Archive for February, 2011

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 20, 2011

“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 . . .”  The kind of love that Jesus calls us to in today’s Gospel is completely contrary to our human nature.  It is easy to love those who love us; it is impossible to love our enemies without the assistance of divine grace.  Yet with God’s grace all things are possible.

Jesus calls us to this extraordinary kind of love and He models this kind of love for us: He prays for those who are driving the nails into His hands and feet.  Jesus calls us to imitate Him.  Jesus calls us to this love and tells us that this is the kind of love that we are to have that we may be children of our heavenly Father.  God is love and Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Father is perfect, therefore we are called to love as God loves.  The more perfectly we love, the more perfectly we bear the image of God.

True love is a choice: it is a decision that we make.  Loving your enemies is not about a warm feeling; it’s about making a decision to love.  Loving our enemies doesn’t mean that we have to be doormats: we can stand up against injustice but we must always do so with charity in our hearts, never out of anger.  That is a real challenge.  When someone hurts us, or hurts someone we love, feeling angry is our natural response.  Feeling angry because someone has hurt us is not, in itself sinful: anger is a natural reaction to the wound that the other person has caused us: sin is always a choice that we freely make.  If we choose to act in an uncharitable way because of our anger, if we choose to have uncharitable thoughts, or speak uncharitable words, or if we choose to vent our anger in our actions, then we fall into sin.  Our Lord calls us to keep control over our hearts and not allow ourselves to be mastered by our passions.  When He was scourged and mocked and crowned with thorns He opened not His mouth.

We do not accomplish anything if we give in to anger.  Lashing out in anger does not improve our situation.  It might make us temporarily feel better to vent our anger, but in the long run, it does not help us, and we later end up regretting things done and said in anger, and we can never take those words or actions back.

Harboring a grudge also does not help our situation; it does not heal our broken relationship.  Holding on to a grudge takes a lot of energy and it can really tear us down and stress us out.  Besides the immediate negative effects to ourselves, refusing to forgive is also sinful: it affects our relationship with God.  Jesus taught us to pray that we be forgiven our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  If we desire mercy we have to show mercy to others.

How, then, are we to deal with the anger that we feel when someone hurts us?  Jesus calls us to forgive.  Forgiveness, like love, is not a feeling: it is an act of the will; it is a choice.  Forgiveness, like love, is not always an easy choice.  Sometimes it might be all that we are able to do is ask the Lord for the grace to be able to forgive someone.  The important thing is to bring the wound and the resulting anger to the Lord and ask Him for healing for the situation.  Forgiving someone who has hurt me does not instantly heal the wound that causes the anger and therefore the anger does not immediately dissipate.  Forgiveness often takes time.  If the wound is deep, it can take a long time to heal.  I may have to renew my forgiveness of someone many times for the same action.  As often as I am tempted to anger over a past hurt I ought to renew my forgiveness or renew my prayer asking God to help me forgive that person.

If we only love those who love us, we have already received our reward.  If we cooperate with God’s grace and love our enemies and forgive those who trespass against us, then we will grow in virtue and in love.  By choosing to forgive and choosing to love we become more perfectly conformed to Jesus Christ and we grow towards that perfection to which He calls us.

Lord Jesus Christ, we need your grace to be able to live the love that you command us to have.  Give us the strength to choose to love others, even those that we find hard to love.  Help us, Lord, to grow in true love; help us to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven. Amen.

 

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February 20th

February 20, 2011

In the last article, I began reflecting on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession.  I’d like to continue that reflection by focusing on some of the benefits (in addition to our sins being forgiven) that come from receiving the Sacrament.

