Saturday, February 27, 2016

In this we discover while Mercy is free, it ain’t cheap.

We have all heard someone say, “You know, they got what they deserved.”? Sometimes this is meant as way of speaking of justice. The criminal gets caught and is sent to jail and so we think they got what they deserve. It is a common way to think and in way it does acknowledge justice; but at the same time, it can be said without mercy.

Sometimes as well, you hear the same phrase used when referring to someone’s relationship with God. It is not unusual to hear fundamentalist preachers say things like “They have obviously sinned and God is punishing them for it, or they didn’t have enough faith. Actually, this kind of thinking can creep into the mindset of many religious people. This as well, justice without any mercy?

In today’s Gospel, we hear the same thing. People were standing around and talking about some horrible incidents where people had suffered and died. We don’t know a lot about the two events mention by Jesus in today’s Gospel, but we think that those who died were thought to have been guilty of cooperating with the enemy, in this case Pilate, -and because of this, it was assumed that God had punished them for their unfaithfulness--for their sins. Jesus, for His part, knew that the people were thinking in their hearts, “These people in justice got what they deserved, that will teach them to cooperate with sinners like Pilate,.” With this attitude we discover that these people had no mercy.

These terrible events in the Gospel make us think of events in our own day. We’ve had so many terrible tragedies, tornados, so many terrorist attacks and violent shootings. So many are suffering, some from loneness, mental illness, bad marriages or horrible diseases such as cancer. These events rightly cause us to be distressed. We question God about all of this, how do I make sense of all of this? Some even believe that the sufferings they, or others, are experiencing are a punishment from God for not living the life they should. Now it is easy to accept when our enemies or bad people suffer, after all they deserve it, but what about when someone who is good and seemingly innocent suffers or is killed. Is God punishing them too? And another survives where another dies, does that mean the survivor was more righteous than the victim.

Jesus enters this conversation with his listeners in the Gospel and with us. Jesus does not steer around the issue but speaks directly to the people. His words are hard to hear, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners that all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Jesus repeats the same words when referring to the people of Siloam and ultimately to us. Jesus tells us that, “yes all suffering and death is the result of sin. He tells us plain truth- we are all sinners and suffering and death is, as matter of justice, a natural consequence of sin-not only death of the body, but death of the soul.

Jesus explains that when someone suffers however, it is not necessarily a direct result of his or her personal sin--After all, even the greatest of saints who were right with God still suffered and suffered greatly, even Jesus Himself suffered-but still Jesus says suffering is the result of sin in general. In Jesus case he suffered for our sins. In this we discover a great truth, while at the same time a great mystery. While God may in His infinite wisdom allow one to suffer in justice as a result of his or her own personal sin, at the same time, He may allow that same one or another in mercy to suffer for the sins of another. Ultimately, we can’t know what is the case, so we can’t judge one way or another.

This is all included in God mysterious plan of salvation. There are no pat answers. But like all the mysteries of our faith we can have some understanding. Suffering no matter what the cause is allowed as part of the care that God gives to each soul-it is a way of turning the soul back to God, if the soul lets it. It is like the gardener pruning the fig tree. The pruning hurts, but it causes the tree to produce much fruit. In this we discover that God’s Justice is also His Mercy; in God the two are united.

Not only can suffering purify and atone for sin in Justice, but in mercy, it can also bring the soul who is suffering closer to God. And the soul who is suffering can be used as well, in mercy, to bring others back to and closer to God. Just like Jesus’ own suffering and death was used by the Father to bring salvation to all of those who would accept it. So too our sufferings in this life and even our deaths, united to the cross of Christ-to Jesus’ own sufferings, our sufferings can be used to bring other souls back to God-this is the fruit the fig tree is asked to bear. And to offer one’s suffering for sinners, this, is the ultimate form of mercy.

