Saturday, February 22, 2014

Love thy neighbour

“Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ”

Father Ignatius stopped reading from the Gospel of St Matthew Chapter 22 and looked up at the congregation sitting there.

“And that’s where the problem lies,” he said, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.

“It’s almost too difficult for some people; and do you know why?"


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Friday, February 21, 2014

In the Midst of a Storm

Life is never without challenges.  It’s easy to be good and choose God when life is calm, and there are no storms to navigate.  Life is much easier if we are not being pelted by rain and dodging the fearful lightning strikes as we walk.  Our fears and anxieties  rage against us, unleashed by the storm.  Where is the peace God promised us?  How can we survive this onslaught of rage and violence?  What can we do?

We can pray.  Prayer is the primary and most effective weapon we have been given to battle any evil, any storm. 

Read More at:  His Unending Love

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Homily from Father Francis Maple

FATHER FRANCIS MAPLE

"DON'T TALK OF LOVE, SHOW ME!"
                
 JOHN 14:15-21

In my spiritual reading I remember Jesus telling one saint, "Many  receive Me in Holy Communion and very few say to Me the three little  words I love to hear, 'I love you.'"  So to please Jesus it would be  good to remind ourselves to say those three little words to Our Lord every time we receive Him in Holy Communion.

May I suggest that those words should often be on the lips of husbands and wives, parents and children to each other.  Those three little words, when spoken with sincerity, can change the colour of an entire day.  When we do say them they should be backed up with actions, for actions speak louder than words.  It is an insult to tell someone we  love them unless we show that love in the things we do.  This is especially true in matters of religion.  It means absolutely nothing for you and me to speak of our love for the Lord unless we translate those words into deeds.

A husband can show his love for his wife by sending her flowers or giving her a box of chocolates or taking her out for a meal or decorating the kitchen or a number of other thoughtful ways.  Parents can show their love for their children by spending time with them. Children can show their love for their parents by getting along with their brothers and sisters, helping with household chores and keeping their bedrooms tidy.

How can we show our love for the Lord?  Jesus Himself tells us how we can when He says, "Keep my commandments."  We can start with the Ten Commandments, but we mustn't stop there.  The Pharisees took great pride in obeying those ancient laws, yet they made no pretence of loving Jesus.

They, in fact, hated Him and did everything they could to discredit  Him.  So if we show our love for the Lord by obeying His commandments, we must go beyond the moral laws of the Old Testament.

Just as children by loving their brothers and sisters can show their love for their parents we can show our love for Our Lord by loving one another.

What else can we do?  If we had lived in the time of Jesus there were several things we could have done to Him personally to show our love.  If we had been the innkeeper in Bethlehem, we could have made room for His mother and given Him a decent place in which to be born.  If we had been the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well, we could have given Him a drink of water. If we had been the boy with the barley loaves and fish, we could have  given Him the family's lunch so that He could use it to feed the  hungry crowd.  If we had been that landlord in Jerusalem, we could have loaned Him that upper room that He might eat the Passover with His disciples.  If we had been Simon of Cyrene, we could have carried His cross.  If we had been Joseph of Arimathea, we could have given Him our tomb.  These were the things Jesus needed and some of these needs were met by some thoughtful people.

Jesus is no longer with us in His bodily presence.  He needs none of those things now.  So what can we do for Him?  We can give Him our heart by spending quality time with Him in prayer.  This may involve reorganising our lives, getting to bed a little bit earlier so that in the morning we can find time to say morning prayers or attending daily Mass.

We can show our love for Jesus by loving our neighbour and there are many opportunities for doing this.  Jesus said we will always have the poor with us.  We can send money to organisations that feed the hungry.  We can find people who are lonely and befriend them.  It may be an elderly person who can no longer get out and about.  We may come across people in sorrow and let them know that we care.  We may find people who are discouraged, and share with them a little of our courage.

That's what it means to love Jesus, being prayerful, caring and thoughtful people.  Unless we translate our love for Him in down-to-earth, practical things like we have just mentioned, we can be certain that we don't love the Lord.  In the musical 'My Fair Lady' Eliza Dolittle sang, "Words, words, words, I'm just sick of words.  If you're in love, show me."  Perhaps that song can help our protestations of love be backed up with actions of love.
 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Joy Thief

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons




"We would like to get back to our innocence and joy, but they are cold and sepulchered."          
                                                                             Archbishop Fulton Sheen


The Seven Deadly Sins steal your joy. But perhaps none so much as the deadly sin of sloth, also known as acedia. If you lack joy in your life this may be the deadly sin to look at first, so great are its detrimental effects on the soul. Sloth is the head "joy thief" because, well...that happens to be its job description. It is sadness in the face of joy, sorrow for the things of God. Or as Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, so bluntly describes it:

"Sloth is the most depressing thing in the world. It is hell on earth. It finds our very highest joy - God himself - joyless. If Joy himself is joyless, where can we find joy? If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored? If the very light in us is darkness, how great is that darkness?"

