Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Memorial of Saint Martha

On our refrigerator is a little card with a picture of Jesus. On the back it says, "Lord, help me to remember that nothing will happen to me that we can’t handle together!"
I thought of this card as I reflected on Martha in today’s gospel. Martha, I think, is like so many of us today. As Jesus said, she’s "anxious and worried." She’s also not paying attention to Jesus, which may very well be the reason she’s so stressed out in the first place. On the other hand, Martha’s sister Mary, who took the time to be with Jesus and listen to him, is calm and at peace. As Jesus said, she had the "better part."

Perhaps something we’re meant to learn from this is that whenever we’re "anxious and worried" like Martha, we need to be like Mary and spend some time with Jesus. One thing I’ve been trying to do lately, first thing in the morning, is ask Jesus to help me turn all of my worried thoughts into opportunities for prayer, so that instead of dwelling on them and getting more stressed, Jesus might shed his light upon them and give me some of his peace. Through this little prayer, Jesus…

…reminds me that he’s in charge…

…invites me to hand all my troubles over to him…

…and, like the little card on my refrigerator, assures me that together, there’s nothing that he and I can’t handle.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ordinary 17 Monday

When he was nine, my son wasn’t always wild about school. He wished that everything he needs to know could be downloaded into his head instantaneously like a computer file. To him, that would be a whole lot easier and quicker than spending years in the classroom. And it would be! But the reality is that educating a human being takes both time and patience. As does our being transformed into a saint.
Like my son’s dream of instant knowledge, we sometimes want God to “zap us” and make us into an instant saint. We want immediate holiness. We look for an experience or a retreat or a homily that will fix us once and for all, getting rid of every temptation and solving every problem. But that doesn’t happen, does it? Christian maturity doesn’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are saints. We need both time and patience.

Jesus reminds us of this in his parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. His audience was wondering why the kingdom he preached hadn’t already taken over the world. Jesus explained that the kingdom starts small and will grow only with time- both in the world, and in our lives and hearts. That’s why we need to be patient: measuring our growth by the inch, not the mile; taking things one day at a time; and never getting discouraged, by holding on to hope. St. Alphonsus Liguori put it well: “It’s by patience,” he said, “that we gain heaven!”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

While passing an airport bookstore, I had a few minutes to spare and thought I’d look to see what was on offer in the religion section. As I browsed, I passed Fiction, Romance, Business, Bestsellers, History, Children’s, even Psychology- but no “Religion” or “Spirituality” or anything like that. Frankly, I was rather surprised! But at the same time, I was reminded that our culture doesn’t often encourage us to think beyond the “here-and-now”- which, of course, our religion does.

How often do we think beyond the “here-and-now?” A factoid I read recently said that 64% of Americans today believe that they’ll go to heaven. However, I wonder how often these folks actually think about heaven? Or how much time they spend preparing for heaven?

The truth is, Jesus wants us to prepare for heaven. In fact, he wants us to make preparing for heaven the top priority in our life. If you’re a Catholic of a certain age who grew up with the old Baltimore Catechism, you’ll remember that one of the first questions was: “Why did God make you?” And the answer was: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” Very simple, but very true. God made us for heaven, and this life is meant to be a preparation for it.

Lots of people these days talk about planning for “the future.” However, when they speak about the future, they’re speaking about retirement. And that’s fine. But as Christians, the most important future we need to plan for is not retirement, but heaven. Isn’t that what Jesus says to us in today’s gospel? In his parables of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, he speaks about spending all of one’s resources to gain the kingdom of heaven- a kingdom whose fullness we’ll encounter not in this life, but the next. Because even though we can sometimes taste a little bit of heaven on earth, it’s only after we die that we can hope to experience the real thing.

When my son was in kindergarten, he said to me: “Daddy, I learned at Mass that earth isn’t our real home. Earth is like a hotel. Our real home is in heaven!” And he was right, of course. Our real home is in heaven with God. It’s this home that we need to spend this life preparing for.

