Conversion – it’s lifelong

As disciples of our Lord we spend ourselves to our limits in making His good news known. But, just as we spend ourselves in His name, every so often we run into periods of frustration and exhaustion which can lead us into doubt. Thoughts such as – I have given my life to my God; why isn’t my life easier? Why isn’t my witness met with more interest than derision? Why do I receive ridicule instead of curiosity? Why don’t people want what I have? – enter into our hearts and minds. It is all too easy to question our choice for God, our vocation as His disciple, within this attitude of despondency.  And this is made all more difficult by Satan who looks for these cracks in us; as we hear in Peter’s first letter: ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[1]

Tomorrow (January 25th) we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul; it is one of my favorites.  For me, this is a feast that shows me the truth about successful discipleship – conversion.

Tomorrow’s feast is all about conversion. To only think of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus does this feast a disservice because it hides a most important aspect of his conversion; St. Paul’s conversion is a lifelong conversion. Pope St. John Paul the great wrote: ‘His conversion on the road to Damascus was immediate and radical, but he had to live it in faith and perseverance for long years of apostolate: from that moment on his life had to be an incessant conversion, a continual renewal.[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take tomorrow’s Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul as a time to look at what conversion means in our lives. It is not a onetime thing, it is constant. As St. Paul was constantly tested in his faith, so will we.  As we are challenged almost daily to prove our discipleship, so was he.  Each morning St. Paul woke up and made the decision to take up his witness again, so should we. Each evening he laid his head down in review of how his decision for the day went, so should we. Being challenged day in and day out, being exhausted in the Lord’s work day in and day out, is the way of continual conversion; because it is our response to these hardships that builds our lives into a continual ‘yes’ to God. It is not easy but it is necessary; the path to conversion is through the cross since it is by the cross that we have the chance to begin with.

This is a tough road – this road of conversion. What can we do to assure our ‘yes’ to our constant and continual conversion? Abandon yourself to Him! Surrender to the will of Love Himself. ‘Depend on Jesus for everything.[3] Trust in He who never leaves. Live within the ever open embrace of Mercy.

I will finish with a beautiful quote from St. Josemaría Escrivá, one that I go back to time and time again; it helps against those doubting times: ‘Each day, O my God, I am less sure of myself and more sure of you![4]

Amen

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[1] 1 Peter 5:8
[2] Pope St. John Paul the Great General Audience January 1980
[3] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way #731
[4] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way #729

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‘Family Time’

I don’t know about the rest of you but I always look at the Solemnity of All Saints as the winding down of the ‘School of Discipleship’ – Ordinary Time; only four more Sundays and then its Advent. We have Thanksgiving coming up in just four Thursdays. We are coming very close to the most ‘family oriented’ of times – Christmas.  I can almost feel the additional pounds just waiting for me.

But if we look closely, Holy Mother Church starts ‘family time’ today and tomorrow. The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) tomorrow are intense celebrations of our Christian family.

Solemnity of All Saints.
Today we look to heaven, to those of our family who have triumphed in their journey and made it home – the saints.  They have lived a life in pursuit of God’s design. They have taken the words of Christ proclaimed in the gospel today as meat to live on, and the Ten Commandments as guideposts to lead them.  They weren’t always perfect, they struggled and they were tempted and every so often failed; but they continued to offer themselves to the Father through Christ. Or as Dr. Peter Kreeft writes: ‘The saints, too, had wandering minds. The saints, too, had constantly to recall their constantly wandering mind-child home. They became saints because they continued to go after the little wanderer, like the Good Shepherd.[1] They knew who they were and who they needed for strength and help. They overcame their weaknesses by submitting to the mercy of God and receptive to His will.

Their lives are something we should always and everywhere reflect upon. Saint John Paul the Great wrote: ‘All the saints have ever been, and are, poor in spirit, meek, afflicted, hungry and thirsty for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted because of the Gospel. They have been these things in varying degrees. We have to be like them. “God’s will” is our sanctification.[2] They are our big brothers and sisters who, by their examples and prayers, will help us home. They are the ones we should look to for intercession and guidance.

