All Saints Day

May the grace of Christ fill your hearts and minds!

This week the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints.  I have held this feast in special regard for as long as I can remember.  I suppose that it is because this occasion brings with it a special sense of the spiritual world to which we know we are connected.  Maybe it’s just me but it seems like most of the time, our conversations and spiritual awareness reflect a two dimensional plane of the relationship between God and ourselves who are still striving to live Christian lives in the world.  But on the Solemnity of All Saints and then the Feast of All Souls we are drawn more deeply into the reality of the Church in fuller dimension which includes the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.

The Church Triumphant refers to those souls who have gained heaven’s glory, whether canonized Saints or not.  They are the faithful members of our family of faith that have died and gone before us.  They may be members of our own families and relatives or friends who are worthy of honor and respect as examples of Christian living to be emulated. They are also Saints who pray for us and help us on our pilgrimage from time to eternity.  There are innumerable examples and stories of the aid given through the intercession of Saints.  I am certain that you are able to share a story or two yourself!

The Church Suffering refers to those souls in purgatory who have died in the state of grace but have not yet reached perfection.  These souls make expiation for their un-forgiven venial sins or for the temporal punishment due to venial and mortal sins that have already been forgiven.  They are assisted by the prayers and sacrifices we offer on their behalf.  This is very important.  In fact, the Church includes a petition for them in every Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.  St. Pius of Pietrelcina is an example of someone deeply devoted to offering prayers and sacrifices so that souls in purgatory would be freed from suffering purification to enter heaven.

The Church Militant refers to ourselves who are still on pilgrimage and today is a special opportunity for us to reflect on God’s plan of salvation for all.  We each have a part to play in it for ourselves and others.  God rejoices in giving us aid through the Saints we turn to for help.  Think of those who have helped you and say “thank you” to those who have been and will be there to help you on the way.  May God bless you all! +++ Fr Peter

Eyes Of Faith

Peace to you!

I remember receiving an e-mail entitled “Christ the Redeemer” which was comprised of several photos of the statue of Jesus on top of Mount Corcovado at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The pictures accented the magnificent landscape of the Brazilian coastline by using the dramatic natural shades of light from sunrise, sunset, night and full moon.  Many of the vistas were breathtaking but one seemed special for me.  It was taken at night from an angle that looked down upon the city from over the statue’s shoulder—a view from God’s perspective as it were.  The main streets were easily discernible from the strong glow of light, traffic and color.  The harbor, beaches and resorts also reflected the city lights up toward the statue that is constantly present and watchful of all the activity taking place in the vast city below.

I tried to imagine the sound of many prayers rising to God in heaven from the hearts of all the people there.  At the same time, I realized that there exists in that small area a great difference in life situations, needs, desires, and intentions.  In the city of Rio, some of the differences are extreme.  There are those who live in opulence and luxury and those who live in abject poverty with many more that live somewhere in between the extremes but they all live in one city and relatively close to each other.

I also remember meeting a priest from Brazil, Fr. Aito, while I was in the seminary.  Fr. Aito left a comfortable life as a parish priest in Rio to live and work among the “Rubbish People.”  This was very hard for Fr. Aito at first.  He was ridiculed by former parishioners and other priests and threatened by his bishop but God placed a burning passion in him to be in solidarity with His beloved poor.  Fr. Aito must have been an answer to many prayers and no doubt, he prayed more fervently and depended upon God more deeply than ever before as he served them.

When I think of Bartimaeus the blind man, I am reminded of my own blindness.  Sometimes I can’t see how many blessings I have been given in my life until I am in contact with others.   At times, I am blind to other people’s needs and the needs of the world beyond my sphere.  I am reminded that we all have needs but our greatest need is to give and to serve in Jesus’ name.

Bartimaeus was inspired to call out loudly and persistently because he knew he had only one chance when Jesus passed by.  Jesus asked him “what do you want me to do for you?”  Like Bartimaeus, we are encouraged to rise from our place by the side of the road and sincerely ask for something we need.  As our eyes of faith open ever wider and spiritual blindness leaves us, we can see the good that God does for us.  We gain a new perspective on life and how we can follow Jesus by serving the needs of others.  This is a new kind of freedom and fulfillment.  God bless you always! +++ Fr Peter

Finding Meaning In Suffering

Peace to you!

How do we find meaning in one of life’s most challenging experiences: suffering?

The first reading taken from Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant sets the tone for the second reading and the Gospel.  Lumped together they point to the common theme of suffering and hence arise several thoughts in regard to suffering.

Whenever we encounter the impact of suffering, which is always around us, we are faced with finding a reason for it or a way to explain it.  For many, suffering seems to go against a basic image of a loving and caring God.  The question arises: how could a loving God let this happen?  I have heard many different explanations.  For some, suffering is simply a result of sin caused by ourselves or someone else.  Others explain it as a kind of trial or test by which we are challenged to be heroic and virtuous in our fidelity to God.  Some understand it as a time of grace in which God is strengthening our inner selves.  Some are content to view it as a great mystery that cannot be fully understood.

Through the lens of scripture we discover a valuable key to the meaning of suffering.  The Suffering Servant does not suffer in vain but will justify many.  He suffers injustice but chooses not to retaliate with hate or anger; he trusts in God and lives with love for God.   That sounds great but how does it help us?  There is not much solace at first glance.  If we look closer, we begin to realize that something amazingly good can happen.  The justification referred to is more than legal acquittal because we can confidently approach the very throne of God.  This suffering purchases more than pardon and more than friendship, it effects a bond of love with God in a covenant that the servant and others share in!  God acts for them in amazing ways!

