Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday Reflection, Thomas Merton

Lent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential “dread” of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?

But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday 2017

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian who died at the hands of Hitler in 1945, understood discipleship. He understood how following Jesus can lead to being persecuted, even being put to death by hanging. Yet, knowing all this, he never stopped following and challenging others to follow. He said,” When Christ calls a person, Christ bids him come and die.” When we reflect upon the disciples of Jesus, those most intimately acquainted with our Lord, the overwhelming majority of the twelve died as martyrs because of their allegiance and faith to Christ. The day of Bonhoeffer’s hanging, a witness captured his actions and wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

 As we move through the season of Lent, this last week of Jesus’ life will stand out as being important.  Today, Palm Sunday, we hear great cries of, “Hosanna.”!, by Holy Thursday the mood will shift to great sadness - as Jesus marches up Golgotha to face death.

Discipleship is costly. It calls for great sacrifice and commitment. The season of Lent challenges us to follow Jesus. We may be called to follow Him even in death. Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent 2017

Today we hear the encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well. It is a “conversion” story, of the woman’s - and ours. “Christian conversion” comes in many forms, at different times of life. We will break down the "conversion" gospel into three steps: “First to Christ, then to the church, and then back to the world.”

First to Christ: A woman comes to draw water from the well.  Women typically had the daily chore of drawing water from wells – usually going out in the evening. This woman is out at noon – it’s hot. And she is alone. The woman is a Samaritan. Being so – she is despised by the Jews –and – as we soon find out, she is a sinner. This is probably the reason she is alone – she is an outcast. She signifies every Christian sinner - coming to the well “every” day, but never satisfied. A thirst never quenched. Like this woman, we too are seekers – seeking satisfaction from the temporal world.  St. John Paul II said,” “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

Jesus says to the woman, “Give me a drink.” The woman knows she shouldn’t be speaking to a man – and especially this man, for he is a Jew. Jewish men, especially rabbis, did not speak to women in public – particularly a Samaritan woman.
Still, she does not walk away – she embraces Jesus in “conversation.”

Conversation with God is “prayer.” “How can you, a Jew, ask me, for a drink?” The CCC says,” Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us - and asks us for a drink. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts - that we may thirst for him.” This is the “Primacy of grace”, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” He calls us first - and we respond.

To the Church: Jesus answers the woman, “If you knew the gift of God - and who is saying to you, “give me a drink”, He would give you “living water.” She is baffled, what is this living water? Our Pope Emeritus Benedict said that this “living” water “is clearly the Sacrament of Baptism, the gateway to life in the Spirit – a sharing in the divine nature through grace. It is the Church.

 The Samaritan woman is looking for water – to quench her physical thirst. Jesus is about to quench her spiritual thirst. Jesus says,” Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.”

Jesus begins to reveal to this woman who He truly is- and what He has to offer. He understands all about her - and what is in her heart. He recognizes an opening and begins to prompt her to respond to His call. Can we see in our own lives encounters with the Lord? Like this woman, there are certainly times when we are emotionally, spiritually, and physically wasted. Times we feel alone and estranged from those around us. Are we open to hear his loving voice?

Before this “living water” can flow into one’s life, we must recognize those things that get between us and God - our daily sufferings and trials, our responsibilities, our secular distractions. Place them in perspective. We must particularly be aware of our sins – address them by partaking in the Sacrament of Penance. These things keep us from the only One who can satisfy all our needs. We need to rid ourselves of these things - and let God “break in.”

The encounter continues. Jesus lets the woman know - that He knows…all about her. “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman responds that she does not have one. Jesus confronts her – you are right – you have had five husbands – and this one is not your husband.”

Jesus, in his mentioning the woman’s situation, reveals the seriousness of it. In his divine mercy, He offers her healing and forgiveness - through the grace of living water - so that she may be sanctified - and never thirst again.  Jesus reveals that He is “the Living Water” that will be for us a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”.

Back to the World: On realizing this, she cannot wait to go and spread the good news. She leaves behind her water jar – the jar filled with what can never satisfy. She goes into the town and begins to spread the good news. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” She is now evangelizing. Through this Samaritan woman’s experience, others would hear Christ’s invitation - and come to know Jesus by their own experience.

As a Samaritan - and as a woman with many husbands - as an outcast, she had every reason in the world - to ignore Jesus and remain as she was.  But she didn’t. She opened herself up to God’s will, in Christ.

Jesus knows that we are seekers – and sinners. He knows our triumphs - and our failures.  He knows our sins. He wants to purify us - and give us every good thing, to draw us closer to Himself. But Jesus will never force us, he only invites us.

