“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Scripture scholar, Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, states that in this passage Jesus’ invitation was given to those who are not yet his disciples, those Jews who did not believe in him and the way that he is proposing. He also intuits that Jesus is calling them from the heavy burdens laid upon them by the scribes and Pharisees and inviting them to accept his burden that is lighter (cf. Harrington, 167). We can read this in Matthew 4:3: “They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
Jesus’ charge leveled against the Pharisees comes from those who have experienced the laws without the assistance and support to follow them. The demands of Jesus are even more challenging than those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or the scribes! We can see this in another of Jesus’ teachings: “You have heard that it was said… whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to the 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” (Mt5:21-22). Jesus is equating calling someone Raqa – an air-head, or calling someone a fool akin to murder. Our words can destroy or empower! We need to choose our words wisely.
The difference between Jesus and many of the religious leaders of his time is that Jesus, the Son of God in the fullness of his divinity, entered into the chaos of our humanity. As a human being, he walks among us and suffers along with us. He offers to yoke himself to us so as to carry the burden with us, making them lighter. Many impose burdens on us as we can impose burdens on others, as did the Pharisees. We also impose them on ourselves and turn away from the invitation of Jesus’ help.
A handful of injuries I have suffered through the years were because I have attempted to lift or carry something beyond my strength, instead of seeking assistance from another. I would think, “I can do it, I don’t need any help, I don’t want to bother anyone.” That is just the physical; there are also the mental and emotional burdens of anxiety, doubt, pride, fear, and worry that we burden ourselves with. This is not Jesus’ way. The Devil attempts to keep us isolated, so he tempts us with all kinds of reasons. You can do this, you don’t want to bother them, they won’t help you, others will think you are weak if you ask for help…
Jesus offers us a path to follow that leads us to experience joy, peace, and tranquility in this life and fulfillment and union with God in the next. No matter what pain, suffering, trial, and/or challenge we are facing right now, we do not have to go through it alone. We just need to remember to reach out our hand to Jesus and when we do, what we will find is his hand already extended ready to grasp ours. Many times the offering comes from those who are close to us, who are more than willing to help.
In aligning ourselves with God’s will, life isn’t necessarily going to be easier, but he will give us the strength and peace of mind not only to endure but to experience a peace that surpasses all understanding while doing so. Let us take our first step together today, hand in hand with Jesus, and so find rest in knowing that we are not alone!
Also, may we be kind to those in our midst with our words, actions, and faces. Among those who may be abrupt or rude, we need to resist the temptation of reacting and instead be present and understanding; for we are not aware of the burdens others are carrying. Offer instead a simple smile as a start, which can make a heavy load just a little lighter.
Photo: Mass and evening with newly ordained Fr. Daniel Donahue and my brothers, who have been a tremendous help and support this summer!
Harrington, S.J. Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, July 14, 2022

Each of us have a unique way to share the love of Jesus.

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8).
We cannot buy the grace of God and we do not earn our way into the kingdom of heaven. God’s grace and presence are freely given, without cost and without our effort. As with any gift, the joy and fulfillment come from the willingness to receive and open the gift.
God has given us the gift of his Son. We have the choice to say yes or no to receiving him in our life, each and every moment, each and every day. When we say yes to his offer of relationship, Jesus does not come to dwell with us for our sake alone. We are invited to freely share him with others. The Second Vatican Council renewed this call for evangelization. We are to, as did the Apostles, his disciples, and each following generation, say what he said, do what he did, and live how he lived, yet through our own unique and individual expression. As a bright light that shines through a prism, depending on the unique angle of the cut, a different color will emanate forth. Just so are we to reflect the light of God in our daily experiences with our own unique color.
We say what Jesus said when we use our words to empower, affirm, heal, and to convict but not condemn. We do what Jesus did: when we build relationships and engage in respectful encounters and dialogue with one another. This also happens when through our acts of hospitality, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and being present, we attend to the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable.
We are to live as Jesus did. We are to be holy ourselves in every aspect of our conduct, as St. Peter wrote, “for it is written, ‘Be holy because I [am] holy’” (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). We begin to grow in holiness when we recognize, repent, choose no longer to be governed by, and seek healing from our own pride, selfish and ego-centered ways of living. We grow in holiness when we say yes to receiving the gift of the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit who will then heal and transform us so that we become aflame with love. In this way, we will shift our posture from the stiff arm of keeping others at a distance and instead open our arms wide to embrace each other, to love one another by giving of ourselves without cost.
Sr. Norma Pimentel, M.J., executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, provides an example for us today of how we can live a life dedicated to “giving without cost”. She continues to allow Jesus to minister through her as an advocate for the voiceless along the Texas/Mexico border. Sister Norma has been working with asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees since the 1970’s by providing welcome, hospitality, and shelter, showing those seeking aid, that hope is still possible and that Jesus does care for their plight. Sr. Norma reflected recently on the beginning of her vocation by stating that, “During those first years of my religious formation, I quickly learned the importance of living out our faith by how we welcome and protect those that need us, especially the vulnerable stranger in our midst.”
Jesus may or may not be calling us to the border, but he is inviting all of us to be open to receive the touch of his embrace, to be loved by him. In our willingness to receive the gift of his love, we will begin to see each other with his eyes, to see each other as human beings, created in the image and likeness of his Father. Jesus is calling us to love each other, to draw close as he has done with us, and accompany one another and see the value of human dignity in each person.
We cannot be indifferent to the cries of the vulnerable and the poor. We may be called to work for an end to the abhorrent and inhumane treatment of our brothers and sisters on our southern border, to stand up and speak out against racial injustice in all of its overt and covert forms, to speak up for the unborn, to speak out against violence in all its forms. Each of us are to construct our own unique bridges of encounter and accompaniment helping to restore dignity where it has been taken. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8).