One way God helps prepare us for this life is by testing us. God tests us by presenting us with choices, because choices determine our commitments, and commitments shape our character, and it’s our character we’ll take with us into eternity. In today’s first reading from First Kings, we heard how God tested Solomon by offering him anything he might ask for. Solomon passed his test by refusing selfish gifts of power, riches, or long life, and choosing instead wisdom, that he might better serve God’s people.

God tests us in similar ways, every single day. In fact, everything that happens to us is a test, because everything that happens to us, happens for a reason. Remember: God is in control. This means that everything that happens God has allowed to happen. And everything he allows to happen he does so for a reason- often so that we can grow by being tested. We heard St. Paul speak of this in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans. He said: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Why? So we can be “glorified” by being “conformed to the image of his Son.”

St. Paul is saying here that God allows all things to happen so that we can become more like his Son, and spend eternity with him in heaven. This includes not just the good things, but the bad things as well. Because it’s through the bad things that we can often grow the most, by facing the most difficult choices. That’s why God allows them to happen. As St. Augustine once wrote, “God would rather bring good out of evil than to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

If we make the right choices, God will bring good out of evils we face. For instance, they challenge us to completely surrender ourselves to God, by showing us that we aren’t in control. They give us opportunities to exercise forgiveness, grow in compassion, and learn humility. They invite us to reconsider our priorities, as so many people did after 9/11. And they remind us that heaven is our true home- that place where every tear is wiped away, and suffering is no more.

When we’re in the midst of suffering, it’s very easy for us to lose sight of this. I recently read a devotional which spoke about a bird that had flown into a house. To get it to back outdoors where it belonged, the author tried to “shoo” it with a broom. The bird, however, became frightened. It thought it was being attacked or punished, when all along the guy with the broom was trying to do it a favor. Sometimes God needs to whack us with a broom, if you know what I mean. At the time, we may think we’re being attacked or punished, but in reality God is doing us a favor, acting in love to get us moving in the right direction- the pathway to heaven.

Regardless of what our culture might tell us, heaven is our true home. Heaven is where God wants us to be for all eternity. And heaven is what God wants us to prepare for-beginning today. This is what motivates the choices God makes for us. Let’s pray for the grace that the choices we make, will be choices that lead us back home to him. As St. Therese the Little Flower once said, “I will do anything for heaven!”

Memorial of Saints Joaquim and Anne

I imagine that most of us are familiar with the popular slogan, “WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?” It’s a good question for us to ask when facing any choice. Today, however, we might ask ourselves the question, “WWJGD: What Would Jesus’ Grandparents Do?”

I say this because today we celebrate the memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus. It’s from St. Anne that Mary learned to be a mother, and it’s for good reason that Anne is now honored as the patron saint of all Christian mothers.

I think that Joachim and Anne’s legacy of parenthood has much to teach all of us.

Tradition has it that when Anne learned from an angel that she was to have a child, she promised to dedicate that child to God’s service forever. That may sound quaint and old-fashioned to many modern ears, but if you think about it, many parents still choose to dedicate their children to something today. Unfortunately, they dedicate them, not to the service of God, but to the pursuit of worldly goals such as money, prestige, and power.

Indeed, all of us need to choose what we will dedicate our lives to, and it’s a choice we need to renew each and every day. As we consider our options, we might ask ourselves: “What would Jesus’ grandparents do?” I think they would tell us to pursue, not to a lifetime of worldly success, but an eternity of blessedness with God. Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Feast of Saint James the Apostle

Saint James, Saint John, and their mother, from what we heard in today’s gospel, approached Jesus with a terribly selfish request. They wanted positions of power and prestige in his kingdom- something that would place them head and shoulders over their friends and fellow apostles.

It’s easy for us to cast stones at James and John. At the same time, however, most of us are probably guilty of having made selfish requests of God ourselves. In a sense, then, it’s kind of nice to know that people who eventually became saints did exactly the same thing.

