Are we aware and willing to share?

The Book of Amos, of which our first reading comes from, is only nine chapters long. It is very short but packs a powerful punch. Amos begins with oracles of doom, moves onto summons of judgments, continues with a series of woes, and finishes with a series of visions. None of these proclamations are pleasant, nor do they offer that warm and fuzzy feeling we often hope to receive. Be not afraid. You may relax your shoulders if you are experiencing concern that I will be leading you through each oracle, summons, woe, and vision. I am not. I will only be making a few comments from the first reading as it may provide us some insight into our Gospel. If we listen well to this first line and act accordingly, we will not need all the rest.
I invite you to take a deep breath or two as I begin.
Amos said:
 “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion!”
Amos called the leadership of both the divided northern and southern kingdoms of Israel out for their “self-indulgent aristocracy” (Andersen).
He called the royal houses of Israel and, indirectly, Judah, to repentance and to return to just leadership by giving of each one their due. To be complacent in the context of this text, means that the leadership was showing a lack of concern or care for the welfare of their people who they were to serve. Not only were they enjoying the high life of “sleeping on beds of ivory” and engaging in opulent “revelry” they continued to enslave their own people into service, since the time of King Solomon and continued to do so.
There also continued to be a growing gap between the rich and the poor. The leadership seemed to forget the significant event of their founding as a people when God heard the cry of the poor and sent Moses and Aaron to liberate his people from their slavery in Egypt. These Hebrew slaves were their ancestors. They were called to be the chosen people of God not for themselves and their own sake but to be a light to the nations, to be set apart, to be holy, not to be like the other corrupt and sinful nations that surrounded them.
The kings did not listen to Amos or the other prophets and except for the rare light of hope with king Josiah for a brief period, Israel would fall under the military weight of the world powers around them. The northern kingdom would fall to Assyria in 722 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah would not only be conquered but the Temple would be destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC. The exiled members of Judah would return and rebuild the temple by 515 BC while under the rule of the Persians and then later by the Greeks. By the time of Jesus, Rome was the occupying nation over Israel.
In our Gospel from Luke, Jesus took up the mantle of Amos as he called out the Pharisees in the same way. “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” (Lk 16:19). The imagery and specific details here that Jesus opens his parable with “suggests the sort of opulence and overdone sumptuousness found in Amos” (Johnson).
The rich man also shows the same complacency and lack of caring about the plight of the poor man at his door. When he takes the time to leave his daily sumptuous dinners is he even aware that Lazarus exists? Just as ancient Israel would be held to account, so the rich man will be as well.
Even in the afterlife, he continues to show contempt for Lazarus. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a drink of water. Notice that Lazarus is named in this parable, but the rich man is not. The rich man chose his comfort, wealth, and opulence over sharing with those in need. He didn’t bother to care, and worse, he didn’t even appear to be aware of the need.
God spoke through Amos to call the Israelite leadership to repent, he spoke to the Pharisees and Jewish leadership through his Son, now he speaks to us through his Word today.
Are we aware of the need of those in our midst?
St. Mother Teresa shared an account of when she went out one night to give a cup of rice to a Hindu family she knew that had no food. She arrived at the home and was welcomed by the mother there. She was very grateful for the rice but when she received it, she cut the portion in half and left. When she returned, Mother Teresa asked her where she had gone. The woman replied, “They have no food either.” The woman was aware that her Muslim neighbor was hungry as well. She was aware of their need, and without hesitation she shared the little she was just given.
Are we aware? Are we aware of those in need around us? Even in our own homes? Our parish? I have experienced some of that awareness already. I have been met with wonderful hospitality already since I have begun to serve on the weekends at St. John Fischer Catholic Church.
We also need to remember that there are many needs we and our neighbors experience and not just for food. People long to belong, to be valued, to be loved. We are all quite capable of being thankful for what God has given us. May we be aware and willing to share what God has given. It can be just as simple as when we catch someone’s eye, to offer a smile and a hello. In that simple act, we say that you exist to me, you matter. The next encounter we can have a conversation and we can build from there.
Let us heed the words of Amos and Jesus to honestly assess where we have and have not been charitable in the sharing of our time, talent, and treasure with the people we encounter. May each of us pray at the beginning of each day for a heart and mind that continues to be open to serve those in our midst, in our families, our parish, and in our neighbors.
Our neighbors are more than those next door. As we acknowledge the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, may we ponder and put into practice the words of Pope Francis: “We are called to renew our commitment to building a future that conforms ever more fully to God’s plan of a world in which everyone can live in peace and dignity.”