Photo: Sister Norma with Zuleyka, Lucrecia, and Camilo Lopez, Guatemala taken by Peter Yang, accessed from Texasmonthly.com
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, July 7, 2022

Jesus affirms each one of us and we are to do the same.

“As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7).
Empowered by Jesus, the Apostles were sent to proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, that the God of all creation is present in their midst, and seeks to restore a relationship with his fallen creatures. The Apostles are to continue Jesus’ saving act of healing, restoring, and reconciling humanity’s relationship with God, through word but more so in and through deed.
Salvation history has been experienced through God’s encounter and interaction with individuals. At the appointed time, Jesus was sent to open the doors to a deeper communion with his Father. Jesus devoted himself to people, “accepting them, receiving them into fellowship with him and granting them forgiveness of sins. The power of his affirmation is to be found in his attention to the concrete individual, in particular to the despised, the abused, the sinner, but also involving himself with people in a very personal way… in giving himself away to them” (Gnilka 1997, 111).
We, as the Apostles, are called to do the same. Empowered by Jesus, we are not to bring about some abstract utopian ideal, but we are sent to enter into the chaos of the lives of real, concrete individuals in our midst and on the margins in our own unique and personal way. The Gospel is not just for a select few but for everyone. This is just as true today in our polarized climate of 2022. We need to resist the temptation to be led by our prejudices and pride such that we embrace an, us verses them mentality. For God, there is no us and them.
Just as the sun rises on the good and the bad alike (cf. Mt 5:45), we are to examine ways in which we have contributed to division and separation instead of promoted invitation. May we get in touch with our sorrow for the hurt we have caused others, for our actions and omissions, and for failing to reach out in love. Jesus was sent by his Father and he sends us to proclaim the Gospel. We do so by building relationships in and beyond our comfort zones. We do so when we are more present, accepting, understanding, kind, and forgiving as well as sharing person to person the light, love, mercy, and invitation of fellowship that we have received from Jesus.

Photo: Afternoon last week with Fr. Raul at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Pahokee, FL.
Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Shepherd calls, will we follow?

