A posture of mercy may help us to begin to heal our divisions.

Polarization, division, and finger-pointing continue to seem to be the order of the day on the national level. Unfortunately, it is taking a firmer hold at the community and familial level and within the Church as well. Instead of looking for someone to blame for the cause of this situation, we need to look in the mirror and honestly assess how we are contributing to division instead of seeking to uphold the motto of the United States of America – E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many One; or instead of upholding the motto of our faith – “That they may all be one” (John 17:21).
We need to take a step back, take a breath or two, and examine our conscience and honestly acknowledge how we are contributing to the divisiveness and polarization through our own thoughts, words, and actions. Then we will be in a better position to act instead of react. We can disagree and offer different points of view and seek different approaches to solve problems respectfully when we come into an encounter willing to engage in dialogue and collaboration instead of forcing our own point.
A beginning place for us this Lent can be to understand and put into practice what Jesus said in the opening of today’s Gospel:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36)
Mercy, from the Hebrew word chesed, meaning to show tender compassion, can help us to turn the momentum away from disunity and polarization toward respecting the gift of our diversity while at the same time embracing our unity.  Fr. James Keenan, S.J. defines mercy as the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. Instead of imposing our point of view, mercy is the willingness to accompany, to come to know and make a concerted effort to understand another.
Instead of prejudging someone, mercy is a willingness to hear first and assess thoughtfully what has been said, even when the message conveyed is heated, derogatory, and inflammatory. There may be some truth in the maelstrom of what has been spewed. Jesus also guides us to stop judging and condemning each other. We are limited by our own finite natures as it is. We are not God and are not capable of fully reading another person.
In most cases, we do not know another’s struggles, anxieties, fears, traumas, and experiences. When encountering one another we need to resist the knee-jerk reaction to judge, and instead, listen first, allow someone to vent without taking offense, and without seeking a way to “fix” them or the problem.
Jesus also reminds us to forgive. As God forgives us we are also invited to forgive others, to let go of grudges. Not to do so means allowing the poison injected into us to spread instead of seeking the healing antidote of forgiveness. The one who has wounded us has walked away and if we are not willing to forgive we continue to do harm to ourselves as we allow that wound to fester.
It is much easier to stay in our shell or bubble. We feel protected and safe so no one can hurt us, but that is not the posture Jesus would have us assume, for we are focused on our self. Staying in our bubble suffocates us, stunts our growth, and limits our potential as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus calls us, not to cave in upon ourselves, but to go out from ourselves, to be agents of love and mercy.
Each day we have a choice. We can withdraw and remain indifferent seeking to protect ourselves, we can choose to promote disunity and polarization, or we can seek to be merciful. We can follow the lead of Jesus so as to be more willing to encounter others as they are and accompany them. We can resist the temptation to judge and condemn, but instead seek to understand and listen. We can be willing to forgive, to heal, and to lead others to forgiveness. Let us choose today to allow the Holy Spirit to expand our hearts so to be more understanding and merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful.
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Image: A close-up of the painting, Divine Mercy, by Robert Skemp, 1982 – A good prayer to pray this Lent is from the chaplet of Divine Mercy: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Link for Mass readings for Monday, March 1, 2021

Jesus, in his greatest time of suffering, revealed to us his love and that we are not alone in our suffering.