Photo: This summer we visited Fr. Ben and the parish of St. John Fischer where I am now blessed to serve on the weekends!
Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 24A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 560.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 3, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 252.
Pope Francis quote accessed from IG post from catholicreliefservices.

God is always waiting with his arms wide open to welcome us into his loving embrace

Our readings portray a beautiful mosaic. A mosaic is an artwork in which small pieces of pottery, stones, tiles, or broken shards, are placed together to create a unique and whole picture. The mosaic that comes together in today’s reading is one of God’s infinite and loving embrace.
This image may not seem apparent in the first reading proclaimed from Exodus. At first hearing, we may see a vengeful God who is seeking to destroy his people, to wipe them off the face of the earth as he had done at the time of Noah. One of the tiles of our mosaic that radiates a glimmer of God’s love for us is found in the encounter with Moses and God.
Moses is given the opportunity to replace Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs and founding fathers of Judaism if he allows God’s wrath to flare up. Moses can be the new patriarch and begin again with a new people. Instead, he intercedes on behalf of the people so they may be renewed as a new people in communion with God (Propp).
God promised Noah that he would never again destroy his people by a flood. Moses remembered his Bible and was as faithful as Abraham when put to the test. Moses would, time and again, and not always as patient as here, call back the people of Israel from their unfaithfulness, and invite them to return to the covenantal bond with God.
In our gospel from Luke, there are three more polished tiles that radiate the love of God and enhance our mosaic. The good shepherd, the woman and the coin, and what is often called the prodigal son. In each case, a sheep, a coin, and a son are lost but then are found. Great joy accompanies the finding!
The added twist with the prodigal son story is that one is not so joyful – the elder son. He refuses to come into the house to celebrate as well as his father’s attempts to comfort him (Johnson). The anger toward his father he has harbored all these years comes out, but is misdirected to his brother (Johnson).
Both sons have refused the love of their father. The younger son considered his father dead to him in originally asking for his inheritance. The elder son held a long simmering grudge. The father comes with heart and arms wide open to first his returning son and then to his son outside to share in the celebration. We do not know what will happen with either son going forward. How will each son respond to the Father’s invitation of love?
Where do we find ourselves in theses parables?
St. Paul who we heard from in our second reading is a good guide. Saul before he became Paul was the elder son. He was like the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was addressing at the beginning of these parables. When Saul encountered Christ, he was disoriented for a time, but came to see the light and the truth of the Father’s love and surrendered completely into his loving embrace. “Strengthened by Jesus, Paul finds an abundance of faith and love where blasphemy, persecution, and insolence once ruled (Fiore).
May the words of St. Paul that he wrote to Timothy encourage us today: “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry” (I Tim 1:12).
Paul’s account is another piece we can add to our mosaic. Yet there is another story not yet shared. There are many pieces still missing. God has also run out to meet us this morning through his Son, who “came into the world to save” each one of us, “sinners” (I Tim 1:15). We are invited to be part of this same ministry of receiving and sharing the love of God. Are we willing to repent from that which is not of God and give our lives to him this morning as we receive his Son in the Eucharist? And are we willing to be a vital part of this mosaic of God’s love that we have started piecing together today so that others may receive the gift of the Father’s love as well?
God loves us more than we can ever mess up, does not define us by our worst mistakes, “loves us in our sin, even in the act of our sin” (Bosso), and more than we can ever imagine. I invite you be still today and allow yourself to be embraced by the love of the Father so that you may become a reservoir of God’s love that fills you up to overflowing.

Painting: Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669
Resources/References used.
William H. C. Propp Exodus 19–40: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 554.
Benjamin Fiore The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 12, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 48, 53, 54.
Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, S.J., The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, vol. 28A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 1084–1086.
Luke Timothy Johnson,  The Gospel of Luke, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 3, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 240-242.
Msgr. Steven Bosso “A Time of Letting God Love Us In Our Sinfulness”, (Orientation Retreat Conference, St Vincent de Paul Seminary, Boynton Beach, FL, August 17, 2022).

