To Be A Servant

Jesus issued the call to discipleship as servants to others, not only to His personal followers but to those of us who would follow in His footsteps in the future.  This message is preached to us as Christians so often, the meaning of it can lose its significance.  In fact, Jesus lost disciples who were seeking to follow a king, not a servant. Jesus offers true disciples a more personal opportunity for service than simply being part of a military or political entourage.  Would any ruler in this world wash anyone else’s feet himself?! Washing the feet of all His disciples the night before He died was symbolic for Jesus in embracing His role as the Messiah. Now we are called to take up the servant role as we follow the path set by our Master. By accepting this role, we express our humility.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
—John 13:16–18

All our gifts, talents and abilities were bestowed on us by God. There is nothing we can do except through the power of Jesus Christ. As we move forward on our life’s journey, we should consider our place in the world differently, even in the slightest circumstances. We should be kind to our brothers and sisters every chance we have. Let someone merge in front of us in traffic; let a coworker have the last donut in the break room; put your loose change in the tip jar at your favorite coffee shop. These small acts of kindness not only bring us closer to our fellow humans but also to the One who commissioned us to be kind in imitation of His unfailing kindness. Since Jesus no longer walks among us in the flesh, God’s hands must truly be our own.

A Posture of Humility

This week, I helped facilitate the confession line for a group of middle schoolers. Many were nervous; several had not gone to confession in years. I tried to help settle their nerves and calm their fears before going in, assuring them of God’s great mercy and that there was nothing to be scared about. A few children inspired me with their eagerness to enter the confessional—one who hadn’t been in six years, as well as one who had just gone last week. They didn’t allow any apprehensions to hold them back from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. They simply went forward with a sincere trust that by humbling themselves before God, they would experience grace. And what inspired me the most was that all these kids, even the ones who were most nervous, came out of the confessional beaming with joy and relief.

Kneeling in the shadows of the confessional, coming face to face with the reality of our sin and articulating it aloud—this is not something that demeans or diminishes us. Rather, it ennobles us, for it unites us more closely with our Creator as part of His Divine Body. By kneeling down and making ourselves small, we become part of a greater whole. Yet many of us hesitate to take this posture of humility. Sometimes a sense of perfectionism holds us back from admitting our mistakes, even to ourselves. But this sort of perfectionism is ultimately rooted in fear—that our faults will make others think less of us, or that God will be disappointed in us (as if He doesn’t already know all that we’ve done!). So instead of confessing our sins, we live in denial of their existence—and then we never receive the graces that will help us overcome them. We never come to understand that our goodness does not come from ourselves, but from the God who loves us so much that He laid down His life to redeem us in our sinfulness.

Jesus Himself has taken the ultimate postures of humility: on the Cross, with His arms spread open in surrender; and in the Eucharist, where He comes to us as Bread and Wine, food for us to consume. Through these gestures of love, He offers Himself as a gift to us. His arms are open wide to receive us; His Flesh nourishes and strengthens our souls. He offers His Body, broken and crushed, to heal us of our own brokenness:

For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
—John 6:55–56

This week I also mourned the passing of John Aroutiounian, with whom I co-taught a Confirmation class three years ago. I was so moved by his eulogy, which reflects on the mystery of redemptive suffering and illustrates the fullness and meaning of his short life. John was very intelligent, had multiple prestigious degrees, and likely would have gone on to have a remarkable career. Yet when presented with a more humble calling—to suffer deeply, to physically waste away, to witness to the strength of the human spirit and the dignity of life even amidst great affliction, and to lay down his life at just 26 years old—he did not hesitate to embrace this cross. During his life, John fought to defend the dignity of every human life—even our enemies, even those who are inconvenient to us. He was a pro-life advocate and volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor. He believed at his core that life, every life, was worth living, and that each human soul has incalculable, eternal worth. He gave no greater witness to this conviction than through his own suffering and death.

We all have a natural desire to protect and shelter ourselves and our loved ones against suffering. However, it is through those painful experiences that we encounter the true meaning of our existence. Only when brought to our knees by suffering do we realize how deeply we must depend on God. A happy, complacent life can cause us to forget that, in the words of St. Thérèse, this world is our ship, not our home. We are meant for something greater; our deepest desires will not find fulfillment in this world but point us to the fulfillment that awaits us in heaven. And the path to heaven is through the Cross, following in the footsteps of our Redeemer.