But for all this to happen, we need to repent of our own sins in order to accept the fruits of Jesus’ own suffering. If we don’t repent, our sin blinds us and we can only see suffering and struggles as a punishment from a vengeful God. We then can see only the justice without the mercy (like those in today’s Gospel). Or the reverse, we can see mercy only as way of God letting us off the hook as regard to the punishment due to our sins, seeing only the mercy without the justice. Through our personal repentance and with God’s grace from prayer and the Sacraments, we can see that the suffering he allows in our lives is not so much a punishment for our sin, but is a way to show our love for Him and others. We can then see that our suffering can actually be a share in Jesus’ own great work of redemption, his own great work of the salvation of souls. We, through our sufferings, if united to the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body the church, we can help Jesus save souls; he can use our sufferings and struggles in this life to bring others His mercy, bring others to him, saving them from eternal damnation and saving them for an eternity with God for ever.

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus tells that an owner desired to cut it down because it was not producing fruit. The gardener pleads with the owner of the tree to allow him to cultivate it for one more year. He’ll break up the dirt and fertilize the tree. The gardener is Jesus and He desires to come into our life and cultivate our hearts. Jesus desires to produce good fruit in our souls. He allows suffering to prune us if we allow it to. Again, He does not do this to hurt us but to give us a share in his own redemptive work so that we may atone for our sins and the sins of others and so come to love like Him. Yes, to love like Him—He who loved us to the end, unto death on the Cross. In this we discover while Mercy is free, it ain’t cheap.

Today, at this Holy Mass let us offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father. Let us lift up our hearts as an offering to Him in love. Let us unite our pains, sorrows and sufferings in this life with His suffering and death being re-presented, that is being made truly present, on this Holy Altar of sacrifice. Let us do this to make atonement for our sins, for the sins of the living and of the dead and the sins of the whole world. This is what it really means to participate in the Holy Mass; for it is the Holy Mass that makes it possible for us to unite our sufferings to Christ for the sake of His Body the Church.

Let us pray. Jesus I give you my heart and my soul, I offer to you all the sufferings of this life as an offering for my sins and for my failure to love you with all my being. Please turn my heart to you and fill it with your love, allow me to share in the Joy of Your resurrection at this Holy Communion so that I may become another you and lead others to You in my daily life, especially in & through sufferings you allow me to experience which are a share in your own passion and death, so that when the lent of this life is over, I and many others through me, may share in the Joys of that eternal Easter which is Heaven. Amen. Mary refuge of sinners pray for us. God Bless You!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Man will never find true happiness in bread alone, but in Me alone!!!

As we begin our Lenten observance, the Church gives us the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert by the devil. We need to start by saying, and this can’t be said enough, the devil definitely exists and is a real person; this is an article of our Catholic Faith. In the desert, the devil presents Jesus with a shortcut from the cross; it is the same temptation satan still uses on us. It’s a temptation to try and do away with the cross and to seek only what we want instead of what we need or better yet, what our neighbor needs-it is a temptation to selfishness versus self-denial for the sake of love, for the sake of the other.

Translating the temptations into modern terms, satan told Jesus that he could win us over by filling our bellies with the bread of earthly desires-- wealth, pleasure, power and honor. The Devil said, Jesus you can make them follow you by giving them power to solve their own problems through politics so they can be released from being dependant on a tyrannical Father God, and true worship of Him. Satan said Jesus; you can win them over by amazing them with great feats and unbelievable technological marvels. But Jesus, you can’t win them over with the cross, give them instead a nice guy Jesus without the cross. Put a resurrected Jesus on the cross but not a crucified one who paid a price for their sins and then who calls them to return that love by bearing their own cross along with Him sharing in his redemptive work of love for the salvation of souls

The devil indeed loves to give half-truths. If we look at each one of the temptations more closely we can discover that the truth is, is that Jesus actually desires to give us what the devil said would win us over, but not in the way or in the manner that the devil suggested.

And so in the first temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to change stones into bread. Jesus responds, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” The fact is, is that Jesus wants to give us bread, but not earthly bread, the things of this world which never totally satisfy our hunger, but the Bread of Life, His very self, his whole self in the Holy Eucharist. This is the bread that fills every desire of man, including the desire for eternal life; it is the bread that a man may eat of and never die. And so Jesus says to the devil, I won’t bribe the people into following me, for man’s heart was not made for material things, man will never find true happiness in bread alone, but in Me alone! And I am in the Holy Eucharist as their true food and drink.