 

 

 

You continue to be my heart

Three years ago today my life changed forever. Like recovering from an amputation, I have been learning to live again without you but it hasn’t been nor will it ever be the same. Appreciating the gift of life each moment is important, you and God have taught and continue to teach me that.

Your heart continues to beat with my heart until it is time to go home to be with you and God. I will love you forever.

JoAnn wanted those within her reach to be happy and believed that we are on this earth to love one another. I invite you to honor her memory today by doing something to take care of yourself and share a kind act of love with someone in your reach.

Love, love, and more love,
Dcn. Serge and JoAnn 🙏🏼💞

May we seek and speak the truth, and allow another to do the same.

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51).
We often hear Jesus preaching about oneness and unity. Today’s statement from Jesus can seem contradictory, yet what he is articulating is an observation about an unfortunate reality. Those who speak truth to power, like the long line of prophets, such as Jeremiah in the first reading, face harsh treatment. Jesus would be no different. If we are living out the Gospel in our daily lives it will also be true for us.
The sad reality is that we still witness division and polarization today. We have forgotten or no longer want to have a good argument. One in which each person speaks for what they believe in while at the same time respecting the other person’s right to do the same. Also, we no longer enter the argument to learn from one another, but to win.
Many in our society seek to put into practice the common adage: do not speak about politics or religion in polite company. The reason is that too many of these discussions have just devolved into ad hominem attacks in which we just disparage or belittle someone we disagree with. This is a shame because these are two areas in our lives that we need to discuss even while remaining passionate about them.
One of my favorite film scenes is from the 1989 film, Lean on Me, in which Robert Guillaume, acting as the school superintendent and Morgan Freeman, acting as a principle of the sub-par school he is trying to build up, have a passionate and heated argument. Each vehemently makes their case for their perspective and do not come to a mutual agreement, but when the smoke clears and their professional relationship and friendship appears to be over, there is a brief pause and one says, “Come on, let’s get something to eat.” There is a passionate argument for what the two believe in though no demeaning of the other, and instead, mutual respect.
Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus is a master of the argument because he knows and speaks the truth no matter the situation or pressure. He can speak among the religious and spiritual elite as well as the leper and the prostitute, yet in each case, the truth remains the same. He is not swayed by political, social or religious pressures. Jesus speaks the truth as his Father leads him. May we do the same while respecting and acknowledging the dignity of those for whom we engage with. May we, in the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Be a pencil in God’s hand.”
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Photo clip from the film, Lean on Me, starring Robert Guillaume and Morgan Freeman, 1989
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, August 14, 2022

Heaven opens up for us when we acknowledge our dependence on God.

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14).
Again we see the disciples refusing access to Jesus. The scriptures are not clear why they consistently act this way. We see them doing so with the blind man Bartimaeus, the tax collector Zacchaeus, and the Canaanite woman. In today’s reading, they are refusing access to children. The characteristic of each of those being refused is that they are considered to be on the periphery of Jewish society.
Children, paidia in Greek, were especially considered so. Paidia could represent a child from infancy to twelve years of age. In ancient Palestine, children were particularly vulnerable, had no status and were completely dependent on their families for survival. Luke goes even further than Mark and Matthew by using, brephē, meaning infant, to describe the children. It is to these children and infants that Jesus states the Kingdom of heaven belongs.
Just as consistent as the disciples are in turning away those in need, Jesus consistently pays particular interest in the individual person in their particular need. He welcomes the children and blesses each one of them. Jesus continually acknowledges and affirms the dignity of each person he meets, especially those neglected and ignored. Those who have been on the other side of the glass looking in, Jesus gives admittance. Jesus bridges the divide of separation through his presence and healing touch.
To enter the Kingdom of heaven, we must be willing to trust and place, as children, even more so, as infants, our total dependence on God alone, instead of relying on our own initiative or effort. There is nothing we can do to earn our way into heaven. The entrance into the Kingdom of heaven is a free gift of God’s grace. This gift is not about our worthiness, for all of us fall short. It is about our willingness to acknowledge our utter dependence on our loving God and Father and accept the invitation he offers all of us to be in relationship with him AND to resist the temptation to prevent others from having access to this wonderful gift. We are to share the same invitation we have received with others.

Photo: A stained glass image of Jesus with children at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA.
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, August 13, 2022

Marriage is to mirror the love of God present in the world.