Indeed, the fear of suffering can be worse than actual suffering. For when God allows us to suffer, He provides the graces in that moment to bear crosses we never thought we could carry, as long as we surrender to Him, acknowledge our own weakness, and trust that He will use every second of our pain for His divine purpose. Only by lowering ourselves into the depths of our humanity can we be raised into the divine Light. If we accept our crosses with a posture of humility, our suffering will surely bear fruit.

Spiritual Amnesia

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I was speaking with my dad recently, expressing my disbelief and frustration at the far-reaching consequences of the poisonous “sexual revolution;” flabbergasted at how women could still be gulping down such lies: that pre-marital sexual relations and contracepting are “empowering,” when they’re really enslaving! That we are the ones who decide a life’s inherent dignity and worth, instead of understanding this all comes from God! That the way to have “equality” is to lower the bar to give into the whims of our over-sexed culture as long as it’s “on our terms,” instead of learning to live in the light of God’s love and purpose for us! Humanae Vitae, anyone?!

My dad amusedly raised his eyebrows and paused for a moment—“You fell for it…”

I shut my mouth and sighed. Yes. Yes indeed, I had fallen for it for a time…hook, line and sinker. Hence my irritation. As the psalmist writes, “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock” (Ps 106:20).

I had forgotten my God. I had lost myself.

What frustration God must have felt (and still feel!) with such a “stiff-necked” people (Ex 32:9)? The constant protection, guidance and revelations of His awesome majesty and love —only for them to worship a large baby cow made of gold? Really?

But I can’t roll my eyes too far back or shake my head too hard. The years in which I lived away from the Lord—attempting to normalize, even celebrate, my sinful life after seeing His miraculous hand at work—sting my heart. I had my own golden calves, my own spiritual amnesia. But the Lord’s love and mercy are unfathomable, and He chased me relentlessly until I truly recognized that I must “come to [Him] to have life” (Jn 5:40).

We, as Catholics are not permitted to believe anything of our own will, nor to choose what someone has believed of his. We have God’s apostles as authorities, who did not themselves of their own wills choose anything of what they wanted to believe, but faithfully transmitted to the nations, the teachings of Christ.

(from today’s Saint—St. Isidore of Seville)

In the darkness of this world, in the darkness of our own hearts, Jesus—alone worthy of all adoration and worship—challenges us to deeper trust and belief in Him. We have each “turned aside” (Ex 32:8) from the path God has pointed out for us and believed a great number of lies—yet we continually return to God and ask the Lord’s grace: to enlighten the darkness of our hearts and minds, and to open our eyes, so that we may truly seek “the praise that comes from the only God” (Jn 5:44) in knowing and loving the One sent by the Father with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As antidote to our sinful forgetfulness, we strive to always praise the Lord for His everlasting lovingkindness (Ps 136).

After speaking with my dad that day, I was reminded how exceedingly grateful I was to the Lord for the journey on which He’d led me. Eternal thanks be to God, Who remembers us even when we have forgotten Him and ourselves! May the Lord redeem the time we have spent turned away from Him; make us grow in deeper humility; help us recognize our true worth and dignity in Christ; and may we, like Moses, beg mercy for all.

(*The links above lead to 3 wonderful prayers: Prayer to Redeem Lost Time, Litany of Humility, and the very powerful Seven Offerings of the Precious Blood.)

Awaiting the King’s Return

“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”

“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which commemorates Christ naming his apostle Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church (Mt 16:13-19). This man was the first to fill the chair that would come to symbolize the office of the pope as the bishop of Rome. An actual, ancient chair known as the Cathedra Petri is enthroned in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica to this day. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity” (Angelus, Feb. 19, 2012).

St. Peter was not perfect. He was not learned, like St. Paul, or even remembered as the beloved disciple, like St. John. From the start, he tells Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). When called out on the water, he doubts and begins to sink (Mt 14:30-31). Even after receiving his office, when he rebukes Jesus about the first prediction of his passion, Jesus does not hold back in his response, unleashing words more painful than the ones with which he addressed the scribes and Pharisees. He says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). Later, during that very passion, St. Peter would not be standing at the foot of the cross with Our Lady and St. John—he would deny Jesus not just once, but three times, and his denial would end in bitter tears.

