Sunday, May 21, 2017

Four Steps on the Path to Divine Intimacy


Four Steps on the Path to Divine Intimacy

Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him and we will come to him. –Jn 14:23
 
There is much talk these days about meditation, mindfulness, and such things. These sound like wonderful pathways to lead you to closeness with the Lord, and are sometimes practiced even in Catholic settings. But we should always be careful to practice only Christian meditation as it has been handed down through the centuries in the Catholic tradition. Eastern meditation is quite different, because its primary focus is on “Nirvana,” which is nothingness. Mantras are repeated and the mind emptied. Christian meditation, on the other hand, is focused on communion with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the prayer of Christian contemplation known as Lectio Divina, the focus is on the Word and the Person of God. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to fill both mind and heart with God’s holy presence.

Catholics are blessed with the gifts of scripture, tradition, and Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, and our prayers and meditations should always lead us to closer intimacy with our Lord. It is worth taking time, each day if you can, to enter into the presence of God in prayer. If you find time this week, find a peaceful corner at home or church, in a park or your own backyard, and meditate on the beautiful words we’re given in scripture, using the ancient prayer of Lectio Divina. This Latin phrase means “Divine Reading” and it consists of reading scripture (lectio), praying (oratio), meditating (meditatio), and contemplating God (contemplatio). This prayer of the heart helps lead you into God’s presence.

Begin with the Creed, or your favorite prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy, act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work too may be holy, draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy, strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy, guard me then O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.  Amen

“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek! Psalm 27:8

Lectio

Get comfortable in a quiet, peaceful place. Choose a biblical passage and, if possible, read it aloud slowly. Allow the Holy Spirit to quiet your mind and bring you to a place of peace. Read it again, or continue to read further until you come to a word or line that stands out as meaningful to you. 

When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart,
I will let you find me.. Jer 29:14

Meditatio 

Meditate on what this verse means for you personally. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and allow God’s word enter your heart. Let your imagination take you into the scripture, as if the Lord was speaking directly to you. Listen for the voice of the Lord to reply spiritually to the prayers you have lifted up to Him with all your heart. Jesus is with you, He hears you, and loves you more than you can imagine.

Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. Mk 11:24

Oratio

Reflect on the passage you’ve read, especially on the line, word, or idea that speaks to you most deeply. Using those words and ideas, pray with that scripture. What is it about that verse that relates to your own life? Pour out your thoughts, prayers, needs, and desires, whatever is brought to mind by that verse. Do you wish to draw closer to God, to follow Him more faithfully? Do you worry for straying children or parents nearing the end of life? Don’t hesitate to bring all your concerns to God in prayer.
 
 
My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. Ps 62:6

Contemplatio

Finally, just remain quiet and listen. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. What does He want to tell you? Be at peace in His presence, and listen for His voice. His Holy Spirit dwells within you; Jesus and the Father love you and promise to remain with you. Gaze into His eyes, contemplate His glory, and remain in His presence for a little while.

Jesus said to his disciples: "… whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Jn 14:15,21

At the end of your meditation, pray the Lord ’s Prayer slowly, paying attention to each word.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

May the time you spend in prayer bring refreshment to your soul and strength to face life’s many trials. And may God bless you with His peace.

Psalm 63
 
O God, you are my God— forever will I seek you!
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
I gaze upon you in the sanctuary, to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life; my lips shall ever praise you!
I will bless you as long as I live; In your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my lips shall praise you with joy!
I think of you upon my bed, I remember you through the watches of the night
You indeed are my savior, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you; your right hand holds me fast.
 
 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Seeking the Truth and Finding the Way to Life


"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." Jn 14:1

Jesus fills us with hope with every word of today’s Gospel. He knows how often our hearts are troubled; He knows our doubts and fears. The troubles of life can sometimes lead us to take the wrong way, but God’s mercy is endless.

I often pray for those who have died far from the Church, some seemingly far from the Lord. But I believe we can entrust these souls to the mercy of God, remembering Jesus’s beautiful image of His Father’s house with its many dwelling places. Even those who did not know Jesus in this life may, in their last moments, come face to face with our merciful Lord, who will lead them home.

There is a beautiful scene near the end of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” As the world ends, a soldier, a loyal servant of the evil “god” Tash, meets Aslan, the glorious lion who symbolizes Jesus. Realizing he has always served a false master, the young man says sadly, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.”

But Aslan answers, “Child, all the service thou has done to Tash I account as service done to me… For… no service which is vile can be done to me, and none that is not vile can be done to him…”

Does this mean it doesn’t matter which “god” we follow? No, says Aslan, it matters very much. But as our Church teaches, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try… to do His will… through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Catechism §847).

