The Name of God is Mercy

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

Jn 8:1–11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Commandment (Having a Heart like Jesus)

Three years ago, during Lent, part of my prayers were the words “give me a heart like Jesus.” I was in a very isolated place in my life, saddened and feeling betrayed. The only thing that gave me peace that year was reading the Bible. So, I dedicated myself to opening up the Word of God more often and I prayed that my heart could be like the heart of Jesus. I wanted the heart of that man who died loving the people who betrayed him. I wanted the heart of that man who forgave his enemies while they hammered nails into his hands and feet. I desperately needed a heart like Jesus so that I could be happy.

Each day during lent that year, I prayed for goodness and blessings for everyone which I had an estranged relationship with. It was the most intimate moment near the Cross. I prayed to the Lord, “God I don’t know what to do. I am angry and saddened. I feel hurt. I want to love these people. I want to forgive them. But I don’t know how. Take my heart and give me the heart of Jesus. Give me his heart so that I may love them. Give me his heart so that I may forgive them. Give me his heart so that I may truly want all the goodness and blessings for them that you want for them. Give me a heart like Jesus.”

The Cross is love. The Cross is happiness. The Cross is obedience.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments? In first-century Palestine it was much of a debate to know which of the 613 mosaic laws was the most important to follow. Jesus immediately quotes Scripture saying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Loving God above all else, with all of our souls, with all of our hearts, with all our minds, with all of our strength— that is the first of the greatest commandment. Quickly Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself.

It almost seems as if Jesus gave the scribes two different answers when their question was in search for one answer, the most important commandment of all. But the scribe understood what Jesus meant in giving them the two greatest commandment together. There is only one God in all the universe who created everything, and to love the God of Israel with everything that you are automatically means that you love your neighbors, God’s children. These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot fully follow one while ignoring the other.

How can you say you love God, but in your everyday actions you dismiss and ignore the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you say you love God when you ignore those that are hungry, without shelter, are sick, or imprisoned? Can you say you love God when you walk past someone in the midst of their struggles, marginalized and not see the face of Jesus? God would never ignore us, never abandon us in our need. To follow the greatest commandment is to love like God, to have a heart like Jesus and be charitable towards everyone because you recognize their dignity— that they were made in the image and likeness of God.

Following the greatest commandment isn’t easy. I have failed and fallen many times. I have purposely told God, no I’m not loving this person today because they made me upset or I’m not loving that person today because their struggles don’t affect my way of life and I am going to sit with my anger and my comfort for a while and not care for them. I allowed sin to consume me. But Jesus died out of love for his enemies! He died out of love for you and for me. The virtue of charity calls for us to be all self-giving. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati says that to follow the greatest commandment is to conform our entire lives to loving God and loving our neighbor because this is the essence of the Catholic faith.

Pray friends, that this Lenten season brings you closer to the Lord, that you may grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. That you may have a heart like Jesus and through him be obedient to the greatest commandment.

“Each of you knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. Without it, our religion would crumble. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our entire lives to the two commandments that are the essence of the Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves… With charity, we sow the seeds of that true peace which only our faith in Jesus Christ can give us by making us all brothers and sisters. I know that this way is steep, and difficult, and strewn with thorns, while at first glance the other path seems easier, more pleasant, and more satisfying. But the fact is, if we could look into the hearts of those who follow the perverse paths of this world, we would see that they lack the serenity that comes to those who have faced a thousand difficulties and who have renounced material pleasure to follow God’s law.” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Peter Paul Rubens. The Raising of the Cross. 1610. Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, Belgium.

A Distorted World Will Be Made Right

During the last few days the liturgy has taken us to the very beginning of creation, through the garden, and meeting Adam and Eve. So much happens in those first three chapters of the Bible. The maker of heaven and earth forms mankind in his image out of love and shows loving mercy after mankind’s disobedience, promising that things will be alright. Chapters 1-3 from the book of Genesis are short, but go back and read them slowly and prayerfully.

In today’s first reading Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, disobeying God and falling from grace. The serpent had asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” The woman answered that they could eat of any fruit in the garden except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because if they did eat of that fruit, or touch it, they would die. Now, I read Genesis many times and each time I read it I kept overlooking what Eve had said, that they could not eat the fruit or even touch the fruit, lest they die. Who told Eve this?! That wasn’t the original instruction that God gave to Adam in Gen 2:17! No where did God say that touching the fruit would kill them. Clearly there was some miscommunication going on between Adam and Eve. The serpent took advantage of this miscommunication by enticing Eve telling her that certainly she wouldn’t die by touching the fruit. The serpent deceived her into thinking that God didn’t love her. And having the fruit in her hand, touching it and not having died, doubt began to grow.

How could this happen after all the good things that God had given them? How could Eve doubt God’s love after He had created a beautiful paradise for them and given them literally everything in the world? How could Adam stand by and not say anything? All God created was good. The serpent came along and distorted everything that was good, casting doubt in the true love of God. That’s what the evil one does, he takes things that are good that the Father has given us and bends, twists, and deforms it. Suddenly this thing that was originally created to be good is now bad.

