Aligning ourselves with the rhythm of the beating of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will help us in our discipline of fasting.

Today is February 19, 2021 A.D. The letters, AD, stand not for after death or analog to digital, but Anno Domini. This is a Latin phrase that means in the year of our Lord. We are living in the age of the Church, as well as in between the time when Jesus experienced his life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven until he will come again.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read today about the account of Jesus comparing himself to a bridegroom: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt 9:15). In a sense, the bridegroom has been taken from us, in another sense, he is closer to us now than he was when he was with his disciples when he walked the earth. The fullness of his reign though will not be consummated until Jesus comes again, but while we wait, when we are willing to set aside other distractions and be still, we can hear and feel the beating of his Sacred Heart.
We need food for our survival, but we don’t need as much as we think we do! Fasting from food is not the only focus of our Lenten fast. The discipline of fasting provides an opportunity to keep our passions in check. By resisting the impulse of instant gratification, we are able to better discern between apparent goods and the actual Good in our lives. When we are able to navigate through the maze of distractions, temptations, and allurements on a physical level, we can begin to go deeper into the spiritual reality to begin to expose some of the demons that we feed, such as “distrust, apathy, and resignation” that Pope Francis talked about in his Ash Wednesday homily a few years ago.
Pope Francis mentioned that these three demons “deaden and paralyze the soul of a believing people.” He continued by stating that: “Lent is the ideal time to unmask these and other temptations, to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus.”
When we are willing to discipline our impulsiveness, to slow down, to take a breath, to be more mindful, we can begin to see more clearly our complacency, contempt, and indifference. We can then be more open to God’s invitation to enter into a relationship with him and each other. We can then better assume the posture of John the Apostle by resting our head on the chest of Jesus (cf John 13:25), such that our hearts will beat in the same rhythm as his Sacred Heart.
This is the gift of contemplation that drives us to service. This is the same rhythm that beat in the prophet Isaiah who reminds us in today’s first reading what true fasting is all about:  “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
————————————————————————
Photo: A helpful bookmark from my breviary
Link for Pope Francis homily:
https://aleteia.org/2018/02/14/pope-francis-offers-a-worksheet-for-lent-check-it-out/
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, February 19, 2021

Let us too take up our cross this Lent.

Jesus said to his disciples and all who could hear him: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). We can best take up our cross daily by putting into practice the three pillars of Lent offered yesterday, which are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These disciplines aid us in resisting the temptations of pride, power, pleasure, honor, and wealth.
Giving ourselves some time to be still and to breathe deeply is a good action to begin Lent. From this place of letting go and just stopping from everything else, we can then pray about how we can put these pillars of Lent into practice for these next forty days. If forty days are too much, think about the next week, or even just today.
As we make steps to slow down and be still, we will also need to be aware of our own resistance. We also need to be more aware of our sinful inclination to be indifferent or fearful of being present to those in need within our reach. Praying and seeking the help of God to give us the discernment and the eyes to see who among us are in need, and the courage to act and to give of ourselves to others can also be a good start.
Returning to prayer throughout the day will help to establish a habit and rhythm of prayer. This often is accomplished best when we schedule set times to meditate on the readings of Lent, to be still and rest in the Lord before the Eucharist in adoration or present in the tabernacle, pray the rosary, walk or sit among the beauty of God’s creation, and/or spend some quiet time reading a spiritual book, or the life of a saint. It is also good to just be silent and still. While at work, it can be as simple as stopping for a few moments at set times, say every three hours, to take a breath, and repeat a verse or short prayer, such as, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
Each day it is also helpful to evaluate what we consume, what time and energy we expend, and discern, what we can fast from. Define the types of food that really aren’t healthy for us, what activities that we can let go of so we can devote more time to practices that empower, encourage, and lift up others as well as ourselves. We can fast from thinking, speaking, or acting in any way that is unkind, belittling, or demeaning.
When we put something in place that will help build a foundation for a closer walk with Jesus we are taking something out of our life that could lead us astray. Jesus guides us in today’s Gospel to take up our cross and follow him, meaning we are to discipline ourselves so as to free ourselves from that which enslaves us.
We can take up our cross today when we make time to pray, to be still, and follow God’s will. We can take up our cross when we fast from any negative, demeaning, or derogatory thoughts, words, and actions and replace them with thoughts, words, and actions that are encouraging, hopeful, and loving. We can take up our cross when we embrace opportunities to give of our time, talent, and treasure to build up and provide access to those around us. Let us take up our cross today and each day during this season of Lent so to know better the One who died on the cross for us, the One who gave his life for us that we might have life and have it to the full!
——————————————————-
Photo: Jesus with the Cross, Mission San Luis del Rey de Francia, Oceanside, CA
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, February 18, 2020.