“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).
There is much that pulls at us for our time and attention. Jesus witnessed the anxieties, struggles, pain, and feelings of being lost regarding those in his midst. Are we so different today? Jesus knows the Father, he knows the joy and fulfillment of what being in a full relationship with him entails. Jesus saw then and sees in us now how lost we are, how easily distracted and diverted we are, how many things we put before our relationship with God, and he “is moved with pity.”
Jesus’ heart goes out to us, he yearns to be one with us, he loves us, but in that very act of love, he risks. He loves us so much, that he is willing to let us choose ourselves, others, or a myriad of other pursuits over him. Jesus invites us to the joyful experience of developing a relationship with him so we can come to know his Father, while at the same time he does not impose himself on us. We are given the whole world to choose from or we can choose him. Who do we put first? Is God a priority in our life? If we find that God is at best an after-thought, or at worst a no thought, instead of getting to know God better, what is it that we are choosing over him?
Jesus invites us, but too often we miss, ignore, or do not follow through on his invitation. Too often we choose other pleasures, distractions, diversions, temptations, and/or apparent goods. With time and experience, we may come to see the emptiness of the lure of these worldly promises, as well as see that our attachments to these often lead to many of our troubles, trials, stresses, and anxieties. We may also get in touch with our feelings of unfulfillment, abandonment, and being alone, because there is only one answer to our innermost longing, and that is God.
I am not advocating for a rejection of the material world. All that God has created is good. We are human beings and a part of God’s glorious creation. Nor do I believe that we are souls trapped in this body waiting to be released upon our death. As human beings, we are a unique unity of body and soul. The key to our fulfillment is choosing to put God first and then we can better discern that which needs to fall away or how to reorder that which will stay so they are in their proper place and purpose.
Fr. Thomas Dubay writes that the “one who seeks delight in God alone finds peace and joy no matter what happens” (Dubay 1989, 154). Today might be a good day to take a moment to be still and evaluate where we are in our lives and to ponder whose we are. Jesus offers to lead us, just as he has led his disciples through the ages. Those of every age have experienced trials and tribulations and found the promises of this world fleeting. What made the difference for the saints was that they said yes to the call of the Shepherd. How will we answer the Shepherd’s invitation today?

Photo: by Kat Jayne from Pexels
Dubay, S.M., Thomas. Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel on Prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989.
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, July 5, 2022

“If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”

Today’s reading is one of my favorite Gospel accounts. This is a miracle story within a miracle story. The account begins with an official requesting that Jesus come to bring back to life his daughter who has died. Jesus “rose and followed him”, and while on the way, a woman comes and touches the tassel of Jesus’ cloak, is healed, and the story continues on to describe how Jesus brings the daughter of the official back to life and there is no more mention of the woman.
What stands out for me is not the raising of the officials daughter, but the healing of the woman. Her whole life is changed by her encounter with Jesus. She had been suffering with her condition and seeking help but received none for twelve years. And for that whole time, she was also considered ritually unclean because of her ongoing hemorrhaging. She must have also been very weak resulting from the continual blood loss and to many she was considered all but dead.
This woman must have been on the verge of losing all hope, when Jesus drew close. She was quite aware that to approach a male in public was forbidden and what was even worse, because of her condition, she was not allowed to come close or to touch anyone. Yet, she moved forward. She must have experienced such anxiety and fear arise with each step. If she was caught she could be ridiculed, admonished, or even stoned to death, or worse, nothing about her condition would change. Step by faithful step, she drew closer to Jesus and reached out to touch the tassel of his cloak.
She could have slipped away, just as she came. Yet, “Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured” (Mt9:22). Jesus felt the healing power go out from him to the woman and instead of admonishing or correcting, he acknowledged the courage and faith she displayed. Because she was willing to come close despite all the inner and outer turmoil that whirled around her to the contrary, this woman who was all but the walking dead was given new life!
This woman’s encounter with Jesus is a wonderful one for us to meditate upon. She did not stop seeking a way for healing. She persisted, and when the moment came, she moved forward to come close to Jesus. May we too, no matter what we face have the courage of this woman to reach out to Jesus for his healing power and strength.
True freedom comes when we trust in Jesus’ daily invitation to say yes to his Father and no matter what anxieties, fears, doubts, challenges, trials, or tribulations swirl about us, be as persistent and as courageous as this woman and trust in Jesus so as to be healed and empowered by the love of the Holy Spirit to live our life to the full, today and all days!!!
Happy Fourth of July everyone. My prayers are with you.

