What are we clinging to today?

When I was reflecting on these readings today, I couldn’t help but think of the short story “The Great Divorce” written by C.S. Lewis.  This short allegory is about heaven and hell.  Several people are invited to come up to the mountain, i.e. heaven.  All they have to do is let go of that thing or person they are holding on to.  The tragedy is that the narrator watches several people desire heaven, but unable to make the journey because they were not able to let go of their worldly attachments.

Our readings today challenge us to ponder this question: What are the things that we cling to today? Is it a person? Is it a place? Is it an attachment to sin, where we find ourselves praying like Saint Augustine, “Lord free me from this sin, but not yet.” All of us struggle with our own sins, and so we all can relate in some way to what Saint Augustine is saying her. Is it our possessions, our ipads, tablets, iphones, or our cars? This is major challenge for me.  Sometimes I have the choice between picking up my breviary for prayer or my Ipad for checking sports.  I wish I could say that 100% of the time, I chose the prayer route.  But too often I cling to sports instead of my relationship with the Lord.  My prayer is that I continue to grow here and continue to rely on Jesus and not to hold onto my attachment to sports.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast we celebrate today, reminds us of a profound spiritual truth.  When we grasp on to the worldly things instead of our Lord, we are led into anxiety, fear, and sadness.  But, when we grasp on to the Lord, when it is Jesus that centers us, regardless of the tribulations, we are filled with peace, joy, and love.

Today Jesus is asking us two things.  First, he is asking us if we are willing to cling to him.  Second, he is asking us if we are willing to let go of all those other attachments that keep us from him.  Every one of us here wants to follow Jesus.  What are the things in my own life that keep me from him?

Let us respond joyfully to this question today and say, “Jesus you are all that I need. Jesus, truly receiving you in the Eucharist is all I need.  Help us Jesus to keep you at the center of our lives.  Lord Jesus help me to cherish our relationship more than anything else in the world.”  When we receive Jesus today let us say in our hearts, “Jesus, I have decided to be your disciple. I am going to stay with you all the way to the end. I will anchor my life in you.”



When Jesus says our Name

In the Gospel today, Mary is at the empty tomb, and the resurrection has already taken place.  But she doesn’t know it yet.  She is distraught and full of tears.  The word that the Gospel uses to tell us that Mary is crying is the same verb used when we hear about the death of Lazarus; her brother.  So, we know she is really upset.

Then, we are told that two angels ask her why she is weeping and she responds, because “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where that have laid him.”  But Jesus was right behind Mary and asked her, “Who are you looking for?”, but she did not yet recognize that it was Jesus talking to her. Finally, Jesus calls her out by her Aramaic name and says, Mary! And she knew it was Jesus.

For me, it begs the question, how is it the case that Mary, who knew Jesus so well could not recognize Jesus.  The key is that she was distraught.  Mary was so filled with sadness, fear, and anxiety that she was sobbing uncontrollably.  For someone in this state, it is difficult to see clearly.

But, what I find beautiful about this scene is the way that Jesus says Mary’s name and makes his presence known.  It’s not angry Jesus.  He’s not shouting, “Mary, its me!” He’s also not speaking with disappointment.  Instead, he says her name with the utmost love and intimacy.  How do we know this?  Because, Jesus used her Aramaic name.  This is how we know that Jesus is speaking with love and intimacy.  He is happy to see Mary, but he doesn’t want her to be afraid.  He wants her to trust in him, his love, and to be able to let go of him so that he can give her something more; the Holy Spirit.

Names are important because this is where we receive our uniqueness and our personal identity.  So, when Jesus speaks Mary’s name, it is a profound image of him loving Mary and affirming who she is in his eyes.

What do we hear today when God says our name?  Can we hear Jesus saying our Name?  When he does, do we feel loved and affirmed, or, do we feel anxious and scared?  Let us be like Mary Magdalene today. Let us open our ears and hearts to Christ, like Mary, so that when he speaks to us, we can receive the love and comfort of our Lord.  When we receive the Eucharist today, let us hear Jesus say, “[Insert Name], I love you, I’m proud of you, and I will always be with you.” Let it inspire us to bring Jesus to those we meet today.



God will give you the words!