Why ashes? Why Lent?

In our Gospel reading from Matthew today, Jesus presents us with the three pillars of Lent: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. With each pillar, he cautions his disciples to resist the temptation of engaging in these spiritual practices such that the focus is placed on us, such that we believe we ought to receive accolades for our efforts. The purpose of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting is to grow in true humility, which is placing ourselves in a posture of surrendering our will to God, to come to a place within our being that we can love as Jesus loves us, to will the good of the other as other for their own sake, not seeking anything in return.
We give to others not “to win the praise of others”, not even to receive thanks, but specifically because another is in need of our help. We pray, not “that others may see” us, to puff ourselves up, but to empty ourselves into the arms of our Father, recognizing how dependent on him we really are. We fast not “to look gloomy like the hypocrites”, so to draw attention to ourselves, but we fast to discipline ourselves such that we are not enslaved to our passions. We discipline ourselves, so as to walk on the path of freedom for excellence and engage in the fullness of the life God made us for.
Today as you receive your ashes sprinkled upon your heads, and even if there are those reading who do not (like myself), we are reminded that from dust we have come and to dust, we will return. We are created, finite beings, that are given a limited time to live our life on this earth. This is important to acknowledge so that we resist the temptation of taking our life, the gift of our time on this earth, for granted.
We are also reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel. Jesus, help us to recognize and to be contrite for our sinful thoughts, words, and actions and reveal to us the empty promises of our distractions and temptations. Through our participation in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, help us to experience our restlessness, and seek not to appease it with finite, material things that will not last, but to come to recognize that our fulfillment will come only when we find our rest in the One who has made us for himself, our loving God and Father who awaits us with arms wide open.
——————————————————————-
Photo credit: https://www.cathopic.com/arito

Link for the Mass readings for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021

“Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Today’s account from the Gospel of Mark is a continuation of what we read Saturday when Jesus convicted the Pharisees for demanding a sign. He recognized their hardness of heart and hypocrisy and with the opportunity of being together in the boat, Jesus seized on this encounter as a teachable moment. He wanted to warn those of his inner circle to be aware not to follow the same path of corruption when he enjoined them: “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mk 8:15).
The disciples missed the point as they focused on the literal reality that they only had one loaf of bread among them. Jesus was warning his followers about the danger of pride, seeking honor, power, and fame which had lead many of the Pharisees and Herod astray. To be his followers, striving to place themselves first would be not only the undoing of each of them but also this posture would undermine those they would be charged to care for.
Unfortunately, too many have not heeded this lesson that Jesus offered in today’s Gospel to his disciples regarding being aware of the corrupting leaven of many of the Pharisees and Herod. Just as the effects of original sin has wounded humanity, so it has also affected those in the Church. Throughout the ages, clergy and laity alike have succumbed to the temptations of placing our needs and focus on ourselves instead of God and who he calls us to serve.
Yet throughout the worst of corruption and abuse, the Church is still here. God continues to work through many who are faithful to his invitation and follow his will in simple ways, living lives of quiet service. It is unfortunate that there are those who leave because they see hypocrisy, injustice, abuse, and corruption. For it is those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear that need to stay and help to fight for the true expression of the Church. Even when cries for reform may be stifled and frustrations may arise time and again, we must remain persistent and lean on Jesus to give us the strength and clarity on how best to proceed to heal his wounded Body.
At the same time, we need to be aware of the sinful leaven that would seek to undo each of us. It is easy to point fingers. We will be on surer footing when we choose God over our own self-serving pursuits, seek to live simple and holy lives, while seeking to be aware of the needs of others, and work to serve, protect, and empower the dignity of those in our midst each day.
——————————————————
Photo: Sunrise outside in the courtyard of St. Peter Catholic Church last July.
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Are our hearts open or closed to Jesus?