If today you we hear his voice, harden not our hearts

let Him lead us home to the living water.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Merton Meditation on Lent

“The purpose of Lent is not only expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, but above all a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy–a gift which we receive insofar as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

“Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance to our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace and our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We heard in the news recently that Dylan Roof, the gunman who killed nine people inside a church in Charleston, in the midst of a Bible study, received the death penalty. Melvin Graham told reporters, "Today we had justice for my sister. "This is a very hollow victory, because my sister is still gone. I wish that this verdict could have brought her back.

“When the charges against Mr. Roof were first announced, representatives of the victims' families came forward to deliver a powerful message of forgiveness. “You took something very precious away from me," a family representative for Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old grandmother who died in the massacre, told Mr. Roof on behalf of Lance's loved ones. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you - and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you. “A daughter of one of the victims said, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.” The sister of another victim said to Mr. Roof, “I pray God on your soul.”

Our readings today echo God’s call for us to be “holy” – to be humble - and to be “perfect.” Let’s look at our first reading from the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Jewish Bible, the Torah. God says to Moses, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”  What does this mean – to be holy?  In the Old Testament, this term holiness is applied to God in the sense that God is set apart; set above all which is created. So, God is telling Moses to set himself apart - from something – from what? Set apart from sin - set apart from all others - in faith and trust in God. This is evidenced by obedience to His commands “even when they do not seem to make sense.”

St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.” Don’t think so much of yourself – empty yourself of your pride and arrogance. In essence, be full of humility– as our Lord was full of humility. CS Lewis, the great Christian writer, once said, “As long as you are proud - you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things - and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down - you cannot see something that is above you.”

Saint Por-phy-rios, who was an eastern monk known for his gifts of spiritual discernment, says of humility, it is a “complete trust in God –complete obedience to God, without protest, without reaction, even when some things seem difficult and unreasonable - abandonment to the hands of God. Holy humility is what transfigures a person - and makes him a ‘God-man - makes him “like Christ.” It makes man participate in God’s Divine nature.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel reading, Jesus goes from the difficult – teaching us about love of enemies - and non-retaliation, and then to “what we think is” impossible, concluding with the line, “so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Maybe I can try to love my enemies – but Jesus, how can I be perfect? This is a good question, but maybe the wrong question. Maybe our question should be - "how is it possible?"  Perhaps our problem with both understanding - and responding - is that we confuse the meaning of the word, "perfect". I think we come up with a false translation and, as a result, do not even attempt to respond.

In Greek, the word “perfect” is translated “telios”. It refers to something being completed, brought to its full purpose, potential and vocation. We tend to limit this word "perfect" and thereby fail to grasp its promise and potential. We fail to understand it is a work in progress. God - who is Love – has made us in His Image. So, we are made to love as He loves. In Jesus Christ, we are being “capacitated.” This is a term used by Church Father Saint Irenaeus – meaning “made capable” - by the grace of Christ’s Redemption – loving with God's love. Again – a work in progress – we need to let God work in us. Our Pope Emeritus Benedict said, As our union with the Lord grows- and our prayer becomes more intense, - we too come to focus on the essential- and to understand that it is not the power of our own means that creates the Kingdom of God, but God who works miracles through our very weakness.”

St. Catherine of Sienna said, “God will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.”

So, by prayer, by living a sacramental life, we embrace our vocation to holiness – to humility – but is that perfection like the Father possible for us?

God is certainly perfect. However, if we consider Him in that way, it becomes impossible for us to strive to that absolute perfection. Instead, having Him before our eyes as merciful - enables us to understand better in what His perfection consists - and it spurs us to be like Him, full of love, full of understanding and full of mercy.

The relatives of the victims of those killed in the Charleston massacre - forgave Dylan Roof – even when it seemed to not make sense. Even when it seemed difficult and unreasonable –they abandoned their human imperfection – and became like God, full of love, full of understanding, full of mercy.

Create in me a clean heart oh God; let me be like you in all my ways. Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


January 22, 1973 is ingrained in the minds of pro-lifers because on that infamous historic day the Supreme Court invalidated 50 state laws and made abortion legal and available on demand throughout the United States in the now-infamous decisions in Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton.

The March for Life in Washington, D.C., began as a small demonstration and rapidly grew to be the largest pro-life event in the world.  The peaceful demonstration that has followed on this somber anniversary every year since 1973 is a witness to the truth concerning the greatest human rights violation of our time, legalized abortion on demand.

As you may know, the mass media does not overly promote or circulate news concerning the March for Life. Please, if you may, spread the news, on your blogs, twitter and Facebook.  God bless you !

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. [...] No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” – Saint John Paul II

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