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever” (Mt 19:3)?
The question about divorce came from an already existing debate within Jewish circles of interpretation and schools of thought. Testing Jesus arose from time to time to better understand who he would side with. Regarding the issue of divorce, there was a range of interpretations. On one end of the spectrum, there was the School of Shammai, which permitted divorce only in the event of some sexual misconduct. At the other end, was the School of Hillel, which would allow a man to divorce his wife if she cooked a bad meal (cf. Harrington 2007, 275).
The Pharisees sought to understand the perspective of Jesus in this debate. Jesus responded: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'” (Mt 19:4-5)? This response negated both schools as well as rejected the precept that Moses set for allowing divorce, explaining that, “from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). Jesus’ defense went back to God’s original intent recorded in the Book of Genesis, which allowed no provision for divorce.
In God’s plan, marriage is a covenantal relationship, as is the relationship between God and his people. A covenant is a sacred bond that is not to be broken. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, a man and a woman who give themselves freely to one another and are open to children as the fruit of their union mirror the Trinitarian communion of Father and Son and the eternal love between them the Holy Spirit. Thus we are to love God, our neighbor, and our neighbor as our self. Love is more than mere sentiment or emotion but a willingness to will and sacrifice for another.
The ideal of marriage then is to be a lifelong commitment of love; for God does not break his covenant with us, nor should we. The goal is clear, yet we live in a fallen world and we do not often live up to what God has planned for us. For many reasons, there are times where a marriage does not work as intended but that does not mean we are to give up on marriage. Even though Jesus holds the standard high, he remains with us when we are wounded and in our fallibility. He reminds us: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17).
We are to resist the temptation to settle for anything less than what God has in store for us, which is a covenant relationship with himself and each other. Relationships are not easy and we don’t naturally know what we are supposed to do. We need to learn how to develop healthy, loving, friendships. As we do so, we might be able to better help those not only preparing for marriage but also continue to mentor and guide them during their marriage. And when a relationship breaks down, we need to be present to and walk with those who suffer through the pain of such a rupture. We are not to abandon one another for Jesus does not abandon us and instead bestows his mercy upon us, which is his willingness to enter into the chaos of our lives.

Photo: With God as our center and foundation JoAnn and I grew in our love for God, one another, and others.
Harrington, S.J., Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew in Sacra Pagina, vol. 1. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, August 12, 2022

The kingdom of God expands when we receive the love of God and share it with others.

We live in a fallen world where suffering, violence, hatred, anxiety, and fear abound and this reality does not appear to be changing any time soon. Yet, there is still cause for hope. Jesus says in the opening of today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Unfortunately, far too many do not find comfort in these words. A common complaint is “Well, Jesus said these words some two thousand years ago, I do not see any kingdom, and not only has this world not gotten any better, but it also seems to be getting worse!” To say or buy into this perspective is to miss what God’s kingdom is.
The first words recorded from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus were, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). What Jesus said then and is saying to us now is that the kingdom of God is about a relationship and a relationship happens person to person and builds slowly over time.
Jesus came to restore the relationship that has been lost with his Father. We live in a fallen world because we have forgotten who we are, that we are children of God. Instead of our primary focus being the building and strengthening of our relationship with God, we are distracted and led astray by so many other material pursuits. We are putting ourselves first. We are the priority instead of God and each other. There is suffering, pain, and deep hunger in the world because too many are selfish and self-centered.
Our Father is pleased to offer us the kingdom, a relationship with him. Are we willing to accept his gift? Being diverted and entranced by the things that we find here below only wither and fade. The true gift is recognize and accept that God with us. Our world will not change until we make a change, person by person, one relationship at a time, beginning with God in first place.
The kingdom of God is in our midst. Jesus has his arms wide open to receive us. Jesus invites us to repent, to turn back to him, and run into his loving embrace. Then step by step, encounter by encounter, as we are more open and willing to hear and share the will of God, we will better be able to build relationships that are lasting and true. Heaven and earth become one each time we receive the love of God and share it with one another.