“Give me a sign!”
Often, when we ask for a sign, we have a preconceived notion of what we are seeking and we want God’s stamp of approval on it. The impetus is coming from us, seeking to bend the will of God to our will. More often times than not this approach will end in frustration. The Pharisees in today’s account are asking for a sign. Jesus has already been preaching with authority, healing, casting out unclean spirits and demons, encountering the unclean and restoring them to the community and right worship, and this is not enough?
We can understand how: He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation” (Mk 8:12). The majority of the Pharisee’s minds were set. Jesus knew there was nothing he could say or do to prove to them he was who he said he was; the kingdom of God at hand. If they had not the eyes to see and the ears to hear there was no argument, point, or sign that would have changed their minds. Jesus sighed from the depths of his spirit because their hearts were hardened such that they closed themselves off from the gift of the grace he sought to share. So he then got into the boat to go to the other shore, to share his message with others: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).
The question for us today is, do we believe, do we really believe, that Jesus is who he says he is; do we believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6)? Do we seek to bend God’s will to our own will or seek to align our will with his? The woman with the hemorrhage for twelve years, the woman whose daughter was possessed, the friends with the man with the withered hand, and the leper, did not ask for a sign, they asked for a healing. They trusted, believed, and risked getting closer to Jesus so as to encounter him despite the barriers in place to prevent them. In each of these cases, Jesus recognized their faith and each received the healing they sought.
In our discernment, we need to be aware of our intent. There is a subtle distinction, but it is important. Are we seeking proof, a sign, or are we placing ourselves in a posture of believing and seeking to understand God’s will, as Mary did when she asked, “How can this be” (Lk 1:34)? Are we demanding proof, a three-point plan from God before we follow his lead, or do we trust his invitation, and seek to understand how he wants us to act, knowing that he will reveal what we need to do each step of the way? Often times, if we knew the end result and full ramifications of his original request, our doubt would crush our spirit before we even started.
Let us embrace a posture of faith seeking understanding today, trust Jesus, and seek to align our will with God our Father. May we make time to be still and enter a place of prayer and to open our hearts and minds to the leading of the Holy Spirit. May we with confidence, say in the words of Mary, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), then arise to grasp the hand of her Son, Jesus, and face head-on that which is before us, to accomplish what he calls us to do, knowing that with Jesus, we can overcome any obstacle that is placed before us.
————————————————————————————–
Photo: Fertoledo – “Rostro de Christo” – Face of Christ – from cathopic.com
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, February 15, 2021

We need to be willing to draw close and love as Jesus did.

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean” (Mk 1:41). Jesus felt compassion when he heard the plea of the leper. He went out from himself and did the unthinkable and touched the leper. Jesus saw not a leper but a brother. Jesus met the person before him and in an act of love gave him what he had not experienced in who knows how long, human touch.
When is the last time we have been moved with pity, with compassion, to suffer with and feel the pain of another? In so many ways we are like the leper, starving for love and affection. Too many of us are living a life of isolation and aloneness. We are starving to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be touched, to be loved. It is no wonder anxiety disorders, addiction, and unhealthy practices are on the rise. Especially during this time of pandemic, where we need to as the lepers did and keep our distance. We are not able to exchange a simple hand shake, an embrace, or a kiss on the cheek.
Jesus knows and has experienced the loneliness we all feel in our hearts. He feels our distance and hunger. He seeks to draw close to us as he did with his brother the leper. The Son of God entered our human condition and encountered us to experience the fullness of our brokenness as well as help us to see the promise of our potential, the fullness of who we really are and can be. Jesus encountered people, he did not see them as other. He seeks to encounter us, to draw close, to touch, and to heal us.
May we follow the lead of Jesus and make an effort today to see each other as brothers and sisters. No matter who we come across may we not avert our eyes but be drawn into another’s gaze and smile. In that simple act, we acknowledge to that person that they do exist. As social beings, we long to be touched, and even though at present we need to keep physically distant, we can still be present to one another. In our hyper-sexualized culture, we need to be models of chaste expressions of love by building friendships. We also can draw close by resisting the temptation to talk at or over one another, seek to fix one each other, and instead draw close to another’s pain and be willing to accompany another through their struggles. We can seek to forgive and be forgiven. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by putting into practice these simple practices. By doing so, we can begin to encounter one another again, to draw close as Jesus did, to heal and build up the wounded Body of Christ in our midst.

Photo: Spring break almost two years ago now. Happy Valentine’s Day to my heart!
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, February 14, 2020

Jesus invites us to serve with him. Are we willing to join him?

