Jesus said: My heart is nearly broken

This Sunday began Holy Week.  The week where we reflect on the great mystery of our salvation won for us by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  While praying Morning prayer today I was struck by the antiphon: Jesus said: My heart is nearly broken with sorrow; stay here and keep watch with me.

This begs the question: Why is Jesus’ heart broken?  To answer this question we have to briefly consider what the whole earthly mission of Jesus Christ was about.  Jesus came to the world not to condemn it, but to “proclaim the Father to the world.”  In other words, Jesus has come to preach the good news of the Father’s love.  This is made evident when we look at the Gospels in totality.  In every Gospel we have a plethora of stories where Jesus, by his own divine initiative goes out to the margins: the poor, the sick, the outcast (either due to disease or sinfulness) to show them love. Jesus not only goes to sinners but he searches them out (ex: woman at the well in John 4).  He goes to bring them healing love and to call them back to their Father.  

So again, why is Jesus sad in the Garden at  Gethsemane?   The answer is simple.  Jesus wants nothing more than to show the world the great gift of God’s love for us but his message has been rejected; not just by the Jewish authorities but even us! Because “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Consequently, “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44).  In this moment, Jesus recognizes he needs to go further to preach the love of the Father.  He realizes, that to find more sinners he needs to go into their death to bring them to new life by his resurrection. Saint Paul writes, “we were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). 

This week we celebrate the mystery of the gift our salvation.  Before Easter, it is a great time for us to reflect on Jesus’ search for sinners.  This means even Jesus’ search for me.  Where is the darkness in my life that I need to let the light of Christ enter into?  Where do I need to die to sin to live in Christ? Further, we can reflect on how we can be with Jesus in this time of his suffering and death?  We do this by being Christ to others.  By being witnesses of his love to the world.  In this way we participate in his mission to bring souls back to the Father.  Let us remember all of these beautiful truths this week: the great gift of being found by Him through his death and resurrection, and the gift of having so great of a Father in heaven who desires nothing more than to have a loving relationship with us.  Let yourself be moved by Jesus’ sorrow to greater love of him this week. 

A Light to Reveal you to the Nations

Brothers and sisters, in this Sunday’s Gospel we commemorate the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want to focus on that moment when Simeon exclaims that the Child Jesus will be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” This should remind us of what we say every night at Compline when we ourselves repeat Simeon’s words “My own eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal you to the nations.” Jesus Christ is that light who has come not only for the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. We ourselves, as members of Christ’s mystical body, are called to be Jesus to all those we encounter every day. So, the question I want us to ponder today is, How do I become that light? Let me propose three areas that are necessary for us to become a light to the nations.

First, we must be men and women of prayer. I know that some days it can be tough to take a break from the daily grind of life and devote at least some silent time in prayer with our Lord. We are to be conformed so much to the Heart of Jesus, that God Willing, when people encounter us, they encounter Jesus Christ. And so I re-emphasize what a priest told me earlier this year, that we should never let a day go by in which our eyes do not gaze upon the scriptures. Meditation on the Word, is necessary so that we can speak to the world about the person Jesus we claim to know at a Heart to Heart level.

Brothers and sisters, my second point is that our brotherly love is proof of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. About two weeks ago, my Bishop preached that we ought to meditate on those people who have carried us to Jesus Christ. And I bet for most of us, we can think of those people in our own particular lives that have been a light for us to Jesus. This is so, because not only do they know Jesus but they act like Jesus. So, this call to brotherly love is not just towards those whom we love, but also to those brothers and sisters who Drive us up the wall. Balthasar makes this point well, he writes, “this sinner, this unattractive and insignificant person, this avowed opponent of the Church and of Jesus Christ is in reality my brother; Jesus has borne his sins as he has borne mine.” We can never forget that we love Jesus as much as we lover our worst enemy. So, if we are going to be a light to the nations, our love for Christ must be authentic and nourished by the Word. It must call us to action as Batlthasar concludes: “The Christian, in love, should always be the first to act” (Prayer, 216).

Finally, to be another light, that is another Christ, we must let the Holy Spirit radiate through our lives. In both the baptism and transformation, the Holy Spirit shines upon Jesus revealing who he is and his love for the world. And so, let us be confident in the love that Jesus has for us, which is manifest through His Holy Spirit. Our response to this love must be to let it shine for those who have been blinded, by either the world or sin, from the Light.

