Saintly snippets about Sunday’s Gospel

PJPII_prayingIn the latter half of this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we hear an impassioned call from Jesus.  In order to steep myself in the promise contained in this call, I sought out the preaching of St John Paul II.  Here are some of the occasions when the sainted pontiff made reference to this call and promise of Jesus:

Following the call prepares me to proclaim the Good News:

5. Jesus Christ says to all men and women: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Mt. 11:28). But Christ does not invite us to come to him for some empty consolation. He renews us and strengthens us to go forth to share with others the salvation he has brought. He tells his Apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mk. 16: 15). Christ – the one sent by the Father – now sends others forth: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20: 21).

These words remind us that the work of evangelization is at the heart of the Church’s mission in the world. The Church began through evangelization–and she is ceaselessly renewed through evangelization. In every time and place the preaching of the Gospel must be the Church’s first duty,

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/1993/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19930810_stadio-kingston_en.html

I should not expect a life of comfort and ease:

4. Once when Jesus was addressing a large crowd, he said to them: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matth. 11, 28-29). These words are intended for all of us, but they have a particular significance for the sick and elderly, for whoever feels “overburdened”. We note, with consolation, Jesus’ promise that our souls will find rest – not our bodies but our souls. Jesus does not promise to remove all physical suffering from our lives during our earthly pilgrimage, but he does promise to refresh our spirits, to lift up our hearts, to give rest to our souls. Come to the Lord, then, with your weariness and pain, your burdens and sorrows, and “you will find rest for your souls”. For Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who leads his sheep to green pastures of consolation, to fresh waters of peace.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1984/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19840915_malati-anziani_en.html

A shout-out to the Blessed Sacrament and the priests who bring it to us:

Always, but especially at moments of confusion and anguish, when life and the world itself seem to collapse, do not forget the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

Do not forget that Jesus willed to remain present, personally and really, in the Eucharist, an immense mystery but a sure reality, in order to materialize authentically this individual and salvific love of his! Do not forget that Jesus willed to come to meet you by means of his ministers, the Priests!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1979/march/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19790311_giovani-san-basilio_en.html

Only my relationship with God will sustain me:

It is true that, when one goes through difficult times, the support of science can be of great help, but nothing can replace an ardent, personal and confident faith that is open to the Lord, who said, “Come to me, all you labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Mt 11,28).

The indispensable source of energy and renewal, when frailty and weakness increase, is the encounter with the living Christ, Lord of the Covenant. This is why you must develop an intense spiritual life and open your soul to the Word of life. In the depths of the heart the voice of God must be heard, even if at times it seems to be silent, in reality it resounds continually in the heart and accompanies us along the path that can have its burden of sorrow as happened to the two travellers of Emmaus.

Special care must be shown to young spouses so that they do not surrender in the face of problems and conflicts. Prayer, frequent recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation, spiritual direction, must never be abandoned with the idea that one can replace them with other techniques of human and psychological support. We must never forget what is essential, namely, to live in the family under the tender and merciful gaze of God.

The richness of the sacramental life, in the life of the family, that participates in the Eucharist every Sunday (cf. Dies Domini, n. 81) is undoubtedly the best antidote for confronting and overcoming obstacles and tensions.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2002/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20021018_pc-family_en.html

Flesh-and-Blood vs. Divine Revelation

Jesus and Peter

If you go to Mass tomorrow (Sunday), the Gospel reading you’ll hear is Matthew 16:13-19.

Before I had a renewal of my faith at age 26, if someone had asked me who Jesus was, I would have likely replied in a manner seemingly similar to Peter, acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins.  However, unlike Peter, my knowledge of who Jesus was came primarily from what I heard each week at Mass, in the Stations of the Cross which my family attended faithfully each Friday during Lent, and in my Religion classes in Catholic elementary school.  My knowledge of Jesus came from what I learned.  It was more academic than experiential.  It was revealed to me by “flesh and blood.”