Finding pleasure in the taste of food may be distorted to having an eating disorder. Having a causal beer with friends may be distorted to build up into a drinking problem. Enjoying the company of another person may be distorted towards the path of promiscuity. Now I want to make clear that food, drink, and sex are not bad things. God created things that are good and only good. But, the serpent stands nearby and cunningly asks us, is that thing that you’re holding really bad? Then we start looking at those things that were once good as a means to an end in themselves. We start to doubt that God ever loved us and now we focus and try to find happiness in food, drink, and sex. Not realizing that our happiness is by God’s side.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus healed a deaf and mute man by looking up into the heavens and saying Ephphatha! Be opened! Let us ask Jesus to heal our ears and open up our hearts so that we may better listen and follow the Lord, our God. Pray for strength in fighting against the tactics of the evil one. God created all things good and by remembering in God’s merciful love we will be free from doubt and not be silent in times of need (as Adam was when he needed to speak up). Guided by the Holy Spirit may we listen to God, speak His good name, and show His love to others.

We live in a distorted world, but God promises that a distorted world will be made right because He made it to be good.

Image Credit: Adam and Eve by Jacob Jordaens [Public Domain]

Don’t Look Back, Look Forward to Heaven

During holy week at my grandma’s house two things will happen, we will make habichuelas con dulce and we will watch some very old Bible-stories made movies on TV. For some reason one of the most vivid memories about this family tradition is watching the very old Bible-stories made movies. One scene in particular stands out to me, Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pile of salt and then being blown away by the wind. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “remember the wife of Lot”. It’s one verse in the middle of a parable and it doesn’t seem to make sense, until you look a little deeper at Scripture. If we are unfamiliar with Lot or his wife, we might be asking ourselves why does Jesus want me to remember her? In the Bible, Lot is the nephew of Abraham (patriarchal father) and his wife was a Sodomite woman. They lived in Sodom. Two angels had come to their family, urging them to leave the city at once because it was going to be destroyed, but they should not look behind them as they flee. Lot’s wife disobeys this order from God and as she looked behind to the city of Sodom, which was in flames, she turned to salt. My little kid brain just could not comprehend this – I was like, woah! God that’s kind of dramatic, all she did was look back. It was nothing, right?

The Father gives us everything that is good and all of himself. He is love himself and He gives all of Himself to us. All we have to do on our part is accept his love. Once we accept God and decide to walk with Him our lives change. They change for the better. A life in Christ is filled with peace, joy, and love. Nothing is missing from this life. 

However, being human as we are, we begin to think of all that we have to give up to walk with God. We give up being angry and mean towards other people. We give up getting drunk and using drugs. We give up being selfish to our own desires. We give up the pleasures of the world. We give up lying to get our ways. There are many things we give up – and sometimes we look back to those moments of “easy fun in the world” and start to want them back. We start to think “just a little bit of it won’t hurt”. What we need to realize when we do this is that we are telling God that He is not enough. By looking back to our old life, as Lot’s wife looked back to her old life, we are telling Jesus that his death is not enough. These are the lies that Satan whispers in our ear. 

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. – Luke 17:33

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is warning us to not look back on our old life. To live in Christ we must die to our old selves. When we choose to follow Christ we should follow him 100% of the way, not half way or part of the way. We shouldn’t just follow him when it’s convenient and easy for us, then turn around when it’s hard and requires work. We should follow Jesus all the way to heaven! All the riches awaiting for us in heaven are so much grandeur than anything of the world. This is why Jesus says that the man on the rooftop doesn’t need to go back into the house for his possessions. Or, that someone doesn’t need to go back into the field for something that was left behind. God always provides for us! 

We are never alone when we are in the middle of our sins. If ever we feel like we’ve done too much wrong to ever be made right with the Father, know that to be a lie! Lot, his wife, and their daughters were in the middle of Sodom, a pagan city that had sinned against God, and the Father sent two angels to help them escape. God the Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to die so we could be set free. And the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is always available to us. God never leaves you alone when you need Him. Do not look back on your old sinful life, look forward to the new and eternal life that awaits for you in heaven.

Image Credit: Lot’s Wife turning to Salt [Public Domain]

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]

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].

A New Heart and A New Spirit

“Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” -Ezekiel 18:31

Here we are, a little more than a week into Lent. How are you feeling about your Lent thusfar? You may be feeling good in your Lenten commitments, having successfully passed on any chocolate or being off of social media. Maybe you have created time each day for intentional prayer. Or maybe you are feeling discouraged… maybe you haven’t kept up on Lenten commitments or you still haven’t quite decided what to “do” for Lent. Firstly, wherever you are right now, God sees and loves you. He is pleased with anything you have offered this Lent and He desires to draw your heart closer to His. Wherever you are, today’s Gospel verse Ezekiel 18:31 (see above), reminds us what lies at the heart of this season — a renewal of our hearts and spirits.