In addition to receiving forgiveness of our sins we also receive assurance that our sins have been forgiven.  Once we have received the sacramental absolution of our sins from the priest we have certainty that our sins have been forgiven.  We know that God bestows His mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that knowledge can be very helpful if we are ever tempted to “beat ourselves up” over past sins that we have already confessed.  We can see in those feelings of guilt a temptation to not trust in God’s mercy.  If memories of previously confessed sins come back to haunt us, we can remind ourselves that God has forgiven us our sins and then thank Him for the mercy that He has bestowed upon us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Another great benefit that comes from confessing our sins (even our venial sins) out loud to a priest is that it helps us to grow in humility.  Pride has a way of pulling the wool over our eyes when it comes to looking at our own hearts.  It is very easy for us to justify ourselves and rationalize away our sins.  Through regularly confessing our sins we are able to have a more realistic picture of who we really are and it reminds us that we are always in need of God’s mercy.

While on the subject of humility, it is important that when we come to Confession that we confess all of our sins, but we should avoid two extremes (which both are rooted in pride).  We should avoid, on the one hand, exaggerating our sins and making them out to be more than they really are; and on the other hand, we should avoid excusing ourselves.  We should take our sins seriously, but real humility is grounded in truth.  When we come to Confession, we come to confess our sins and receive God’s mercy: not to justify ourselves or make excuses.

A final benefit that comes to mind is spiritual direction.  When we go to Confession the priest offers us advice that will help us in our struggle against sin.  When the lines are long (like they often are during our usually scheduled Confession times) the advice is usually short, just to keep the line moving.  If you are in need of more in-depth spiritual direction, it is better to call (or email) the office and make an appointment to see a priest for Confession and direction.  This is just a practical point of common courtesy for others who also want to go to Confession.

God bless,

Father White

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 20, 2011

Today, we heard Our Lord say that He did not come to abolish but to fulfill the law.  In the Old Testament, there were 613 laws that the Jewish people were bound to follow.  Besides the Ten Commandments, there were laws concerning trade and finance, there were dietary laws, there were laws which regulated Temple worship, there were laws on how the Jews were to deal with non-Jews; there were many different kinds of laws which dealt with every aspect of life, yet all those laws had the same goal: the point of all those laws was to get people to live the way that God created them to live.  The goal of the laws of the Old Testament was to lead the people into a closer relationship with God.

God did not give the law to restrict freedom; God gave the law in order to give His chosen people authentic freedom.  In the First Commandment, God says: “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  You shall not have other gods before Me.”  The God Who gives the law is the God Who frees His people from slavery.  The law doesn’t enslave; the law sets free.  If God wanted His people to be slaves, He would have left them in Egypt.  God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt so that they could worship Him in true freedom.

By giving the law to His people God was showing them the way to be free from slavery to sin.  The people of Israel did not see the law as a burden they saw the law as a great blessing.  Many of the Psalms praise God for giving the law; the Jewish people knew that the law was a sign of the Covenant (of the relationship) that they were in with God.  They knew that God did not reveal Himself to other nations at that time; He did not give other nations around them the law.  The Jewish people were set apart and chosen by God; God enabled His people to follow Him by giving them the law.  The Israelites knew that the law was a sign of God’s favor.

The 613 laws of the Old Testament were meant to get the people to change their hearts; the laws were given in order to free people from sin and allow them to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  Unfortunately, many people practiced the laws externally without allowing the laws to change their hearts.  Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees because they followed the laws to the letter but they did not allow those laws to change their hearts: their external practice of the law was impeccable, but their hearts were far from God.  The Pharisees missed the whole point of the law.

Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law: He shows us what the law really means.  Our Lord tells us that the entire law can be summed up in two commandments: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.  Even though 613 laws were simplified into two laws these two laws are more difficult to live out than all 613 laws of the Old Testament put together.  The 613 laws could be lived out exteriorly without the person really being changed.  The two laws that Jesus gives to us call us to a higher standard: the new law is not just about external observance.  The new law is about allowing our hearts to be radically changed by God’s grace.  The new law calls us to internalize the law and live in true charity.

