In the letter to the Philippians, we are reminded of problems that have vexed creation since the beginning: People are more concerned about their stomachs than they are their souls. People focus on being popular instead of doing what is right and just. People build up earthly treasure instead of heavenly riches. It was true in Noah’s day, in Jesus’ day, and it is true in the year 2016.
As we continue our Lenten journey, we might well ask ourselves the question, “Who or what is our god?” For some of us, it might be food or living well. For others, their god is in fame and popularity. And for still others, it may be things of this world that give pleasure.
For Abram, despite his own personal wealth and influence, recognized that he needed to put his trust and focus on God. Because of his unwavering faith, God rewarded him, but more importantly, entered into a special relationship with Abram. This is important for us to realize: we do not need to be faithful so that God will reward us or give us things; rather, we are faithful because in so doing, we develop a close relationship with God.
This is what the new evangelization is all about: becoming close to God so that we can truly count on him as our friend. For many people, God is distant (or rather, they are distant from God). During this Lenten season, we are invited to draw closer to God in order have a personal relationship with him. Just as we have close human friendships, so too God wants us to have a close spiritual relationship.
The scene on Mount Tabor in which Jesus is speaking to Moses and Elijah can be a reality for us as well. As Peter says, “It is good for us to be here.” Indeed it is. We should be close to God and to those holy men and women who have gone before us. But it doesn’t just happen: all relationships take work. Spiritual ones are no different. They take time and energy and they need to evolve and deepen as the years pass.
During this second week of Lent, in your prayer time, ask God what steps you need to take to deepen your relationship with him. Where is your friendship with God weak? What steps do you need to take in order to deepen or strengthen your relationship with God?
It is by happy coincidence that while the secular world celebrates Valentine’s Day, the Church celebrates the First Sunday of Lent because both feasts illustrate the presence of God’s love in the world. Valentine’s Day commemorates the love that two people have for one another and Lent reminds us of the love that God has for his people. Both of these “loves” are rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
The life of Jesus shows us how much God cares for us. In turn, we are invited to share that love with those around us. When two people are committed to one another, they will do anything for each other—even to the point of death. In other words, love entails sacrifice. If we truly love someone, we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in order that they might have life.
While some may think this to be this rather strong language, consider what happens when we love someone: We compromise; we put their feelings, wants, needs, and desires first. In turn, they (hopefully) do the same for us. However, sometimes the relationship is unequal (parent and child, for example). Even then, we sacrifice our time, our energy, our money, our needs, so that the more vulnerable person might have a good life. But the point is not how much we sacrifice or compromise, but that we put the other person first.
This is the point of the temptations that Jesus endured. Jesus so loved his Father that he was willing to forego food, wealth, and power in order to remain faithful to his commitment and mission. What are we willing to give up in order to be faithful to those we love? When we truly love someone, we want only the best for them and we make a conscious decision to help them to become the person God has called them to be, even if it means that they increase and we decrease.
May the beginning of our Lenten journey challenge us to become more Christ-like and more loving not only to those who are significant in our lives, but to everyone we meet.
In this week’s readings we are challenged to vocation. We are invited not only to pray for vocations, but to pray that our particular vocation will be lived out according to God’s will. We often think of vocations as being for the ordained; however, there is only one vocation: the universal call to holiness lived out in four distinct but related ways.
All people begin their vocation as a single person. Some remain single for a short period of time; others for their entire lives. A vast majority of people make the transition to the married state, while a few become religious or pursue an ordained ministry. In all of these states of life, we are called to give witness to God’s presence. No vocation is greater than another; rather, they are different means to get closer to God.
In the Gospel, Jesus commissions Simon Peter to be a “fisher of men”. We, too, are called to invite others to experience God’s love and mercy. This is what the new evangelization is all about: Inviting others to encounter Christ.
