8/25/16

I share with you in today’s blog some words about mercy that Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter about mercy, Dives in Misericordia, the God who is rich in mercy. The letter is an awesome one and not too long. I might suggest that we try tackling the letter in small pieces during this Year of Mercy. The quote that I share with you is from paragraph 13 in Dives in Misericordia:

The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy-the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer-and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser. Of great significance in this area is constant meditation on the Word of God, and above all conscious and mature participation in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. The Eucharist brings us ever nearer to that love which is more powerful than death: “For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup,” we proclaim not only the death of the Redeemer but also His resurrection, “until he comes” in glory.114 The same Eucharistic rite, celebrated in memory of Him who in His messianic mission revealed the Father to us by means of His words and His cross, attests to the inexhaustible love by virtue of which He desires always to be united with us and present in our midst, coming to meet every human heart. It is the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation that prepares the way for each individual, even those weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament each person can experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more powerful than sin. This has already been spoken of in the encyclical Redemptor hominis; but it will be fitting to return once more to this fundamental theme.

It is precisely because sin exists in the world, which “God so loved…that he gave his only Son, that God, who “is love,” cannot reveal Himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man’s temporary homeland.

Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.

Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of His covenant with man; even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the”rediscovery of this Father, who is rich in mercy.

Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind. Those who come to know God in this way, who “see” Him in this way, can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him. They live, therefore, in statu conversionis; and it is this state of conversion which marks out the most profound element of the pilgrimage of every man and woman on earth in statu viatoris [being in the state of a pilgrimage]. It is obvious that the Church professes the mercy of God, revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, not only by the word of her teaching but above all through the deepest pulsation of the life of the whole People of God. By means of this testimony of life, the Church fulfills the mission proper to the People of God, the mission which is a sharing in and, in a sense, a continuation of the messianic mission of Christ Himself.

The contemporary Church is profoundly conscious that only on the basis of the mercy of God will she be able to carry out the tasks that derive from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and, in the first place, the ecumenical task which aims at uniting all those who confess Christ. As she makes many efforts in this direction, the Church confesses with humility that only that love which is more powerful than the weakness of human divisions can definitively bring about that unity which Christ implored from the Father and which the Spirit never ceases to beseech for us “with sighs too deep for words

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8/24/16

Let me share with you some words written by Sister Faustina Kowalska in her Diary: Divine Mercy in my Soul. Sister Faustina is the inspiration behind Divine Mercy Sunday and the Divine Mercy picture which have the words:  Jesus, I trust in you. As I read her words, the prayer in effect is asking Jesus to make our whole bodies instruments of mercy for others. After I read the prayer for the first time I thought that if I say this prayer daily I will need to say an Our Father afterwards asking for God’s grace – His daily bread – to fulfill the words of the prayer. Maybe you will have the same reaction.

I want to be completely transformed into your mercy and to be your living reflection, O Lord. May the greatest of all divine attributes pass through my heart to my neighbor.

Help me that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbor’s soul.

Help me, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbor’s needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.

Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbors, and take upon  myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks 

Help me, that my feet may be merciful so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. My true rest is in the service of my neighbor.

Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. I will bear my own suffering in silence. May your mercy rest upon me.

O my Jesus, transform me in yourself, for you can do all things.

 

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8/23/16

Monday, August 15, we celebrated the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Yesterday (8/22/16) we celebrated the Queenship of Mary. Pope Francis has a special devotion to Mary, the Undoer of Knots. In an address on October 12, 2013, he talked about Mary as the undoer of the knot of sin. And I might add that through the “undone” knots we come to experience God’s mercy. Let me share with you some of the pope’s words. After the pope’s comments I have included some brief information about this devotion to Mary, the Undoer of Knots

 

This event of the Year of Faith is devoted to Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mother of the Church, our Mother. The statue of Our Lady which has come from Fatima helps us to feel her presence in our midst. It is a fact: Mary always brings us to Jesus. She is a woman of faith, a true believer. But we can ask: What was Mary’s faith like?

  1. The first aspect of her faith is this: Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 56). What does that mean? The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).

