Thursday, February 18, 2016

40 Days of Reflection During Lent: Day 8

Sometimes it isn't enough to just listen.  Sometimes we need to see in order to believe, but this isn't always the best way.  

We live in a generation of immediate gratification.  Technology has progressed so far that our expectations have increased while the time for satisfaction has decreased.  Take movies as an example.  40 years ago, the only way to watch a movie was in the theatre.  You had to go several times if you wanted to view it again - Star Wars comes to mind as a great example for me.  Fast forward to the 80's and we had the ability to rent or purchase our own copies of movies with VHS tapes.  The 90's saw DVD's come out and all of a sudden you were able to get higher quality and longer lasting copies of your favorite flicks.  Enter the Internet age and the late 90's and early 2000's and you saw the movie rental industry take off, specifically, Netflix, Hulu, Apple or Amazon Prime.  Now, not only could you rent a movie with the push of a button but you could purchase and download to your digital library.  You could also stream thousands upon thousands of shows and movies.  What once was an ordeal of time, travel to see a movie, now has become almost instantaneous. 

Now let's break open todays word, taken from Luke 11:29-32.  Jesus is talking and crowd of people gather and they ask him for a miraculous sign:

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah. 
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment 
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation 
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here. 
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
Jesus is telling the crowd that God didn't provide a sign to the Ninevites.  They basically had the prophet Jonah tell them that they had 40 days left before God would destroy them.  That was sign enough.  They changed their ways and were spared by the Lord.  

Throughout the New Testament, people have been requesting signs of Jesus.  We see this in Matt 12:38 and Mark 8:11.    In Mark 8, we see the Pharisees requesting a sign and Jesus said - no sign is coming.  In Matt 12:39-45, we see the same words as above.  

What was Jesus trying to say?  How would we react if Jesus appeared today? Would we require fireworks and armies of angels as proof.  

Jesus went on to say that the Queen of Sheba (Queen of the South) responded to Solomon, as the Ninevites responded to Jonah.  Why then should we not respond to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is much greater than Solomon or Jonah?  No sign is required.  if we simply live the teachings of Jesus as he teaches us in the New Testament, we cannot go wrong. 

Now let's remember and reflect on those candidates and catechumens who are making their journey of faith without having signs or proof.  It is time to use our journey of forty days to reflect on how we can make ourselves better disciples of Christ. The path leads us to the cross, the tomb and ultimately the resurrection and promise of everlasting life.  

What more signs do you require?

40 Days of Reflection During Lent: Day 7

What is prayer?  What does it mean to you?

Is it a personal conduit to the Lord or a form of personal meditation?

Is it how you ask for things, or thank the maker for his gifts?

How do you use prayer?

Today's reading is very interesting because it shows Jesus teaching his disciples how they should pray.  Not prayer for the sake of prayer, but a meaningful prayer that says it all - it praises God, asks for forgiveness, and prayers for guidance and understanding.  The reading is from Matthew 6:7-15
Jesus said to his disciples:

7"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9"This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.12Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Do you stand in church and prayer the Lord's prayer with your heart, or your mouth.  I have found that my strength is within my relationship with God and that relationship is nourished by my ability to pray and pray often.  I also find that praying to God helps center my mind and even when I am troubled by events unfolding around me, a quick prayer and reflection help dig me out.

Jesus sat in the garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God about his future and the plans that were unfolding before him.  He prayed so hard that he sweat out blood.  You have to admit that this level of concentration and diligence in his prayers is reflective of the meaning behind his teachings written above.

I sit in church and the great thing about the Catholic church is that it is highly ritualized and that ritual has such majesty and beauty.  I don't go to sit and fulfill and obligation.  I am able to find God on a nice walk in our local park, or while I am digging into the soil of my back yard.  My prayers are just as important in the privacy of my backyard as they are standing before a priest.

Do this:  take 2 minutes out of your day and Thank God that you woke up, that you got dressed, that you saw the sun rise another morning.  Embrace your existence as a blessing and give thanks to the one who gave it to you.

Thank you, God, for allowing me to share your Word with anyone who will read it.

40 Days of Reflection During Lent: Day 6

In late 2015, with the beginning of the Advent season (Dec 8, 2015 to Nov 20, 2016), Pope Francis welcomed in the Year of Mercy.  This theme ties directly with today's reading, taken from Matthew 25:31-46.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him. 
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? 
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
It seems we are constantly bombarded by people on the street, panhandling for some reason or another.  I find myself sitting in my car looking at them and wondering how they came to this station in their lives or better yet, if they really need anything at all.  I find that I am placing my pre-conceived and ultimately mis-guided notions upon a total stranger that I don't know and self-justifying my lack of involvement.  

The above passage is a message from Jesus to his flock.  He tells us that in the end, we will all be judged and will find that our judgement will be how we acted and judged each other.  It is a warning of sorts that lets us know that we should be compassionate and helpful to every person.  How often do you find yourself saying, "I refuse to give or allow welfare to that person because they do drugs", or "That person looks like they could have a job and they are just being lazy"?  It is so easy to fall into the pitfall of judging people before assisting them.  