We must not only not commit adultery, but we must develop Christian purity in our thoughts, in our words and actions, in what we allow ourselves to watch on television and in movies, in what we allow ourselves to read: in other words, in all that we do.  Above all we are to preserve purity in our hearts.  Avoiding murder is not enough to be faithful to the new law; the true Christian must remove anger and hatred from their heart and strive to love others, even enemies.  That kind of love is not the warm, fuzzy feeling that many people in the world today think of when they hear the word ‘love’; love is an act of the will: it is a choice that is made.  Sometimes love is accompanied by intense emotions, but not always.  Love is a choice that we have to make again and again throughout the day, each and every day.  Everyday we have to choose to love God; everyday we have to choose to love our families.

Jesus tells us that we are even to love even our enemies.  The choice to love is not always an easy choice to make but it is the love that we are called to have.  Jesus not only commanded us to have this kind of love; He, Himself is the model of that love.  Jesus reveals to us what real love looks like.  Look at the Crucifix: that is real love.  Real love gives the self away; real love sacrifices the self for the good of the beloved.  Jesus commanded us to love and He showed us how to love.  “There is no greater love,” He said, “than to lay down your life for the one you love.”  Jesus laid down His life for us and He calls us to make of ourselves a spiritual sacrifice to God and to others.

In order to really live out the love that Jesus models for us and commands us to have for God and for our neighbor we need God’s grace.  We are incapable of fulfilling the new law of love without God’s help.  For our weak, fallen human nature the law that Jesus gave is impossible; but through Him we can do all things.  The Eucharist contains all the grace that we need: for the Eucharist is Jesus, Himself, and He is the Author and Source of all grace.  If our hearts are not transformed and completely filled with love when we receive Holy Communion, it is only because we are not open to receiving God’s grace.  Let us open our hearts to all that God wants to give us in Holy Communion today.  Jesus died to set us free from sin, He wants us to have life and have it in abundance; He longs to fill our hearts with His love; but He will not act against our free will.  Let us open our hearts to Him today and ask Him to fill our hearts with true love.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to be open to all that You want to do in our hearts this day.  Set us free, Lord, from slavery to sin; may we live in the true freedom that you won for us on the Cross.  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with love for us, set our hearts on fire with love for You and for others.  Amen.

 

February 13th

February 12, 2011

This is the time of year that our second-graders have made or will soon be making their first confessions.  The Sacrament of Confession, or Reconciliation, is a great opportunity to experience the mercy of God.

Christians who are outside the Catholic Church will sometimes say that they do not need to confess their sins to a priest; they say that they go directly to God.  This idea is based on a misunderstanding of the Sacrament.  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is not a matter of confessing one’s sins to a priest instead of confessing to God: in the Sacrament we confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness from God through the priest.  It is not a matter of having to confess my sins to a priest; it is a privilege that I get to encounter Christ’s mercy in a way that I can perceive with my senses.

It is not the priest that forgives the sin; it is Christ Who acts through the priest to forgive sin.  When the priest gives us absolution, he does not say: “Jesus absolves you,” he says: “I absolve you”; yet we know that God alone can forgive sins.  When the priest pronounces the words of absolution we are actually hearing Christ speak through the priest.  Christ acts through the Sacraments; in the Sacraments we encounter Christ, Himself.

When the priest was ordained, he was configured to Christ in a particular way.  Priests are consecrated to act in the very person of Christ our High Priest.  Ordained priests share in the ministerial Priesthood of Christ.  Jesus bestowed His divine authority to forgive sins upon the Apostles (cf. John 20:21-23) and the Apostles handed that sacred power on to their successors, the bishops, and the bishops bestow this power unto the priests at their ordination.

God knows very well how we are made . . . He, Himself, created us.  We are composed of both body and soul.  Our Lord gave us the Sacraments as outward signs that we can experience with our bodily senses; yet they are signs that communicate grace (divine life) to our souls.

When we hear the priest pronounce the words of absolution, we have assurance that God has forgiven us our sins.  What a blessing it is to hear with our own ears that our sins have, in fact, been forgiven!