Photo: Accessed from usml.edu
Mass readings for Monday, July 4, 2022

“Every baptized man and woman is a mission.” – Pope Francis

“At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit” (Lk 10:1). Jesus did not stop with this action, he continued and continues to call people to himself and sends them on mission to proclaim the same words: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Lk 10:9).
To be a disciple of Jesus is to be both about maintaining the Church he instituted and going out on mission. This is why at the end of each Mass the deacon or priest in the absence of a deacon will say, “Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord” or three other formulas of being sent to be missionaries in our communities. This is not a call for clergy and religious only but for all of the baptized.
Pope Francis continues to ask us to renew our commitment to our missionary awareness. “This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission. People in love never stand still: they are drawn out of themselves; they are attracted and attract others in turn; they give themselves to others and build relationships that are life-giving. As far as God’s love is concerned, no one is useless or insignificant. Each of us is a mission to the world, for each of us is the fruit of God’s love.”
There is much here in the Pope’s words to meditate upon and put into action. We are not just to go out and do missionary work, to evangelize and share the Gospel, we are to embody mission. We “are a mission.” At the moment of our conception we exist as a unique individual already distinct from our parents. We are endowed with dignity and worth just by the fact that we exist.
A foundational part of the Good News is to continue to embrace the wonder and dignity of all life, to allow ourselves to be loved by our Creator again, to embrace the free gift of his love, and to go out on fire with and express the joy and love of being fully alive. We are to give ourselves to others through our willingness to encounter, accompany, and serve one another in love with the purpose of building “relationships that are life-giving.”
As seminarians of the Diocese of Palm Beach, we have been able to experience a taste of today’s Gospel. The eight of us have been sent out together and apart to different parts of the diocese to experience and serve. We have visited and experienced our northern diocese through the parishes of St. Helen, St. Sebastian, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, the pastoral center of Juan Diego, St. Lucie, and Sacred Heart. This past week we went south and west to stay at St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade and visited St. Mary in Pahokee.
We prayed together, served at Masses, summer camps, parish social gatherings, Eucharistic adoration, retreats, youth groups, and assisted in particular needs of the parishes. It has been awesome to experience how God is working through the priests, deacons, religious, and parishioners of our diocese.
When we are touched by the wonder and love of God, respect the dignity of life from conception, through all stages of life, until natural death, we come to recognize that “no one is useless or insignificant.” Each and EVERYONE of us are a unique gift to the world that has never been nor will ever be again. Jesus has called us to himself with the purpose to send us out on mission. The time to be, to live, to love is now, for: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Lk 10:9). Let us go forth this day as missionary people, as contemplatives in action, in peace, to glorify the Lord by our life.

Photo: We were blessed to spend the week assisting in the mission of Fr. Norbert at St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade this past week.
Pope Francis: Message of His Holiness Francis For World Mission Day 2019:
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, July 3, 2022

Are we willing to receive new wine?

“Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved” (Mt 9:17).
Mark, Matthew, and Luke all record the reference of pouring new wine into fresh wineskins. What Matthew adds is, “and both are preserved.” Luke adds: “[And] no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
The Gospel authors are reflecting on the tensions of those who would reject Jesus and those who would follow him and his new way. The new wine is to accept the Gospel, the Good News of the kingdom of God in their midst, and to do so means to change one’s mind and heart. “The tension, and often incompatibility, between the old and the new is part of every religious tradition and attends every change within that tradition. Matthew and Luke wrestled with it and adapted it to their community situation. Contemporary Christians have no less a challenge” (The Gospel of Mark, Donahue, SJ, p. 109). Matthew shared with his community that Jesus is the new Temple, the old had been destroyed in 70 AD. Following him in fact meant that both the old and new covenants would be preserved. Jesus did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but raises what went before him to a higher level.
We are invited to wrestle as well. The Church is called to change, to be transformed by the Living God. Many say the Church needs to change this and that, not realizing that we are the Church, the People of God, the Body of Christ. If the Church is to mature and grow each of us is to embrace offer of the transformation love of God, being made anew through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. This invitation is a call to let go of those habits, lifestyles, behaviors, mindsets, attachments, and addictions that are weighing us down or worse holding us in bondage and slavery to our sin, keeping us separated from God. Much of the material and finite things we hold onto prevents us from receiving the new life God wants to pour into us.
Jesus has come to set us free from our enslavement to sin by inviting us to try some new wine which consists of contemplating upon and living the message of his teachings and actions as recorded in the Gospels. We do not have to be afraid of the change and transformation Jesus is calling us to experience. As St Irenaeus, the second-century bishop of Lyons is attributed to have written: “The Glory of God is man fully alive!” Jesus is inviting us to live our lives and live them to the full!
To become new wineskins, we are called to let go of those selfish and sinful inclinations that keep us constricted and rigid. We are also called to move beyond our comfort zones, ones that have truly been good but were not intended to be the end goal. When we love as Jesus loves, we are expanded and opened to receive the new wine Jesus wants to pour into us. We are called to go beyond the foundation of our identities that we have found safety and comfort in and become free to be people of integrity. Our identity gives us roots but our integrity gives us wings to fly.
I have enjoyed teaching very much and each year has gotten even better, but as I discerned over the past few years how to begin living again without sharing my life with JoAnn, I discerned between eight different options. What rose to the top three after some time was taking some time off to rest and renew, to continue teaching, or to pursue the priesthood. My decision came down to asking God what he wanted me to do, and I heard in the quiet of my heart to pursue the priesthood.
Each time we come to God in stillness, he will reveal to us that which distracts us from going deeper. As we are more and more conformed to Jesus, who we are remains intact as the false self begins to be burned away. We expand and become more of our authentic and true self, when we let go of our biases, prejudices, and fears of being truly who God calls us to be. The biggest challenge comes when we are called to grow beyond wonderful positions, work places, and/or experiences. Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill, to call us higher.

