Strive To Be Saints!

Peace and Grace to you!

This time of year is very special!  The days are shortening and the weather is getting cooler if not cold at times.  The leaves on the trees and shrubs are changing color and the harvest has been over.  It is a time of change, the end of a season, a time of transition, it is a time of dying.  It all happens so quickly!  We are reminded of the brevity of our lives.

This week we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints and the feast of All souls.  These two celebrations point to the heart of our Christian faith: eternal life!

In our celebration of All Saints, we remember our great dignity and the gift of a great destiny as God’s holy people.  Our great Saints’ lives were dedicated to living completely for God, even in the smallest detail.  These Saints understood the relationship of complete communion with God and one another that all the baptized are invited to.  They struggled against sin for a greater prize—the living love of God in time and eternity!

Through the feast of all souls the Church remembers all those who have completed their earthly sojourn.  Some of them led holy lives, others didn’t but many of them are no doubt living in God’s presence.  Some are undergoing purification.  Sadly, some others may have lost the gift of eternal life by rejecting God—we hope and pray that no one may be lost but it is possible that some are.

At the center of our reflection is the great gift and mystery of the sacramental life of the Church.  This is what the Gospel story of Jesus and Zacchaeus tells us.

We can never forget that Jesus always calls us to a deeper, personal relationship with God and share the indwelling of God’s Spirit. It is friendship!  It is communion! It is a living and abiding love!

Zacchaeus represents the one who longs for the relationship and is willing to go out of his way to find it—even climb up a tree!  Jesus’ response to those who are like Zacchaeus is the same: “today I must stay at your house!”  No matter if that person was a sinner until that moment, Jesus is watchful for the opportunity to come into your heart!  Notice that the encounter with Jesus breaks open Zacchaeus’ heart and immediately, joy, peace, charity and desire for justice spring forth from him!  Zacchaeus is really happy!

In contrast, the crowd represents all those who do not desire or go out of their way to build a personal relationship with Jesus.  Instead of turning their heart to seek him in sincerity, they do their usual thing.  They grumble, criticize, complain and judge Zacchaeus, Jesus and probably everyone else.  They have no joy because they have not experienced the salvation that Jesus brings!  In the story, Jesus is a human being.  Zacchaeus was open to that.  If you were Jesus, would you want to stay with someone who was critical and judgmental toward you?  Or would you rather stay with someone who really wanted to know you and appreciate you?  Hopefully we can all be open to a new encounter with Jesus and grow in the joy of his communion!

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Prayerful Humility

Peace to you!

Last weekend we contemplated the qualities of persistence and insistence in the continual activity of our prayer.  This weekend, Jesus calls us to reflect on two inner qualities of our prayer: humility and pride.

In your own life of prayer, which figure do you most resemble?  Are you more like the Pharisee who ignores God by relishing your own vainglory?  Or are you more like the tax collector, who’s punctured heart is all too aware of his own unworthiness as he begs for mercy?  Are you aware of how you approach God in prayer?

The Pharisee practiced tithing and fasting, which are commendable religious practices but these became a source of personal pride—his downfall.  We get the sense that he became stagnant and hardened in his heart judging other people without compassion.  He could not see his own faults but could readily identify others’ shortcomings.  How does God respond to the prayers of the prideful and the arrogant?

The tax collector is not depicted as glorying in himself.  Rather he is someone who is deeply aware of his own failures.  The tax collector appears completely honest and vulnerable before God.  His prayer is in humble truth.  How do you suppose God answers the prayer of this sinner—who is humble and honest?

In the first reading from Sirach we hear that God has no favorites and is not partial.  Sirach also tells us that God is attentive to the call of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the poor and lowly.  God is also attentive to the prayer of the just; that is those who may not be poor, orphaned or widowed but are concerned about serving God rightly with their lives.  We are told that their prayer “reaches the heavens.”

We know that God loves all people everywhere all the time and responds generously to the just and the unjust alike.  The Pharisee who extols himself will be humbled eventually but in the meantime, will remain stuck, blinded and impoverished by his pride, unaware of the great richness of God’s love and mercy.  Those who are introspective and aware of their own sin and weakness that come before God in simple honesty asking for mercy, like the tax collector, will receive God’s mercy.  God does not wish that the sinner should die, but that they turn to him and live.  God lifts them up and helps them.