The Lord promises us a new heart and a new spirit when we seek His forgiveness. “Repent” is the first word of John the Baptist’s Gospel proclamation, and it’s always our first step in uniting to the Lord. No matter how many times we sin, whether it be a stumble or a big fall, the Lord receives us back when we repent and ask His forgiveness. In its original Greek, the word translated as repent is metanoia, which means to turn around and literally change direction. To repent is to turn ourselves around, away from our sin, to change direction and face Christ. He is already facing us, loving us even in the midst of our failings, but He asks us to turn away from those failings and the hurt they cause ourselves and others. He wants to transform us, to renew our hearts and spirits.

Lent is the liturgical time for us to dwell on this reality of the Gospel. I encourage you to read through today’s readings or listen closely to them if you are attending Mass. They guide us beautifully through a Lenten reflection far superior to anything I could write. Through these Sacred Scriptures, God speaks to us of His desire to forgive us and His desire for us to forgive others. Forgiveness brings freedom. God invites us into this freedom at every moment. Metanoia is the first step… repenting, changing direction from the darkness of our sin to the light of Christ. Through this action we take toward Him, God will give us a new heart and a new spirit. Our Lenten penances or practices are ways for us to live out our repentance. They are sacrifices and commitments that help foster in us a truly penitent spirit. And this contrite spirit is what God is seeking, for it leads us to Him, the One who is able to transform and renew our hearts and spirits by His all-consuming Love.

Lord, show each of us what we need to sacrifice or commit to this Lent to truly grow closer to you. You know each of us in our uniqueness and you know what we need. Guide us so that we may all emerge from the penitent spirit of Lent with a truly renewed heart and spirit this Easter. We all these things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt, Amen.

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

A Highway for Our God

There are some moments in our lives where we just feel lost and out of place. For me, the moment of complete and utter confusion happened my senior year of college. In preparation for my future, this should have been the year in which I checked off all the boxes on my master plan. But that was not the case; I checked off none. I didn’t even have a plan. I was lost. Although I knew my physical location—on the University campus—I couldn’t find myself anywhere on the map. Someone could have arranged fluorescent direction markers and flagged me down with bright orange batons and I still would not have known in which way to turn. I would have blindly walked past them, lost and uncertain with myself.

I have known about the parable of the lost sheep since I was a child—seeing this Biblical passage through the eyes of a child, I always saw a perfect, fluffy sheep in a picture book. I didn’t realize the impact in my heart this parable would make until my adulthood, when I found myself, no longer lost, in the Catholic Church.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of them goes astray and is lost. Just one. Jesus asks for our opinion, will you go in search of the lost sheep? I’m sure the disciples listening to Jesus were thinking: “Well, the man has ninety-nine other sheep left. He should be fine. He has more than what he lost. He should just let that one sheep go.” Jesus, however, continuing with the parable tells them the answer to his question: the man will leave the ninety-nine on the hill and go off in search of the one lost sheep. In the children’s picture book the shepherd and even the perfect, fluffy sheep look happy surrounded by beautiful green pastures and mountains, both underneath a beautiful blue sky. The reality, in first-century Palestine, is that a shepherd must have been crazy to leave ninety-nine sheep behind and travel the dangerous, unknown, and hard terrains of the mountains for one lonely sheep.

Who would realistically do this? God would. God would do this for you. Because out of one hundred, one thousand, one million, one billion sheep in his flock, God loves you and He will go after you.

Notice that in the parable it’s not the shepherd who loses the sheep. It’s the sheep that went astray. We are that one sheep. We expect God to love only those who listen to Him and follow His commandments. We forget that God does not love by the boundaries of this world. His love is immeasurable and powerful because God is love. Where we limit our love to those who are undeserving, where we neglect those who disobey or do not follow orders—God gives them His love. He follows these lost sheep, and when they are ready, He guides them home.

In the first reading the Israelites have been called back home after being in exile. They have been in the wilderness, and the Biblical passage describes the way they need to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. Normally it’s a dangerous and rough journey, but God is with them in preparing the way for them to come home. Every mountain and hill is made low and the rugged lands will be made plain and easy to travel. Here is God gathering his lost sheep and leading them home.

“A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”

Back in my senior year of college, my lost years, I found myself on my knees lovingly admiring the altar. The place of sacrificial love. I kept thinking about the lost sheep and painfully acknowledged that it was me. I kept thinking that I wasn’t the sheep from my childhood picture book. I wasn’t “fluffy and perfect.” I was a mess. Dirty. Broken. Defeated. I realized that I was looking at myself through the world’s eyes and wrongly thought I didn’t deserve love. But God’s love knows no boundaries. The sheep in the picture book is “perfect” because God always sees you as his perfect child. In the Catholic Church looking at Jesus on the cross, truly knowing that the good shepherd had walked through the wilderness to find me and bring me home—I believed him when he told me he loves me. God’s love is unconditional and no matter how long ago you’ve gone astray, what mountain or valley you’re lost in, no matter how deep of a mess you’ve made of things, if you haven’t gone to Mass in years, or you carry anger or guilt, nothing that you do will take away from God’s love for you. The good shepherd is in search for his lost sheep to come back home. And He will help you to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Image Credit: The Lost Sheep [Public Domain]