God bless,

Father White

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 12, 2011

In the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus Christ is the Light of the entire human race; the Eternal Son of God came into the world to be Light for us who dwelt in darkness: Jesus Christ is the Light that shines in our dark world and the darkness has not overcome His Light.  Later in Saint John’s Gospel Jesus says that He is the Light of the World and that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness.  Today Jesus says to His disciples and to us: “You are the light of the world.”

We are called to be light in the world; that light does not come from ourselves: we receive light from Christ, Who is the True Light, and we are called to let His light shine through us.  On the day of our Baptism certain promises were made, either by us or on our behalf.  Before someone is baptized, they are called to renounce the darkness: in our baptismal promises we pledged to reject Satan and all his works and empty promises; we then proclaimed our Faith in all that is contained within the Creed.  Then, when we were baptized we were baptized into Christ: through Baptism we became members of His mystical body.  Through Baptism we become so identified with Christ that we share in His mission to be light in the world.  At our Baptism, a candle was lit from the Pascal Candle and it was given to us with the words: “Receive the Light of Christ.”  Then we received a call to keep that light burning within our hearts.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are to let the light that we have received shine before others.  We received light from Christ: it is a gift that He freely bestowed upon us and it is a gift that we received in order that we may give it away.  How does Jesus tell us to be light in the world?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to say that we must let our light shine in the world so that others may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.  We, Christians, are called to do good deeds: our faith is meant to be lived out in day-to-day life.  Like Father John says: “Faith is not a spectator sport.”  We are to put our faith into practice: we are to cultivate the virtues in ourselves; we are called to do works of mercy, we are called to act with kindness and compassion; Jesus commanded us to love God above everything and our neighbor as ourselves.  The love that we are called to is more than a warm feeling: love is active it is not passive.  Jesus modeled that love for us: Jesus showed us that true love pours itself out in service for others.  Jesus said that He came to serve, not to be served.  Love is a choice and it is a choice that has to be made again and again throughout each and every day and it is not always an easy choice.

Jesus tells many parables about the need for us to bear fruit.  In one parable He says that He is the Vine and we are the branches: if we fail to bear fruit, we will be pruned away.  In another parable, we hear of a master handing out coins, and of one of the servants who received a coin and buried it so as not to lose it; in the end that servant had the coin taken away because he did not use it to yield more than he was given.  We can probably think of many other examples in the Gospels that amount to the same truth: if we fail to live out our faith in love we cannot call ourselves true Christians.  Jesus says: “If you love Me, follow My commands,” and Jesus commands us to love one another even as He has loved us.

We have to ask ourselves: how do we put our faith into practice?  Then, when we are aware of the ways that we put our faith into practice, we also have to be attentive to the last line of today’s Gospel: we have to make sure that the works that we do are done that other’s may see our good deeds and glorify God.  The first part of being light in the world is putting our faith into practice, the second part is making sure that we are doing what we do for the glory of God and not for our own glory.  We have to remember that we are called to be light that others may find their way to God.  We can do good works for the sake of doing good works, or we can do good works for God’s glory and honor.

Jesus calls us to do good works so that God will be glorified.  This part can be challenging: when we do works of mercy, for example, we feel good about helping others.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about the good works that we do, but we should try to keep in mind the ultimate reason that we do the things that we do.  When we set out to do some charitable works, it can be helpful to start with a prayer offering that work to God.  When the work is completed, it can be useful to again ask the Lord that our work might be a pleasing offering to Him.

When we do things for love of God we grow in our relationship with God and we also store up for ourselves treasure in Heaven.  Let us ask God to help us to truly be light in the world.  Lord Jesus, help us to live out our faith every day.  Help us to love You and love others as You call us to.  May we bear witness to You in our lives and in our actions so that You may be glorified.  Help us to do all that we do for Your greater glory and honor.  Amen.