Our life can be an experience of desolation and consolation. There are ebbs and flows in which we experience trials and also celebrate joys. The key to living a life of faith is to see God in both experiences. Jesus today provides an opportunity for Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of the Twelve, to experience an expression of his divinity as “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mk 9:2-3). Jesus revealed his divine nature to his disciples in a powerful display to prepare them for the Passion that he was about to enter into. The experience is also a foreshadowing of the Resurrection.
Jesus invites us to experience the Transfiguration, the Passion, and the Resurrection in our own lives. We can miss a transfigured moment, when we assume a posture of pride, not acknowledging God’s leading by believing we achieved or arrived at our present station in life on our own merits. We can experience moments of transfiguration when we acknowledge that God breaks into our lives at that moment when we needed him the most and recognize the assistance he has given us, and/or when he has revealed to us the path and direction we were to take. The natural response is to offer prayers of thanksgiving, recognizing that we don’t go it alone, that God and those he sends to help us are a tremendous support.
Jesus does not abandon us but is present in our desolations. Many of us run from our suffering, we are afraid of the cross. But it is through the cross that we come to experience the resurrection. We may not be aware, but when we run away from our suffering we are running away from Jesus who awaits us with arms wide open in our suffering, to comfort us, heal us, and transform us. But to embrace Jesus, we need to be willing to embrace our suffering. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that we go and look for suffering or bring it upon ourselves. We live in a fallen world, we will experience plenty of suffering.
The older I get, the crucifix becomes more and more a consolation. This icon of Jesus, his body broken, emptied out for us on the cross represents how he entered into and took upon himself the full range of our human condition. He assumed our sin, pride, fear, and selfishness, and transformed the worst of our fallen nature through his love such that we are offered the gift of redemption. Jesus does not define us by our worst mistakes. The crucifix is not a sign of despair, but of hope, reminding us that no matter what we go through Jesus has experienced it also and will be present with us.
Looking at Jesus on the Cross has provided me with moments of hope, that illness or even death does not have the final answer in this life. As he looks down from the cross he was willing to be nailed to, he continues to be willing to draw close to us and love us in our weaknesses, failures, illness, mourning, and pain. His arms are wide open inviting us to bring our heavy burdens to lay them at his feet, so that we may be healed, renewed, and transformed by the love he has for us, shown in his act of giving his life for us. Let us allow Jesus to love us so we may love ourselves and others into and through our consolations and the desolations.
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Photo: Crucifix in the main sanctuary of Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Retreat Center, Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, February 28, 2021

“Either we are brothers and sisters, or we will destroy each other.”

“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” (Mt 5:43-45). With these words, Jesus continues to raise the bar of discipleship and outlines what the pursuit of love truly is.
For many people, as Bob Dylan wrote and Joan Baez has sung, “love is just a four-letter word.” But the love that Jesus calls us to is not romantic, emotional, or mere sentiment, though this may be healthy in that when we have feelings of infatuation we are drawn out from ourselves to another, but this kind of love has no depth and is based on physical or emotional attraction, and if it is to be real it must mature to the level of friendship.
The bond of friendship and family goes beyond mere attraction and is built through shared interests and experiences. Through sharing our lives with others, working through conflicts, trust is built, and relationships will hopefully grow and deepen. Jesus, though, is calling us to mature in our growth of loving even beyond friendship or familial ties. If we love those who willingly love us in return, greet only our brothers and sisters, only those in our clique, group, tribe, or political party, what is the recompense or satisfaction in that? Agape, in Greek, loving without conditions, with little or no chance of mutual exchange, is what Jesus is calling us to strive for.
Many of us could not conceive of loving our enemy or someone who is persecuting us, because we have, at best only experienced doing no overt harm to others and loved our friends and family. But do we risk going outside of our group, our like-minded safety net? Life is hard enough and it is often safer, we believe, not to take the risk. We continue to operate from a concept of love as an emotion or feeling, because it feels good, even though without something deeper this love does not last.
How can Jesus ask us to love an enemy or pray for someone who persecutes us? St. Thomas Aquinas can be of help. He defines the love that Jesus describes as willing the good of the other as other. We make an act of the will, a free choice to accept the person as they are, to see them, not from our limited finite perspective but as God sees them, as a person with dignity. Can we pray for, embrace thoughts of support for, assume a posture of understanding, visualize positive interactions with, actively offer kind words, and resist reacting toward those who we consider as different than us? Can we resist judging and labeling others?
On our own, we may not even conceive of the possibility, but we can be assured that if Jesus has asked us to strive for this height and depth of love, he will provide the means and support. We love others unconditionally by allowing Jesus to love others through us. We love one person at a time and strive to reach the summit of loving our enemy. Even if we fall short, how much better would our country and the world be if we sought this as our goal? To counter divisiveness, fear, and hatred, we need to choose to engage in an act of the will to love one another as Jesus loves us.
Pope Francis and Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb have modeled the fruit of dialogue and a willingness to engage in mutual brotherhood when they first met at the Vatican in 2016. Since that time they have collaborated to draft the document, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which they both presented and signed while meeting together in Abu Dhabi two years ago on February 4. They met again virtually this past February 4 to celebrate the first International Day of Human Fraternity. Pope Francis summed up the importance of their collaboration when he said, “Fraternity is the new frontier for humanity. It is the challenge of our century, the challenge of our times. There is no time for indifference. Either we are brothers and sisters or we will destroy each other…. A world without fraternity is a world of enemies.”