Friday 14th Week of Ordinary Time
Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
Psalm 37, Mathew 10:16-23

When I felt called to be a priest the idea of preaching terrified me. I told my buddy Nate, “How can the Lord call me to be a priest, I would have to preach!?” Nate responded, “Stephen, if God is calling you to be a priest, he will give you the words you need to say. He will be with you” I have never forgotten that. I think the reason for my anxiety towards preaching was that it meant I would open my heart to talk about Christ. I would have to show my vulnerability.

How comfortable are we talking about Christ to others? Is evangelization easy? It can be challenging for us to talk about how Christ is acting in our lives, or to talk with others about Christ because it involves risk.

This past Sunday I had the chance to see my friend Nate, who I only see about 2x a year, but when we do they are the best of times. We were playing tennis and I was about to serve the ball, and I wanted to ask Nate, “how is your relationship with Christ?” I almost didn’t because I was afraid of making things awkward. We proceeded to have an awesome conversation about how Christ is acting in each of our lives.

In the Gospel today, we are told all of the reasons why we should not evangelize. Christ warns, there will be persecution, there will be rejection, and you might lose your family and friends all because of me. But then he says, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. This is what Evangelization is about, to share with others how God is always with us, how much God loves us, and how much God has changed our lives.

Today, we are challenged to respond to the call to evangelize by sharing our faith with those around us. Yes, we might be afraid, but we know that he is with us.

Finally, as we go out into the world today, let us hold this prayer in our hearts: “Jesus you want everyone to receive the awesome gift of your redemption! Help me to put away worry so that this life of yours can flow out of me and touch the people you put in my path.” (from the Word Among Us). How beautiful it is that Christ can use us to change the hearts of others. We just have to allow him.



The Power of Forgiveness

What do we do when people hurt us?  During my time in seminary, I had an experience with a brother that caused me pain and  anger.

Unfortunately, I allowed this anger to affect me deeply.  I held on to all of the interior pain and anger that I couldn’t forgive my brother.  My unforgiveness cost us our friendship.

Our readings today challenge us to confront our anger.  In the first reading, Sarah is hurt that her husband Abraham has had a son with their servant Hagar.  It is important to remember, however, that Sarah told Abraham to have relations with Hagar so that they could have a son.  But now, ruled by her anger and jealousy, she demands that Hagar be sent away.

In our Gospel, Jesus heals two men possessed by demons.  He sends the demons out of the men and into a herd of swine, causing the swine to be killed.  Jesus does this in the land of the Gentiles.  This is important because it was only the Jews that considered them unclean and unfit for eating.  As a result, we hear some of the saddest words in the Gospel: “they begged him to leave their district” (Mt 8:34).  They couldn’t accept Jesus, not because he had performed a miracle, but because he had killed a herd of swine.  In their anger they couldn’t receive the Lord.

Anger has three grave negative effects.  First, it causes division amongst our friends and family.  This we saw in the first reading.  Sarah’s anger towards Hagar, results in Abraham being separated from his son Ishmael.  Secondly, anger can lead to division in oneself.  Sometimes it can be harder to forgive ourselves of our own failings than it can be to receive God’s mercy. Finally, the third negative effect of anger is that it leads to spiritual destruction, anger can lead to the denial of Jesus and his love.

Anger is something we all deal with. To avoid these negative pitfalls we have to stay close to the Eucharist.  As Fr. Mark said so beautifully on Sunday the Eucharist must be the foundation of our spiritual lives.  Unjust anger that leads to a deep resentment for others and God, is sin that separates us from the body of Christ.  The Eucharist is our antidote.  The Eucharist is where we all come together in unity as the Mystical Body of Christ to receive Christ into our hearts so that we can go out and bring Christ to the world.

How do we overcome anger?  We overcome anger through the power of forgiveness. When I look at the Cross I hear Jesus say to me, “Stephen, there is nothing you could do that could make me love you less.”  And so, there is nothing our brothers and sisters can do to make him love them less.  Thus we are challenged to love them as Christ loves them.

Jesus says these powerful words to us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” We do this through the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

When I was reflecting on what I wanted to share with you today, I came across this journal entry from a couple of years ago, in regards to my seminarian brother that I was angry with.  I wrote, “My brother is a beloved son of God.  I was reminded of this truth during prayer when I asked God for the grace of forgiveness.  I think that I am finally able, willing, and ready to forgive my brother.  I felt all the hurt and pain that he has caused me and Jesus asking me to let him use me as an agent of forgiveness.”

When we pray the “Our Father” before we receive the Eucharist today, let us truly mean these words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”! Let us be agents of Christ’s forgiveness.