This is the best explanation of sloth that I have ever seen. Sloth finds Joy himself...joyless.

Scary, huh? Sloth is like walking around in the bright sunshine with a huge black cloud hanging over your head. You can't see the light for the darkness that surround you.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that sloth is a "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good...its evil is in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away from good deeds". So, sloth is not only joyless, it is neglectful as well.

Those who are encumbered by this deadly sin walk this world in a half-hearted fashion and I believe it is one of the biggest problems that this century is faced with. Those who are lukewarm almost always have a problem with sloth. Sloth is a spiritual torpor, a listlessness of the spirit that leads most often to sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Rather than confronting this joyless spirit head-on, many try to escape it by frantically rushing around in an attempt to outrun the heaviness in their hearts and the sword of sorrow hanging over their heads. This is where sloth gets ugly, for in trying to escape it we make matters worse. Sloth doesn't like to confront, it likes to avoid. It is a spiritual languor that says, "I still have time...I'll take care of spiritual matters tomorrow. Today I just have too many things to do - I have to get this shopping done, the game is on, these e-mails have to go out, my blog is waiting (hmmm), etc...

Here are a few of the signs (or symptoms, one could say) of sloth:
~ An aversion to prayer - this can be mild or great depending on how deeply rooted this vice is
~ Aridity
~ Lack of zeal
~ Disorganization
~ Confusion (spiritual)
~ Apathy or discouragement
~ Boredom
~ Putting off tasks or leaving them undone without good reason
~ A lack of awe
~ Ingratitude
~ Sadness (melancholy)
~ Excessive activity that hides a spiritual languor - too busy for God

The seven deadly sins tend to be "intertwined" with each other like interlocking pieces of a hellish puzzle. For most of us there tends to be one particular deadly sin that takes precedence over the others. In other words, it is the "kingpin" and hitting the kingpin helps take down the other deadly "pins" that have attached themselves to our souls.

Sloth is sneaky, irresponsible, and apathetic when it comes to God but there are remedies for this vice and one of the ways we tackle it is by practicing the opposing virtue. In the case of sloth/acedia the opposing virtue is diligence. Exercising virtues builds your spiritual muscles. Another virtue which opposes sloth is charity.

It's important to remember that joy isn't a "thing" to be grasped. Joy is alive. Joy is a person.
Set your heart on God and there you will find your Joy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An Everlasting Love

"I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3b)
Saw this quote Sunday night, and it stopped me in my mental tracts.  It was in fine print, in italics on the back of a little business card stuck in a book given and written by a priest friend of mine.  

I've been dwelling on it ever since, and at the same time noticed that I've been especially happy the past few days.  Living in Chicago we have had snow and cold and I find myself delighting in the snow, and even finding the cold, clear days beautiful.  When I go to work in the morning it is now right around sunrise and I find that I do love sunrises.  When I leave after work I am grateful that it is still light at 5 PM when not just a few weeks ago it was dark.  Even when I am walking through the slush in the non-snowremoved streets and sidewalks I am thankful for my new waterproof boots with Vibram soles and new wool socks.  

I know it is not a permanent state, this happiness, easily thrilled state of being where moments and the beauty of nature and the gifts of my family, children and friends are cherished.  I had been reading Discernment of Spirits and learned more about the states of consolation and desolation and the working of the good and evil spirits on one's thoughts and feelings during each.  But for now all I can do is enjoy being happy, and offer my love, thanks and praise to God for where he has me right now.

That brings me to a great mini-meditation that can be done at any time of the day.  I got it from a "Daily Disconnect" from Carmelites.net  It goes like this:

  • Visualize yourself in God's presence . . . in other words recollect yourself . . . become tuned in to God's presence in and around you, and his love for you.
  • Using these words of praise, pray slowly
My God, I love you with all my heart, I praise and thank you . . .
  • Repeat several times
  • Just be with God

Monday, February 10, 2014

At Heaven's Doorstep

I stood at the doorsteps of Heaven in full anticipation. It was not a large Pearly Gate shining brightly as we’ve often been told and is depicted in some pictures; no … this was just a small wooden door. A humble ordinary wooden door with no sign or any distinguishing features foretelling where it led to.
I remembered the quote from the Bible: “Knock and it shall be opened to you …”
 
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Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee


Prepared this for my 1st and 2nd graders' religion school class at my Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic parish (full communion with the Roman Pontiff).  Not sure it was at their grade level, so thought I should share it here too!  Have a great week!

2 Timothy 3:10-15
10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,11my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.12Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.13But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The above scripture teaches how valuable it is to learn the sacred writings (Scripture=the Bible=Sacred Writings) from your childhood that instruct you for your salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Luke 18:10-14 - Today's Gospel in the Eastern Rite


10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.