This same theme resonates in the Gospel when we see the disciples idealizing themselves in a privileged status because they are chosen followers of Jesus.  They envision special honors for themselves above everyone else—as if they are immune from suffering which, is common for everyone.  Jesus radically reverses their worldly view of power.  Jesus shows that the suffering servant’s path is a sharing in his cup of suffering, a kind of baptism.  Leadership and authority are not about glory or special status but service and self-giving—sacrifice.  These are the hall marks of Christian discipleship.

If leadership and discipleship are given new and deeper meaning, so also does our personal share in suffering gain a new value and meaning.  We are united with Christ, and we share in his redemptive suffering for the salvation of the world.  We are invited to be with Mary, who consciously stood at the foot of the cross and united herself to Jesus’ offering to God.  Thousands of Martyrs and Saints walked this same path.  Let us use what we are given wisely because we are sharers in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.  God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Trust In God’s Blessings!

Peace be with you!

In all of our vocations, whether we are single, married, religious or ordained, we are called and challenged in various ways to grow in trust and confidence in God.

In the first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer knows that the gift of God’s wisdom far surpasses any other gifts and is to be preferred above all worldly riches because true happiness, fulfillment and freedom will accompany divine wisdom.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded of some of the characteristics of God’s Word (Jesus).  It (he) is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” . . . nothing is concealed from him, but everything lies open before his eyes.

In the Gospel story, wisdom has led the man to follow God’s commandments.  For living in a right relationship with God entails keeping the commandments.  The wisdom that comes from God is our power and safety for doing good.  Although this is not always easy, there is an abiding joy and peace because of that.  Today Jesus reminds us that divine wisdom can require something more of us.  Sometimes God’s wisdom leads us to doing something extra or perhaps something we have never done before.  God can lead us to do something that will be very difficult and even counter intuitive to our usual way of thinking.  God’s wisdom can lead us to give up good things in view of a much greater good that is revealed to us.  Wisdom can lead us to give up our own sense of security and personal comfort in order to discover how wonderful and amazing God’s providence and care is.  God is trustworthy!

For the rich man in the story, the extra step of surrendering wealth and possessions in exchange for trust in God was something he was simply afraid to do.

Today Jesus looks upon us with the same love as he did the young man and says “you are lacking one thing.”  We know this is divine wisdom calling us to follow Jesus more closely—no matter what vocation we have.  Perhaps we are lacking forgiveness, speaking out for what is right, or building bridges to peace and healing.  Some of these may seem impossible but we are reminded that all things are possible with God.

Following Jesus requires putting our trust and confidence in God who can do all things.  God is calling some to surrender their lives completely so that they may be enriched with a religious vocation and serve the Church.  God’s gift of grace for a religious vocation is beyond compare.  God’s dreams and desires for those who trust him far surpass our own dreams.  Is there one thing lacking for you? Trust God to lead you into greater blessings!  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Matters Of The Heart

Peace and grace to you all!

Between the first reading and the Gospel, the principal theme we are invited to ponder is matters of the heart.

In the first reading, God says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  So God makes a partner for the man knowing that in his heart, the man longs for someone to share everything in life with—thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears, labors, triumphs, joys, good things and bad.  The only suitable partner for him is the woman and his heart will cling to her.  Their union of love will be both physical and spiritual.  It will be so strong and deep that the two of them will become one flesh—and so it is.

In the Gospel we get a sense that somehow things have gone awry.  We know that when the Pharisees come to ask Jesus questions, they usually have a hidden agenda.  This is one of those times.  “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”  Jesus defers to the Mosaic Law and in reply the Pharisees reply: “Moses permitted the husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”  Jesus acknowledges his awareness of the law but with a telling comment: “because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”  Then, Jesus goes on to say that this was not God’s intention from the beginning of creation.

Hardness of heart, what does that mean?  If a heart is hard, it cannot change, flex or expand.  It cannot grow; it cannot swell with love, it cannot sink with sadness, it cannot be a spontaneous spring of joy, it cannot pour out its sorrow or confess its guilt.  It is paralyzed.  If a heart gets hard, it blocks things out that are good and life-giving.  A hard heart results in hard treatment of oneself and others.  A hard heart can block the path of hope for mercy and returning to God.

Relationships need hearts that can change, expand, grow, and forgive.  We need hearts that can be renewed.  Our hearts need God’s help to overcome hardness.  We need to always turn our hearts to God.

Jesus uses the example of the children to show that a simple, carefree heart can bring the experience of God’s kingdom to our lives.  The struggles and difficulties in life do not have to result in a heavy heart.  We don’t have to become weighed down or become a weight to others.  To his open heart the Savior invites all mankind to drink from the wellspring of salvation.  Our way to this open hearted fountain of love is through prayer, humble faith, fasting, the sacraments of the Church and service to our neighbor—especially to those who are in pain.  We must become flexible like the children in order to be renewed.  Today is Respect Life Sunday, we pray that God’s love will shatter hard hearts and make them new with his love.  May the Savior nourish your heart from the wellspring of his love! +++ Fr. Peter