Setting Captives Free

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How saddened the disciples were that Jesus would not be with them much longer in the way they had imagined He would be.  While their encounter with the Living Word-made-Flesh had turned their lives completely upside down, journeying with Him during the years of His public ministry, they still did not understand the full picture.  In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the grief that fills their hearts in this moment, knowing still the grief yet to come at His Crucifixion, but also knowing the complete joy of His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the deep reception of the Holy Spirit in their inmost beings that set the Apostles on fire after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they can be faithful to their mission of baptizing the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, no matter where they go or what they endure.

In the first reading, we see Paul and Silas stripped, beaten severely and thrown into jail.  Yet even there the kingdom of God reigns.  Though they are prisoners in every outward sense—put in the “innermost cell” with their feet secured to a stake—they are set free in their innermost selves by Christ and able to be instruments of God’s grace, singing His praises and praying in the dark of night.

Imagine being one of the prisoners nearby, overhearing their love for God spilling forth.  Would you scoff at them?  Might your own heart be stirred to whisper a small prayer of thanksgiving?

Either way, you’d definitely be most attentive the moment you felt the earthquake shake the very foundations of the jail!  What a dramatic revelation of God’s glory!  Each prisoner being set free from bondage—chains broken, doors blown open, light piercing their own hearts.  This freedom is not just physical, but spiritual—freedom from sin.  This outward manifestation of God’s power seems small compared to the inner transformation of the jailer, much like the instance where Jesus healed the paralytic, saying first “Your sins are forgiven,” and then performing a physical miracle to account for our poor human blindness (Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26).

For the jailer and his family to have received the Holy Spirit so as to know the truth of Jesus Christ is a true miracle and a cause for great rejoicing indeed!

And what about us?  How is it that we live in the light and joy of this truth, no matter how dark our present situation may seem?  And do we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us so as to be ministers of joy and truth to others in our lives who may themselves feel imprisoned by doubts, sadness or trouble? 

By virtue of the Sacraments and living in a state of grace, we have the Holy Spirit! We too are set free!  Jesus promised His disciples, as He promises us, that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  And what a mighty work He has done!  No matter if we were born into the Faith or converted later (or find ourselves on the path of conversion!), it is a gift that by His Light we know Light. 

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
~Ps. 138:7-8

What a grace it is to be transformed in the waters of baptism, confirmed in the Faith, brought freedom from our sins in reconciliation, and to receive JESUS Himself in the Holy Eucharist! The Lord has a plan for our lives. We must trust Him every step of the way and bear the crosses He allows us to carry for our sanctification, for even in the darkest night He is the Light we need.

We still have some days of Easter left, before arriving to the great Feast of Pentecost.  Prepare your hearts and souls to grow closer to the Holy Spirit. Receive a new outpouring of the Spirit by praying a Pentecost Novena, learning the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer (which St. JPII prayed every day!) and shedding any chains of bondage to sin in the confessional.

God awaits to do marvelous things in your soul. Let Him in ever more! And let us cry as one with the whole Church, Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse!

Always Faithful

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

‘I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.’” -John 15:26-16:4

In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares the disciples’ hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a great gift of God’s faithfulness. Whenever we are struggling or confused, we do not have to turn far, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are never left alone.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember God’s faithfulness. We can get cynical and believe the lies that nothing good will ever work out for us, that we are not wanted, that we don’t belong. The truth is that God has great things for us. He is a good Father who desires to lavish His love on His children.

As we read on in the Gospel, Jesus is real with the disciples just as He is with our hearts—this life of following Him is not easy, and people will turn against us out of ignorance, hatred, and their own brokenness. I’m sure we have all experienced this in one way or another, and it hurts and is difficult. But we have the Holy Spirit right there with us, and when we speak the truth with love it is always a victory with God.

God is too good to give up on Him when things get difficult. I was thinking about this the other day when faced with the recent death of my grandfather—as tempting as it is to give into despair in painful circumstances, God is just too good to do that. He never promised a life free of suffering, but He promised to be with us through it all in very real and intimate ways. And when we surrender our will to Him, He brings about the most beautiful graces. Time and time again, He paves a way out of seemingly impossible circumstances. Time and time again, He brings resurrections. His goodness never fails us. When we open our hearts wide to what He has for us, we have no need to be afraid because the Holy Spirit is within us, desiring to work through us and show us the way through childlike dependence on our Father.