The “knot” of disobedience, the “knot” of unbelief. When children disobey their parents, we can say that a little “knot” is created. This happens if the child acts with an awareness of what he or she is doing, especially if there is a lie involved. At that moment, they break trust with their parents. You know how frequently this happens! Then the relationship with their parents needs to be purified of this fault; the child has to ask forgiveness so that harmony and trust can be restored. Something of the same sort happens in our relationship with God. When we do not listen to him, when we do not follow his will, we do concrete things that demonstrate our lack of trust in him – for that is what sin is – and a kind of knot is created deep within us. These knots take away our peace and serenity. They are dangerous, since many knots can form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo.

But we know one thing: nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose “yes” opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We all have some of these knots and we can ask in our heart of hearts: What are the knots in my life? “Father, my knots cannot be undone!” It is a mistake to say anything of the sort! All the knots of our heart, every knot of our conscience, can be undone. Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, to undo those knots, to change? She, as a woman of faith, will surely tell you: “Get up, go to the Lord: he understands you”. And she leads us by the hand as a Mother, our Mother, to the embrace of our Father, the Father of mercies.

Francis has a special devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary, Untier of Knots. It is the name of a Baroque painting entitled Wallfahrtsbild painted by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner (1625-1707) in 1700 and displayed in the St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Bavaria.

The painting depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on the crescent moon, as how she typically is depicted under her moniker, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Revelation or Our Lady of Guadalupe. In it, she’s surrounded by angels and crowned with a circle of twelve stars, while the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove and hovers over her. In her hands, Mary holds a long knotted rope which she unties. Her foot rests on the head of a “knotted” snake clearly representing Satan. Below her is the Prophet Tobias with his dog and the Archangel Raphael traveling to ask Sara for her hand in marriage.

Pope Francis saw the image while studying in Germany and took it as his own personal devotion; he’s subsequently promoted the veneration of this Marian moniker throughout Latin America.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was the first to describe the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Untier of Knots in his Adversus haereses (“Against Heresies.”) The saint creates an analogy between Eve and the Virgin Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”

The painting was donated around 1700 by Hieronymus Ambrosius Langenmantel (1641-1718), a priest of the Monastery of Saint Peter in Augsburg. He donated it in celebration of the reconciliation between his grandfather Wolfgang Langenmantel (1586-1637) and grandmother Sophia Rentz (1590-1649). The couple chose not to divorce, through the assistance of the Austrian priest Jakob Rem, a Jesuit from Ingolstadt who asked the Blessed Virgin Mary “to untie all knots and smoothen them” between the couple. Immediately peace was restored between the couple and the divorce didn’t occur.

Interestingly, the first church to be named in her honor was dedicated in AD 1989 in Styria, Austria in response to the crisis created by Chernobyl Nuclear Tragedy in Ukraine.

That was a particularly hellish knot.

This Catholic devotion has promoted throughout South America ever since Pope Francis, when he was still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ. He bought a postcard of the painting at the German chapel in which the painting is displayed and brought it to Argentina sometime in the 1980s.

The Jesuit connection aside, Pope Francis, prior to becoming Pope Francis, had this Marian image engraved on a chalice he gave to Pope Benedict XVI. The same silversmith has made a duplicate of this chalice and will present it to Pope Francis on behalf of the Argentine people.

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8/22/16

This past weekend, the gospel [Luke 13:22-30] dealt with salvation. The question posed to Jesus was whether only a few would be saved. Of course, Jesus died for all and He wants all to be saved. Salvation is a manifestation of God’s mercy and God shares His mercy with everyone. As we come to the latter part of this Year of Mercy, do we ever think much about the end point of mercy, which is heaven? I guess that anything that we say about heaven will fall short of the actual reality. How can we use words to describe the indescribable? I share with you a few thoughts and images of heaven, some more recent and more ancient. If our concept of heaven is something that truly inspires our hearts, then we will run this earthly race to win the prize of God’s mercy… heaven.

Pope Benedict when he was writing his encyclical about hope, Spe et Salvi, he provided a wonderful image of heaven based on love. After all, heaven is God and God is love:

Spe Salvi #12: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John’s Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.

 

The bishops at Vatican II discussed heaven in the document, On the Church in the Modern World (#39), wrote:

We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, with death overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility. Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.

Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.

Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.

A more ancient source about heaven is St. Francis de Sales in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, where he wrote:

Imagine a lovely, calm night, when the heavens are bright with countless stars. Add to the beauty of such a night the utmost beauty of a glorious summer day, without the sun’s brightness overcoming the clear brilliance of moon or stars. Even so, all this beauty falls immeasurably short of the glory of Paradise – that bright and blessed country, that sweet and precious place!

