paid the price for them. If you think that you cannot be forgiven because you commit the same sin over and over, know that Jesus wants you to go to him because he will forgive you again. If you think you are in sin and suffering because you deserve it, that is a lie. Jesus has already suffered for you and wants you to have everlasting life. Out of suffering comes good; therefore, we call the day that Jesus died GOOD Friday. It is Good Friday because our God is good. It is Good Friday because God’s love is good. It is Good Friday because out of Jesus’ suffering and death, the gates of Heaven were opened, and his Blood was poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins—this is all good.

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

This Good Friday, I invite you to meditate upon the Crucified Jesus who died for your sins. While Jesus was hanging on the Cross he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head handing over the spirit—he did so because he loves you.

Crucified Jesus
Image Credit: The Crucifixion by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo ca. 1675 [Public Domain: Met Museum]

Hope, O My Soul


Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” (CCC 1820)

Today is my mom’s birthday, which is fitting since I felt called to write on a virtue I have learned from and observed in her: Hope. My mom radiates a steadfast love for the Lord. She possesses an enduring faith. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen her place her trust in the Lord time and time again, a virtue that had been growing in her years before I was born. My mom has experienced trials and tragedy beginning in her childhood that would make many question God – yet her trust in and love for Him is what has defined her life. She has truly placed her hope in the Lord and she knows He is faithful to His promises. As Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Right now, the world at large is in need of hope. What does is mean to have hope? It is important for us to remember that hope is something we can grow to attain, that we can come to possess. As Catholics, we understand that Hope is a virtue. It is one of the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – meaning it relates us directly to God and disposes us to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1812). Hope is rooted in God.

Through the eyes of faith, we see that Hope is the response to the desire for happiness that God has placed in the heart of humankind (CCC 1818). Our desire for happiness is good; our longing to have something to hope for has been placed within us by God Himself. And what is it we hope for? “In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven” (CCC 1821, emphasis added).

Are you personally finding it difficult to have hope right now? If you are, you are not alone, and God wants to meet you there and grow this virtue in you. If you do have hope, praise the Lord, and let’s keep going! I know there is plenty of room for all of us to grow deeper in this beautiful virtue. And the world needs it.

The first step is re-establishing our faith in Jesus Christ and our trust in God’s promises. The Catechism gives us a simple, practical, yet profound way to both “express” our Hope and “nourish” it so it may grow: prayer. And specifically, praying the Our Father, “the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire” (CCC 1820).

So today, I ask you to join me in praying the Our Father, specifically asking the Lord to increase Hope in each of us. I encourage you to pray it slowly, pausing after each line, to allow the Truth to sink in and to profess it whole-heartedly to our Father in Heaven. This is an act of faith that will serve to remind us of the truth, the truth in which our hope is grounded. I also encourage you to call to mind Scriptures that you lean on in times of trial. Dwell on these truths to nourish your hope. I will list some Scriptures below that have been nourishing my soul lately:

Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Philippians 4:6-7 — Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John 16:33 — These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

We must stay grounded in God’s truth. He is faithful to His promises. This will be the source of our Hope.

My friends, it is a blessing to be united in prayer with you in the midst of this difficult time. I am praying for each one of you – that the Lord is especially close to you and that you are drawing near to Him. I encourage you to take a minute now to thoughtfully pray the Our Father. …and can I ask a favor? Can you lift up my mom on her birthday — the woman who first taught me what hope looks like? I know she will appreciate that gift! Lifting up you and your intentions, my friends. May God be with you.

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.

St. Theresa of Avila, Excl. 15:3

The Land of Not Yet

One day when my friend Heidi’s son Nicholas was just two years old, he was playing in the next room with his baby sister. Suddenly little Theresa started to cry. Their grandfather called out to Nicholas, “Nicholas, are you hurting your sister?”

An honest little voice piped back, “Not yet…!”

Even at two, Nicholas understood that there was a measure of inevitability in the words “not yet.”

And yet so often as adults, when God seems to say, “not yet,” we translate that as “no” and throw toddler-like tantrums of despair. We take for granted the inevitability of bad things, but waver when it comes to good things. As the pandemic of fear spreads across the country and doomsday predictions increase, we are invited to remember the inevitability of God’s goodness, the fulfillment of all His promises.

In today’s First Reading, Abram is shown the Promised Land, but is invited to take up residence in a land of Not Yet.

He is told that he will be the father of many nations (this is repeated, multiple times), but at the moment he is the father of none, not even of one son. In fact, he will have to wait twenty-six years for Isaac! He is shown a land that will be the permanent possession of his descendants, but it is the land of Canaan. He is told that an everlasting blessing will come through him, but his life in the subsequent chapters of Genesis doesn’t show, externally, a lot of blessing. This blessing will come after hundreds of years, in Jesus.

The New Testament speaks of Abraham as “our father in faith.” Faith, Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the substance of things unseen.”

Abraham is our father in faith because he moves through a land of promises; he lives with trust in the One who makes, and keeps, His Promises.

Abraham does not do this perfectly. In fact, after some years, he seems to doubt God’s timing, when the promised son has not materialized. He tries to speed up the promise by conceiving a child, not with his wife, but with her servant Hagar.

But even so God renews His covenant with Abraham, renews His promise for a son. Isaac is the son born of Sarah, although both she and Abraham are advanced in years.

And then God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

We cannot imagine what was going on in the heart of Abraham at that moment. What kind of a father would comply with such a command? Only one who knew the heart of his Father. He knew that God was good, that He would in some way bring good from whatever might look like disaster.

God blessed Abraham’s trust in His heart. He revealed for all time that it was not in fact His desire that we sacrifice the blood of other humans to show our love for Him. Indeed, in Jesus He would sacrifice His own blood to show His love for us.

Hebrews 11 continues:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, without knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the promised land as a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11: 8-10)

Abraham lives in the Promised Land before it is realized externally. He is able to do this because he lives in the heart of God, lives in trust of the Promise.

This living in the land of promise, the land of Not Yet, will continue for the descendants of Abraham for centuries. Much of the Old Testament involves the seeking of this land, fighting for it, claiming it, only to be exiled from it, to return, only to be exiled again, to return, only to be living under foreign occupation.

When Jesus comes, the people are living in the Promised Land, but they are under enemy occupation. They expect the Messiah to free them.

Instead He shows them that He is the Promised Land. We know Jesus is the only Son, we know He is the descendant through which everlasting blessing will come. Do we also realize that He is the Promised Land?

This promised land is more than a real estate acquisition. It, He, is the place of providence and protection, the place for God’s family to live together in love.

Jesus Christ Has Won. Love Has Won.

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.

the-bronze-serpent
Image Credit: Moses showing the bronze serpent, mounted on a pole to the people of Israel [Public Domain].