 

Pax Christi,

SJD

Seeking Purity of Heart for the Lord

“But when, entering the Lord’s house once more, he heard in the Gospel the Lord saying, Do not be anxious about tomorrow, he could not remain any longer, but going out he gave those remaining possessions also to the needy.” Brothers and Sisters in Christ, these words from the Life of Saint Antony have interrogated my own life. Antony desired to be free from all attachments so that he could love, with a purity of heart, his Lord. To love our Lord with a purity of heart means to love freely; that is, free from all attachments.

I too, and I suspect most of us desire to fall in love with the Lord with this same purity of heart exemplified by Saint Antony. As most of you know, I am an avid sports fans. Besides watching football on most Saturdays and Sundays, I find myself checking my sports news at every moment of the day; since, modern technology allows me to carry around in my pocket access to all the breaking news in sports with the flick of a finger. My iPhone, also allows for me to carry around an electronic breviary, so that I can more easily pray without ceasing. And yet, I find that I can read twenty plus sports articles in one day, and at the same time, forget to pray daytime prayer. With both so readily available on my phone, the problem clearly then is not that there is not enough time in the day, but rather, that my heart does not belong completely to God. As Bernard of Clairvaux so eloquently puts it, “The minds of some men are on their plates, of others in their pockets. ‘Where your treasure is,’ he says, ‘there is your heart’ (Mt 6:21)”. For me, my mind is always on sports. I am a sports junkie.

All of us have these attachments that keep us from God. The question becomes, what are we to do about them? Not all of us are called to be like Antony. Certainly some of us may indeed sell all we have and go join a monastery, but for many of us, God is simply asking us to purge ourselves from these attachments. Cassain, another desert father writes, “Therefore, we must follow completely anything that can bring us to this objective, to this purity of heart, and anything which pulls us away from it must be avoided as being dangerous and damaging”. Cassain exhorts us to cut out anything in our lives that keeps us from this purity of heart. Thus, all of us must practice a spirit of asceticism in order to achieve this goal where our hearts can function in freedom; a freedom of true charity.

As a result, I firmly resolve to learn detachment from my phone, especially the sports apps, so that it will not distract me from loving my Lord with a purity of heart. Brothers and sisters in Christ, what are those attachments in your life that keep you from loving the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength? I urge you to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your conscience to those things that keep you away from His most sacred Heart. The goal is to fall in love and to stay in love with Jesus. Let us be edified by those Saints before us, and be moved to conversion.

Fraternally yours in Christ,

SJD

Lord, I Am Not Worthy

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus. But Peter stood at the gate outside. So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in. Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm. Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crowed (Jn 18: 15-18; 25-27).

Last week I went to see the movie, Mary of Nazareth, with my buddy and his family. It is certainly not one of those movies that is going to wow you with its acting, beautiful sets, or special effects. It, however, was certainly worth the money because of its spiritual depth. The most powerful scene came at its depiction of Peter’s threefold denial of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me set the scene for you. First, we see Peter deny Jesus three times, which I have at the beginning of this post. Most of us are so familiar with this story that we miss how it impacts or relates to us. Immediately following his denial of our Lord, Peter looks up, and who does he see first? None other than the Mother of Jesus; Mary. What does he do? He runs to her. He falls to his feet weeping muttering things like, “Mary, I denied Him! I denied even knowing Jesus!” It is clear in this scene, that Peter is distraught. He has recognized his great sin. Then Mary, in the tenderness of a loving Mother speaks to Peter: “Peter, Peter, Peter. Jesus, knows that you love him. He knows that Peter. He knows that you Love HIM!” Then she embraces him, kisses his head, and assures Peter, not only of her love for him, but of Jesus’ love for Peter.

This moment in the movie captured well the real emotions that Peter was feeling. As I watched Peter run to Mary, I felt that I witnessed his distress. I witnessed Peter crying at how he denied the person that has Loved him the most. Then I watched Mary. I saw her hold him. I saw her comfort him. I watched intently as she assured him of Jesus’ unending love for him. Finally, she assures Peter that he has not lost his friendship with the Lord. Mary brings Peter out of his despair and back to the Hope he has in Jesus Christ. As I sat there watching this beautiful and intimate scene unfold, I realized that I too was crying. I recognized that I am Peter. I have denied Jesus. In every sin I have committed I have denied my Lord. But in that realization was the beautiful truth that my Mother Mary is there to lift me out of my wretchedness. I recognized that Mary has always been there to bring me back to Her Son. So, as I sat there watching this beautiful scene, I said to myself: “I must never forget this. I am going to be a Priest, God willing, and I will need to constantly run back to Mary, so that she can bring me back to Jesus. I must always run to Mary to hear those tender words “Stephen, Jesus knows that you love him. Jesus loves you.”