Consider the beauty and perfection of the countless inhabitants of that blessed country: There will be millions and millions of angels, cherubim, and seraphim; the glorious company of apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and saints. What a blessed company! Any one of them shines with a glory that surpasses all the glory of this world. So what will it be to behold them all, to sing with them the sweet song of the Lamb? They rejoice with a perpetual joy; they share a bliss unspeakable, and delights that never fade.

Consider how they enjoy the presence of God, who fills them with the richness of the vision of his face, a perfect ocean of delight. They have the joy of being forever united to their Head. They are like happy birds, hovering and singing forever within the divine atmosphere, which fills them with inconceivable pleasures. In heaven each one vies with the others, without jealousy, in singing the praises of the Creator. ‘Blessed are you forever, dear and precious Lord and Redeemer, who so freely gives us of your own glory!” they cry. Then God in his turn pours out his ceaseless blessings on his saints: “Blessed are you, my own forever, who have served me faithfully, and with a good courage.”

In this light, resolve to give up whatever might hinder you on the way to heaven, and to do whatever will help you get there.

 

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8/21/16

At Mass this weekend the gospel will deal with the issue of salvation. [Luke 13:22-30] Jesus will be asked about how many will be saved. Instead of answer the question [Jesus often does that], He will answer the question about the necessary striving and effort to enter through the narrow gate. While Jesus never defines the narrow gate, we often picture heaven with a gate at the entrance and St. Peter outside admitting only certain people in.

The Catechism begins by reminding us that God has created us for eternal life of heaven:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.[CCC1]

Gaining admittance is first of all by God’s grace. It is gift. A gift of His mercy. Faith in this gift who is Jesus is also necessary for admittance. A college theology professor often asks his students what they must do to get to heaven. Very seldom have the students ever mentioned the importance of Jesus. Sad!

St. Eucharius of Lyon who lived from 380-449 AD encouraged the people of his day, and also us, to take care of our souls. We are often focused on the care of our bodies. What about our souls? Let me share with you his words:

The good we do for our own souls is the most acceptable service and sacrifice that we can offer to God. We care for our bodies with numerous physical examinations, extensive therapy, and many strict health regimens. Our bodies undergo considerable pain in hope of keeping them healthy. But doesn’t the soul deserve its medicine as well?

We consider it appropriate and even necessary to seek various medical aids and treatments for the body so we can recover a kind of health that’s only physical and temporary. Is it right, then, that the soul should be neglected and allowed to become weak and infected with deadly spiritual diseases? Should the soul be the only part of us that we refuse to supply appropriate and precious remedies as prescribed by the Physician?

No! If we provide so much care for the body, our provisions for the soul should be far more abundant! Someone once truly said that our body is the servant, and our soul is the mistress. It would hardly be improper or unhealthy, then, to pay more attention to the higher part of our nature. We should constantly, diligently, and intently perform checkups on the part of us with the greater dignity, where our most precious treasure is laid up.

The soul is the image of God in us, the precious pledge of his future generosity. Let’s employ all our interior energies and all our exterior aids to preserve it. If we manage and defend the soul faithfully, we’ll be taking care and protecting that pledge – God’s own possession, which he’s purchased for himself.

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8/20/16

Let me share with you a wonderfully down to earth article that I found in the Knights of Columbus magazine, Columbia, in their August, 2016, issue. The article is by Kathleen m. Basi and it is titled, Mercy Begins in the Home:

Whenever I go out with my three rambunctious, superhero- obsessed young boys and their sister, people zero in on my daughter, who has Down syndrome. Their reaction is always the same: “You sure have your hands full!”

Well, yes, I do. But not for the reason they think. Truthfully, the kid with special needs is the easy one. It’s the rest of them I have to worry about.

On any given day, the preschooler will demolish the LEGO masterpiece that took his big brother three days to build. The 7-year-old will shove his little brother down and then play the victim when the other retaliates. The tween will decide that sitting in the front seat of the van is the hill he’s ready to die upon.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’ve had ample opportunities to recognize a fundamental truth: Mercy begins in the home.

