Archive for March, 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent

March 30, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink.”  The thirst of Jesus reminds us of two realities about Our Lord: first, that the Eternal Son of God really did become a human being: He became a man, like us in all things except for sin, and therefore He was able to become physically thirsty.  Second, and more importantly, this passage reminds us that Our Lord thirsts for us.

We have a God Who loves us so much that His desire for our faith and for our love can be described as thirst.  God freely created us out of love and He created us for Himself.  He desires our greatest good and He, Himself, IS our greatest good.  We were made for God: we were made to be completely united with God forever.  God desires us to love Him above all things: Our Lord gave us the command to love God above everything else.  Jesus did not give us this command because God needs our love; we are commanded to love God because that is what we were created to do and if we do not love God first, everything else in our life becomes disordered.

Everything in the world cannot satisfy our hearts if God is not in the center.  Temptation promises happiness, but sin leaves us empty and miserable.  God desires to be first in our hearts because He knows that putting Him first is the only way that we will be truly happy and He created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him forever.

So much does Our Lord desire us to be with Him forever in Heaven, He came down from Heaven and died on the Cross and gives Himself to us as Food in the Eucharist to strengthen us on our journey towards our heavenly homeland.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta once explained why we should give ourselves to God.  She said: “Why should we give ourselves completely to God?  Because God has given Himself to us.  If God, Who owes us nothing, is ready to give us nothing less than Himself, can we respond with only a small part of ourselves?”  God did not have to create us: He freely created us out of love.  Once human beings sinned and turned their backs on their Creator, God did not have to redeem us.  Out of love for us God sent His Son to die in order to save us.  Out of love for us Jesus Christ shed His blood and laid down His life on the Cross.  Out of love for you and for me He gives Himself—all that He is and all that He has—he gives Himself completely to us as Food in the Eucharist, because He loves us and wants us to love Him in return.  God is love: He loves us with all of His being.  Jesus Christ poured Himself out for us and He asks us to pour ourselves out for love of Him.  He wants your whole heart, not just part of it.  Even if we give ourselves totally to God and put Him first in our hearts and give Him everything we are not left poor.  God is never outdone in generosity.  The more we give ourselves to God the more He gives Himself to us.  We were made to be united with God, but the only way that we can be united to Him is by giving our hearts completely to Him.  The more we give our hearts to Him the more He fills them up with Himself.  Giving ourselves totally to God is the only way of receiving God: God desires that our hearts belong to Him but He will not take them by force.  We have to give our hearts to Him; we have to allow God to reign in our hearts and in our lives.

The more our hearts belong to God the happier we become, because our hearts were made for God and they will not find fulfillment until they rest in God: God is the only thing that can fulfill all our hearts longings.  In order to truly give our hearts to God we have to root sin out of them and surrender our hearts to Him.  Let us open our hearts to all that God wants to do in them today; let us ask Him to give us the grace to surrender our hearts ever more completely to Him.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to recognize that our hearts deepest desire is You.  Give us the grace to thirst for You, just as You thirst for us.  Help us, Lord, to pour ourselves out for love of You that we may come to possess You ever more fully; may we love You above all things.  Amen.

 

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2nd Sunday of Lent

March 21, 2011

Every year on the second Sunday of Lent we hear the account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  Immediately preceding the passage that we heard today, Saint Matthew’s Gospel has Our Lord beginning to predict His Passion and death.  Our Lord reveals to His Apostles that He is to be put to death; then He is transfigured before some of them in order to strengthen their faith.

The Transfiguration is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s glorious Resurrection.  The account of the Transfiguration is given to us on the Second Sunday of Lent in order to encourage us to persevere in this season of self-denial that we celebrate with all the more joy the Easter season.