Photo: Pentecost Sunday with our pastor, Fr. Don, during my last full weekend at St. Peter Catholic Church before entering the seminary summer program. Glad to be back over the next few days for a little break!
Donahue, John R. S.J., and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. The Gospel of Mark. Vol. 2 of Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Parallel Scriptural accounts: See Mark 2:22, Matthew 9:16-17 and Luke 5:37-39
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, July 2, 2022

God has created us to be aware, to care, and to help others.

And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven”(Mt 9:2).
Matthew’s account of this scene is much simpler than Mark and Luke’s, but the point is the same. The person paralyzed received healing because some people were willing to bear his weight and creatively bring him to Jesus. In neither of the three Gospel accounts do we know who the people are that bring this man to Jesus for healing. Were they family, friends, or neighbors? It does not matter. They were aware of someone in need, they believed Jesus could heal him, and they put forth the effort to bring this man to Jesus.
Are we like the people in today’s Gospel; are we aware, do we care? St. Mother Teresa often said that people are “not only hungry for bread – but hungry for love, naked not only for clothing – but naked for human dignity and respect, homeless not only for want of home and bricks, – but homeless because of rejection.” If we are living our faith, indifference to the needs of others is not an option. Rationalizing why we ought not to care, or worse giving in to our fears and prejudices so as to dehumanize and reject others in need are counter to the call of Jesus.
How is God speaking to our consciences; how is he moving our hearts? There are so many who are hurting and suffering. Let us not get trapped into criticizing others for reaching out to help in a different way than we feel called. We just need to be honest about where God is leading us and act as the four in our Gospel reading today did. Be aware, be willing to meet the need we see, access our personal gifts of creativity, and bring them to Jesus. By collaborating with Jesus in this way miracles can and still do happen. Structures of inhumanity and injustice can be turned around.
Pope Francis has been consistent and clear about the dignity of all life. He tweeted in 2013: “It is God who gives life. Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb.” During Mass on Sunday, January 14, 2018 he shared: “Migrants and refugees don’t represent just a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.” On June 3, 2020, Pope Francis said, “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life”.
The Lord hears the cry of not just a select few but all those in need. Whose cry do we hear and who are we willing to help?

Painting: Healing of the Paralytic – James Tissot
See also Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, June 30, 2022

We are to decrease and Jesus is to increase.