We often think of “mercy” in relation to forgiveness, but if we distill the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to their essence, they are about recognizing and honoring the elemental goodness – the presence of God – in everyone around us. Mercy is about opening our hearts and minds to accept and love others, rather than judge and censure them.

You might say that in the home as in the world, mercy begins with kindness.

But kindness is in short supply these days. Ratings trump integrity; shock value drives ratings; and commentators and social media users feel entitled to say things to the faceless internet that, not so long ago, would have been universally recognized as bad manners. We aren’t encouraged to find the best in others; we’re conditioned to assume the worst.

How can we expect our children to honor the presence of God in complete strangers – and even enemies – unless they first learn to honor that presence in those who are closest to them?

For instance, let’s say my son goes to confession because he’s fighting with his little brother. His best intention to “sin no more and avoid whatever may lead me to sin” is doomed if he doesn’t learn to open and soften his heart toward his brother. He’ll be back in the confessional soon enough. In this case, true mercy means replacing antagonism with kindness, learning to view conflicts through his brother’s eyes, speaking with gentleness and seeking solutions that are good for everyone, not just himself.

Fallen human nature says, “I don’t like that game, and I’m not playing with you!” Kindness says, “I know you want to play that game, but I really don’t, so if you’ll give up that one game, I’ll play whatever else you want. Your choice.”

Fallen human nature says, “Don’t you dare drink from my cup!” Kindness says, “Here, I’ll share.”

Small lessons, to be sure, but as our children’s world expands, so does their understanding of it. When we train ourselves to see the best in others rather than the worst, the formal works of mercy follow naturally. We perceive the need around us differently. When we see a person standing at a street corner or living in squalor, our first reaction is “How can I help?” instead of “Their problems must be a result of their own bad choices.”

I don’t mean to oversimplify. The world’s problems are real, and there are few easy answers. But mercy, as Pope Francis emphasizes, is the appropriate response for a Christian. And mercy – which we access through kindness – is not just found in a sacrament or memorized as a list of works. It is a deeply practical way of interacting with others. In fact, it’s a way of life, and our best hope of changing the world. As St. John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

It begins with mercy. And mercy begins in the home.

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8/19/16

Faith is a willingness to learn from each encounter that we have with God. I had one of those learning encounters yesterday while praying over the readings at Mass. I have always loved Ezekiel 36:24-27 where the prophet speaks about God giving His people a new heart and a new spirit. One reason why I like the image of a new heart is that I was able to see open heart surgery being performed while I was a summer chaplain during my seminary journey:

For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.

This passage from Ezekiel was a revelation to me, because for the Jewish people the heart was the primary organ for hearing!! Psalm 95: 7b-8: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. Our spiritual heart is often thought about as the center of all our actions, thoughts, desires, hopes, dreams, activities, etc. If the spiritual heart has been open to the voice of the Lord, then God’s will directs the heart. If our hearts are plugged so we don’t hear God’s voice or if we reject what we hear, then we suffer from the hardening of the arteries to our heart. So while the spiritual heart is the center of our activities, etc., that heart needs to be directed by God’s voice and by God’s will 

Think of the Jewish people who would throughout the day recite the Shema Israel prayer:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. [Deuteronomy 6:4-7]

As the Jewish people listened to the words of the prayer that they were reciting, they reminded themselves of God’s will. Seeking to follow that will, they were developing their fleshy hearts and removing any stony elements that might have been plugging the arteries to their hearts.

Think of Jesus and the many times that His heart was moved with compassion when He saw people hungry; the death of His friend, Lazarus; the sick and the suffering. How did Jesus have such a fleshy heart to be moved with compassion at the sight of those who were suffering? In John’s gospel Jesus said that He came not to do His own will but that of the Father. Jesus’ long hours of solitude and silence in prayer helped Him to hear His Father’s voice and develop His fleshy heart.