Later, my friend admitted to crying at this scene too. Then, overhearing our conversation, my friend’s dad said “Every man, knows how Peter felt in that scene.” This is the beautiful truth. Every man knows how Peter felt; unfortunately, however, not every man recognizes how much of Grace-filled moment it is. We have two options after a sin like that, we can either mope in our despair and deny the Love that Jesus wants to give us, or we can entrust ourselves to the Hope of Jesus Christ who freely forgives us of our sins.

Is should be no surprise then that I am going to propose Peter as the perfect model for this. Let’s turn to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus calls Peter to be his disciple. Jesus has just helped Peter catch an innumerable amount of fish, then Peter recognizing who is before him exclaims “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5:8) The reason Peter is the perfect model is that he is a humble man. He understands his own poverty. Peter understands his own weakness and his own tendency to sin. Further, he recognizes that he is in the presence of the one whom he sins against; his Lord. But the second part of humility is to be able to see ourselves as God sees us. Peter, because he has allowed Jesus to enter his life, knows how the Lord looks at him. Peter knows the loving gaze of his Lord. Why is this important? Let us go back to that moment in the movie when Mary is holding the crying Peter. If Peter, in his humility, only knew of his wretchedness, he would not be able to receive the love from Mary, nor would he be able to receive the perfect love of Jesus that forgives him of his sins. In other words, Peter understands his own weakness, he understands his need for forgiveness, and finally, Peter trusts in the Love of Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ. In many ways I am like Peter. But, in many ways I am not. There have been several times in my life where I have sinned greatly against our Lord. But, there have also been many times where I have not trusted in his mercy, where I have forgotten just how much the Lord loves me. What a travesty this is! I must never forget, we must never forget, just how much Jesus loves us and offers us His forgiveness. Just as important, we must never forget that our Mother Mary is there for us to bring us back to Jesus. And when we find ourselves in the depths of despair, we must run back to our Mother, so that she can remind us of the Hope we have in Jesus Christ.

That is Christianity. That is the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus, that by his Cross and Resurrection, He has set us free! He is the savior of the world! Let us learn from Peter. Let us learn true humility: to understand our own poverty, weakness, and our need for Christ; and also, learn to trust in His unending and particular love for each one of us. Then we can truly say: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

In the love of Christ,

SJD

The Tenderness of Pope Francis

“The reason the world has paused for Pope Francis – if only for a little while – is that so many people sense in him something more than himself; not just God’s truth and God’s justice, but God’s tenderness.”

There is something right now about Pope Francis that is SO attractive, and everyone sees it. The media is enamored with him. The press covers him in such a way that is reminiscent of the way the press followed Blessed John Paul II. Before I go on, Pope Francis’ two predecessor’s were amazing and holy men. In many ways, John Paul II’s witness of joy and happiness lived out in the celibate priesthood placed the seed in my heart to consider being a priest. Pope Benedict, too, was an inspiring and very holy individual. His strengths, unfortunately, largely went unnoticed. During his papacy he was not as, for the lack of a better word, extroverted in front of large groups of people. But, do not let that blind you from what he gave the Church. He is one of the most prolific writers and theologians of our time, and I think, might one day be made a doctor of the church. Even more inspiring, was his simplicity of life. As a result, he was a tangible sign to the Christian faithful on how one should order his life around prayer and solitude with God. So, Blessed (but soon to be Saint) John Paul II and Benedict XVI both have a special place in my heart, but today I wanted to share some reflections on Pope Francis, and how he has affected my heart, and my desire to serve God and His people.

Archbishop Chaput, states above, that “many people sense in him [Pope Francis] something more than himself; not just God’s truth and God’s justice, but God’s tenderness.” For my self, I find myself in awe. Last week I shared with you all how I came to know the Heavenly Father’s love. Pope Francis, is the type of Father I want to be. When I am a priest, what a compliment it would be to hear people say, “Father Steve (remember this is four years away) has a tender heart, and when he challenges me, I know he isn’t condemning me. But rather, he desires for me to grow in holiness and to grow in deeper intimacy with the Lord.” That is what has been conveyed by Pope Francis. He has said nothing new about Catholic Church teaching. But he has done it in such a way that when he speaks, people are first reminded of God’s infinite mercy. He has been such a witness of receptivity. Our Pope, in a beautiful way, is teaching pastors, seminarians, religious, and the lay faithful how to receive each other with the most perfect love; Christian Charity.