The religious practices of the Pharisee are good, for such exercises help us remain vibrant.  The humility of the sinful tax collector is good, for it reminds us that none of us are equal to God in our love.

In today’s prayer over the offerings, we pray that whatever we do in service of the Lord may be done above all to the Glory of God.  This is the mark we aim for in all things.

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

What Is Prayer

Peace to you!  I thought you might enjoy something from my friend Fr. Boly.

What is prayer?  Prayer is awareness of God, engagement with God, abandonment to God.  Prayer is as natural as breathing, as spontaneous as wonder.  Prayer is holding your breath at the beauty of fall leaves, is breaking your heart at the pain of a child.  Prayer begins when God’s Spirit lifts your mind and heart to pay attention to the Divine Majesty.

All three scripture readings today deal with the attitude of insistence and persistence.  In the reading from Exodus, Moses trusts God even when attacked by a superior army.   Aaron and Hur help Moses keep his drooping hands aloft to assure Israel’s victory against Amalek.  This is persistence.

In the second reading, Paul urges his young disciple Timothy to learn and proclaim the good news both when it is convenient and inconvenient.  What does insistence in learning mean today?  It means educating ourselves in practical wisdom about current issues.  October is the month dedicated to our prophetic witness to the sanctity of life.  This is a good season to refresh our understanding of the entire range of life issues.

In the gospel, Luke’s community had a question.  When will the Risen Jesus return to establish the final reign of God?  In response to the question, Jesus assures his hearers that it is necessary to persist in prayer and never give up hope that justice will prevail over unfairness.  He then tells the parable about the widow and the unjust judge.

Luke introduces the parable with an editorial explanation so that everyone will be clear about meaning of the parable.  He says that constant prayer and confidence in God’s promises are necessary in the spiritual life.

The story unfolds about two figures.  One is a widow, among the most vulnerable in society, who has been wronged and seeks justice.

The other is a judge, powerful and respected.  Jewish law obligates him to protect “widows and orphans” in a special way.  The judge refuses to do his job, proclaiming neither respect for God nor for the community.

It is only when the widow continues to bother him and threatens his status that he relents.  The message is clear.  Just as the widow is persistent, so also are God’s chosen ones to beseech God and to speak out seeking justice while awaiting God’s help.  The time of justice is coming even though it seems delayed.

When people are treated unfairly, they are tempted to take the law into their own hands and retaliate against violators of their respectability.  Jesus teaches his followers to turn the other cheek, to pray for those who persecute them.  The role of disciples is to treat oppressors with kindness, and to trust that the role of God is to punish the defilers of justice in God’s mysterious way – by allowing the violent to suffer the consequences of their violence (Gen. 9.6; Exodus 21:12; Mt. 26.52).

Today’s readings urge patience and persistence in dealing with injustice.  Patience and persistence.  They seem to be at odds with one another.  The first requires what seems like inactivity.  The other involves active insistence, a holy indignation at inaction.  For the Christian the message is this: Wait for God.  But don’t stop asking or trusting God.  God always will give you what you need for your journey home to God.

It is difficult to understand how you and I can persevere in prayer so that prayer becomes unceasing.  One suggestion is the traditional prayer called “The Jesus Prayer.”  You pray the phrase, “Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God” while inhaling a breath.  And then you pray the phrase “have mercy on me” while exhaling.

In this form of prayer, inhale the sacred name of Jesus and exhale a plea for mercy.  At first, begin by sitting quietly and concentrating on your breathing.  When you are persistent, every breath will become a prayer and every moment of life – when while sleeping – an offering of praise.

What does it mean for us to be stewards of prayer?  It means to embrace our identity as contemplatives in action.  Pray for the grace “to be contemplatives in action.”

Fr. Craig Boly, S.J.

God’s Healing Word

Peace and grace to you all!

Naman the Syrian reminds us of those who have a deep need for help but are reluctant to listen to what will be a remedy.  Upon following prophetic advice, they discover God’s attentive, healing love.  God’s Holy Word is a Living Reality that brings healing!

The healing of the 10 lepers is the Gospel reading for the US National Feast of Thanksgiving.  Lepers in ancient times suffered at multiple levels.  They suffered loss by devastating health change, loss of livelihood, mobility and perhaps most crucial was loss of being part of a community that cares about them.    Imagine what that would feel like.

