Friday, March 28, 2014

God First Loved Us

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." - Mark 12:28-30

What does it truly mean to love God with all of one's heart, soul, mind, and strength? Often it is said that this verse means to put God before everything else in life. This perspective sounds appealing, but then again, do we do this? Do we reflect daily on how we might better love God before all else? Do we learn from our failures so as to help us to grow and do better? What are the obstacles that prevent us from loving God above everything else?

My brothers and sisters, as much as it is important to reflect on how we can better love God, this cannot be the starting point. “Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Pope Benedict XVI). The starting point is always God, not us!

By focusing first on God and God’s free gift of love, we move away from the negative and turn to the positive. Often times our days are so filled with looking at failures and imperfections that we become easily frustrated and discouraged. It then becomes increasingly difficult to respond with love. We may do it for a while out of mere obligation, but soon it may altogether come to an end. Why? The focus becomes us rather then God! Thus, we see only the impossible rather than the possible.

For love is not focused on all that is wrong, but concentrates on what is right and allows for that which is good to be nourished and take root! Fidelity helps us to stay the course and to remember the who and the why! 

So take your eyes off yourself and place your gaze upon God!  Begin each day by seeking God's presence, power, blessing, and love! When you willingly accept God’s perfect love for you, God will transform your doubt into faith, weakness into strength, failure into victory, and sin into new life!

“God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful." –Blessed Mother Teresa

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Love Your Enemy

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? - Matthew 5:43-46

When was the last time you prayed for someone who in some way persecuted you? What was the content of your prayer to God? Perhaps it was something like this: "God change this person from his/her evil ways and do it as fast as you can!" 

We often want others to change on our own terms and conditions. I don't believe changing the other person was Jesus' focus in this passage. Rather, Jesus demanded His disciples to always take the lead and to be the first to do what was right. Jesus desires His disciples never to shut down or shut out others or God, on the contrary, to always have one's heart and soul open. Open to God and to others. God is love and love is what truly can bring about change. Change in us and change in others. 

Love first invites me to open my heart and soul so as to be free to consider: my attitude, my thoughts, my decisions, my words, and my reaction.  After self reflection than I can better respond to others in my life with a foundation of love including enemies. Blessed John Paul II once said, "Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain, but simply loves." 

Jesus is not suggesting you go out to a movie with an enemy, to accept abuse or to pretend as if all is well. After all, wrong is wrong and we must always stand for what is right and just. As we stand for what is right and just, we need to remember that LOVE must always be a part of the equation. You see Jesus is inviting you to look beyond the external words and acts of your enemy. Jesus desires you go deeper and to consider the soul. This is where prayer is needed. You must honestly and consistently pray for the heart and soul of your enemy. Refrain from focusing your time and energy on solely the exterior. For when you pray for your enemy to open his/her heart and soul to the presence of God the exterior change will follow. Be patient and do not grow weary. When you do grow impatient, it just might be an invitation to consider whether your heart and soul is still open to God and to others!

"Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love."-Blessed John Paul II

Friday, March 14, 2014

Conversion-You Shall Surely Live

Thus says the Lord GOD: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? - Ezekiel 18:21-23

Unlike what some might believe, God is not out to get us! At the same time, God does not take delight in our wrongdoing! Ultimately, God wills that all shall live! This is why God sets forth commands. This is why God sent his Son, Jesus. This is why Jesus gave us the Church to continually teach and guide us. For if we are left alone or confused by the values of the world, there is no doubt sin will consume us. Why is this? It is because sin turns us from God, weighs us down, and ultimately leads us to death.

As humans we will make mistakes. We will fall down. We will sin. Through it all, God offers us the opportunity to correct the mistakes, to get back up and ultimately turn away from sin. When we acknowledge our mistakes and seek God we are as good as new. God offers us this newness of life.

It alarms me when individuals tend to cast away the dangers of sin. It disappoints me when Christians settle with being a good person. It saddens me when Catholics believe the teachings of the Church are too demanding and unnecessary to live by. Jesus challenged all whether religious leaders, apostles, or those He met along the way to turn away from sin. The Gospel message must challenge us to grow and to change. The New Testament clearly affirms that Jesus came to show us the way and to save us from our sins. Love invites us to experience hope, to live with joy and not to be afraid.  Pope Francis shares, “Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

Thus, do not put off making change when you are in wrong. Do not turn to the justification of your wrongdoing. Do not be discouraged by sin. Know in your heart that God rejoices in giving you new life! "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 8-9).

"Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation." (CCC #1850)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” - Matthew 6:14-15

Don't confuse forgiveness with the acceptance of wrongdoing. If forgiveness had to do with the acceptance of a wrong then we would be saying God is accepting of our sin. Psalm 5 denies God's acceptance of sin, "You are not a god who delights in evil; no wicked person finds refuge with you." God wants always to be the source of our refuge. Thus, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).  This is affirmed when St. Joseph was told by an angel, "You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The power of forgiveness is transformative! Jesus' sacrifice on the cross opened the door of salvation and showed us the power of forgiveness. As we await the day of salvation with hope, it is now that Jesus invites us to share in the transformative nature of forgiveness by seeking often the forgiveness of God and by offering forgiveness to one another. 

It is disheartening that so many people today miss out on the transformative power of forgiveness because they do not seek it from God or they withhold it because they believe that forgiveness somehow translates into the acceptance of a wrong. This is not what forgiveness means. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a wonderful outlook on forgiveness, “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (Paragraph 2843).