As Christians we are called to be disciples of Jesus, to learn his teachings, and follow his ways. We are also called to be apostles in that we are to go out, proclaim and share that he is who he said he is, and how he has affected our lives. Often when we are reminded of this message though, we may feel inadequate. We may question what it is that we can even possibly offer in an effort to help build the kingdom of God. We may feel we have nothing to share, nothing to give, nothing to say, or that what the Lord asks of us, we do not know how to accomplish.
The disciples express similar feelings today for the latter point. Jesus shows concern for the thousands who had just listened to him for three days and are readying to depart. He is concerned that they are hungry and that some may collapse on their way home. The disciples look about bewildered as to how they could possibly feed the vast crowd. Then Jesus asked,  “How many loaves do you have” (Mk 8:5)? They responded that they had seven loaves and two fish. Jesus would go on to feed, not only the whole multitude gathered, but when all ate their fill, seven baskets of bread fragments were left over.
We may not know how to take active steps to live our faith out in our daily lives, we may not even be aware of how to begin. On the other side, we may have actually been engaged in service, in our vocation, but have started to coast, gotten complacent, and need to continue to strive to mature as a disciples and apostles. Each day is a new opportunity to begin again, and a good way is to place ourselves in the presence of Jesus. If we have trouble visualizing him, we can look at a statue we may have, a picture, or an icon. Then take some deep breaths, meditate on our present life condition, and assess where there is a need in our own life as well as those of others. Once we are able to identify a concern, let us have ears to hear Jesus ask us, “What do you have, what can you offer?”
You may not have an immediate answer. Stay with the question for a period of time, take it with you throughout the day if need be. Resist looking for the big response, the grand plan. Ask yourself what you can offer no matter how small. What you give to Jesus in service and participation with him, he can multiply and bring about amazing results. The disciples only gave him seven loaves and two fish, what seemed insignificant to feed the thousands, and yet, Jesus multiplied the meager amount to feed all present with seven baskets left over. Jesus provides, Jesus works through us. The question we need to answer is not are we worthy because we are not. The question we need to answer is, “Are we willing?”

Photo: Statue of Jesus in the Chapel of St Anthony at St Thomas University, Miami Gardens, FL
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, February 13, 2021

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)

Those who witnessed Jesus healing the man who was deaf with a speech impediment grasped something more than just the healing when they stated: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mk 7:37). With these words, they were acknowledging the deliverance of Israel by the Lord, promised by the prophet Isaiah, when he mentioned how, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared” (Isaiah 35:5).
The beauty of this healing may be missed by us in the modern age because of the graphic nature of the details used by Mark. Jesus places his fingers in the man’s ears, spits into his own hands, and then touches the man’s tongue. Jesus is mixing his own saliva with this man in need of healing. We don’t even share drinks from the same bottle anymore as we used to do when we were kids! And now that we are in the midst of this pandemic, this imagery can seem incomprehensible!
Yet, what Jesus is showing is the intimacy of communion that he offers us. He gave the very essence of his own being that it would be mingled with this man. This physical teaching is an image or icon, of how the Son of God, in no way diminishing the fullness of his divinity, entered into the very real corporality of our humanity. He became one with us so that we can become one with him. This was true then and it is still true for us today!
We all suffer physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trials. But we also suffer from not being able to hear God’s word, and so are mute in speaking his word. Jesus, even if he does not provide a healing or an immediate solution to a trial, is present in our lives. We are invited to consciously resist the temptation of avoiding our own suffering, pain, or challenges and instead are invited to embrace and enter into them. We are not expected to do this alone, but to bring our need for healing to Jesus. In this way, we are aligning our suffering with his on the Cross. When we choose to offer up our pain and suffering on behalf of another, we participate in redemptive suffering. Others can experience relief and healing from our sacrifice in participation with Jesus.
This act of the will gives meaning to our suffering such that we do not endure what we are going through in vain. May we face, head-on, that which rises before us, actualizing the guidance of Jesus as well as the advances of modern medicine, science, and psychology, embracing a posture that engages both faith and reason. Our approach will be best if we are more mindful and balanced with our discernment. Just masking struggles without dealing with the root cause will only prolong and possibly worsen the condition. I have experienced the benefits of both faith and science in the first phase of my recovery from Covid and pneumonia.
Jesus seeks to heal us too by saying to us: “Ephphatha!” so that we too can hear his word, speak his word, and be more present to and love one another. Jesus also wants to heal others through us. With ears more open to the voice of God, we become more aware of the needs of others. The best gift of healing we can offer to one another is to be present and really listen to and hear them, such that they have experienced being heard and loved.
——————————————————————————————-
Picture: Icon of Jesus healing the man deaf and mute – Artist unknown.
Link for the Mass reading for Friday, February 12, 2021

Jesus still heals today, do we believe?