In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus with all of the kingdoms of the earth, which are under satan domain, if Jesus would but just fall down and worship him. Jesus responds with the first commandment- You shall worship God alone. Here again, Jesus wants to give us power to solve our problems but not through earthly power and honor which corrupts and fades away, but through the power of his divine Love and mercy which becomes available to us through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the other Sacraments which flow from the Holy Mass. And coming in touch with God’s love and mercy in the Sacraments and being transformed into the image of Jesus, Jesus wishes to use us to bring His mercy and love into our world thus transforming it. And so Jesus says to satan, man can not save himself, man cannot build the kingdom of man without reference to the Kingdom of God…there is truly no “state” without the Church…without the Church the state collapses in on itself…

The third temptation: Here the devil tempts Jesus with presumption and vanity- cast yourself from the Temple and the angels will catch you. Jesus says, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Again, Jesus wanted to give us great marvels and feats, but not the kind Satan suggests. Jesus didn’t want to win us over with the latest technology, which in a short while becomes obsolete as soon as the next best thing comes along.

No, Jesus wanted to give us the greatest feat and marvel of all, and so as God He humble Himself putting His divine power aside and became one of us, like us in all things but sin. The all powerful God became one of us so that he could lay down his life on a cross for us in order to save us from our sins, not only giving us an example, but earning us the grace we need in order to have the strength to follow in imitation of Him, so we too could lay down our lives for love of our friend, first of whom is Jesus, and then our neighbor. No greater love is there than this, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. And so Jesus tells the devil, no I won’t win them over with sensationalism and be just a nine day wonder, sensationalism never lasts, I want to win them over forever by my sacrificial love, the same love that I share with my Father, the love that I call each one of them to share in as well.

During this time of Lent we will experience many temptations when we begin to discipline ourselves so we can more fully repent and believe the Good News, leaving our selfishness behind and so live more perfectly in the freedom of God’s truth as His beloved sons and daughters. And so, we are invited to spend these forty days in the desert close to our blessed Lord through our prayer, fasting, and alms giving, the three things, which weaken the power of Satan over us.

Our prayer must include the Sacraments, especially the Holy Mass and Confession so that we may have the grace and the power to share in Jesus’ victory over the devil and his temptations. Important as well in our prayer are all Lenten devotions offered to us, like walking with Jesus along the way of Calvary in the Stations of the Cross on Fridays, spending time in adoration, and experiencing all the Holy week services and Masses, like Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

And our fasting must be more than just giving up things, but giving them up in order to become less attached to the good things of
this world and more attached to Jesus who gives us these things to lead us to Himself, so we can become better—become holy; that is, dearest of friends of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the angel and saints.

And our alms giving must include serving others through practicing the Corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Feeding the physically hungry, yes, but most importantly feeding the spiritually hungry who can sometimes be very rich and powerful, giving drink to those thirsting for water, but most importantly giving the drink of God’s love for those who are dying of thirst for it; burying the dead but also bury resentment and un-forgiveness by forgiving wrongs against us (just to name a few). Our Holy Father Francis said as much in his Lenten Message to us in this Jubilee “Year of Mercy,” in which He pointed out that, “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn.

This lent let us ask Our Lady for help to enter into lent more deeply. Let us ask her to help us avoid the temptation of Satan, a temptation that puts personal pleasure first, and does away with personal guilt and sin and the need for redemption, satisfaction, expiation, mortification and penance for our sin. A temptation that says that essence of love is personal gratification and not sacrifice, not that of laying down one’s life for a friend. Our Lady can teach us how to adore Jesus; all we need to do is to ask her. Let us pray, that the Blessed Mother, who while adoring Jesus on the Cross was given John as her son and by this gift was given all of us as her sons and daughters as well, that she may help us to enter the desert this lent and there learn how to adore the unseen God from whom we came and to whom we are called as His beloved little children to return. Amen.