Consider for example a some of the most tender moments of his papacy thus far. This past Easter, just after he became Pope, there was a moment in which he embraced a boy (Dominic) with cerebral palsy. It looked like the Pope himself was moved by seeing the boy, so, he went over to him in the crowd and he picked up the boy. Then, he gave him a fatherly embrace and whispered something in his ear. The boy smiled joyfully and his mother was in tears. Later, it became international news and the whole world was moved by the Pope’s tenderness towards Dominic. Later, Dominc’s father said in an interview “God has touched our family all our lives, now, he has touched the whole world with Dominic,” he added.” At the time, this was shocking. That the Pope not only made himself totally available to the people but actually came into their midst. On that day, he not only shared Christ’s love with Dominic in a profound way, but it has become something he is known for, that he will reach out to his flock and get to know them.

Then World Youth Day 2013 happens. The Pope was traveling around Rio in his pope mobile and greeting the pilgrims at world youth day. Then, suddenly, a little boy breaks through security and runs up to the pope. Before the Swiss guards could take him away, Pope Francis invites the boy up into the pope mobile. He gives him a hug. Then later we found out what was said between the Pope and the boy. The boy whispered to the Pope, “Your holiness, I have a secret for you. I want to be a priest.” Francis, now in tears responds, “Young man, you will be a priest, from this day your vocation is set. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.” Then the young boy descends from the vehicle puts his hands in his face and begins to weep tears of joy. This boy’s life had changed. He had encountered the love of Christ in a very real way in Pope Francis. If you have not seen the youtube video of this, I urge you right now to do so. Look it up. It is very moving and brought me to tears.

And so, I go back to Archbishop Chaput’s words once more. The world sees in Pope Francis “God’s tenderness.” We see this in the worlds response to what he says about abortion, homosexuality, and other important issues of today. The wonderful thing is, the World is listening to Pope Francis. Ultimately many media sources may not agree with Francis about these issues, but they represent him in a positive light. Furthermore, Pope Francis is challenging every young man that wants to be a priest, to live out Christ’s love in a radical way; by windows to Christ’s mercy and love that endures forever.

How has he done this for me? Well, he has inspired me to have a greater love and affection for the poor. Recently, I posted this on September 19th in a group on facebook and I’ll restate it here:

“As a young man studying to be a priest, Francis has completely interrogated my life; in a good way. Through his example, I have had to admit that I must have a love for the poor if I truly want to be a compassionate spiritual father to all those that the Heavenly Father has called me to serve. Through out my life, I have been severely lacking in this regard, and because of Pope Francis I have made it a priority at Mundelein (we have opportunities to serve the poor in down town chicago). I say this not to pump up my own chest, but really, to show just how inspiring and Christ like Pope Francis is. We can never forget our fight for the unborn and for traditional family values, but at the same time, we can never forget our poor brothers and sisters, and the difficulties that immigrants face today. Part of the New Evangelization, for priests in training in particular, is making sure that the life that they live, which ought to be devoted to Christ, is consistent with who Christ is. Pope Francis is the man, and has challenged and moved me to become not only a better man, but hopefully be a better brother in christ to my neighbors.”

On Saturday (October 7th), in fact, was my first experience in down town chicago with the homeless. It was incredible and something I hope to do often through out my time here at Mundelein. I will admit, it is not an easy thing. But, this is not an exact quote but Pope Francis recently said that the “The rich can provide for the poor what they lack materially, but the poor can provide for the rich what they lack spiritually.” I can honestly say that I witnessed Christ’s love in a profound way that morning. Every human person is a child of God that is precious in his eyes. Even more, the sincere joy I witnessed in the homeless for very simple acts of kindness, taught me just how much the poor can teach me to trust in God and bet grateful to God for the very simple things in my life.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my hope that we all realize that the Catholic Church truly is the Church of Christ. Hopefully, through Pope Francis more and more people will see the heart of Christ in Catholicism. We have a holy pope and a good shepherd, because he truly is living a life conformed to the heart of Jesus Christ. Think about Pope Francis’ example. How has he brought Christ into your life? How has he challenged you to live a life more conformed to the heart of Christ? How has our Pope’s tender heart affected your heart? These are all good questions to consider. Let us be thankful to the Lord for giving us such a good shepherd, who loves with the tenderness of Christ. Let us also allow our hearts to be changed so that we too may love, not only as Pope Francis does, but more importantly, as Jesus Christ loves.

God Bless!

SJD

A Son’s Journey to the Father

My friends, for a long while I have felt the Lord asking me to share with you how he has been working in my life. It is my hope, that in sharing with you my experiences, you too will understand his profound and particular love for you. As Christians, our main focus in this life ought to be falling in love and staying in love with Jesus Christ our Lord. If we truly understand His love for us, our lives can never be the same; and, they shouldn’t. So, how has the Lord been working in my heart over these last few years? Well, to put it most simply, I discovered the beauty of being a son who was lovable and pleasing to the Heavenly Father, which explains the title of my blog Filius Patris, or, Son of the Father.