In today’s encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, we can observe again the crossing of societal norms by both the woman and Jesus. The woman, very much like the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, was desperate and approached Jesus. She was willing to risk breaking the social taboo of speaking with Jesus and just walking into the home where Jesus was staying for the sole purpose that her daughter would be healed.
Jesus meets her with the derogatory language of equating her with a dog, considered one of the most unclean of animals by Jews: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mk 7:27). This woman would have none of Jesus’ rebuke, she wasn’t leaving without receiving healing for her daughter, even if that meant she was putting her life in danger. Her retort, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps”, emphasized this point. It was also the key that opened the door for the disciples and us to witness a consistent pattern with Jesus.
We saw the same situation with the woman who was experiencing the hemorrhage (cf. Mk 5:25-34) Both women had the faith and courage to approach Jesus. The outcome of this encounter was also similar to one Jesus had with another gentile, the Roman centurion, who said that he was not worthy for Jesus to enter under his roof. In both accounts, Jesus healed solely by his word from afar. What is important to Jesus is the person’s faith and belief that Jesus was who he said he was and still is today!
Do we have the courage, faith, and belief in Jesus as shown by the Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel? Are we willing to take the risk of crossing our own societal norms to draw closer to Jesus? When we let nothing hinder our stride closer to Jesus, including relinquishing the reigns of being our own masters, acknowledging that God is God and we are not, believing that Jesus is truly the Son of God and that he is still present and active in our lives, miracles still do happen! Jesus said that if we have faith but the size of the mustard seed, we can move mountains (cf. Mt 17:20).
If you or someone close to you are dealing with some conflicts, challenges, trials, or tribulations. If something, someone, or your own fear or anxiety is keeping you from making a deeper commitment to surrendering your life to Jesus, if there are opposing forces that feel as big as mountains, be not afraid and trust in Jesus. Bring your anxiety, fear, trials, and/or tribulations to him, lay your burdens at his feet, and take his hand. With Jesus all things are possible, we just need the courage to believe that our Lord is present with us especially in the midst of our trials. Jesus has not left us as orphans. We need to have faith that Jesus is who he says he was then and continues to be today. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God our Savior and Redeemer, is present, is the kingdom of God at hand, and will see us through step by faithful step.

Photo: Small chapel at the front of my classroom at Cardinal Newman. May the light of the Gospel guide us each day!
Link for the Mass reading for Thursday, February 11, 2021

We need to choose carefully what will think and speak about, and how we will act.

“[W]hat comes out of the man, that is what defiles him” (Mk 7:20).
Jesus offers a list in today’s gospel of what can be unleashed from within and then directed out toward another. These are examples of what defiles us because, at some level, we make the decision to think about, speak, and put into action those thoughts, words, and actions.
To resist the temptation to defile ourselves and others, we can follow the lead of the writer from the letter to the Hebrews who offered a wonderful verse, which I pray each morning in my recitation of the Office: “Encourage each other daily while it is still today” (Hebrews 3:13). There are many that we will encounter or hear about each day that will do the exact opposite.
Our goal each moment is to resist spending any time or energy in supporting any thoughts, words, or actions that demean, belittle, or dehumanize. We can call those out who do so, stand up for those impoverished from these attacks who do not have a voice but we must not succumb, engage, or in any way be lowered to the negativity unleashed. Otherwise, we become an agent in perpetuating the same vileness and poison already unleashed.
Our thoughts, words, and actions matter because we are all interconnected, and even what we ruminate upon can be projected onto our faces and directed out toward another without saying one word. Thoughts entertained can lead to words and actions that wound. We need to approach each moment more mindfully such that we resist reacting, and instead take a slow breath, think and pray about our response. The only time our silence can be harmful is when we refuse to stand up for others when they disregard the dignity of a person.
Let us choose this day to align our thoughts, words, and actions with those of Jesus. We can follow St Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s five-finger gospel as a reminder: “You did it to me.” What we say and do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we say and do to Jesus (cf. Mt 25:35-45). This begins when we resist defiling ourselves by never letting evil talk pass our lips and instead think, speak, and act in ways that empower, convict, and build up others. Our effort is strengthened when we choose to forgive any negativity hurled at us, and meet it with a posture of compassion that seeks to understand the perspective of the hurler. In our efforts, we are not alone when we call upon the help and strength of Jesus as we strive to become ambassadors of his transforming love.
————————————————————————————————-
Photo: St Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the sanctuary at St Peter Catholic Church
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, February 11, 2021