If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Some 20 years ago when my son was a teen, one of the things we used to do together was watch the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. One episode in particular keeps coming to me these days. In that episode, the Starship Enterprise had gone through a temporal rift that shifted them into an “alternate reality”, a much darker one. Some who were dead in the previous reality now were not dead. Friends were now enemies and enemies were now friends. No seemed aware of the shift, except for the intuitive bartender, Guinan, who somehow knew and kept repeating, “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.
In some Christian circles, any form of suffering, especially if it follows a good deed, is seen as an “attack”. But, I think we do God a disservice if we are too quick to attribute these things to the evil one. I have often thought of what Sirach says about suffering:
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” [Sirach 2:1-5]
Read this again: “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” How many of us know the truth of this first-hand! St. Theresa of Avila, once complained to the Lord about a trial she was undergoing, to which Jesus replied, “Teresa, that’s how I treat all my friends.” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, (the disciples) asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
It is important to read the signs of the times, to watch and pray. Something is definitely afoot in our day. Anyone who follows the Church-approved apparitions of Our Lady beginning with those to Catherine Labouré in 1830 through to the present day, will comprehend that Our Lady is the new John the Baptist calling us all to repentance. She is warning us of the consequences of our sins and exhorting us to do penance for the salvation of souls. And we must not forget what Jesus told St. Faustina: we are living in the days of mercy that precede the Day of Judgment.
Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…
I’m sure we have all heard the cliché line that a counsellor or therapist might use: “How did that make you feel?” The popular theory is that if we can identify our feelings, we can communicate more effectively and our relationships will improve. To paraphrase a 60s pop song, society is hooked on feelings.
Isaiah 60:5-6 …the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
One of the enduring Christmas traditions is the exchange of gifts. This lovely tradition, when celebrated rightly, brings joy—often more joy to the giver even than the receiver. I think the closer we get to Christ, the more pleasure we derive from giving. This is a sign that we are becoming more like him. God’s generosity knows no limits. At times, we are permitted to participate in his generosity and it fills us with holy joy.
God’s gifts are manifold, simple, and free. So much so that we often take them for granted. Once, right before Christmas Eve Mass, I thought to ask the Lord for a gift I was very much in need of—the gift of self-control. As I asked the Lord for this gift after Communion on that holy night, an infused knowledge came to me, as if God were saying, “I gave you that gift years ago…you just haven’t opened it yet.” It was one of those moments when the scales fall from your eyes and the truth can no longer be denied. Of course, I received that gift years ago—on the day of my confirmation. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Have I really left it unopened for over 40 years? Shame on me!
Matthew 24:42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
Most people in the secular world—and many believers as well—are afraid of death. Certainly a good deal of money is spent in first world countries in an attempt to live longer and put off the inevitable. In the past, some people even experimented with cryogenics so that they could be frozen in the instant after (or even before) death and thawed out once a cure was discovered for whatever had killed them. There is always a buck to be made off people’s desire to avoid death.
I recently watched a series of short videos by Jeff Cavins on the Rabbi-Disciple Relationship*. In the last video of the series, Cavins quotes Archbishop Fulton Sheen as saying that the reason we’re so afraid of dying is that “we have not practiced for it.” It is not difficult to picture Archbishop Sheen saying that, with his characteristic twinkle. But what did he mean?
Colossians 1: 12-20 Brothers and sisters: Give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
I have found throughout my life that the Holy Spirit teaches in themes. I love that He does that. We come across something that speaks to us, and then some unrelated source confirms it and the lesson continues through a series of seemingly unrelated experiences. When that happens, I have learned that it is time to pay attention.
Luke 21:9-19 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
The Mass readings in November are somber in tone—dire even. The fact that the month preceding Advent offers Mass readings that are meant to shake us up, is an annual reminder that followers of Christ should guard against getting too comfortable; the Lord, through the Church, is warning us against complacency. We are not meant for this world and so the world will necessarily hate us. I heard a bishop say once that if you’re fitting in quite well with the world, you’re doing it wrong! Those of us striving to live “in the world, but not of it” would do well to check ourselves often. The pull of the world is subtle; before we know it, we can be pulled under! We must remain vigilant!
However, if we only look at the warnings in the November readings we are missing something crucial. Read again the last half of the above Scripture passage. The Lord is promising to be with us in all our trials in a powerful way. He promises wisdom to confound our persecutors; he promises the greatest reward of all for what we suffer in his name—eternal life with him.
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)
If we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we would see miracles. Imagine! What can this mean for us who, like the man in Mark 9:24, can only pray, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”
I often tell people, “Pray, ‘Jesus I trust in you.’ Pray it till you mean it!” What I have discovered is that trust in God is more than a prayer, it is a many-faceted virtue forged in the fire of trials. In my experience, the facets of trust include detachment, humility, surrender, and probably many more, but these are the three I want to expand on in this article.
Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten (lepers) made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18)
Here in Canada, since our harvest comes earlier, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I once heard a priest say something very challenging in his Thanksgiving homily. Essentially he said that gratitude to God is more important than any other pious act—including prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Many of us have come to the BSP in response to a felt call to increased prayer and fasting. Sometimes it is easy to feel that if we live the rule to the best of our ability, we have done what we should. But if our practice does not flow from a grateful heart, even if we manage to live the Rule perfectly, our sacrificial gifts will carry the stench of ingratitude. How can God be pleased?