Pope Francis recently shared, “What is the joy of God? It is to forgive!” When we do not forgive we fill ourselves with hate, resentment, and anger. There is little room for joy! Forgiveness is to free one to experience joy and when necessary the healing that only God can offer. Jesus knew the importance of forgiveness and thus said to Peter when he asked how often should he forgive, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Do yourself the favor and offer forgiveness to someone who has done you wrong. If you truly want to experience joy seek also the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive the peace and grace that God offers to you and me.

One last point! Before we get too comfortable and choose not to forgive one another. We may want to remember the words of Jesus, “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jesus is Calling

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.”  – Luke 5:27

Commonly the call from the Lord is interpreted as for a chosen few. We tend to believe the call is for somebody else. Ordinarily the term is thought to be in reference to those thinking about the priesthood or religious life. While there is no doubt that there are those called to serve the Lord in a particular way as a Priest or Religious Sister, the call is not reserved for them alone. The call is for every Christian. The call to follow the Lord is an invitation to be intimately connected and in relationship with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t wait until we are perfect or have everything in order to make that invitation. Although it is true Jesus calls us at varying times for diverse reasons and tasks, the call itself does not wait until we believe we are desirable enough for the Lord or when we feel we are fully “qualified.”

The common responses to a call from the Lord are normally: Who me? You have the wrong person! I’m not holy enough! I’ve made too many mistakes! Certainly there is someone better! Excuses and more excuses. We all have them. Yet, Jesus doesn’t respond by saying, “maybe you are right, sorry for the inconvenience, I will be on my way!” No, Jesus knows exactly whom He is calling! He is calling a sinner, like you and me. He calls us to get up from where we are in the midst of the sin, excuses, comfort, and fears to follow Him.

I must admit it is not always easy to follow the Lord. He expects the best out of us. He expects us to look forward and not to look back. He expects us to trust Him to get to the heavenly destination, yet conveniently doesn’t inform us of the side roads it will take to get there. Despite our own apprehension, Jesus is faithful. Through it all He forgives us when we fall short, He encourages us when we want to turn back, and He walks with us through every twist and turn.

Imagine how the world would be if every Christian truly felt called and fully embraced the mission! Look back at those Jesus has called and reflect on their story: Think about Peter, Andrew, Paul and the other Apostles. Recall Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and Nicodemus. Remember John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi and other great saints in the Church. Great is the number of remarkable people that responded to the call of the Lord. They include not only individuals known by so many, but numerous others known only to the Lord. I recently heard a person’s reflection that every great saint in the Church first considered himself or herself to be a great sinner. Those we know as Saints were not great or remarkable because they were perfect. They became great and did remarkable things because they acknowledged themselves as sinners and still responded to the call to follow the Lord.

There is no doubt in my mind that choosing to follow the Lord will change the world even if only one soul at a time. Will you respond to the call and be a part of it?  Will you have the courage to overcome your sins, excuses, comforts and fears to follow the Lord? 

Lent is the perfect time to listen more attentively to the call! Be not afraid.

(P.S. For those who have already responded to the call from the Lord, you can use Lent to reevaluate your own journey with the Lord. Are you faithfully following the Lord? Have you been distracted? Are you holding onto anger or any resentments? Have you wondered from Jesus' path and taken your own? Ongoing reflection and evaluation is key to a life with the Lord.)

Friday, March 7, 2014


This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! -Isaiah 58:5-9

It is often asked in Lent, “What are you giving up?” There are the classic choices like chocolate, soda, dessert, smoking, drinking. With technology in excessive use some have decided to give up completely Facebook and Twitter or cut back on the amount of time on the internet and television. There is no doubt that any amount of sacrifice is notable and can be helpful to the spiritual journey. However, the reason behind the sacrifice is of great importance. The season of lent is more than giving up something for a period of time and then over indulging after the season is over. Fasting enables us to take time, which is often bombarded by distractions and the normal activities that prevent us from being focused on the Lord. Fasting enables us to listen more attentively to the message of the Lord, rather than the message of the world. Fasting enables us to be others centered and not merely self-centered.

So we should essentially be asking ourselves this question: What can I fast from that will give me more time to focus on the Lord and others? What do I need to refrain from in my life to better respond to the call from the Lord? The prophet Isaiah captures the type of fasting that God desires. Isaiah focuses on fasting that helps us to refocus our lives on the things that really matter in the eyes of God, reaching out to one another. It is the same example that Jesus gives to us in the Gospel. Jesus came to give life and to give it in abundance (John 10:10). Jesus came to bring healing of mind, body and spirit (Luke 5:23-24). Jesus came to reach out in love (John 13:34). Jesus came to forgive us our sins and to grant us salvation (John 3:16). Thus, we use the season of lent to recall Jesus’ life, passion, and great sacrifice on the cross. In gratitude we then look to live the example of the Lord to one another. We are called to do as Jesus commanded, “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” (Matthew 28:19).

Don’t let anyone discourage you from what you have given up for lent this year. However, challenge yourself to really reflect on the reason for your fast. Ask yourself, does this fast help me to focus on the message of God and help me to reach out to others. If so, great! Keep going strong and may your Lenten journey bear much fruit. If not, it’s not too late to re-evaluate and make adjustments so that this lent is not the same as usual, but one truly focused on the life of Christ, which calls on us to focus on God and to reach out to others.

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