Pope Francis in his general audience of August 17, 2016, spoke about Jesus and the multiplication of the loaves to feed the multitude of people. Jesus’ heart was moved with compassion at the sight of the hungry crowd. As Pope Francis stated in his address, if we are listening as Jesus performs this miracle and as He instructs us to feed the crowd with the resources that He has provided, Jesus is commissioning us on a mission of mercy. As Pope Francis stated in that general audience:

In our continuing catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy, we now consider the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In Saint Matthew’s account, Jesus wishes to withdraw and pray, but seeing the multitudes, is moved by compassion and chooses to remain with them. By instructing his disciples to feed the crowd, he teaches them to have faith and invites them to share in his concern for those in need. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a concrete sign of that merciful concern. Matthew, in telling us that Jesus took the bread, looked up to heaven, then blessed and broke it for the crowds, clearly evokes the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Through our partaking of the Eucharist, we not only receive spiritual nourishment, but, conformed ever more fully to the Lord, we become signs of his merciful presence to those around us. May all of us, as members of Christ’s body, seek to bring to our families and communities, and especially to those most in need, the nourishment of God’s closeness, mercy and love.

When we go to Mass the next time, may be hear what is being said with our hearts. We will taste and see God’s mercy [the hearing part of Mass]. Then we will be commissioned to do the “heart” part of Mass – imitating what we have experienced… God’s mercy.

 

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8/18/16

Yesterday at the daily Mass, the gospel was the wonderful parable about the landowner who hired workers for his vineyard [Matthew 20]:

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. (And) he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? (Or) am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As I reflected on the parable, I thought, “Where were those workers who were hired at noon, 3 and 5 PM? The master hired everyone who was in the marketplace each time he “came to town” to hire workers. What were these workers hired later in the day doing?” Sleeping in? Too lazy to work? Living with an entitlement mentality? This nature of questioning makes us respond to the parable with, “It’s not fair what the landowner is doing.” Nope!

The parable is not meant to address questions such as this. The parable is a wonderful reminder of what this Year of Mercy is all about. If we really want to know God, then we need to experience God’s mercy in our lives. The fact that we are children of God begs us to ask ourselves the question, “How did this happen?” Yep! God’s mercy. One of the Eucharist prayers speaks of how we time and time again have broken God’s covenant with us. Yet God’s response was to send us His Son who would die for us. “How did this happen?” If you are catching the drift of all of this, the answer is obvious: God’s mercy. Why would God want to give the same reward to someone who lived a horrible life and only in later in life had the clarity of mind to return to the Lord with all of his/her heart, mind, soul, and strength? God’s mercy.

When is a gift really a gift? When we did not earn it, merit it, or deserve it. And we are very much aware of this reality!! Mercy is God’s grace, that is, gift to us. When we receive a wonderful gift, we thank [Eucharist] the Gift-Giver. That is why we are Eucharistic people. People who live thankfulness each day of our lives. And if this is really true, then this thankfulness should overflow in our relationships with one another. We should desire to let others experience God’s mercy through our words and actions. As Pope Francis said in his declaration for this Year of Mercy (#11): The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer – and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser.

Recently I received a card from a woman whose husband I helped return to his faith and his relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After his return he was “fired up” to live his faith by becoming active in his parish; he joined Catholic organizations; and he witnessed to others of his faith. As I thought about his return to the Lord and the fact that God used me in a small way to make it happen… well, it not only warmed my heart but fired up my heart to be more serious about such activity on behalf of Christ.

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8/17/16

Like yesterday’s blog, I would like to continue with a Marian theme today. On Monday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. In yesterday’s blog I shared with you the words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux about Mary the Star of the Sea. Today I would like to share with you some words written by Fr. Henri Nouwen concerning the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel sought Mary’s consent to give birth to Christ. As Christians, and as ambassadors of Christ, we too are called to “give birth” to Christ by our words and actions. In that way, the incarnation continues. It is not just an event of the past but an on-going reality in our world.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you. [Luke 1:26-28] Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. [v.38]

Mary is so open, so free, so trusting. She is completely willing to hear words that go far beyond her own comprehension. She knows that the words spoken to her by the angel come from God. She seeks clarification, but she does not question their authority. She senses that the message of Gabriel will radically interrupt her life, and she is afraid, but she does not withdraw. When she hears the words ‘You will bear a son… he will be called the son of the Most High,’ she asks, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’ Then she hears what no other human being ever heard: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.’ She responded with a complete surrender and thus became not only the mother of Jesus but also the mother of all who believe in him. ‘…let it happen to me as you have said’ [Luke 1:31, 34-35, 38].

I keep listening to these words as words that summarize the deepest possible response to God’s loving action within us. God wants to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives, but are we prepared to let it happen?