The Transfiguration is an event that has much significance, significance that might not be appreciated if one was not familiar with the Old Testament.  Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus: Moses is the one through whom God communicated the Old Law; Elijah represented the Old Testament Prophets.  Jesus is the fulfillment of everything foretold in the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus taught us that the whole purpose of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets could be summed up in two lines: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

Through Moses, God established a Covenant with His chosen people.  All of the Old Testament Prophets pointed forward to the coming of the Redeemer.  Jesus establishes the new and eternal Covenant in His own blood; He gives the New Law that calls us to a higher standard: the standard of love.  In the Gospels, Jesus often says that Moses said one thing but that He says another.  Moses was the greatest leader in Israel’s history; for Jesus to change the teachings of Moses was for Him to claim to have a greater authority than Moses.  That would have been shocking, indeed, for the Jewish people.  Yet Moses, himself, predicted the coming of Jesus: he predicted the coming of the Messiah and told the people to listen to him.  All those centuries later, Moses appears with the one that he predicted and those same words used are used, but they come from God the Father: “Listen to him.”

The Transfiguration also reminds us of our ultimate destiny.  Saint Paul says that if we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will share in His glory.  We are all destined to be with Christ in glory, as Moses and Elijah appeared with Him in His glory.  Each and every one of us was created to be united with God forever in Heaven.  In order to be united to God, I have to become more and more like Him.  Jesus calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  The Father wants us to surrender our hearts more and more to Him; He wants to transform us and conform us to the image of His Son.  Jesus says that if we would follow after Him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  Jesus Christ is our Head; we are His mystical body.  We are to follow Him; we are to imitate Him.  He is the Way to the Father and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

The whole purpose of Lent is to help us to become more like Christ.  Through our self-denial, we strive to let go of our attachments: so that our hearts can belong more completely to God.  Through self-discipline, we gain mastery over our wills: so that we can root sin out of our hearts and grow in virtue.  Making us more Christ-like is the point, not only of Lent, but it also ought to be the point of all that we do.  The goal is to do everything that we do out of love: love for God and love for others.  That should be true in all the areas of our lives, and it should be especially true of what we do here at Mass, as Fr. John talked about in the parish mission this past week.  At the closing Mass of the parish mission, Fr. John reminded us that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ gives us Himself as Food: He gives Himself to us as Food so that we might be transformed more and more into Him.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life: from the Eucharist, we receive the grace to imitate Christ; and becoming more like Christ is the goal (the summit) of the Christian life.

Let us make the most out of this holy season of Lent; that our hearts might be ever more transformed into the Heart of Christ.  Let us open our hearts to all the graces that God wants to give to us in the Holy Communion that we receive today, at this Mass.  God wants to work in our hearts: He wants to work in your heart and He wants to work in my heart.  Yet, He will not force His way into our hearts: we have to open them to Him.  May we open our hearts to God’s grace and grow more and more each day into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, help us to open our hearts to You.  Help us to grow in grace and in love.  May our hearts be ever more fully conformed to the Sacred Heart of Your Son.  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like Yours.  Amen.

 

March 20th

March 21, 2011

As we continue our journey through the forty days of Lent it is good for us to remind ourselves of why we have giving things up and why we have taken on extra spiritual practices.  The forty days of Lent are a reminder to us of the forty days that Our Lord spent in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan.  These forty days are meant to focus us on mastering our wills and overcoming temptation.

When we give up things that we could ordinarily enjoy, we strengthen our wills so that we might say “no” to temptation when it arises.  Our will is like a muscle: it is strengthened through exercise.  When we give up things, we exercise our free will.  When we give things up for Lent, we ought to give up things that will challenge us: if we give up something that we don’t care much about anyways, we aren’t really exercising our wills.

Offering things up to Our Lord as a spiritual sacrifice helps us to conform ourselves more and more to Him.  Jesus offered Himself up on the Cross for us and He told us that if we want to be His disciples, we must take up our cross and follow Him.  By foregoing things for Lent we, in some small way, unite ourselves to that offering that Jesus made of Himself.

Jesus offered everything that He had to the Father.  We are to imitate Him and offer our whole heart to God.  In order to make of ourselves a pleasing offering to the Father, we have to root sin out of our hearts.  Lent is a time to focus on strengthening our self-will so that we can overcome temptation and grow in virtue.  As we rid our hearts of sin, we make room for God.

While we must do all that we can to root sin out of our hearts, we must also remember that we can do nothing without God’s grace.  Let us ask Our Lord for the graces that we need to be ever more faithful to Him.  May we cooperate with His grace and succeed in strengthening our wills during this holy season.