However, St. Peter’s imperfections were not the whole story. We don’t remember saints for being perfect: we remember them for their humility, their perseverance, and their self-sacrificial love. This kind of life was the mission Christ called St. Peter to, knowing the shadows of his weaknesses, knowing that the tears of denial would come. After the resurrection, in John 21:15-19, St. Peter is asked three times to love Jesus and to care for his sheep, and he responds this time with humble love—a love which would later lead to his own crucifixion. He persevered to the end as a shepherd of his flock, as a faithful steward, pointing others to Christ as the best man rejoices in and points to the bridegroom, and received an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4).

Other stewards of the King have come and gone. Some have been saints while others have failed the flock they were sworn to protect. But, through any weariness, sickness, or sorrow, the Church stands firm. We rest in the knowledge that “he knows what he is about” (Bl. John Henry Newman), and that the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). We take food—his very Body and Blood, given up for us in his passion and shared with us each time we participate in the Mass—and receive courage for what lies ahead. We watch and we wait as a bride eagerly awaits her bridegroom, longing to see his face, knowing that our “hearts will rejoice, and no one will take [our] joy” (Jn 16:22). Our Lord is our King, our Shepherd—and there is nothing more we could want.

 

Listening

A Fr. Mike Schmitz homily about St. Peter: https://bulldogcatholic.org/02-10-19-disqualified-unfit/

“In Bitterness Is My Joy”

Today’s readings may seem a little harsh: God putting Job in his place, Jesus proclaiming woe to those who reject Him. Why would God point out Job’s insignificance and insufficiencies when he is already experiencing so much suffering?

Becoming aware of our own weaknesses is, in fact, a grace. It can be a struggle, too, for it requires us to learn humility, but it also brings freedom. Being aware of our weaknesses frees us from any pretense of perfection, from feeling as though we have to carry the world on our shoulders, and from a false perception of reality, of the world and our place in it.

It is through these weak points that the enemy will try to break in, through our bad habits and less noble inclinations. As the Church Militant, we are continually fighting the good fight, storming the forces of evil and protecting what is sacred—including, first and foremost, our own souls—from being corrupted. If we are aware of the weaknesses within ourselves, we can mount a defense to enemy attacks. In order to do so, we must put aside our pride and call in reinforcements. The battle is bigger than any fantasies we may have for ourselves of glory and heroics. If we want to win the fight, we have to be willing to take orders from our Master, who is infinitely stronger and wiser than we are.

When we understand this greater reality, we will be able to proclaim our weaknesses without shame. We are mere soldiers in a spiritual battle that is far beyond our depth, but we will receive unyielding support to bolster every weakness, if only we ask it of God.

Today is the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She beautifully illustrates this idea of confident humility, and her receptiveness to God’s message of Divine Mercy was cultivated by her great dependence on God and the knowledge of her own weaknesses.

We cannot receive God’s mercy if we are not aware of our need for it. St. Faustina shows us though the example of her own life that accepting humiliations leads not to despair but to great joy. When St. Faustina faced trials and injustices, she did not view them through the lens of her own ego but through God’s mysterious economy of grace. She knew she was playing a part in a larger story. When her things did not proceed according to her plans—when she was turned down from several convents, faced serious illnesses, or was misunderstood and ridiculed—she did not cease to trust in God, because her faith was not in her own wisdom but in God’s alone. When she was mistreated, she did not become indignant but instead thought of how Jesus was mistreated at Calvary, drawing close to Him. She was not ashamed of her shortcomings but humbly accepted them, knowing that God created her with those weaknesses for a reason. She used every struggle as a chance to learn to depend upon God all the more and to increase in joyful gratitude for His overflowing mercy.


And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the Face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
(Prayer of St. John Paul II)

Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.

True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.

Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears, and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.

I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before you gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of your holy will. Let all be done according to your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In you, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank you, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon you, O incomprehensible God!