Our celebration today of All Saints isn’t really for them, they don’t need our praise. St. Bernard in a homily said: ‘The Saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.[3]  It is a celebration to remind us of their value in our lives as example and help. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Saints spend their lives in this world loving God and other people, imitating Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” And when they get to heaven, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (no. 2683), they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth… Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.[4]

All Souls
But this is not the only dynamic in this family of ours.  We are guided and helped by our big brothers and sisters; but, as in any family we are responsible for each other. Tomorrow, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) is where we take these gifts we have received and pass them on.  We are called to help those around us. It is easy to see the need among our living family members; but what of those who have preceded us from this part of the journey?  Do they need our help? Most likely.  Obviously, if a soul is in hell then no prayer can help; if a soul is in heaven then no prayer is needed; but a soul in purgatory can be helped by our intercession. How do we know who of our departed family needs help? Let’s pray for them all. In 2nd Timothy St. Paul writes about his recently deceased friend Onesiphorus, who was a model christian: ‘may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.’[5] As Christians we are commanded, and as family we are obligated through love, to help each other; and for our departed that is through prayer – let’s pray for them all.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t help but wonder about the day of my judgement when Christ asks me about how I helped our family.  I have this picture in my mind that behind Him will be our big brothers and sisters eagerly waiting to see if I lived up to their example. Will they be proud of me?

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[1] Dr. Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners
[2] Prayers and Devotions 365 Meditations
[3] Disc 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff
[4] http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/the-intercession-of-the-saints
[5] 2 Tim 1:18

Holy Remorse

Lent is reaching its half-way point – this Thursday we are there.  This season is where Holy Mother Church, and that includes us, looks with a particular intensity within to reach a conversion of heart.  Where each of us, in our own way, turns back towards God and rushes towards Him as the prodigal son does in the parable. And as the prodigal son did in the parable we too must start this return with same remorseful admission ‘Father, I have sinned against you[1]  If we complete our journey this Lenten season without these words then we are run the real risk of failing in our efforts.

St. John Paul the Great wrote in 1980:‘If it is true that sin in a certain sense shuts man off from God, it is likewise true remorse for sins opens up all the greatness and majesty of God, his fatherhood above all, to man’s conscience.  Man remains shut to God so long as the words ‘Father, I have sinned against you,’ are absent from his lips, above all while they are absent from his conscience, from his ‘heart’’[2]

In this writing he talks about the power of these words ‘Father, I have sinned against you’ and how when spoken from our heart we can ‘truly enter the Mystery and Resurrection of Christ, so as to obtain the fruits of Redemption and Grace from them[3]

This is a most important realization for each of us at this half-way point; it is not by our actions, nor by our words, that we fully reap the gifts of Lent – it is by our heart.  We were told this back on Ash Wednesday: ‘“Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”[4]

Ultimately, our hope is that by our Lenten practices we can enter into the love of God more fully; that we can invigorate and strengthen our relationship with Love Himself; but our fear is that God will not reciprocate – it is a needless fear.  Joel tells us to rend our hearts and not our garments; he also tells us ‘Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.[5]  God will never reject our heartfelt contrition, He is always there waiting for us. Christ tells us as much in today’s gospel ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.[6]; which He proves this with His life.

Brothers and sisters as we now turn towards Holy Week let’s be guided by the light shining from the resurrection, the light of true love; and hunger for it, desire it above all else.  Let’s strip away the self-built barricades of our sinful and prideful ego and shout from the depths of our hearts ‘Father, I have sinned against you’ and rend our hearts in remorse for failing to return God’s love for us; so that when we come to those days where we walk with the Lord in His passion we can obtain the fruits of Redemption and Grace that St. John Paul the Great wrote about.

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[1] Lk 15:18
[2] St. John Paul the Great 3/16/80 taken from: Prayers and Devotions 365 Daily Meditations p124
[3] ibid
[4] Jl 2:12-13a
[5] Jl 2:13b
[6] Jn 3:16-17

Poorest of Species

In the first two weeks after Pentecost, after the Easter season, Holy Mother Church celebrates two great mysteries of our faith. Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity and today we celebrate Corpus Christi – the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The actual feast day is the first Thursday after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity; however our Bishops have moved it to Sunday so more people can celebrate.  The reason for it being celebrated on a Thursday is, of course obvious, Christ instituted the Eucharist on the night before His death on Good Friday – Holy Thursday.

It is a day when we publically proclaim the source and summit of our Faith, Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  The Sacrament of the Divine Pasch. The Sacrament of Death and Resurrection.  St. John Paul the Great said ‘The Sacrament of Bread and Wine, of the poorest of species, which become our greatest treasure and wealth.[1] He also called it the Sacrament of communion of souls with Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Today, once a year Catholics take to the street to proclaim this gift.  Processions led by our Lord are happening across the world, and each year more churches are participating.  This afternoon we followed our priests and deacons and with hymns of praise as we walked the streets with Christ held high.  We followed our shepherd; we journeyed to the people with our Lord.