I was blessed to go to Saint John Vianney College Seminary the last three years. Never could I have imagined that there I would experience the most profound grace of my life, where a priest, who would become one of my priest heroes (I have three priests who have impacted my life greatly), would teach me that I am a son of the Heavenly Father. To explain the impact he had on my life let me first refer to the musical Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, an ex-con who was unjustly sentenced to years in prison, is unable to find any help from the world and driven to extreme poverty. In desperation, he steals silver from a bishop. To make a long story short, the bishop forgives him and even gives him the silver so that he may have a new start, or another chance to live a normal life. Before the Bishop lets him go, however, he commissions Jean Valjean from that point on to live a life devoted to God and a life of love and service to his neighbor. There is a profound grace here that I do not want to overlook. This scene images our baptism. The bishop claims Jean Valjean’s life for Christ, he, through Jesus Christ, destroys the sins of Jean Valjean’s past, and calls him to a new life in Christ. In such way that Jean Valjean “no longer lives, but Christ lives in him; insofar as he continues on in the flesh, he lives by faith in the Son of God who has loved him and given himself up for him” (Galatians 2:20).

Immediately after this powerful scene, we witness Jean Valjean’s incredible conversion. For me the profound moment of grace comes when he kneels before the cross weeping and says:

Yet why did I allow this man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above.

After this, his life has changed. If you haven’t seen this beautiful musical I will not spoil the ending for you now. What is pertinent here is that Jean Valjean’s life from now on is for God alone. His life has changed, because the bishop treated him with love. Dare I say, the Bishop not only imaged Christ to Valjean, but he was also an image of the Heavenly Father. A father generates new life. That is what the Bishop gave Valjean; a new life rooted in Christ and the knowledge that he was now, and always was, God’s son.

In a similar way, what the Bishop was to Valjean is what I received from Fr. Becker at SJV. He touched my soul in a profound way. He has a gift for affirming men, telling them what they are good at, and helping them realize their worth as beloved sons of God. By his witness and inspiration, he challenged me to lose weight but also to take my spiritual life seriously. Father was constantly reminding me that if I want to be a holy priest, then, I must spend at least an hour every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He taught me by his example, how to conform my heart to Jesus, so that Jesus could bring me to the Father. He was a credible witness. In every challenge he gave me, I saw him living it out. When he challenged me to work out every day, I noticed he too was running daily. When he challenged me to take my spiritual life seriously, I saw him praying constantly. When I wanted to slack on academics, I saw him pouring his life out for the seminary. When I was struggling, he was there to talk, listen, and encourage. So, Father Becker, just as the Bishop did for Valjean, touched my soul and taught me love, treated me like any other seminarian, he gave me his trust, he called me son, and he claimed my life for God above.

Father Becker’s impact is by no means small, because he allowed me experience the loving gaze of the heavenly Father. I remember one night at SJV, I was praying the second glorious mystery of the rosary, the Ascension, and asking Jesus to bring me to my Heavenly Father. I wanted to know him, but did not understand yet how the Heavenly Father looked upon me. The lord used a memory of Father Becker, and immediately I saw interiorly how much the Father had been loving me through Fr. Becker and other good and holy priests through out my life. I realized then, at that moment, just how loved I am by my Father. I have never forgotten this moment in prayer. It brought me to tears. I was sobbing, not out of sadness, but because I knew, from that moment on, my life had changed.

I wish, one day, to emulate Fr. Becker as a priest. I hope that those who come in contact with me will feel loved, affirmed, and see how much Jesus wants to change their life by bringing them to His Father. I desire that everyone realizes this truth. When you realize that God the Father loves everything about you, and delights in you, nothing in your life can be the same. Your heart is on fire and finally at rest because it has found the true center. Take a moment and reflect on where your heart is with God right now. Where do you see the Heavenly Father’s love for you? Do you believe that you too are a beloved son/daughter of the Heavenly Father? Are their men in your life that are windows of the Heavenly Father for you? These are important questions to ask yourself because they are fundamental to the Christian life. If for some reason you have not realized his love for you, ask Jesus to bring you to the Heavenly Father. Ask him, beg him, and your life will never be the same. I guarantee it. Remember, always remember, that you “are beloved sons of the father with whom he is well pleased.”

In Christ,

SJD

Mk 1:11, Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22