Pope Francis and Grand Imam Dr. Ahmad sign human fraternity document in Adu Dhabi, February 4, 2019. Photo credit: AFP (L’Agence France-Presse)

Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, February 27, 2021

What we say to one another matters.

Jesus calls us to be holy, each and every one of us. Our life is to be lived with the end goal being our ascent to heaven, to be in union with our Loving God and Father for all eternity, and to assist others to do the same. Jesus provides for us a concrete example of the heights to which we are called to reach: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (5:21-22). Jesus is building on the Torah, the Law or the Teachings, by helping us to realize that we can not only kill with weapons but also inflict dehumanizing damage with our words.
To resist this temptation of inflicting mortal wounds, we need to start participating in a deeper examination of conscience which gets to the roots of our own thoughts, words, and actions. If we are not able to discipline our thoughts, what will follow is undisciplined words, and then undisciplined actions, which can lead to entertaining and embracing the deadly sin of wrath. Wrath is unbridled anger that leads someone away from the capacity to think or behave in a rational manner, such that this individual would no longer acknowledge the dignity of the person they would inflict their wrath upon.
Jesus is helping us to see that we can be free of the temptation of wrath if we recognize the danger and destruction of unleashing words as weapons. He offers us the examples of calling someone, Raqa, meaning something along the lines of an air-head or an idiot, and calling someone a fool. These words directed at another have no other cause than to demean, degrade, and belittle. This language, and worse, has no business coming out of the mouths of a disciple of Christ if we are serious about being one of his followers.
I remember a moment in sixth or seventh grade unleashing a derogatory word or two directed at a classmate. Even though they were loosed in jest, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut after hearing myself say them. God gave me a graced moment to feel, contrition, actual sorrow for the negativity and poison I had unleashed with my words. I remember making a commitment to myself not to speak that way toward another person going forward.
We need to be aware that words have the power to wound or to heal. If we are serious about following Jesus, then a wonderful practice this Lent can be to commit to fasting from gossip and from words that belittle, divide, diminish, or dehumanize and replace them with words that empower, unite, uplift and acknowledge the dignity of others. Even when we disagree with another’s point of view, we can do so by still respecting the person and fostering a posture of dialogue.
May we also commit to going deeper and resisting negative or dehumanizing thoughts. Even when we have defensive musings, resulting from another’s disparaging tone, words, or actions, we need to resist entertaining them. Instead, we can choose to pray for the strength from the Holy Spirit to develop a more mindful disposition that seeks to understand instead of react, to hold each other accountable with respect, and ultimately to love: to will the good of each other.
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One of many uplifting conversation with Dr. Sixto and Elena Garcia, September 2013 – photo credit – Jack McKee
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, February 26, 2021