Photo: Some quiet time with Jesus to meditate and pray before morning Mass this past week.
Link to the Mass readings for Sunday, August 7, 2022

Taking up our cross is not easy, but it frees us.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
Jesus invites us to deny our self-centered default position which places I, me, and mine (As George Harrison sang) at the center of each of our decisions. We can deny ourselves when we resist making excuses for our sins and come to a genuine place of sorrow for the pain we have caused God, ourselves, and others. By acknowledging our sins and confessing them, we die to our selfish ways, and then we rise again through the power of Christ. Empowered by our humility and the strength of Jesus we are better equipped to resist those temptations when they rise again.
We are also in a better position to then take up our cross, which is to follow the will of God. Jesus showed us the proper orientation of surrender when he said at Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus followed his Father’s will to the cross and endured horrific suffering, excruciating pain, humiliation, and abandonment, to death and into new life!
Many a mother I have talked with has shared the struggles of labor, but also expressed the joy of giving birth; many students I have taught have been exasperated by the time and effort expended for an examination, a sporting event, art show, musical or theatrical performance and yet experienced the joy from the feat they accomplished; and how many times have we faced a challenge, trial, or cleared some obstacle and felt the exhilaration of overcoming the hurdle?
Taking up our cross and following the will of God means accepting a disciplined approach to our lives. When we follow God’s will, as opposed to our own solely, the difference is that we are not alone in our persistent effort. Seeking God’s will in the midst of our decision-making process and trials for our everyday physical as well as spiritual pursuits is the key.
In my mid-twenties, I entered the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province to study for the priesthood. In the year and a half of discernment, from time to time I would imagine my ordination day. To my surprise, I did not feel intense joy. I enjoyed every aspect of my experience with the friars and the ministries but there was something or someone missing. I took a leave of absence and about a year and a half later, I realized what was missing was a family.
About two years later I met JoAnn, and her three children, Mia, Jack, and Christy. Six months after that we were married and seventeen years later, I was ordained to the permanent diaconate. This is the short version of the story. There were bumpy moments as we learned to grow together by being willing to see each other’s point of view, some perspectives took a little longer than others, and we were at our best when we were willing to sacrifice for and serve one another.
The journey took its roughest lurch in the summer of 2019 when JoAnn was experiencing her final weeks with us on this side of heaven. From the beginning of JoAnn’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, we both prayed, not that our will but God’s will be done. This cross was the heaviest to bear, yet Jesus shouldered it with us and blessed us richly in our surrender. I am truly grateful for those final months that we had together.
Grief and sorrow have their own time frame and their expression is just as unique as each individual. One thing I miss the most is holding Joann’s hand. Over the past two months, I have been blessed to journey and experience the various wonderful people of our diocese. In experiencing their lives, I have felt as if I have been holding the hand of my bride to be – the Church. For the path of becoming a priest is a willingness to become like Jesus who is espoused to his Church.
Embracing the sorrow and allowing the tears to flow when they will, has helped me to heal and I have been better able to experience the joy and appreciation of the twenty-three years we had together. I am beginning to learn to live again, knowing JoAnn wanted me to be happy and fulfilled. Doing so is the best way to honor her life.
In embracing the cross, as Jesus did, we can participate in his death so that we can participate in his life. Death does not have the final answer, Jesus does. Each day is a new opportunity to begin again, to live life anew and to the full.

Photo: The last time we were all together, July 4th weekend of 2019 with Levi and Harley, Mia’s wee ones.
Link for the Mass Readings for, Friday, August 5, 2002

Are we willing to dig, to remove the stones in our hearts, to unearth rich soil?