Our Mission: Holy Boldness

Their message goes out through all the earth – Psalm 19

If we have a familiarity with the Gospels, we are familiar with stories of Jesus healing people.  We know his healing of the blind man, telling the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk, and his raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 9; Mt 9; Jn 11).  But how familiar are we with current stories of Catholics healing in Jesus’ name?  Have we seen someone be healed?  Do we even expect Jesus to heal people now?  Have we ever thought to pray for healing for someone in person, in Jesus’ name?  This is where my own spirit of skepticism likes to make its entrance (and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this)… ‘Those things don’t really happen now…’ ‘Well, Jesus only heals through certain people who have that gift and I don’t think I do…’ ‘I definitely believe Jesus can do those things, but…’ 

Are these thoughts in line with what we are learning from Scripture during this most wonderful season of Easter?  Actually, not at all.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“[w]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to the Father.” 

Wait a minute… Did Jesus say only certain Christians with certain spiritual gifts will do the works that He does?  No!  He says, whoever believes in Him.  So wait…. that includes me?  Yes!  I definitely believe in Christ, and if you believe in our Lord and Savior, this includes you!  Wow.  This is really exciting and can also seem kind of scary.  And I can imagine the first apostles didn’t feel much differently than you or I.

Today’s feast celebrates two apostles, St. Philip and St. James.  The apostles were not exempt from that same spirit of skepticism.  In the Gospel, after Jesus has just told them that if they know Him they also know the Father, James responds that it will be enough if they can just see the Father (Jn 14:7-8).  Many, if not all, of us can identify with James.  Truly, it is only through God’s grace that our skepticism can be healed and we can receive greater faith in its place.  In the book of Acts, God reveals to us His mission for His Church:  That as the Father has sent the Son, so now the Son will return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to believers, that WE may perpetuate and carry to completion Christ’s earthly mission – the restoration of the Kingdom (Jn 20:21, Acts 1:6-8). What characterized His earthly mission? Teaching and preaching the good news, accompanied by signs & wonders — healings.  As Christ promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost — the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  And this is the same spirit each of us have received through the grace of our baptisms.  It is through the Holy Spirit of God that Christ can do His work in and through us, just as he did through the first disciples of the early church.  These are Jesus’ words that we read today:

“And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

In His name, He has promised to work great signs and wonders through us for the glory of God.  The rest of Acts is an exciting account of how the first disciples of the Lord lived out this mission of the Church.  The Church is still called to this mission today.

In the past couple of years, the Lord has worked to transform my skeptical heart.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined by inviting me to partake in healing ministry.  He has drawn me in to witness His healing firsthand and, in His grace, He has built up my faith, inspired me, and ignited me.  I have seen the glory of our God through miracles of a woman’s cancer healed, people’s chronic pain be healed, my own husband’s injured wrists be healed, and felt my own body and uneven shoulders be restored to even-ness through prayers of healing, among other countless miracles, all for the glory of God. As I have witnessed these incredible physical healings, I’ve seen and experienced personally the greatest miracle – how God uses His signs and wonders to bring inner healing, convert our hearts, and set us free.  Our God is alive and at work through his church worldwide.  He only asks us to have faith and not be afraid to step out in faith in His name, and this is how we partake in and perpetuate Christ’s mission. 

Today, may we ask our Lord for the gift of holy boldness in our faith, through the intercession of Sts. Philip and James.  Let’s ask this for ourselves and for every Christian.  That as we approach Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit would reignite our hearts and enflame us with the all-consuming love of God. 

Holy Spirit, come, fill our hearts with the fire of your Love.  Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us into your earthly mission. Father, thank you for drawing us in to your divine plan of salvation for the whole world.  Lord God, ignite our hearts anew with holy boldness.  Heal our hearts of skepticism, we surrender our skepticism to you and ask for greater faith.  Help us to know who you are more fully.  Fill us with your charity, your burning love, your endless mercy and compassion, and inspire us through your most Holy Spirit to live out the mission you have given us.  We pray all of these things through the intercession of St. Philip and St. James, and in the most Holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

For more info, I highly recommend: The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Dr. Mary Healy