Prayer does not change God, but us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). If taken in a purely secular, non-religious, or non-biblical sense, this teaching of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount may not ring true. Some people have also left their faith behind because they have asked something of God and from their perspective, they did not receive what they asked for.
To understand this verse we need to understand a few key points. One is that God is God and we are not. That means that we do not have the full scope and sequence of God’s infinite viewpoint. We can only see from our limited finite perspective. Our God, who is Good, will only give us that which is good for us. What we are asking for may appear to be good, but may not, in fact, be truly good, and/or in our best interest beyond the moment. If someone wants to say, well, I ought to be able to decide that! That means they have missed the first point, God is God and we are not.
Another point that I have learned from Bishop Robert Barron is that “Your life is not about you.” We are created by God for a reason and a specific purpose. Our life is about fulfilling our role in God’s theodrama. We are not the director in the great play of life, God is, but we do have a unique and significant part to play! God does not need us but desires us to share in his work of salvation history. What God requires of us, he will give us the means and support necessary to fulfill it. We also need to remember that when we experience the forgiveness, love, and mercy of God, that experience is not for ourselves alone, but we are to receive these precious gifts and give them away!
A third point that can be helpful comes from C.S. Lewis: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” If we pray to God to bend his will toward ours then we are going to come away from prayer frustrated time and again. Our time of prayer with God has to do with answering his invitation to spend time with him, being willing to participate with his plan, and then being willing to share what he has given us in his love to share with others. In this way, we become transformed by his love and his grace builds on our nature.
As we make time to pray this Lent, let us approach our time of prayer with the proper orientation of recognizing that God is God and we are not, that our life is not about us but about coming to understand and how to follow the will of God, and acknowledging that our prayer does not change God, but our time of prayer does change and conform us to his will. When we approach prayer from these three points of reference, we can be confident that we will grow in our relationship with him and what we ask of God will be given to us, what we seek we will find, and when we knock, the door will be open to us.
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Photo: One of my favorite pictures of St. Mother Teresa at prayer which I framed shortly after her death.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, February 25, 2021

Moments of stillness with the Lord can lead to a positive change of mind and heart.

There is something greater here. Something greater than the wisdom of Solomon and something greater than the preaching of Jonah. Following the way of Jesus is a faith we are called to live daily. This is not a part-time vocation. We all have a unique gift in the dignity we have been conceived and born with. We have a unique way to express and live out our dignity. Unfortunately, what happens with most of us is that we are tempted, misdirected, distracted, and diverted as to what God would have us do each day. We are often unplugged from the very source of our existence.
As Jesus taught, often in his parables, the kingdom of Heaven on earth starts small, like a mustard seed, like yeast, and develops slowly when nurtured. Lent is a good time to slow down, step back, take a retreat even while in the midst of our everyday activities. We just need to insert some dedicated time to God each day so as to better be able to acknowledge his presence in our activities.
If you are feeling a bit restless, on edge, or out of sync, I invite you to make some time to be still and breathe, this can be while in the shower, when you have some breakfast, a morning walk, or taking a sip of coffee or tea. During this time ask God for some guidance. We can ask him to help us see those areas that we need to repent from and let go of, those thoughts, words, and actions that keep us distracted, redirected, and off-kilter as to who God is calling us to be. We can then confess to him and receive his forgiveness and reconciliation. From this place of healing, we are in a better posture to listen to his guidance and direction and to share his blessings.
Jesus said in today’s Gospel that, “There is something greater here.” Christianity is not a secret sect. We are called to share the joy, the forgiveness, and reconciliation we experience from God with others, even with, as Jonah found out, our enemies. We are to look for opportunities throughout this day to offer a smile, even from our eyes while wearing our masks, an encouraging word, to reach out to someone we have been meaning to connect with for a while, in person or far away, and/or someone that we may sense just needs a listening ear. We can also react less by asking for God’s patience to be more understanding.
Lent can be a joyful time when we enter into the season with the intent to deepen our walk with the One who is wiser than Solomon and preached the message of Jonah which is repentance. With our hearts and minds turned back and open to God, Lent will not so much be a drudgery to endure, but a joyful embrace of the opportunity for experiencing a change of mind and orientation such that we are more open to dialogue, forgiveness, healing, sharing the joy, and building up the kingdom of God!
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Photo: Afternoon stillness, the view from sitting in my chair enjoying some of the blooming greenery.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Our Father is more than a rote prayer.