“No. He will be called John” (Lk 1:60).
With these simple words, three inter-related points arise. First, Elizabeth is beginning to shift the momentum of original sin. Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the fruit that God had told her and Adam not to eat of, yet she did. Adam did not support her nor step in during her dialogue but remained silent in the face of the pressure placed upon Eve. Both of them slipped into sin by not following the will of God.
At the time of the birth of Elizabeth’s son, there was cause for celebration, for Elizabeth was past child-bearing years. The day had come to have the boy circumcised and named, her relatives and neighbors had gathered around with great excitement and there appeared to be a unanimous decision to name the boy after his father. Elizabeth did not, like Eve, cave to the pressure and temptation surrounding her. Unlike Adam who lost his voice at the time he needed to speak up, Zechariah found his voice, and had Elizabeth’s back. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah knew what God wanted them to do and were faithful to follow through despite any cultural pressure and established norm to the contrary.
The second point is already alluded to in the first, and that is how Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful to God amidst the familial and social pressure placed on them. Some may be removed by such familial pressure when naming a child, but for this time, Elizabeth despite the pressure held her ground and stood firm that the boy would be named John. Ignoring her, the people deferred to Zechariah, the boy’s father, thinking he would have more sense, but he, ignoring the paternal cultural pressure, supported Elizabeth. The point here is not so much the name, but the following of the will of God in the face of pressure to do the opposite.
This brings us to the third point and that is the maturation in moving from identity to integrity. Culture and traditions are not sacred, but God is. Elizabeth and Zechariah faced a lot of familial and social pressure to conform, yet they chose to be true to God, to be true to themselves, and they chose integrity over their identity.
The very simple account of Elizabeth and Zechariah naming their child John in opposition to the pressure offers for us a way to counteract the rising tide of polarization and conflicts that we face in our own country today. Identity provides safety, support, and security. It fuels one of our deepest pangs of hunger and that is to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We can find our identity in family, friendships, our religious traditions, culture, political affiliations, common interests, clubs, activities, and hobbies. But our identity, which provides us with security and stability is good but can also be a trap.
We want to belong so much, the drive is so strong, that we may have made decisions, acted in ways, and supported others, that go against who we are just so that we can belong. We may have known what God wants from us, heard the whispers of his voice in our conscience, yet were pulled by the louder voices of our group. We are sometimes so ingrained by our identity that we are being strangled and suffocated by it.
In today’s Gospel account, Elizabeth and Zechariah were true to the will of God over and against those placing pressure on them. More often though, being a person of integrity does not go so well. Their own son, who would grow up to be John the Baptist, would lose his life by speaking truth to power.
John would also show his integrity when he said, “I must decrease and he must increase” (cf. John 3:30). John was talking about Jesus who embodies the moral courage that we all need today. Though more than just a model of a life well-lived, more than just a word on the page, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is present to us now, to guide and lead us, to empower us with the same love that he embodies, such that when we invite him into our lives, we too can be transformed to live a life of truth, moral courage, and integrity.
Becoming less, like John the Baptist, and allowing Jesus to be more by working through us, will help us to act and speak up for those that are being belittled, demeaned, and/or dehumanized. We can then transcend the ranks of identity and rise to the heights of integrity, especially when it means standing up to those in our “group.” Protecting police officers, priests, and/or political leaders who have abused their power at the expense of others for the sake of protecting the identity of the institution or our place in it not only adds further abuse but weakens the institution. While at the same time, casting a net of guilt by association over all in any group is also unjust. We also may be shaming those who could be the very ones to help to bring about necessary and sustainable change.
Being people of integrity, calls us to speak for those who have been abused and not afforded basic human dignity. We are to protect those who might be at risk and/or those who have been or are being abused, oppressed, and/or prevented equal access. This provides a necessary step in providing support for those needing healing, allows for the planning and enacting of the necessary reforms to end the risk of further abuse and create more equitable access.
All of which will also strengthen the integrity of those within the construct of institutions that are put in place to empower the very people they serve. We are to hold each other accountable while at that same time be willing to work toward a reconciliation that will arise through mutual respect, openness to dialogue, collaboration, and reconciliation.
Photo: Infant John the Baptist with the Lamb – painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. St John the Baptist on the Solemnity of your nativity, pray for us.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to eternal life.”

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are true” (Mt 7:13-14).
Jesus meets us where we are in our present state of life. He accepts us as we are at this very moment. At the same time, Jesus does not want us to just settle and to merely get by, surviving day by day. Instead, he encourages and guides us to be fully actualized. He calls us to perfection, to holiness, to be saints! He sees in us, as he did in his disciples and apostles, the promise of our potential and who his Father calls us to be. We each have a unique gift or gifts to offer to the world, each and every one of us.
One way of interpreting entering the narrow gate is that we need to say no to those apparent goods that we find initially inviting but soon realize that they are empty promises, can burden us, weigh us down, and worse lead us to addiction and enslavement. To pass through the narrow gate, we need to say yes to that which will truly bring us happiness, fulfillment, and true freedom and this means we need to say no to supporting our false ego and turning the focus in upon ourselves. We need to instead be willing to expand and go out of ourselves and will the good of and accompany others.
Jesus will help us in seeking and discerning his will. Spending time in prayer can often reveal the sources of our worry, anxiety, or fear; pride, judgment, or prejudice; sinful actions, harmful habits, and/or addictions. We need not deny or run from them. Instead, acknowledge whatever arises with Jesus, and then allow him to provide healing and transformation. This will not be a one-time, done now for all activity, but a daily, disciplined commitment and practice of discernment and examination of our conscience.
We need to continually open our hearts to the Holy Spirit such that he will give us the courage to discern between apparent and authentic goods in our lives. In our time of prayer, we can imagine placing our hand in Jesus’ hand as if we were a small child and allow him to lead us to experience the love, mercy, and grace of our ever-present God and Father. What Jesus leads us to do, he will also give us the strength and resources to bring to completion, which ultimately will be a life of communion with God and one another in this life and into the next.
Photo credit: Our recent 8 and a half mile hike traversing many narrow paths, but together we made it there and back again!
The Mass readings for Tuesday, June 21, 2022