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

Emmanuel: The Strength of God With Us

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

LORICA OF ST. PATRICK

I’ll preface this reflection the same way I nearly always (need to) do: I am not a theologian, and all heresy is purely accidental. One of my favorite ways to reflect on Scripture is to follow various thought experiments and “what ifs” to try and tease out God’s intentions and motivations; as a cradle Catholic, most Bible stories were familiar and therefore fraught with foregone conclusions and a sense of heavenly fatalism. “Of course Moses parted the Red Sea, that’s how this story goes!” or “Jesus’ Resurrection is the happy ending that this story needs!”. So often I forget at just how radically shocking and unexpected the mind of God truly is. While the Passion might seem like a familiar, expected story to me, to the Jews of Jesus’ time, how devastating must it have been that their Messiah, their Deliverer, wound up being captured and crucified in a publicly humiliating execution?

The LORD’s ways are not our ways, and no mistake about that. So my mind likes to try rewriting the chapters to find more meaning in the story God wrote.


Today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of Luke immediately stood out to me in one of their shared theme: The power of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit he gave us

After all, what did the Resurrection that we celebrate so joyously accomplish? Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection accomplished our salvation, yes, but if salvation was the only goal, why did the LORD not bring us up to Heaven with Jesus when he ascended? Why are we left here below?

Let’s look at John 14 for some clues:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 1the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n

John 14:16-20

While I can’t give a great answer to the question, Christ gives us some food for thought here. While the world no longer sees Jesus, He lives, and we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him. In short, he is as near to us our own being; perhaps even nearer still. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ so that we were not left as orphans.

Perhaps there is a simple reason that there will be a Second Coming (i.e. that Jesus Incarnation was not the final judgment): There were still more to save! Not only were we left with the Advocate, we were left with a mission:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

In today’s readings, we see the radically transformative power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. The travelers to Emmaus’ hearts were set ablaze with a zeal for Christ, and a crippled man was miraculously healed by Peter in the name of Jesus. In both stories, all who were touched by the LORD left changed, wanting only to proclaim the goodness of God. Witnesses were left astonished.

How often do we believe the lie that things about our world, lives, family, etc. cannot be changed? This Easter season, let us take courage in the triumphant power of our savior’s Resurrection and call upon the Spirit to change these parts of our lives that we’ve sealed off in an effort to protect ourselves. The Spirit of the living God wants to renew your mind, your soul, your relationships, your work, your family, and your heart.

Maybe today, you can try a little thought experiment, a “what if”:

What if the power of Jesus can change our lives, here and now?

“And nothing would again be casual and small”

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The just one’s sacrifice is most pleasing,
nor will it ever be forgotten.
(Sirach 35:9)

Imagine making a sacrifice that causes Heaven to spin out in such rejoicing for all the ages to come.

What do you think that would be? What would it take?

Of course, we may rightly think of Our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion, whose infinite merits we cannot even begin to grasp while on this side of eternity.

And yet…

Would you believe that something as “simple”as the sacrifice of making a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, or a good and graced confession, does just that?

St. Mother Teresa, in her book Rosary Meditations: Loving Jesus with the Heart of Mary, writes when contemplating the first Sorrowful Mystery—the Agony in the Garden:

The blood He sweat was grief poured out from a broken Heart, caused by the sorrow of His Eucharistic Love being so rejected. Then an angel brought Jesus indescribable strength and consolation by showing Him every Holy Hour that you would ever make. At that moment in the garden, Jesus saw you praying before Him now and He knew that His love would be returned.

This is why your visit today is so important to Him. Your Holy Hour consoles Him for those who do not love Him, and wins countless graces for many to be converted to Him.

And Luke 15:10 tells us about the dance of the angels:

In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The just one’s sacrifice is indeed most pleasing.

What a fitting set of readings, then, to contemplate before the beginning of Lent, widely known as “the time to give yummy things up!”

This season is about so much more than muscling through your morning without coffee (though for some that struggle is real, I believe it! For me personally, it’s chips.)

This time that Holy Mother Church sets aside for us to turn back to God, to journey deeper with Jesus into the wilderness of our lives, is one that can bear great fruits of joy, sacrifice and praise—if we allow ourselves to be led and pruned by the Holy Spirit as He wills.

This is the season for delving deep to ask: Where in my life has my love grown cold? Where do I value comfort over acts of sacrifice? How aware am I of the Lord walking through my every moment with me?