Jesus said: "...whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."  With that in mind, try to go throughout the day and try not to imagine that person as being Christ.  Try to sit there in judgement of your Lord, and wonder what judgement the Lord will have for you when you stand before his throne.  

That thought frightens me greatly and I would rather purchase a hamburger or give the last dollars in my wallet than wonder what GOD will say to me on my judgement day.  I want to live like Jesus.  I want to live in Love.  Don't you?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

40 Days of Reflection During Lent: 1st Sunday in Lent

Today marks the first Sunday during Lent and the appropriate time to tell the story of Jesus and his 40 days in the desert with the devil.  I find that in life, we are all put to the test of our faith.  Faith that the Lord has a plan and knows all that is occurring.  Is it the 'plan' that we would see unfold?  No.

It is difficult to see the misery and pain unfolding around us and not think that GOD is not here to help us or to protect the innocent.  At what point did we become more than GOD?   Do I actually believe that GOD allows these things to happen because he is apathetic?  Or do I believe that in our darkest hour of human tragedy that GOD will be there to carry us to peace?   GOD gave us free will and with that free will we have the path to be merciful or to condemn; to feed the needy or to feed off the needy; to be the light or follow the darkness.  FREE WILL.   

In today's reading, Jesus (having the free will that the Father placed within his human existence) was put to the test by the Devil, where the Devil commanded Jesus to task the LORD to prove that Jesus was truly the son of GOD.   The exchange between the Devil and Jesus is one of the best in the New Testament because it shows that faith does not need proof for existence.  Faith lives in us all and with that faith, comes the existence and beauty of our relationship with GOD.  Not the other way around.  A proof of GOD, would undoubtedly spawn faith, but the very definition of FAITH is to believe in a GOD based upon spiritual apprehension rather than proof.   WOW!
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

4Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'[a]"

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

8Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'[b]"

9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'[c]"

12Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'[d]"

13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

How many times throughout the day do we put our Lord to the test?  How many times do we worship our money, our jobs, and forget the Lord that brings all to fruition?  How many times do we eat, but are not fulfilled in life?

When we pray to GOD, we enter into a very personal relationship with the LORD.  It is a unique relationship in which we find solace and meaning and the act of praying helps clear the mind and for me, reboot my soul.   We live by faith and not by sight.  Why should we believe that in order to have our faith, a visible miracle should occur.  How is it that we lost sight of the miracles that happen every day around us and yet still have faith questions.

How amazing and beautiful our relationship with GOD.  The meaning behind Lent also becomes more clear through the above passage.  We too must journey for forty days and be tempted to test the LORD.  But at the end, what an amazing time we have when we join together and celebrate the risen Chris through the Pascal Mass.  Through his son Jesus, we can be fulfilled with the word, commune with GOD and forever have faith.


40 Days of Reflection During Lent: Day 4

I just read today's reading several times and I found great words buried in not only the subtext of the New Testament, but in the explicitness of the Old Testament readings.

The first reading if from Isaiah 58:9-14:
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob."
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

How many of us can live what was just quoted through Isiah by GOD.  The spoken word of the LORD states that if we can remove OPPRESSION, FALSE ACCUSATION and MALICIOUS TALK, and be able to witness to and help the afflicted and hungry, a light shall rise within and combat the darkness.  But is it that easy.  Can we follow this easily?

The road to righteousness is more difficult when we are constantly assailed by public opinion and our needs to fit in, with society, not within our Lords wishes.  We find ourselves in a society that is easy to condemn our leaders, our friends, our family for their actions or their beliefs.  I was brought up with a more open and caring attitude and for the most part, I like to think I am instilling that belief into my children.  But even I tend to fall into malicious talk around the 'cooler' at work, or think badly of people at times.  I don't like it, but recognize it as part of the human condition.  Can we live without prejudice? Can we see a greater good to be accomplished and work towards that goal - looking at the derisive attitudes of my peers and how they act with concern to current political and social climates - I think we can, but it won't be without its difficulties.

But we should not stop trying to be better.  Should not stop striving to live without judgment of others and live to lift up those that need it.  Only then will GOD release within us his light of goodness and that light will grow to defeat the darkness that harbors inside of all of us.

The second reading is from the Gospel of Luke 5:27-32:
27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

I love this passage because it speaks volumes to not only the purpose of Jesus, but to his main audience.  To put it into today's terms, Jesus was marketing his message towards the crowd that would garner or gain the most from his teachings.  We would no sooner have a fund raiser for cancer research and market it towards the homeless community of San Jose - not that they are unimportant in any way, but that targeting a fund-raiser towards those with more means would garner more dollars for research.  That is the cold-hard truth.

With that in mind, Jesus did not turn away the rich, or the priests, but he did focus on those who needed repentance within their lives.  He targeted those most in need of his moral teachings.  This theme is explored several times in the New Testament and is bolstered by a few key readings, especially the beatitudes where he compares those in need to those not in need.

We are human and although we will try to follow the teachings of Isaiah and be less judgmental, we will slip into our old attitudes like a soft rain coat on a cold morning.  But we must shake off the rain and the cold and correct our ways.  We must be vigilant in the Lord's teachings and follow the examples taught to us by Jesus Christ.  Only then will the fullness of God's light be within us and the darkness will be defeated.