The root of the message offered in today’s Gospel is what is foundational to beginning and continuing as a disciple of Jesus. This being the disposition of our hearts. Are we closed to receiving the message of the Gospel, or are we open to embracing the invitation of Jesus to become more active in living out our faith in our everyday life?
The exchange of Jesus with his disciples in today’s reading from Matthew comes after his sharing of the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9). In this parable, Jesus offers scenarios regarding the conditions of seeds sown. Some fell on a hardened path, some on rocky ground, some fell among thorns, and some fell on the rich soil. The seeds in the first three settings were not able either to germinate or come to full maturity. The seed that was sown in rich soil was able to germinate, sprout, mature, and bear fruit.
As disciples, we are meant to bear fruit. That means our beginning step to preparing rich soil is to have an open heart and mind to the message of the Gospel. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can quickly assess when our hearts are hardened and our minds are closed. When someone makes a statement, do we immediately judge it before the sentence is even completed? If we are in touch with our emotions, are we aware of the tenseness of our body and our shortening of breath? Think back to some times when we have reacted in this way, think of some times when we have had similar reactions in prayer, or when we feel God leading us to serve in a particular way, or when a scriptural passage piques our interest and we ignore it, read on, or close our Bible. How about times when a person interrupts us with an issue, or we see someone in need and keep walking and while we walk away with feel the angst of guilt.
The good news presented in the above examples is that we are alive and our conscience is somewhat intact. Our soil may be on rocky ground, there may be some weeds and thorns, but at least there is some soil. The most difficult state and the one Jesus addressed in today’s Gospel is the heart of indifference that is closed, the seed falling on the well-trod path, that is hard and packed so nothing gets through. For these people, “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand” (Mt 13:13). Yet, even this soil can be broken open and tilled. Even the hardest heart can be softened if one is willing to turn to Jesus. If we are willing to dig, we will encounter, but can then remove stones and rocks, and loosen the rich soil to make it good for planting.
Jesus, in his explanation of why he spoke in parables, returned to the inaugural message of his ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). To be a disciple of Jesus we need to be willing to repent, to acknowledge the places in our hearts and minds that are closed, those areas that are hardened from real or perceived past pain or trauma, those situations in which we choose to shut down and separate ourselves from God and others. When we allow Jesus in, we can experience his healing touch. By risking to reach out in this way for help, we can begin to heal. As we do so, we can begin to hope, to care, and to love.
Being a disciple means that we will make mistakes, we will not be perfect, we will be hurt, betrayed, and experience the injustice of this world. But if we trust in Jesus, are willing to learn from our mistakes, return to him for healing and confession, our hearts will soften and our minds will open.
We will come to experience that we are not alone, that we have not been abandoned, that there is hope because there is a way forward, there is a goal we have to attain, which is to enter into the process of becoming true to who we are and who we are called to be. We will also begin to experience our interconnectedness with one another. When we come to realize that we are not alone, that we are not an island in a sea of people, that we are loved, we may be more willing to hear other people’s stories, be more understanding of their struggles and trials, and maybe begin to have eyes to see and ears to hear our brothers and sisters that have been beside us all along. Instead of being a part of the problem, we can then begin to be part of the solution.

Photo: Breaking ground for a garden at St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, July 22, 2022

Our relationship with God and one another improves when God is first.

What Jesus proposes is not an either/or statement, but is meant to be a both/and statement. The end goal of our life is to be in communion with God. To attain that goal, we need to not only acknowledge that God exists but also come to know and follow God’s will. As Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). The challenge is that there is so much that pulls at us for our attention, so much that reaches out to divert us. People, activities, material pursuits are all vying for first place for our minds, hearts, and souls.
The challenge and demands of family life are tremendous. We often read, hear, and experience ourselves, how much the family is being challenged in our modern age. Many of us strive to put family first in our lives. That ought to and needs to be a priority as healthy relationships require commitment, love, sacrifice, and persistence. What Jesus offers then seems to be counter-intuitive to that reality.
Jesus is approached, in the midst of his teaching, and told that his mother and brothers were wanting to see him. We would think he would say, “Great! Bring them right in, I have a place reserved for them here, front and center!” He instead replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers” (Mt 12:49), which I am sure raised a few eyebrows and hackles.
Jesus was not choosing his disciples over his family, he was clarifying that the primacy of place of God his Father is to be first and foremost. “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). Families come in many different shapes and sizes, one size indeed does not fit all. Building our relationship with our heavenly Father is the foundation toward striving toward healthier relationships.
For our relationship with God to deepen, we must be willing to let of of our ego and self-centeredness. This is no overnight or easy process, but as we do so each day, we will begin to experience God’s love a little more. The practice of allowing ourselves to decrease and Jesus to increase leads to change. We will become more patient, understanding, less reactive, and more present. These qualities are very helpful in improving our relationships.
As we continue to mature in our spiritual life, we will also begin to experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). By putting these gifts into practice, we will be more available to others and better able to foster deeper relationships with our own family members, while at the same time coming to experience a larger extended family, those beyond blood.
Who was the closest human relationship Jesus experienced? Mary. Not because she gave birth to him, but because who better than Mary followed the will of his Father? If life with some family members is a little bumpy right now or you just want to deepen your familial bonds, might I suggest that we assume the posture of Mary and say often, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Photo: Leaning on God and each other three years ago in Los Angeles!
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, July 19, 2022