God chose to take on flesh in the woman who had found favor in God’s eyes and had responded to that favor with a full ‘’yes.’’ Her response was not only an initial agreement but a lifelong obedience to God’s redemptive presence. In this obedience she followed Jesus in the most perfect way. Her life was a life of always fuller abandonment to the divine will, a total emptying out in faith, a full entering into the darkness of her Son’s death. There is no other human being in whom we can see so fully what it means to receive the love of a God who loves us so much that he sent his own Son. She has known more blessing and more suffering than anyone else in all humanity. In her we see most fully what it means to be redeemed.

Thus Mary protects Christianity from becoming a system of ideas, doctrines, opinions, or convictions. She constantly keeps before us that most intimate relationship with her Son. Her complete obedience, radical humility, and unwavering faithfulness show us what a life of following Jesus truly can be. Following Jesus does no mean clinging to an idea or holding on to a principle. It is walking the path of the one who gave his life for his friends and called his followers to do the same. Mary’s whole being is in the service of Jesus. She is totally Mother, totally given to letting Jesus be born into this world, not only long ago in Bethlehem, but today and always in the heart of anyone who wants to find God. Her whole being is for Jesus. Seeing Mary always means seeing the Mother of God. Knowing Mary always means knowing the one who gives life to God.

 

 

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8/16/16

Yesterday we celebrated the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Saint John Damascene [ (c.675-749), monk, theologian, Doctor of the Church] wrote about her assumption with these words:

      O Mother of God, ever virgin, your holy departure from this world is in truth a way and an entry into the dwelling place of God. Leaving this material world, you enter into “a better country” (Heb 11:16) where the heavenly powers greet you with sacred canticles and joyous praise, saying: “Who is this most pure creature who rises up, shining like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun?” (Sg 8:5; 6:10)… “The king has brought you into his chambers” (Sg 1:4) and angels magnify her who, according to God’s design, is their true mother, by nature and grace, of their very Lord…        The apostles bore your stainless body, the true Ark of the Covenant, and laid it in its holy tomb. And there, as though across another Jordan, you came to the real Land of promise, I might even say to the “Jerusalem above”, mother of believers (Gal 4:26), of which God is the architect and builder. Your soul most certainly “did not go down into the netherworld, nor has your flesh itself experienced corruption” (Ps 15[16]:10; Acts 2:31). Your pure and spotless body was not left within the earth but you, Queen, Sovereign, Lady, Mother of God, true Godbearer, have been lifted to the dwellings of the heavenly Kingdom…        We approach you, O our Queen, Mother of God and Virgin, on this day; we turn our souls towards the hope you represent for us… We wish to honor you with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). In thus honoring the servant we express our dedication to our common Lord… Cast your eyes upon us, O Queen, mother of our kind Sovereign; guide our way into the calm harbor of God’s good will.

In the book, A Year with the Saints, by Paul Thigpen, the author has a wonderful description of Mary as the Star of the Sea by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Let me share with you some of the wisdom of this saint concerning Mary. Just as mariners were guided by the stars, Christians can navigate their way to heaven by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus [Hebrews 12] and by keeping their eyes on Mary as the model of our faith, the perfect disciple of Jesus.

Mary is the distinguished and bright shining Star, lifted up above this great broad sea, gleaming with merits, giving light by her example.

If you are caught between storms and tempests, tossed about in the flood of this world, instead of walking on dry land, keep your eyes fixed on the glow of this Star, unless you want to perish, overwhelmed by the tempest!

If the winds of temptation surge, if you run aground on the shoals of troubles, look to this Star, call upon Mary! If you are tossed by the winds of pride or ambition or detraction or jealousy, look to this Star, call upon Mary!

If anger or greed or the allurements of the flesh dash against the boat of your mind, look to Mary! And if you are troubled by the enormity of your sins, ashamed by the foulness of your conscience, terrified by the horror of Judgment Day, so that you being to be swallowed up in the pit of sadness, the abyss of despair – think of Mary!

In dangers, in straits, in perplexity, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let her name be always in your mouth and in your heart. And if you would ask for and obtain the help of her prayers, don’t forget the example of how she lived.

If you follow her, you won’t go astray. If you pray to her, you won’t despair. If you think of her, you won’t be lost. If you cling to her, you won’t fall. If she protects you, you won’t fear. If she’s your guide, you won’t grow weary. If she shows you favor, you’ll reach your goal.

 

 

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