Some parallels of loss today might be immigrants living in the US without Citizenship status.  They have lost their home in search of a better life and have largely been rejected by the local residents.  People who have lost employment or those impacted by permanent health changes.  Someone who lost a child, a spouse or been divorced.  It might also include our loss of a sense of security because of corruption, lying and betrayal by people in state and national leadership positions, terrorist attacks, violence and crime.  There is loss of life and health because pandemic virus and permanent damage and death because of the experimental vaccines.  Those who suffer from PTSD and cannot break free of Hyper-vigilance and eruptive triggers destroying relationships and their own families, abuse survivors who have been unwept and unloved.  We all have some loss in common with the Lepers in the story.

The next part of the story includes a sense of journey and a passage of time.  They were not healed immediately but they discovered personal healing while they were on their way.

I think that this is realistic for most people.  Yes there are those stories of miraculous events when healing happened immediately but those are infrequent.

More often, we ourselves plod along the journey of life and cry out to God, like the lepers, for help and deliverance from oppressive situations, abuse, addiction, hardened, unchanging attitudes, brokenness and the pain of sin: “Jesus, Master have pity on us!”  We keep calling out until we are tired of it and we wonder if our cry is ever heard.  In the meantime, as we move along our faith must be tested and deepened—like the lepers.

This Gospel story extends to us a strong and real hope:  yes healing does happen!  It is possible! It may require plunging into a program or engaging in personal counseling on several occasions but it does come.  Sometimes we discover change within ourselves while we are caring for others around us.  Sometimes it comes imperceptibly over time and we change a little as we go but it does come and Jesus always hears us.

One of my favorite parts of the story is the gratitude shown by the one who returns.  I think this is the one who was most thoughtful.  Remember the movie “Little Big Man” with Dustin Hoffman?  The scene near the end when an Indian, Old Lodge Skins, who has lost his physical health, is going blind.  He knows he is dying, so he prays: “O Lord God, I thank you for having made me a human being.  I thank you for giving me life, for giving me eyes to see and enjoy your world.  But most of all, Lord, I thank you for my sickness and my blindness because I have learned more from these than from my health and from my sight.”

There are losses and pain in life but there are also new experiences ahead, new loves and joys, new hopes beyond grief.  The final healing is to be cured of ingratitude.  Blessings to you! +++ Fr. Peter

The Power Of Faith

May the God of all grace preserve you in peace and health!

We are reminded that faith is one the most powerful forces in the universe.  It is striking to hear the Apostles request that the Lord increase their faith.  It seems odd because we usually assume that their faith would be much more confident and solid since they were experiencing daily life with Jesus and were witnesses to the wonders he did in their presence every day.  Jesus’ response is also striking: “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, . . .”  The allegory that Jesus uses of the mulberry tree is supposed to help us understand the power of faith.  Evidently, the Apostles did not yet have to use faith because Jesus was physically with them.  St. Paul said that faith is the evidence of things not seen so we can deduce that the Apostles would only begin to use their faith when they could no longer see Jesus.  It’s like us with God, Saints and angels, we can’t see them but we believe they are there.  Today we understand that faith is first given as a gift from God (one of the theological virtues in baptism), but then it must be used and put to the test in order for it to grow and become a virtue—a personal strength of good habit.  The second part of the Gospel tells us that once we grow in practicing our faith and do God’s will, we are not to expect recognition or even a special place in heaven.  We must regard ourselves as servants of Christ, who accomplishes all things and wonders through us.  For our part, we are simply doing our duty of serving our Master.  A good example of this is reflected in the life of Brother Andre Bessette, CSC of Montreal who was Canonized as the first Saint of the Congregation of the Holy Cross on October 17, 2012.  Br. Andre was famous for his prayers to St. Joseph through which, many thousands were healed.  Brother Andre always deferred praise and credit to St. Joseph and God’s love and mercy rather than himself.  He emphatically insisted the he was only an instrument to be used as God willed.  People like Br. Andre are an inspiration of faith to all of us and remind us that God wants to do good things through us if we can just grow in humble faith and trust in his power to save.

May God continue to fill you with gifts of faith, holiness and love! +++ Fr. Peter