God bless,

Father White

First Sunday of Lent

March 13, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear that Our Lord spent forty days in the desert; while there, He fasted and was tempted.  Our Lord’s fast of forty days is where the Church derived the idea of Lent.  In imitation of Our Lord, we too spend forty days denying ourselves.  As Our Lord was tempted while He was in the desert and yet did not sin; our goal in denying ourselves things during these forty days is to help us to overcome temptation.

We do not give things up merely for the sake of giving things up.  We deny ourselves things that we could ordinarily legitimately enjoy in order to imitate Christ and strengthen our wills.  Jesus said that if we want to follow Him we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  Self-denial helps us put inordinate self-love to death.  In other words, we need to die to ourselves before we can really put God first in our hearts as Jesus commanded us to do.  When we give things up for Lent, our self-denial shows that we love God more than the good things of this world.

Furthermore, fasting and self-denial ought to help us to grow in self-mastery; through denying ourselves, we are enabled to gain more control over our passions and desires.  If we can say “no” to the things that we have given up, we will hopefully be able to say “no” to temptation that much more easily.  Again, the real goal in giving things up for Lent is to help us to resist temptation and rid our hearts of sin, so that our hearts can more completely be filled with love for God and others.

In order to overcome temptation, it is helpful to know how it works.  Traditionally, it has been understood that temptation comes from three sources: the devil, the flesh and the world.  In the Gospel, there are two ways that the world is talked about: one is positive and one is negative.  On the one hand, the Gospel says that God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die in order to save it.  On the other hand, Jesus says that if the world hates you, realize that it first hated Him.  It is in the second sense of this word that the world is a source of temptation.  We live in a society that does not share our Christian values in fact it resents them.  There are many things on the television, on the radio, and on the internet that are offensive to what we believe.  The best way to overcome those types of temptations is simply not to watch the shows, or networks that put those temptations before us.

Dealing with temptations of the flesh can be a little more difficult.  We can block inappropriate material from our televisions and from our computers, but we cannot get away from ourselves.  Temptation tends to start as a thought.  If we catch ourselves thinking about something that we ought not to be thinking about, it is important to reject the thought immediately.  Remember that sin always involves consent of our will.  If we realize that we have an inappropriate thought that we did not want to have, we have not sinned: we are simply being tempted.  If we reject an inappropriate thought as soon as we are aware of it, we have acted virtuously.  Only if we consent to the inappropriate thought do we fall into sin.

The reason that it is so urgent to reject bad thoughts as soon as we are aware of them is because if we allow ourselves to dwell on them, they become harder to get rid of.  Once a thought gains momentum through consent, it becomes hard to stop it from stirring up our emotions.  Once our emotions are engaged, it becomes harder to resist temptation and avoid sin.

Once a sin is committed, it is easier to commit the same sin again.  Any action that we repeat again and again can become a habit.  Sinful habits can be very difficult to break.  Sin enslaves the sinner.  In order to break out of a sinful habit we need God’s grace.  God will give us the grace to break free from sin if we ask for it, but we have to really want it.  If the sinful habit is a long-standing sinful habit, it will require much grace and effort.  Overcoming sinful habits is not easy, but nothing is impossible with God’s grace.  It is possible to overcome any temptation; but we have to be willing to do what it takes to conquer it.

One of the things that can help us prevail over temptation is to call to mind often the fact that temptation is always a lie: the lie is that if we give in to sin, we will be happy.  Sin never makes us happy; sin damages our relationship with God and apart from God we can never be truly happy.  Let us use these forty days of Lent to pray for the grace to overcome temptation and root sin out of our hearts; and let us do all that we can to cooperate with the grace that God offers.  May our observance of this holy season deepen our love for God and help us to conform our hearts, ever more perfectly, to the Heart of Christ.  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.  Amen.

 

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time

March 6, 2011

Our readings today focus on a topic of utmost importance for each one of us, namely: how do we get to Heaven?  In the first reading, Moses told the people of Israel that they had two options: Moses set before the people a blessing and a curse.  The people had to follow the commandments in order to receive the blessing.  The problem is that our human nature is fallen and inclined towards sin.  The entire Old Testament is the story of God again and again reaching out to His people after they have sinned and turned away from Him.