Found this on the back of our church bulletin (not what I included in the teaching to the 1st and 2nd graders) St. Basil the Great wrote:
The stern Pharisee, who in his self pride not only boasted of himself but also discredited the tax collector in the presence of God, made his justice void by being guilty of pride.  Instead of the Pharisee, the tax collector went down justified, because he had given glory to God, the Holy One.  He did not dare lift his eyes but sought only to plead for mercy.  He accused himself by his posture, by striking his breast, and by entertaining no other motive except propitiation.  Be on your guard, therefore, and bear in mind this example of severe loss sustained through arrogance.  The one guilty of insolent behavior suffered the loss of his justice and forfeited his reward by his bold self-reliance.  He was judged inferior to a humble man and a sinner because in his self-exaltation he did not wait the judgment of God but pronounced it himself.  Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners.  Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions.

This reminds me of a quote from St. John Climacus:
Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.
______________________________________________________ 

The Jesus Prayer is modeled after the prayer of the Publican.

Lord Jesus Christ, (3 words)
Son of God, (3 words)
Have mercy on (3 words)
me, a sinner. (3 words)
(12 words total)

"I am convinced that our kids and teens need to hear this prayer more than any other. It's called the Jesus Prayer and whenever we use it, we call upon Christ as the Holy Scripture says, keeping Him on our minds, in our hearts, and on our lips with every minute of the day. This short but powerful prayer sanctifies whatever task we are doing!

Fold the laundry ... and say this prayer

Drive to school ... and say this prayer
Say it in any language, say it in short or long form...
When else can you say this prayer?
Pray for others using the Jesus prayer:Take turns offering the first name of someone you'd like to sing the Jesus Prayer for, then complete the song on their behalf.

We say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on ______, your servant (or a sinner).'
Sometimes we include all the poor, the hungry, the orphaned, the priests, all monks and nuns, those with a handicap, etc.

Indeed, our true task is always the same and is always accomplished in the same way: to call upon our Lord Jesus Christ with a burning heart so that His holy name intercedes for us."
-Hesychios the Priest: On Personal Holiness

The Scripture of the Publican and the Pharisee also reminds us that the Lord our God looks at our hearts and not the outward appearance in physical traits, or the appearance of good works done to impress others or to help us feel good about ourselves.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, but read within context of 1 Samuel 16:1-13)
 The Lord wants to be merciful to us and to bless us, but we need to get our hearts right.  We need to realize our place before God, we are fully needing his loving mercy and forgiveness, and we fully need the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to remain in Jesus to accomplish anything good for him.  Hear the words of Jesus: 
43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)

The gift of the Holy Spirit comes to us in Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation).  The gifts of the Holy Spirit come from asking! 
9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:9-13)

Here’s an example of someone asking:
9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’(1 Kings 3:9-14)

God is happy to give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who ask.  He said this to Jeremiah, a great prophet in the Old Testament times to the people of Israel who had forsaken God to worship false gods, breaking the 1st Commandment.

23 Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; 24but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

This is why it is so important for your parents to teach you the faith, and to bring you to Divine Liturgy (Mass) and Religion School and for them to study their Bibles as well.  God delights that you learn about him, that you know him, and understand that he acts with steadfast love.
If you want to remain in Jesus, you need to learn to pray – unceasingly. 

St. Paul told us this:  “Pray constantly.” THESSALONIANS 517
The Jesus prayer is the most common way of doing this in our Eastern tradition.

Another way of praying unceasingly is to memorize scriptures and to pray them when you need to have your heart and mind refocused on the God who is always with you, always loving you, and who is all powerful to defend you in times of temptation and hardship.
Here is an example of such a scripture: 
"Come to my help, O God. Lord, hurry to my rescue" (see Ps 70:1).
Last week Sunday of Zaccheaus:                            Next week Sunday of the Prodigal Son: 
                              

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quick Bytes #76: Yourself

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If you believe what you like in the Gospels,
and reject what you don't like,
it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.
                          - St. Augustine
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Thursday, February 6, 2014

30 Words - I am the Light of the World


Then Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."
John 8:12

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Beautiful Prayer

Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. - Saint Thomas Aquinas

I read this prayer for the first time the other day. I loved it immediately. It touched my heart.
I am not normally big on rote prayers. I prefer meditation, listening, silent prayer, lectio divina. Rote prayers, no matter how beautiful the words, can sometimes be boring to me. However, sometimes a prayer comes along that grabs my heart. Maybe for a moment. Maybe for a day. Maybe for years.
And when a prayer grabs my heart, I know that God wants me to hear this prayer. God wants me to pray this prayer.
And so I do. Gladly. Joyfully. I pray.
I pray to give back these words to the One who gave them to me.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Can we really trust God?

Is it REALLY possible to trust God totally, without a hint of hesitation or doubt? Even when things go wrong in our lives? Really wrong ...

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