Jesus begins his teaching on prayer by stating that prayer is not babbling. When we pray we are to resist just saying empty words that have no meaning or just praying in words that we think God wants us to hear.
Prayer, first and foremost, is a response to the Holy Spirit moving within us, urging us to pray, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (cf. Romans 8:26). We are to speak honestly to God in our prayers. One of the most honest prayers I prayed was when I was around eight years old and overheard my parents discussing the idea of getting a divorce. I said to God that if I woke up in the morning and he allowed this to happen we were through. When we pray we bring our struggles and petitions, as well as our joys and prayers of Thanksgiving, and let us not forget, we are to be still and silent as well to listen for his word or his silence.
Reading the psalms is also a great way to pray because they cover the full range of our human emotions; prayers of blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. We will even come across a reading like Psalm 88, which we feel does not appeal to us at the moment, as it is such a psalm of despair, yet someone is feeling that prayer and we can read and pray it for others if we are not feeling the same way.
In our Gospel today, we read Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. It presents two ways to pray. First, it is a rote prayer that we memorize word for word. The blessing of a rote prayer is we can pray it in communion with others, as we all know the same words. Another important gift of rote prayers is that we can pray them when we are physically in pain or emotionally distraught when we feel we can’t pray. Having prayed the Our Father daily, it is a prayer we can lean on to give us strength through the storms of our life. Praying the Our Father gives us the words to speak when we have none, and by loosening our tongues, we can come to a place where we can speak more freely with God.
The Lord’s Prayer is also a model of prayer such that each word or phrase can be a starting point to enter into a deeper and loving dialogue. As an example, we begin with the words, “Our Father.” This is a reminder that God is the Father of us all and the beginning of all prayer. His sun shines on the good and the bad alike. Our prayer begins by putting our self in his presence and recognizing that we are all interconnected.
God, our Father, is with us even when we experience fear, feel forgotten, misunderstood, or alone. Our Father loves us more than we can ever imagine, and our every desire to pray is already a prayer because we are responding to his invitation to spend time with him. Calling on his name is a reminder that he is always present and he hasn’t forsaken us. He provides our daily bread and forgives us as we forgive others.
As we make some time today to pray the Our Father slowly, we can allow whatever is going on in our life to enter into the recitation and remember that the best dialogue allows each party involved to spend some time listening to the other. As St Mother Teresa taught, “God speaks in the silence of our hearts.” By making some time to pause, to be still, and not rush through the prayer, to listen silently to God, we might just be able to listen to each other a little better.
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Photo: As far back as I can remember, my grandfather prayed the Our Father before meals during holiday dinners. Who taught you to pray?
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Jesus, can he really be of help today?

Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is” (Mt. 16:13)?
Peter answers Jesus by saying that Jesus is: “The Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Mt: 16:16). In other words, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.
What does Peter’s response have to do with our lives? What about this pandemic we are still immersed in? Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. This means Jesus is one with us. The infinite reality of God is present within each human being that exists because Jesus became one with us so that we can be one with him. We have been created in God’s image and likeness and this is true from the moment of our conception through each stage of life until natural death. The unfortunate effects of Orignal sin are that our image has been distorted and our likeness to God has been lost.
Jesus experiences our suffering personally. Whatever we may be going through, sickness, the effects of Covid and pneumonia, loss of job, financial stress, conflict, lack of access to adequate health care, or even the lack of being treated with and afforded the basics of human dignity; such as those of Asian descent living in our country who have faced the astronomical increase of violence directed at them for no rational reason. Even the suffering of the death of those we hold close to our heart, Jesus experienced. Jesus experienced the fullness of the human condition. He feels our anxiety, fear, and pain.
Our own personal challenges, trials, and tribulations as well as the ongoing polarization and division in our country and Church will continue as long as we refuse to see the dignity present in each and every person we encounter. Human beings are not: illegal, to be objectified, property to be used, to be abused, or to be disposed of. Difference in viewpoint our outlook does not mean we are enemies. We can work to limit the effects of Covid if we wash our hands often and don’t touch our face, wear masks, social distance, and receive vaccinations if we are able to access them. We can provide work and access to adequate health care as well as reduce the scourge of racism, when we have the will to resist seeking scapegoats and instead work together for the common good of all.
We need to ground ourselves in the life of and place our trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, and turn to him in prayer, with our anger, our doubt, our pain, and our yearning for justice, mercy, and protection for the most vulnerable among us. Our prayer, if it is true, will lead us to act in the way God leads us to support the dignity of life at every stage. We need to respect, be present to, and support those around us and while we strive for change, we can find some comfort in the words of Fr. James Martin, S.J.: “Life is stronger than death. Love stronger than hatred. Hope is stronger than despair. Nothing is impossible with God.”
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Photo: 6th century icon from St Catherine’s Monastery
The final quote came from a talk given by Fr. James Martin, S.J. given on April 22, 2014, titled On Pilgrimage with James Martin, SJ, Fordham University.
Link for Mass readings for Monday, February 22, 2021