In the fullness of time, God sent His own Son in order to break us out of our fallen state.  Jesus Christ established the new and everlasting covenant in His own blood.  Saint Paul teaches us that all have sinned (we all fall short of the glory of God); we are justified (we are made right with God) through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the law.  What Saint Paul is saying is that there isn’t anything that we can do to save ourselves: we cannot earn eternal life.  Jesus Christ died in order to win eternal life for us: His death on the Cross opened the gates of Heaven and the life that He won, He offers to us as a free gift.  We cannot buy it: Christ purchased it for us with His blood on the Cross.  Jesus Christ saved us from sin and death: it is through Him and only through Him that we have access to the Father.  That is what Saint Paul means when he says that we are justified through faith apart from the law.  It is not enough to try to follow God’s law; we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

This truth has been taken by some to mean that we do not have to do anything but believe and then we can call ourselves good Christians; as if it is enough to say that we believe in Jesus and then we can live like pagans.  Today’s Gospel fills in the rest of the picture: not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of the Father.  The letter of Saint James tells us that faith without works is dead.

True faith, the kind of faith by which we are saved and have access to Heaven, is a faith that is lived out in day-to-day life.  Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”  What commandments did Jesus give?  Only two: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.  It is not enough to say that we believe in God, we have to put our faith into practice through love.  In another letter, Saint Paul says that even if we have faith that moves mountains, even if we sell everything we have and give all the money to the poor, even if we hand our bodies over to be burned, if we do it without love, there will be no benefit for us.  In order for us to be real Christians, we need the kind of faith that is put in to practice through charity.

How is this charity practically lived out?  It is important to remember that love is a choice, not a feeling.  We are commanded to love others; we are not commanded to necessarily like them.  Our Lord commands us to even love our enemies: that type of love is a choice, and it is not an easy choice.  When people hurt us, we still must love them.  Our Lord commanded us to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven.  True love forgives and does not bear grudges: true love excuses everything; true love bears everything.

True love does not envy others: Saint Thomas Aquinas said that to love another is to will the good for that person.  When we envy another we fail to will good for them: we want it for ourselves instead.  If we had true charity in our hearts, we would thank God for the good things that we have and we would rejoice in the good things that He has given to others as well.

True charity tries to see the best in others.  This does not mean ignoring sins that others commit.  All that I have said about charity does not mean that we cannot correct others: of course we must always do so in charity.  Charity does not mean that we cannot judge another’s actions.  Our Lord said that we can know a tree by its fruit.  We cannot, however, judge the heart of another.  God alone is the Judge: we are commanded to judge not, lest we be judged.

We ought not allow ourselves to be troubled by our neighbor’s defects and faults, rather we ought to have patience with others and remember that we, ourselves, are sinners who stand in need of God’s mercy.  The second commandment that Our Lord gives to us is that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  When we see defects and faults in our own behavior, we are much quicker to excuse ourselves or try to justify ourselves than when we see them in others.  In order to grow in love we should excuse our neighbors more.  When we fall into sin, we need to accuse ourselves in the Confessional in order that we might receive God’s mercy.  We cannot judge our neighbor’s heart; we ought to focus on removing sin from our own hearts before we worry about the sins of others.

Of course to live the love that Our Lord commands us to have for Him and for others is completely impossible to our fallen human nature.  We need God’s grace in order to live as He commands us to live.  Let us ask Our Lord to give us the graces that we need to love Him and our neighbors.  Lord, help us to love You above all things: help us to do all that we do out of love for You; help us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves out of love for You.  Amen.

March 6th

March 6, 2011

Lent begins this coming Wednesday (March 9th).  Hopefully we have all already been thinking about what we are going to do for Lent.  Notice that I did not write “give up” for Lent.  Lent isn’t only about “giving something up,” it is meant to be a time in which we take on extra spiritual practices (which can take the form of abstaining from things, but can also take other forms) in order to help us grow in self control, reject sin and ultimately make our hearts more open to receiving God’s grace that we might be transformed by it.

The idea behind giving things up for Lent is: if we are able to say no to things that we could legitimately enjoy, we strengthen our wills to reject temptation when it comes along.