It’s even nicer to know, however, they with God’s grace they were able to move beyond their selfishness. The lives of James and John show us that as our relationship with God matures, selfishness is replaced by service- a desire to serve Jesus, who himself came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. For his part, St. James- whose feast we celebrate today- did indeed achieve that greatness he desired. But he did so only through service- by drinking the chalice of Jesus, and giving his life for him.

Today is an opportunity for us to assess the state of our relationship with the Lord. Are we selfish, or servants? If all we’re asking for is "What can I get?" perhaps we should ask for one more thing: A servant’s heart.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ordinary 16 Thursday

When little kids don’t want to hear something, they’ll stick their fingers in their ears and mutter “Blah, blah, blah” to drown out whatever is being said to them. We adults are more sophisticated in how we tune things out. But we do it, nevertheless.

We need to appreciate this in order to understand Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. On the surface, they sound like Jesus spoke in parables to confuse people on purpose, and that only an elite few would comprehend his teaching. And that’s partly right: Not everyone does comprehend Jesus’ teaching. But not because Jesus wants to confuse them. It’s because people just don’t want to hear.

If you recall, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah. And throughout history, the message of God’s prophets has been rejected time and time again. They spoke challenging words, calling on people to change their ways and turn their lives around. And folks generally don’t like to hear that sort of thing. So they tuned out.

People tune out Jesus’ message too, and we can be just as guilty as anyone else. Jesus calls us to believe in a God we cannot see, carry a cross and suffer with him, love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and be humble, selfless, servants. We hear these things and sometimes we want to stick our fingers in our ears and go “blah, blah, blah.”

But ignorance isn’t bliss, when it comes to the Word of God. As hard as they may be to hear, they’re the words of truth and life. “Blessed are your ears, because they hear,” said the Lord. Jesus invites us today to take our fingers from our ears, so we can “understand with our hearts,” “be converted” and be healed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ordinary 16 Wednesday

With a name like “Hurd,” it’s evident that my heritage lies more with livestock, than it does with agriculture. Thus, maybe I can blame my ancestors for my “black thumb.” Seriously, the only thing I seem to grow well are dandelions.

            Nevertheless, I do know enough to appreciate that not all soil is the same. A Nigerian parishioner once described his come country to me as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” All one needs to do there, he insisted, is plant seeds, after which anything and everything grows beautifully! Most soil, however, is of a different quality. To be profitable, it requires weeding, plowing, watering, and fertilizing- over and over again! Great effort is necessary.

            Isn’t this implied in Jesus’ parable of the seeds and the soil? Much of the scattered seed of God’s Word falls on soil that’s either thin, thorny, or hard as a rock. Don’t those conditions describe all of us at times? Aren’t we all, on occasion, resistant, dismissive, or deaf to God’s Word? But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Poor soil and become good soil. If we change our thinking and our priorities, God’s Word can change our lives.

            Such change may require hard work. Jesus assures us, however, that the fruits of our labors, will bring forth great fruits of the Spirit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

When I reflect on the witness of St. Mary Magdalene, one thing that always impresses me is the she “kept the faith”- even when “keeping the faith” was terribly hard; even when “keeping the faith” didn’t seem to make much sense.

While Jesus hung dying on the cross, and after most of Jesus’ friends had run away out of fear, she stayed and kept watch. We can only imagine the thoughts, feelings, and temptations that swirled around her that day: anger, confusion, terror, helplessness, loneliness, resentment.

It would have been very easy for her to have run away too. But she didn’t. She stayed; she “kept the faith.”Certainly out of courage; and maybe because she knew that at that moment, faith was the only thing she had left; faith was the one thing she really needed. Her reward? She saw the risen Jesus- something that those who had run away had to wait to experience.

The witness of St. Mary Magdalene can inspire us to “keep the faith”- when things seem their bleakest, when our friends aren’t there for us, when God himself seems to be distant or indifferent. Because as she learned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just like the first rays of the sun on Easter morning.