How do we treat each other? Do we demean or empower?

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12-13). Jesus experienced the temptations of Satan, the one who tempted Adam and Eve, the father of lies, the accuser, the slanderer. Satan is one who seeks division and we dismiss the reality of his presence at great risk. On the other hand, we give him more power than he deserves. Jesus is tempted, but unlike Adam and Eve, he does not give in. Jesus remains grounded in the will of his Father and so Satan has no power over him.
We need to remember that the weakest Christian is more powerful than Satan himself because we can call on the name of Jesus. This is not some magic incantation, but when we call on the name of Jesus, he is present with us, the fullness of his humanity and his divinity. God has given Jesus the name above every other name so that as his word is spoken, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth (cf. Philippians 2:9-10). Just as a floodlight shines in the darkness, the darkness gives way to the light. This is even more true with Jesus. Where he is, no evil can remain.
I had a dream some eight to ten years ago now, I am not sure of the exact time, but it is still just as vivid. I was sitting on a couch on the first floor of a house. The scene shifted so that I was seeing myself sitting on the couch from above and then my view was redirected to the attic. I witnessed a misshapen, dark figure rummaging through old boxes and newspapers. He embodied pure evil. I was then back in my body and knew this creature was moving out of the attic and coming down the stairs to the room I was sitting in. My heart was pounding and I felt petrified as I heard his steps drawing closer. I was frozen in fear. In a few more moments, he came into view. What I saw was not the figure in the attic, but just a man, but I knew it was him. As he continued closer my fear increased then a hymn came to mind. He stopped the moment I began to sing, my fear began to dissipate and I woke up.
Evil tends to present itself at first as an apparent good, as attractive, as normal. Otherwise, we would reject it outright. Satan and his demons are active through whispers and nudges, they look for our weaknesses and through the same tactics as peer pressure, seek to inject their poison and manipulate our actions. I am not talking about possession here, I am just talking about their divisive influence. The most dangerous evil is the one masked in faith. Someone who can speak the verses of a Bible and quote chapter and verse does not a Christian make. The devil can do the same thing (See the parallel accounts today’s Gospel of Mark – Mt. 4:1-11 and Lk 4:1-13).
Each day we need to examine our conscience and assess honestly who we are serving. As with the Parable of the Talents, we cannot sit on our hands and do nothing like the wicked servant. That is the most effective tool Satan has, that he can influence us to do nothing in the face of the dehumanization of the person in all of its forms. We rationalize different reasons why we might support what we know is unacceptable in ourselves as well as others, then we begin the slide into gossip, prejudicial, and/or divisive talk, that lead to actions, such as the centurions who placed a robe and crown of thorns on the bloody, scourged body of Jesus and mocked him, an innocent man.
May the icon of Jesus mocked be a light that reveals to us all those, even in the smallest of ways, who have been belittled, demeaned and/or degraded in our thoughts, and through our words, and/or actions, and those we have supported for doing the same, because what we do to the least among us, we do it to Jesus (cf. Mt 25:35-45). Let us seek God’s forgiveness for the part we have played in spreading the darkness of the father of lies by our actions and/or inactions.
When we are divided, talking at or over each other, we will not solve the smallest issue, let alone the big issues facing us. There are no quick fixes and it will take a unified effort to be able to listen to each other and work together to find solutions to the many problems we have. One shift we need to make is to reclaim, in the words of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who was the archbishop of Chicago from 1982-1996, a consistent ethic of life. Jesus calls us to recognize the dignity of the person. From the moment of conception until natural death and at each stage in between, we are called to empower each person we encounter, and seek to bring about reconciliation and unity in our realm of influence. Protecting the dignity of the person needs to be our starting point in addressing any policy issue.
Do we fall short? Yes, all of us do every day. We need to resist beating ourselves up because that is another trap, another lie. We need to review our thoughts, actions, and words with humility. We can thank God where we have said yes to his will and followed through on acting where he has led us, where we have loved, as well as ask for forgiveness for where we have come up short. May we begin each day seeking to give our life, more and more to our loving God and so leaving less and less room for the allurements of Satan. When tempted, call on the name of Jesus, or sing in his name! As St Augustine wrote, the one who sings prays twice.