Aslan reassures the young soldier with similar words, saying, “Unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
 
Trust in God to lead all who sincerely seek the way, the truth, and eternal life, to Jesus. Pray, hope, and believe that even those who seemed lost may be saved.
 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Message of Fátima for Today


Image result for jacinta marto wiki commons
L-R Lucia Dos Santos, Francisco Marto, Jacinta Marto
Attributed to Joshua Benoliel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, the story of little Colton Burpo and his visit to heaven was told in the book and movie, “Heaven is For Real.” Many people were inspired by this astonishing story, but also wondered whether to believe it.
In Catholic history and tradition, many such stories have been reported over the centuries. The Church teaches that “public revelation” (scripture) ended with Jesus Christ and the death of the last Apostle. However, recognizing that God can speak to His people in many ways, major reports of visions and private messages are studied by the church. Messages found to be fully in keeping with scripture and church teachings are approved, and Catholics are free (but not required) to believe in the visions.
One of the most well-known of these heavenly visits occurred in Fátima, Portugal a century ago to three shepherd children, Jacinta, age 6, her brother Francisco, age 8, and their cousin Lucia, age 9.
It began in 1916, when the children, while watching over their family’s flocks in the mountains near Fátima, encountered a beautiful angel who said he was the guardian of Portugal. He taught the children this prayer, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I beg pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” The angel visited twice more, teaching them to adore Jesus in the Eucharist and to pray for sinners.
On May 13th, 1917 the children saw a “lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun.” She was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She appeared each month, giving the children a series of messages for the world over the next six months. This was during the First World War, and she warned that if people did not repent, another terrible war would follow, and the “errors of Russia” (communism) would spread to many nations, causing much suffering. The children saw visions of both heaven and hell. She asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners, to save souls from hell.
Soon, people learned of the visions and the children suffered much opposition from those who did not believe them. Crowds began to gather for the apparitions. On October 13th, 1917, a crowd of 70,000 people was present when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph appeared to the children, blessing the people. Suddenly, the sun began to twirl, emitting a rainbow of colors, and then seeming to fall towards the earth. The miracle of the sun was seen for miles around, and reported in secular newspapers by eyewitnesses. But the world did not listen. Tragically, the predicted wars and suffering came upon the world in the century that followed.
Jacinta and Francisco died from influenza soon after that final vision. Lucia became a Carmelite nun and lived until 2005. Recently, Pope Francis announced that on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition, May 13th, 2017, Jacinta and Francisco will become the youngest saints (other than the martyrs) ever to be canonized.
The messages of Fátima still inspire prayer and conversion a century later, all because God sent His Mother to warn us of danger, point us to Him, and tell us how much He loves us. Colton Burpo, now 18 years old, said much the same about his vision: “I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus. He really, really loves you.” That’s what messages from heaven should always teach us. And remember, anytime the Lord is concerned enough about the world to send His Mother to admonish us to pray, we should listen to her!
Originally published in the Tri-City Herald Spiritual Life Column, May 6, 2017
 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Lord is My Shepherd


Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Shepherd calls His own sheep by name…
and the sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice.”

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a comforting one. In today’s readings, Jesus tells His disciples that He is both the shepherd and the gate; He is both the way to life and the source of all nourishment and protection. He calls each of us by name, and leads His little flock to verdant pastures, to rest beside tranquil waters that bring refreshment to our souls. 

Because of His great love for us, Jesus desires to be the “shepherd and guardian of your souls.”  The Good Shepherd protects us from harm and gives us courage; He spreads the banquet table of the Eucharist before us and anoints us with the oil of blessing, so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What does it mean to be part of Jesus’s flock? To know that He loves us so much He will even lay down His life in our defense? Sheep possess no natural means of defense. They are simple creatures who must depend completely upon their shepherd, the one whose voice they recognize, the one they trust.

Let us also listen for the voice of Jesus calling our names; let us follow Him faithfully, depend on Him completely, and trust in Him always. He will provide all that we need.
 
 
 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Walking with Jesus


“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
 
In becoming man, Jesus gave us an image of God that we can perceive: God’s face, once too awesome to behold, is now made visible: eyes that are merciful, a wounded hand raised in blessing, a heart pierced for our sins, and a countenance that fills us with joy. But sometimes still, we have a hard time seeing Him; we question, we doubt, and we give in to fear and unbelief.
 
Jesus knows our hearts and understands our human failings. He reassures us not to fear, but trust in Him. In today’s Gospel, Jesus joins two of His disciples as they walk home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are confused, unsure of the meaning of all the mysterious events surrounding Jesus’ death and the reports of His Resurrection. They don’t know what to make of all that has happened.
 
Jesus’ identity is not immediately revealed to them as He explains the meaning of the scriptures and the events they have witnessed. They find comfort in His presence and urge Him to stay with them when they arrive in Emmaus. Finally, at table, their eyes are opened to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Rejoicing, they immediately return to Jerusalem proclaiming, “The Lord has truly been raised!
 
Today, we might envy the disciples the experience of walking with Jesus and talking with Him. But even now, Jesus walks with His disciples on the journey. Even now, our hearts burn within us as we listen intently to His word. Even now, our eyes are opened to gaze upon the Risen Lord at the table of the Eucharist.
 