There are many ways to do this. Probably the most effective is to be Christ for others. In other words, we must live Christ in all that we do and say. Our actions speak louder than words. Ask yourself, “Do I walk the talk? Do people see Christ within me?” We are encouraged to educate ourselves about who Christ is for us. As we become more like the Master, people notice. As we grow in holiness, people want to follow along. Secondly, we should try to associate with others who are on a faith journey. The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” can be taken in a positive sense. If we associate with likeminded individuals, it helps to shape and form our outlook on life. When we hang out with holy people we become holier. When we associate with those who call us to conversion, we become converted. A third way is to talk to people about what God has done or is doing in your life. Don’t be afraid to share the Good News and encourage others to seek out Christ. Not that you have to become a prophet or televangelist, but suggest to others that when they are seeking answers to life’s problems, God can provide them. Recognize that all we have is gift. God gives us talent and possessions in order that we can have a good life and lead others to Christ. Don’t squander your gifts. Give credit where it is due and encourage others to do the same.
This Wednesday begins our Lenten journey. What are some of your goals and desires? How do you want to be transformed this Lent and what will you do to make this happen?
As we come the end of the first month of 2016, the readings remind us of how much God cares for his people. The reading from Jeremiah tells us that God knew us in the womb. Each of us is formed with a purpose and given a mission. However, because of free will, we can choose to accept that mission or reject it.
Our ultimate mission or purpose is to love. The beautiful reading from First Corinthians challenges us to love one another. Yet, do we understand love? For some, love is an emotion or feeling. We often confuse love with admiration or appreciation (“I love Adele’s music.” Or, “I love the color purple.”). The biblical concept of love goes far beyond mere admiration. Rather, love implies a deep connection or symbiotic relationship between two (or more) individuals. It is a recognition of the reverence that we have for the God who created us.
When I love someone, I see them as created in the image and likeness of God. That person helps me to be a better person and helps me to see the presence of God. Occasionally, I may be challenged by that person. He or she may even cause me to become angry or frustrated. But if I truly love them, I will recognize that they are looking out for my best interest and want me to become more God-like.
God truly loves us and wants us to succeed. In turn, we need to use our gifts and talents to make God’s presence known in the world around us. As you reflect on this week’s scriptures, ask yourself, “Have I been a prophet who promotes God’s love? And do I truly try to love each person with whom I come into contact by seeing them as being in the image and likeness of God?”
This past Friday (January 22nd) marked the 43rd anniversary of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in this country. Since that time, millions of infants have died in the name of “a woman’s right to choose.” In fact, more infants have been aborted in 43 years (about 56 million) than soldiers have died in all of the major conflicts in which the United States has fought in the past 240 years (about 2 million).
The second reading from today’s scriptures reminds us that each part of the body is necessary. In fact, Paul reminds us, “Indeed the parts that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary….If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it….” In other words, the most vulnerable among us (the unborn, the aged, the other-abled, those with diminished intellectual capacity) should be treated with honor and respect. It is often said that one can tell the health of a society by the way in which it treats the most vulnerable of its members.
I realize that the abortion issue is filled with a lot of polemics. People on both sides are very passionate. However, as Catholic Christians, we need to ask ourselves: What does it say about us as human beings if we dispose of those we consider “useless” or “a burden?” I saw an internet photo which showed a wolf pack in motion. The pack put the weakest members at the head of the caravan while the strongest pulled up the rear and were interspersed among the other members of the pack. The caravan moved only as fast as the weaker members chose to go.
What would our society look like if we followed the lead of our weaker members instead of abandoning them or worse yet, killing them off? The first reading from Nehemiah tells the story of how the people of Israel reacted when they heard the reading of the law. For the Israelites, the law of God was their guidepost and their salvation. It was not complicated or convoluted. So too in our day: God’s law is simple and straight-forward: “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we truly love someone, we’re not going to kill him or her. Abortion, no matter how one chooses to justify it, is the deliberate killing of another human life.
But there is always hope. For 23 years I have heard many confessions. Some of the most poignant and heart-felt were from those who confessed having procured an abortion. They recognized that they had made a terrible decision and in the process committed sin against humanity and against God. However, our God is a merciful God who always holds out the hand of friendship and forgiveness. We merely have to take hold of it in order to be pulled back into God’s loving embrace.
In your prayer this week, pray for those who have had an abortion (or are contemplating having one). Pray for those who were aborted. In particular, pray for yourself that you may come to know God’s will for you in order that you may exercise your particular gifts and talents wisely.
Every person from the weakest to the strongest, from the least intelligent to the genius, is important in the Body of Christ. May we come to know God’s presence in the world around us, especially in and through the most vulnerable of our society.