Photo: Jesus covered with purple robe and crown of thorns, side chapel in the Mission San Luis del Rey de Francis, Oceanside, CA
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, February 21, 2021.

God loves us more than we can ever mess up.

Think about how good we feel after coming to be on the other side of healing from a bad cold or the flu, recovering from a twisted ankle, a broken collar bone, or other health conditions. We experience a feeling of wholeness that was missing during the midst of our suffering where we may have pondered a time or two whether or not we would ever get better.
The same can be said for estranged relationships. There is a distance of separation that can be agonizing, an inner gut-wrenching experience that gnaws away at us. We wonder if there can ever be a coming back together. When there is reconciliation, forgiveness, and amending of the brokenness of relationships, we can experience such a relief, lightness and joy, that we never imagined possible while in the midst of the gut wrenching angst, conflict and separation.
Sin separates us from one another, and unchecked sin can build and multiply like cancerous cells. The Pharisees and the scribes questioned why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, and Jesus replied: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:32).
Jesus is truly a light in the darkness. For Levi and his friends, who just settled for the path they were on, thinking and feeling, this is the best it was going to get, were given a choice, an invitation, a new way. A great celebration of fellowship ensued in Levi’s home because these men and women, who had been outcasts, who were separated from the greater community were forgiven, welcomed, and embraced. They were loved by Jesus as they were. They did not have to change first for Jesus to call Levi and gather with them.
They were welcomed into the kingdom and reign of God. Their ticket to reconciliation and healing was accepting the invitation of Jesus, to receive and experience his love and welcome. Levi and the other sinners did not run from the light of Jesus, but were willing to recognize their need for healing, were willing to repent, to turn away from their prior ways of life and so were reborn!
They were divinized because of their willingness to participate in the life of Jesus. Levi would continue to follow Jesus such that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (cf. Galatians 2:20)!
Jesus invites us each day, as he invited Levi in today’s Gospel, to follow him. We are given the same invitation and opportunity for healing and for discipleship. Will we resist rationalizing and justifying our sinful thoughts, actions, and habits, welcome the light of Jesus that reveals our venial and mortal sins, and admit that we are in need of healing, and repent so to be forgiven and released from all the energy we have expended in protecting and hiding from ourselves and our God who loves us more than we can ever mess up?
Quietly spending time daily, especially in the evening and recalling our day, by asking Jesus to reveal to us those ways in which we have not lived according to his will is a wonderful practice. Those sins we call to mind we can confess on the spot and Jesus will forgive us. As we recognize recurring actions or more serious sins, we will need a more direct human encounter by embracing the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation is a gift of mercy and healing where we can experience firsthand the healing grace of Jesus.
Jesus loves us as we are. Yet holding on to our sin, keeps us at a distance from experiencing the greater breadth and depth of his love. We only need to be willing to be contrite, to embrace sorrow for the harm we have inflicted with our personal sins, and go to the Divine Physician in our time of prayer and/or Reconciliation. Once absolved, the heavy weight is lifted and we are healed. We are then better able to engage in penance to atone for our sins committed, better able to forgive others as we have been forgiven, and to love as we have been loved!
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Photo: The Calling of St. Matthew (also known as Levi) by Carravagio, 1599-1600. Wonderful work to meditate upon for Lent!
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, February 20, 2021