Sunday’s Gospel

One of the best ways to prepare for Sunday Mass is to listen to Fr Francis Martin’s teachings on the Mass readings.  This Sunday’s Gospel is so long (please, Lord, don’t let my parish stoop to using the shortened version!) that Fr Martin had to use two 15-minute videos to cover it.  In them he reminds us that the washing of the blind man’s eyes is supposed to remind us of the power of Baptism to enlighten us.  He illustrates how we can act like the Pharisees, using the example of seeing a lady who has encountered Jesus in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal praying in tongues and us thinking that she is making a mess of things instead of seeing her new-found faith.  He emphasizes the irrefutable credibility of our personal testimony of our own encounter with the Lord.  He highlights the blind man’s expression of faith (i.e., conversion) as a result of his personal healing encounter with Jesus.  And much, much more.

My personal take-away:
Every time I see God lovingly heal someone, provide for someone’s need, protect someone, every time I see God work in someone’s life — including my own — it should build my faith and be a catalyst for my own ongoing conversion.  It should inspire in me a desire to stay close to this loving Lord.  Of course, that presupposes that I am vigilant, actually taking the time to notice how God is acting in my life and in the lives of others, which is why Fr Martin’s passionate exhortation to “fight every day for a prayer time” is so important.  Also, the example of the healed blind man increases in me the courage to take my faith into the public square and to proclaim boldly the person of Jesus our Savior.

Lenten perseverance

Lenten words of truth and encouragement from soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II, from his General Audience on Ash Wednesday in 1998:

JP22. The humble act of receiving blessed ashes on the head, strengthened by the invitation that rings out in the liturgy today: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”, counteracts the proud gesture of Adam and Eve who by their disobedience destroyed the bond of friendship with God the Creator. Because of this initial tragedy, we all run the risk, despite Baptism, of yielding to the recurring temptation that spurs human beings to live in arrogant autonomy from God and in perennial antagonism towards their neighbour.

Here then is revealed the meaning and necessity of the Lenten season which, by its call to conversion, leads us through prayer, penance and acts of fraternal solidarity to renew or reinvigorate our friendship with Jesus in faith, to free ourselves from the deceptive promises of earthly happiness and once again to savour the harmony of the interior life in authentic love for Christ.

3. I make my own what St Leo the Great said in one of his Lenten sermons: “Works of virtue do not exist without the trial of temptations; no faith goes unopposed; no struggle is without an enemy, no victory without a battle. We live our lives amid snares and struggles. If we do not want to be deceived, we must be watchful; if we want to win, we must fight” (Sermon XXXIX, 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept this invitation. It demands arduous discipline, especially in today’s social context which is frequently marked by easy escape and practical atheism. The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens us in this struggle. He “helps us in our weakness”, as the Apostle Paul assures us, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).

Holiness requires conversion

Here’s a recent talk by Fr Dave Pivonka TOR which I found very appropriate for my Lenten reflection this year:

He discusses what holiness is, and why conversion is necessary to attain it. His blend of humor with sobriety makes him easy to listen to.

For me, the section of his talk concerning the necessity of our conversion from fear to trust is priceless. My novena prayers to St Joseph over the past days have included the Litany to St Joseph. The version I used included the acclamation “Joseph, most valiant…” Other versions use the word “strong” in place of “valiant.” However, I think the term “valiant” very much expresses what Fr Dave means when he talks about our freedom from fear and our trust being noticeable to others.

More on Conversion

In the General Audience teaching which Pope Francis gave on Ash Wednesday, he pointed out that:

Lent is to be lived as a time of conversion, of personal and communal renewal through drawing close to God and confident adherence to the Gospel.

Looking ahead to the Easter Triduum, the memorial of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, he notes:

Lent prepares us for this moment that is so important, for this “intense” time, a turning point which can foster a change in each one of us, conversion. We all have need to become better, to change for the better. Lent helps us and thus [allows us] to come out of our weary habits and lazy addiction to the evil that deceives us.

He advises that reflection on Christ’s redemptive work will help me to change my heart:

The awareness of the wonders that the Lord has done for our salvation disposes our mind and our heart to an attitude of gratitude to God, for all that He has given us, for all that he fulfills for His people and the whole of humanity. Our conversion begins here: it is our grateful answer to the stupendous mystery of the love of God. When we see this love that God has for us, we feel the need to come closer to him: this is conversion.

To enhance my reflection on what Jesus has done for me, I’ve been ruminating on these sections of the Catechism:  nn. 51-53, and 599-618.

This is how I see it:  If I do not live as a faithful intentional missionary disciple of Jesus – completely ‘sold out’ for Christ, willing to lay down every aspect of my life for Him – I am at great risk of experiencing eternal death – separation from God for all eternity.  My selfishness-based sin deserves that eternal death.  The sacrificial self-giving love of Jesus has saved me from eternal death, due to the mercy of Our Father.  My own extreme faith in, love for, and service to Jesus is the only appropriate response.

This needs to be the goal of my conversion.

Smartphone philosophy

In my part-time job at the freshmen men’s dorm of a local Catholic college, I see many students walking around with their eyes glued to their smartphone.  At our parish, I sometimes see people working their smartphone just prior to Mass.

This brief but brilliantly insightful article describes for us the appropriate attitude that we should have regarding technology in general, and smartphones in particular.

Joe HoudeThe author, Joe Houde, is a grandson of Louise & Martin Hudak, who are members of our parish.  They own and operate the Holy Family Spiritual Renewal Center in Sheatown/Newport Twp.

The magazine in which the article appeared is one of the best Catholic magazines available targeting youth and young adults.  I encourage you to take advantage of their offer, and request a free sample copy.

Conversion

Pope Francis’ homily on Ash Wednesday directs our attention to the primary purpose of Lent:  Conversion.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).

With these penetrating words of the prophet Joel, the liturgy introduces us today into Lent, indicating the characteristic of this time of grace to be the conversion of heart.

Lent is all about changing – changing for the better, increasing our ability to love as God loves.  Each day during Lent (and beyond!), I should be examining my life for evidence of ongoing conversion.

Prior to presenting his thoughts on the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, he reminds us that

…without noticing it we exclude God from our horizon

and challenges us

Lent calls us to “rouse ourselves,” to remind ourselves that we are creatures, that we are not God.

Even as a Christian, my impulse to run my life, to direct my life, to control my life, is strong and ever-present.  Though I do many ‘spiritual’ things, so very often, in reality, in practical life, I am negligent about considering God’s will or God’s plan for my life.

Indeed, I am not God, and I need to stop living as if I am God.  I need to begin each day – and live throughout each day – with God as my focus, having communion with God as my goal, maintaining a deep desire to live in personal relationship with Him.  Pope Francis summarizes it this way:

Why do we have to return to God? Because there are things that are not well in us, in society, in the Church and we are in need of changing, of turning, of being converted!

If I myself am not gradually converting – becoming better, being sanctified, growing in holiness, increasing in self-giving love – then how can I expect to make a positive difference in the world around me?