The difference between the “people” to whom Jesus first referred in this Gospel (as well as the pre-renewal me) and Peter and the Apostles was that the Apostles experienced a desire for Jesus which resulted in a deep understanding of who Jesus was, rather than an incorrect or superficial knowledge.  Their desire was evidenced by the fact that they made a daily decision to keep following Jesus.  We know from what we read in John 6:66 and Matthew 19:22 that at various times for various reasons followers of Jesus could and would stop following him.  I have the free will to stop following Jesus anytime. My desire to keep following Jesus is a cooperation with the grace which our “heavenly Father” pours out upon me, as it was also for Peter and the Apostles.  As a result of my faithfulness, I experience a depth of God’s love for me personally which takes my knowledge of who Jesus is to truly heartfelt heights, far surpassing my merely human – revealed by “flesh and blood” – knowledge of who he is.

That’s why whenever I take the time to assess my faithfulness to my baptismal calling, the first and most important never-to-be-omitted question I ask myself is “What was my level of desire for God today?”

Our Redeemer is praying for us

One short sentence from this past Sunday’s Gospel reading has been reverberating in my mind all week.  Jesus, speaking to the Father about his apostles, said in John 17:9a:

I pray for them.

Jesus prayed for his apostles, and he continues today to pray for all of us, as we are told in Hebrews 7:25:

…[Jesus] is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.

As I repeatedly think about Jesus, the King of Kings, praying for me, I am profoundly humbled.  I almost immediately begin to think of how easily I neglect Jesus amid the busyness of my life, or how I selfishly prefer to do things other than pray or read the Bible.  Jesus’ words from Matthew 26:40 echo in my mind:

So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?

I am surely grateful to Jesus that he continues to pray for me, that he is faithful even though I am so often unfaithful to him.

Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful, have mercy on me.

UPDATE:  From the Catechism:

667  Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

From this Sunday’s readings

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus describes our salvation – the kingdom of God, which begins on earth – in these terms:

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.

He uses language which seems steeped in mystery.  I enjoy attempting to explore the unfathomable depths of mystery.  Here Jesus is touching on the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  I want to understand as much as I possibly can about the Blessed Trinity, because my destiny as a faithful Catholic is to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love.

What is the “cycle of Trinitarian love?”  In the early pages of his book, My Beloved Son, Fr Lawrence Lovasik SVD says this about Jesus:

Jesus Christ is called “The Word.”  The Greek term which it renders, logos, means not only “word,” which is its nearest equivalent in English, but the thought which is expressed by the word,…

Based upon this, he offers an enlightening explanation of the Trinity, describing the cycle of Trinitarian love:

God is the fullness of being, the limitless ocean of all perfection and of all life.  He is Being Itself, the necessary Being, subsisting of Himself, and possessing the fullness of all perfection.

There is in God an altogether spiritual fatherhood.  He is Father, the principle of all the divine life in the Trinity.

Being Infinite Intelligence, God perfectly comprehends Himself.  In a single act, He sees all that He is – all that is in Him, the fullness of His perfections – and, in one thought, in one “word” that exhausts all His knowledge, He expresses this infinite knowledge to Himself.  This thought conceived by the eternal intelligence, this utterance whereby God expresses Himself, is the Divine Word.

(…)

The Father begets the Word because He communicates to this Word a nature not only like, but identical with his own.  Scripture calls the Word, the Son.

(…)

Because this Son is perfect, He possesses with the Father all the divine perfections except the property of “being Father.”…the Son ever dwells in the bosom of the Father who begets Him.  He dwells there both by unity of nature and also by the love which They mutually bear to one another.  From this love proceeds, as from one principle, the Holy Spirit, the substantial love of the Father and the Son.

Saint John Paul II summarized the cycle of Trinitarian love this way:

The Father begets the Son by loving him; the Son is begotten by the Father, letting himself be loved and receiving from him the capacity to love; the Holy Spirit is love given in total gratuitousness by the Father, received with full gratitude by the Son, and returned by him to the Father.  (General Audience 29-July-1998)

How do I know that my destiny as a faithful Catholic is to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love?  Because that is what Jesus is telling us in this Gospel, which is confirmed by what we hear St Peter tell us in today’s Second Reading:

For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.