Though we publically and corporately process with Christ once a year we are called to do this individually every day.  It is up to each of us to live our lives with Christ held high for all to see.  In our homes, our schools, our work, and our public spaces we are called to witness to our Lord’s great commission: ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.[2]

Christ did the same while on earth.  Jesus walked the Holy land for three years witnessing to His Father’s message wherever He went.  He proclaimed the good news in the streets, the temple, the public spaces and buildings.  He challenged all people, the farmers, the townspeople, religious leaders and government officials.  He held high the way of God with no thought of His own physical welfare.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not waste today’s great public witness to God.  Let’s take this procession and continue, as Christ did, and walk through each day of our life holding God high.  As we saw Father today holding the monstrance for all to see, let’s hold our faith in same way.

It is getting tougher to do this, as each year passes society is trying marginalize our opinion of how we should live but we take heart and strength from this poorest of species, which become our greatest treasure and wealth because it is our God.

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[1] Prayers and Devotions: 365 Daily Meditations by John Paul II
[2] Matthew 28: 19-20

My Lord and my God!

My Lord and my God!‘ St. Thomas the apostle proclaimed to Christ as he found the risen Lord in front of him bearing His glorious wounds. It was just the week before when told of the Lord’s appearance that Thomas doubted, since he wasn’t there.  But today, in the upper room, Thomas professed his faith in Christ.  St. Thomas would go on to do great things for our Lord, reportedly ending his ministry in India, being martyred.

But St. Thomas’ life with Christ is a witness to the journey of faith – like our own.  Before he doubted; St. Thomas showed tremendous faith and courage. It was St. Thomas who uplifted the other apostles when after hearing of Lazarus’ illness Jesus decided to go to him. The apostles were fearing their safety since that journey would take them very close to Jerusalem, where the Sanhedrin were; but Thomas proclaims to the other disciples: “Let us also go to die with him.”[1]  His lesson is important to each of us who, like St. Thomas, ride the waves of faith and belief; we too need to fight the great deceiver as he places whispers of doubt in our minds. As Thomas did in the upper room, we need to surrender to Christ.  Open our mind, heart and soul to the reality that God is with us.  His Divine Mercy is always being offered and with it we are made strong; able to hold off Satan’s poisoned suggestions.

St. John Paul the Great would make His motto ‘Totus Tuus’; totally yours Mary, and of course Mary’s will was totally Christ’s. He would tell us: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” He knew the strength of faith that comes when we surrender our self to the great and total other and the peace it brings to our hearts.

Let’s take St. Thomas’ example of surrender to Christ; let’s take St. John Paul the Great’s motto of surrender to the Blessed Mother and her Son as our own; and let’s surrender to Divine Mercy. When we do we will feel a great oppressive power lifted from us and a greater liberating power supporting us.  We will walk with Christ, energized by His Holy Spirit and fear nothing.

St. John XXIII, it is reported, used to finish his day with a prayer that though at first sounds funny is a perfect example of the power of surrender: “It’s your Church, Lord. I’m going to bed.”  May, these three saints: St. Thomas the Apostle, Good Pope St. John, and St. John Paul the Great intercede for each of us as we continue our life-long struggle of total surrender to Divine Mercy. Happy Easter! ————————- [1] John 11:16

The Future Starts Today – Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday 2014  – Canonization of Popes John Paul the Great and John XXIII

Octave of Easter
Holy Mother Church celebrates her highest Holy Days in a most special way.  She deems them so powerful that they can’t be celebrated in 24 hours.  They celebrate them for 8 days – an Octave.  So, Easter, which started last Sunday – actually the Saturday evening prior ends today – the eighth day. What Christ did for us, deserves our total and continual celebration.  Like Christmas; Easter, even more so, it is that powerful and special.

What Christ did for us last weekend.
Easter the culmination of the Sacred Triduum, which started Holy Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, brings us into Christ’s battle and victory with Satan, with evil. We are strengthened with the knowledge that Christ is all powerful; God did battle with Satan and defeated him and death.  With the cross and the resurrection evil no longer holds power over mankind – we can be free from it. But, just as important is the knowledge that in spite of our failings and our arrogance God loves us, totally; the cross shows that better than anything else.  That Christ climbed up on that tree of death and changed it into a throne of unconditional love gives us an undeserved banner to hang onto to. By His Pasch we are at the center of God’s loving plan. In spite of our continual turning from Him, He still forgives us and gives us His love.

How can we celebrate this gift in one day? So the Church will take 8 days; of course she takes the next 5 five weeks, up to Pentecost, unpacking its meaning.  But on this 8th day Holy Mother Church celebrates the gift of Easter with two words.  Two words to explain Jesus’ actions; two words tells us what our Heavenly Father is all about.

Mercy and Love
Many years ago, Father Benedict Groeschel once stated that God’s primary personality trait is truth and justice, but He has one personality flaw that goes with it – mercy. He was telling us in a humorous way what God is about – what Easter brings to us – what those two words are that Holy Mother Church uses today – Divine Mercy.