If you ever feel afraid or alone, if your faith ever falters, take a few minutes to open the Bible, read the Word of God, and listen for His voice. Come to Mass or Adoration, and look for Jesus there, where He reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread. Spend time in His presence, and He will fill your heart with joy.

 
 

 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wisdom from two Popes on Divine Mercy Sunday


Divine Mercy Sunday

“In today's Gospel… the Lord breathes upon his disciples. He grants them his Spirit — the Holy Spirit: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven...".

The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the power of forgiveness. He is the power of Divine Mercy. He makes it possible to start all over again — ever anew. The friendship of Jesus Christ is the friendship of the One who makes us people who forgive, the One who also forgives us, raises us ceaselessly from our weakness and in this very way educates us, instils in us an awareness of the inner duty of love, of the duty to respond with our faithfulness to his trust.

In the Gospel passage for today we also heard the story of the Apostle Thomas' encounter with the Risen Lord: the Apostle is permitted to touch his wounds and thereby recognizes him — over and above the human identity of Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas recognizes him in his true and deepest identity: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).

The Lord took his wounds with him to eternity. He is a wounded God; he let himself be injured through his love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that he understands and allows himself to be wounded out of love for us.

These wounds of his: how tangible they are to us in the history of our time! Indeed, time and again he allows himself to be wounded for our sake. What certainty of his mercy, what consolation do his wounds mean for us! And what security they give us regarding his identity: "My Lord and my God!". And what a duty they are for us, the duty to allow ourselves in turn to be wounded for him!”

From the homily of Pope Benedict XVI, Easter Sunday, April 15, 2007


Divine Mercy Sunday

"... Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you!” and he showed them his hands and his side… he showed them his wounds.  And in this way they realized that it was not an apparition: it was truly him, the Lord, and they were filled with joy.

On the eighth day Jesus came once again… and showed his wounds to Thomas, so that he could touch them… in order to believe and thus become himself a witness to the Resurrection.

To us also, on this Sunday which Saint John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, the Lord shows us, through the Gospel, his wounds. They are wounds of mercy.  It is true: the wounds of Jesus are wounds of mercy.

Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief.  Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds… the mystery of his merciful love.

Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God… the whole history of salvation… All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen…

Faced with the tragic events of human history we can feel crushed at times, asking ourselves, “Why?”.  Humanity’s evil can appear in the world like an abyss, a great void: empty of love, empty of goodness, empty of life… how can we fill this abyss?  For us it is impossible; only God can fill this emptiness that evil brings to our hearts and to human history.  It is Jesus, God made man, who died on the Cross and who fills the abyss of sin with the depth of his mercy…

Keeping our gaze on the wounds of the Risen Jesus, we can sing with the Church: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117:2); eternal is his mercy.  And with these words… let us go forth along the paths of history, led by the hand of our Lord and Saviour, our life and our hope. 


From the Homily of Pope Francis, April 12, 2015

 
 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Evidence of the Resurrection

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.
Exultet, Easter Proclamation

Did the Resurrection of Jesus really happen? And does it really matter? Paul believes our faith itself hinges on the Resurrection, saying, “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sin.” (1 Cor 15:17). But why should it matter what the details are, as long as we all love God?
Recently, a movie called “The Shack” was released. Many people, Catholics among them, were touched by the message of God’s mercy, central to the movie’s theme. The story focused strongly on forgiveness without speaking much of repentance, and presented an innovative version of God, without regard to the “limitations” of scripture or religion.
But what we believe about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not negotiable. Christian beliefs about God are fully revealed in scripture and Church teachings. Our faith is based on a real person and actual events, and on the authority of the Church. Scripture tells us this: "For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life." Jesus is God, but Jesus also came to us as a man. This was necessary because the Father, who is pure spirit, could not die, so He sent Jesus, God Incarnate, to die for us. Was Jesus really God? He made such shocking claims about Himself and God the Father that He was condemned to death for blasphemy. He is God, the Son. But if God the Father (or mother, according to The Shack, which presents God as a woman called Papa) was crucified, then why was it necessary for Jesus to become man at all? If our understanding of God is that far off, then maybe the Resurrection is merely a human construction as well.
Jesus did not want us to doubt, but to believe. Jesus permitted Thomas to touch His wounds, still gaping open in His resurrected body, to give us scriptural evidence. He left other evidence of His Resurrection also, some of which can still be viewed and investigated. One such miraculous piece of evidence is the Shroud of Turin. Modern scientific investigations continue to point to the authenticity of this amazing shroud.
Another movie was just released called “The Case for Christ.” It is the true story of an agnostic reporter who becomes a Christian after investigating the evidence for Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, including the Shroud. This mainstream Protestant movie may be the first to make the Shroud’s story known to Christians outside the Catholic world. May God's gift of the Shroud and the testimony of this once-doubting reporter bring many other "doubters" to fall to their knees, declaring as Thomas did, "My Lord and My God!"

Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.
 


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