Every heartbeat should remind us of the Lord’s infinite love and mercy, yet it is so easy to become numb and distracted with the anxieties and preoccupations of the everyday and the world around us.

However, even that very heart is a gift.

We only have what has first been given to us, poor as we are. But Our Father is so very rich and desires to share with us all that He has, just as Jesus gives all of Himself.

Our Lord makes Himself so vulnerable in thirsting for us to love Him and to let Him love others through us, that the more we come to know Him, the less we want to hold back anything from Him.

God is not to be outdone in generosity. Ever. Jesus promises that in the Gospel reading of today and shows us this repeatedly throughout His public ministry.

We may wonder at times what can we really offer the Lord, what can we give of any real consequence. But our wild, most beautiful Lord desires us to work with Him in His plan of salvation and redemption, offering to Him all that we can, no matter how “small” or “insignificant” (fish and loaves, anyone?).

How varied are the blessings He gives to us? This then should ignite our souls to find new ways of loving Him each day!

In 2 Cor 9: 6-8, St. Paul encourages us to sow bountifully so as to reap bountifully, and that…

…God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

We can be sure that whatever we do offer to God in love, in union with Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has infinite value beyond what we can ever dream.

As Rev. John Duffy writes in his poem “I Sing of a Maiden,” recounting the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat, “And nothing would again be casual and small.

This Lent let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with His fire and love so as to grow and give beyond our comfort zones.

Let us pray for each other as we find new ways of putting our love for God and neighbor into living action, sacrificing with a cheerful heart in the (not so) small and hidden ways, all of which are seen and cherished by Our Heavenly Father.

Following

Saint Paul’s address in today’s First Reading sounds a lot like the start of a testimony: “I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today” (Acts 22: 3).

His words make me think back on my own life: I was educated in the Catholic faith and loved God. My faith was a routine part of my life. However, one thing that stood out in this routine was praying to the Holy Spirit on the drive to school with my mom. It was a simple, single sentenced prayer, but I believed it held all of the power to grant me the good grades to get into college.

Four years later, when I began my freshman year, my mom gave me a little blue booklet that included the prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t really understand the full meaning of this prayer, which was written in Polish, and I probably wouldn’t have grasped its meaning if it were written in English. But I said this prayer religiously every evening… because I thought it would give me good grades.

Of course, God had something greater in store. Just like Jesus finds Saul and proves him wrong for persecuting his Way, Jesus proved me wrong about my self-centered priorities. The more I prayed, the more I began to understand and internalize the words of this prayer. My life took on a more beautiful meaning as I began to follow his Way.

Jesus calls every one of us to follow him. He continually stops us along our way and proves us wrong over and over again. On this Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, let us pray to the Holy Spirit, that we may see more clearly and gain strength to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” (MK 16: 15).

Prayer for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit,
Divine Consoler,
I adore You as my true God,
with God the Father and God the Son.
I adore You and unite myself to the adoration
You receive from the angels and saints.

I give You my heart
and I offer my ardent thanksgiving
for all the grace which You never cease to bestow on me.

O Giver of all supernatural gifts,
who filled the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of God, with such immense favors,
I beg You to visit me with Your grace
and Your love and to grant me the gift of holy fear,
so that it may act on me as a check to prevent me
from falling back into my past sins,
for which I beg pardon.

Grant me the gift of piety,
so that I may serve You for the future with increased fervor,
follow with more promptness Your holy inspirations,
and observe your divine precepts with greater fidelity.

Grant me the gift of knowledge,
so that I may know the things of God and,
enlightened by Your holy teaching, may walk,
without deviation, in the path of eternal salvation.

Grant me the gift of fortitude,
so that I may overcome courageously all the assaults of the devil,
and all the dangers of this world which threaten the
salvation of my soul.

Grant me the gift of counsel,
so that I may choose what is more conducive
to my spiritual advancement
and may discover the wiles and snares of the tempter.

Grant me the gift of understanding,
so that I may apprehend the divine mysteries
and by contemplation of heavenly things detach my thoughts
and affections from the vain things of this miserable
world.

Grant me the gift of wisdom,
so that I may rightly direct all my actions,
referring them to God as my last end;
so that, having loved Him and served Him in this life,
I may have the happiness of possessing Him eternally in
the next.