Because of the God’s Love, or better said – because God is Love, He radiates mercy. Mercy is, in an important way, synonymous with Love.  For to love, truly love, we must continually forgive anything that falls short of love.  We pardon everyone for we love everyone. Today’s second reading we hear St. Peter tell us ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope…’[1] This is what we celebrate especially today – the living hope of eternal salvation through God’s mercy.

St. John Paul II
God is mercy, Divine Mercy and through it (as I said) evil is defeated – it will never have a permanent hold on us. I say permanent, because even though it can’t take control of us (if we don’t allow it), it can still affect us.  Evil is still around us, Satan still holds court in this world and he constantly strives to erode our ability to live the gift Christ died to give us; again, evil is still a reality.

St. John Paul the Great, in an interview, was asked if evil had a limit. His response was a profound yes! The limit of evil is Divine Mercy[2]. The effects of evil in the world can go no farther than Mercy.  Through God’s Mercy (Divine Mercy) on the Cross Satan and death were defeated. Christ faced Satan and his evil and absorbed it as it was thrown at Him (in the false testimony, the kangaroo court, the torture and abuse, the crucifixion, and mostly our sins) and returned love; He forgave, He returned mercy for each act of evil that pounded upon Him.  The evil couldn’t go any farther because it was washed away.  The limit of evil is Mercy.

Mercy is a verb
Christ’s actions of mercy are just that – actions.  Mercy isn’t a noun; it isn’t a talisman that He hanged around His neck and it brought Mercy.  Mercy is a verb, it is action, Christ worked mercy.

We are called to do the same.
But Christ isn’t here in the same way to work His mercy.  How does it continue against the evil of our time? Because it is our action as well.  We, Christ’s disciples, followers of His Way, are the vehicles of His Mercy.  By our actions we can show God’s mercy. How? By following Christ’s example and absorbing the evil thrown towards us and radiating back love.   In the Gospel of St. Luke (Chapter 6) we witness the Sermon on the Mount.  This is our game plan on how to live Christ’s example.  In it Christ tells those around Him ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’[3] This is God’s plan for His message of mercy. We are God’s plan for His message of mercy.

Evangelize
In 1959 St. John XXIII called for the great ecumenical council we now call Vatican II.  Most councils, throughout history, were called to discern and answer some great question of dogma or respond to a crises – this council was different – it was called together in 1962 to discern how the Church could relate to the people of the day – to look within Herself and renew what needed renewing and modify what needed to be modified so it could proclaim the timeless message of Christ.  Vatican II was convened to revitalize its most important mission – how to meet the world where it was and bring mankind to where God wanted them to be. In short how to evangelize within and without.

Live, radiate, attract
Our part in the Church’s evangelizing mission is the most important – it is to affect it.  The structures and hierarchy of the Church are there to protect the message and to teach, strengthen, and encourage us – but it is up to the faithful to put it into action – we are the verb! And we do this best by how we live our life; this is how we are most effective in our ministry.  People read and listen for only so long about the Gospel – but they will take notice and be more curious about it by how we live it; proof is in the pudding, so they say.

As I mentioned earlier we are Christ’s vehicle for Mercy today. But to truly proclaim this by our lives we need to interiorize, make our own this Divine Mercy, and only then will it radiate out, in a believable way, to those around us. Wow – not a small task! I ask myself how can we do this; how can we become vessels of mercy?  With all the societal pressures, opinions and influences how can we hope to know what living a life of mercy is truly like?

Our Guides
My brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Canonization of two modern Popes: St. John XXIII called ‘Good Pope John’ for his humor and humility, and also called ‘The Council Pope’ for initiating Vatican II; and of course St. John Paul the Great called ‘The Divine Mercy Pope’, and ‘The Pope of the Family’; names that try to summarize the flavor, if you will, of their papacies.   They are fresh in many of our minds, they are current examples of what it means to live a life in Christ; let us look to them for insight in how to live this life as well.  They were world leaders, true, but they were still men. They still looked to God for strength in living a life well; look to them as mentors.  Let’s celebrate their lives by living as they did – living a life of Mercy, Divine Mercy. When we do then we will find a future that is built on what Jesus wished for His disciples in today’s Gospel “Peace be with you.”[4]

It is this peace, Christ himself – Divine Mercy, none other, that will bring mankind the future he was intended to have. Friends, let Christ find us, find us with hearts open to His Divine Mercy; the future depends on our decision and our actions, and as St. John Paul the Great said: ‘The future starts today, not tomorrow.’[5]
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[1] 1 Peter 1:3
[2] St. John Paul the Great: Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium
[3] Luke 6:36
[4] John 20:19
[5] St. John Paul the Great