—St. Faustina Kowalska

The Science of the Cross

“I will have only one wisdom: the science of the cross.” —Venerable Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận

Earlier this week, I was able to attend a requiem Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer in memory of the victims of 9/11. It was a beautiful liturgy as well as a powerful reminder of our own mortality, that our days on earth are fleeting and meant to be used purposefully, in service to God. In his homily, Fr. Sebastian mentioned Venerable Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận as an example of someone who lived with radical hope even in extreme suffering.

Venerable Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận (1928–2002) was a Vietnamese Cardinal who spent thirteen years imprisoned by the communist government in re-education camps, most in solitary confinement. However, refused to despair over the immense suffering he experienced, choosing instead to make the most of his situation. He wrote letters to Church communities, spent long hours in prayer, and showed joy and kindness toward his prison guards. The prisons had to change his guards regularly because he was so effective at evangelizing them.

Cardinal Văn Thuận brought light into the darkness; his very presence spread hope amid some of the bleakest corners of humanity. And he did so by embracing the Cross. This paradox is at the heart of Christian belief: that joy springs from suffering. For the early Church, the Crucifixion was a source of shame and embarrassment; and yet this is how God chose to save us, through an act of utter humiliation and torture. While in his cell, Cardinal Văn Thuận made for himself a crucifix out of scrap wood and some wire that had been smuggled in by some sympathetic guards. He sought a physical reminder that his own sufferings were united with Christ’s.

Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us look to the saints who have gone before us to understand why the Cross is so vital in sustaining our hope, especially as we undergo times of turbulence and trial. Cardinal Văn Thuận accepted his imprisonment as a gift. St. Edith Stein showed mercy and compassion even in Auschwitz. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati willingly ventured into the poorest, most desolate areas of his city to spread hope and charity, and he endured his agonizing final illness without complaint. May we, too, learn to fan the flame of God’s love within us, so that we may be a light in the darkness.

“To treasure each suffering as one of the countless faces of Jesus crucified, and to unite our suffering to his, means to enter into his own dynamic of suffering-love. It means to participate in his light, his strength, his peace; it means to rediscover within us a new and abundant presence of God.” —Venerable Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận

A People of the Beatitudes

In listening to a reflection on the Beatitudes today, the speaker asked their audience to reflect upon what it means to live the Beatitudes. Not just to believe in them, but to live them.

To live the Beatitudes is to value the things that this world does not. To see with God’s eyes and hear with God’s ears.

We live in a world full of “takes”, of people and outlets vying for our attention by giving their spin or opinion on the world unfolding around us. I cannot begin to tell you how many different articles I saw posted on social media that were trying to vindicate or vilify Archbishop Viganó’s letter of accusation. The “liberal” Catholic figures were attempting to poke holes in the statement, the “conservative” Catholics were calling for the resignation of the Vicar of Christ, and most of the laity fell somewhere in the middle to be buffeted back and forth by one “take” after another. I began to despair, to be frustrating, to find myself alternately excited that the horror might not be as deep as it seemed and terribly, terribly angry that it very well could be.

Instead of attaching myself to either side of the “aisle” of this politicized version of Catholicism, I decided to cleave to the LORD. I prayed. I prayed my heart out, and I haven’t been that good with prayer lately, so you know I’m not saying it to brag. I say it because prayer is what brought me comfort. When the world around us takes every event and spins it into 2 alternate “realities” (call ’em facts and alternative facts, if that suits you), I took deep, deep comfort in the fact that their is ONE LORD and we shall have NO OTHER GODS above him.

Our LORD’s mind is not divided. His heart is pure, singly devoted to His children. Our LORD, given our participation, will sift the sheep from the goats, weave a braided cord and CLEANSE HIS HOUSE.

I’ve never been one for “fire and brimstone” preaching. Us cradle Catholics can be somewhat allergic to that. But in this last month where I have not known what is wheat and what is chaff, I have found myself praying for purifying fire. Elijah, calling down fire upon the prophets of Ba’al. I’m furious at many things, and most of all that the voice of Jesus Christ is being lost in this awful human noise. Drop your agendas, be respectfully skeptical of your favorite news source, and PRAY in a way that you have not yet. For those of you that have, bring the light of Christ to others; it shines in a way that blots out all the torches and pitchforks.

The voice of Jesus Christ is the voice that spoke the Beatitudes in today’s Gospel. Pray that we might all live these words, and see with God’s eyes what is valuable and true in the midst of the noise.

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.