When we give things up for Lent, we should give up something that will really challenge us.  We should make sure that it is something that we will actually be able to do without for forty days.  Sometimes the temptation can be to take on too much and then we can become discouraged because we cannot bear the burden that we have placed upon ourselves and end up not doing anything.  We need to avoid that extreme, but we also need to avoid being too easy on ourselves.  In order to really exercise my will, I need to give up something that will really be a sacrifice.

As I mentioned before, Lent isn’t only about giving things up, we can also take on extra spiritual practices.  There are many devotions that can help us to meditate upon the Passion of Our Lord.  Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are all beautiful devotions that can help us meditate upon all that Our Lord suffered in order to save us from sin and death.  Again, it is important not to overload ourselves, lest we become discouraged; yet Lent is a time when we make that extra effort to draw closer to Christ.

May this Lent be a time of great grace and spiritual renewal for our entire parish family!

God bless,

Father White

 

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

March 1, 2011

“No one can serve two masters … you cannot serve God and mammon.”  The lesson that Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel is quite clear: God must have the first place in our hearts and in our lives.  This Gospel passage does not mean that we can neglect this world or that the things of this world are evil in themselves.  God created everything and what He created is good; it is the inordinate attachment to the things of this world that is sinful.  Being overly attached to the things of this world is sinful not because God doesn’t want us to have good things; it is sinful because to love things above God or our neighbors is contrary to the way that God created us.  God created us in His own image and likeness; we were created for love; we were created for communion: communion with God and communion with other people.  We can enjoy the good things of this world, but we must not put them above God or above our neighbor.

In the parable that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus the poor beggar, the rich man does not go to the place of torment because he is rich: he loses Heaven because he ignored his needy neighbor: he lacked charity.  Jesus Christ gave us two commandments: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

When we put the things of this world ahead of God and neighbor we fall into sin.  When we fail in charity, we fail to live the way that God created us.  We were not made for this world: this world was made for us.  We were made for God: we were made to know Him and to love Him; we were made to be united with God forever in Heaven.  We were made for love; if we fail to show charity to our neighbor, Jesus tells us that we fail to show charity to Him: “what you have done to the least of My brothers,” he says, “you have done unto Me.”  If we become overly attached to the things of this world, we forget that our purpose and our destiny are much greater.  All the good things in this world pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us in Heaven.  The whole world is not enough to satisfy our hearts because our hearts were made for God, Who IS infinite.  Our hearts were made for love.  When we turn in on ourselves and live in a selfish way, we make ourselves unhappy.

The temptation to put the things of this world ahead of God or neighbor is a temptation to settle for less.  Temptation is always a lie.  The lie, in this case, is that if we just had more we would be happy.  Temptation tells us that if we put ourselves and our own desires ahead of God and others we will find happiness.  Our experience teaches us that temptation is a lie.  When we have more, we want more still.  When we live for the things of this world, we are never satisfied.  When we put ourselves first, we push others away and damage our relationships with them.  When we sin, we damage our relationship with God and we are left empty and miserable because apart from God there is no true joy.

On the other hand, when we go out of our way to help others, we feel good about ourselves.  The good feeling that comes from helping others is a part of our nature: it is part of the way that God made us.  We were created to love others and we feel good about ourselves when we live the way that we were created to.  Yet temptation can easily creep back in and make us forget this truth.  Our human nature is fallen: it is inclined towards sin and selfishness.  Jesus gave us those two commandments to love because we need to be reminded of the love that we were created for.  We need God’s grace to live the love that He commands us to live.  We often need to take a step back and examine our hearts and ask ourselves where our treasure lies: do we love God, or do we love things?  Do we love others, or do we love ourselves more?

We need God’s grace to love the way that He commands us to love.  Our fallen nature is incapable of living the love that God calls us to without His divine assistance.  God is love and He desire that we become more like Him.  We have to ask Him for His gifts: Jesus taught us to ask for the things that we need.  Let us ask God to help us to grow in love and increase our faith that we may see that the only lasting treasure is in Heaven.

Let us pray for the graces that we need to make sure that our hearts are properly ordered.  Let us ask God for His assistance that we may live the love that He calls us to have.  Lord Jesus Christ, help us to seek You above everything else.  Help us, Lord, to use the things of this world in a way that pleases You; help us to love others as You call us to love them.  Amen.