Baptized in 1956 by the late Rev Albert Kaczmarek at Holy Trinity Church in Nanticoke PA

Baptized in 1956 by the late Rev Albert Kaczmarek at Holy Trinity Church in Nanticoke PA

Jesus willingly suffered and died because it was the only way in which he could lead me to God.  At my Baptism, I was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I was cleansed from the sin by which I deserved eternal separation from God, and I was freed to abide forever in the cycle of Trinitarian love.  All I need to do is to be faithful, to love Jesus and keep his commandments, as he tells us at the beginning of today’s Gospel.  Commandments like “love one another as I have loved you,” “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me,” “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you,” “if you deny me in public, I will deny you before our Father in heaven,” “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”  Challenging, eh?

What happens if I am unfaithful, if I don’t keep the commandments?  If I fail in a serious way to keep the commandments of Jesus, I commit mortal sin.  Here’s some of what the Catechism teaches about mortal sin:

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

When I prefer to indulge my own selfishness instead of loving Jesus and keeping his commandments, I reject God’s love and Jesus’ saving sacrifice, and I no longer have the opportunity to enter the cycle of Trinitarian love, until I am reconciled to God through the Sacrament of Penance.

So, what I need to do is eagerly and ardently follow Jesus’ instructions at the end of today’s Gospel:

Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Going an entire day without uttering a prayer shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Going for days at a time without reading the Bible shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Not being able to share my faith with others (as St Peter instructed us today) shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Spending hours upon hours in front of the TV shows how weak my love for Jesus must be (even if it is EWTN!).  Wasting on lottery tickets or at Mohegan Sun the money with which the Lord has blessed me shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Denying by contraception the new life which the Lord wants me to bring forth shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  Viewing pornography shows how weak my love for Jesus must be.  There are so many ways to indulge my selfishness; so many ways for me to fall out of love with Jesus.

I need to love Jesus.  My love for Jesus should be growing deeper and deeper as time goes on.  When I fail, Jesus wants me to humble myself and appeal to his mercy by making a good Confession.  And then continue striving to love him more and more.

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.

Take-aways from the Sunday Mass readings

Several lines from the Mass readings for this Sunday really got my attention:

“…I will never forget you.”  (Isaiah 49:15)

I should always remember this amazing promise of our loving God.  In return, I must strive to remember Jesus frequently.  When I forget or neglect the Lord, I begin my descent into the abyss of selfishness.  That’s why I need to continually cultivate a deeper desire for Jesus my Savior. After all, he is always desiring me!

“Only in God is my soul at rest….Pour out your hearts before him.”  (Psalm 62:2,9)

When I pray the Psalms in the morning, I experience all the stresses of life temporarily melting away.  During that time of intimacy with the Lord, the responsibilities of being a husband, father, son, brother, worker, homeowner, neighbor, parishioner, citizen, etc., are all set aside as I give priority to my primary role – that of a child of God called to communion with Him forever.  My soul truly rests in the Lord.  I experience joy, and I am free to pour out my heart before Him in praise, gratitude and repentance.  I come to my Heavenly Father and, in childlike eagerness (or sometimes in desperation!), ask Him for all the blessings I seek, especially for my loved ones.

“…he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts…”  (1 Corinthians 4:5)

This is a reminder to me that I am called to ongoing conversion, to become perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect – not by my own efforts alone, but by requesting and cooperating with that grace which Jesus so eagerly wants to pour into my life.  I need to daily examine the attitude of my heart in each of the personal encounters and situations which I experience.  Growth in self-giving love should always be my goal.

“…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”  (Matthew 6:33)

A tremendous challenge.  God wants me to love Him with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  He wants me to be like Him, to love like Him, to have mercy like Him.  Jesus wants me to prefer Him over all else.