Saturday, September 3, 2011

St. Therese on the Eucharist

"Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you - for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart...don't listen to the demon, laugh at him, and go without fear to receive the Jesus of peace and love...
"Receive Communion often, very often...there you have the sole remedy, if you want to be cured. Jesus has not put this attraction in your heart for nothing..."
- St. Therese of Lisieux

How can God possibly love us this much, to spend so many years upon earth and allow Himself to be ignored and mistreated so often, just to give us the joy of being united with Him? How can God love us so much that He burns with desire to come into our hearts even when we are still sinners? This is incredible-who could have believed it unless God Himself had said it? "He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God'" (Luke 22:15-16). When we see His great love for us in the Eucharist, what can we do but love Him in return? And what greater way is there to express our love or to increase our love than to receive His great love in the Eucharist every day?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The LORD was not in the earthquake

The events of this week brought to mind one of my favorite Old Testament stories:

"Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave." (1 Kings 19:11-13)

This story reminds us of a very important truth: God doesn't normally speak through major events like earthquakes or hurricanes; he usually whispers, or as this translation says, speaks in "a light silent sound." Of course, He is God, so He can do whatever He wants. But generally, He prefers to speak in silence. But why would He prefer this? It seems that it would be better to speak loudly so everyone would hear Him. However, I think that is precisely why He doesn't speak loudly. God wants one thing above all: for each one of us to be close to Him. If a person is shouting, the natural reaction is to step back, away from them. But if someone whispers, we must come close to them to hear it. So if God wants to draw us closer to Him, it is better for Him to whisper-He only shouts when we won't listen to His whispers. If you want to hear God's voice, then spend some time in silent prayer. Take 15 minutes, an hour, whatever you can manage, and just listen for God's voice. I have found that it is helpful to listen to this song at the beginning of this time of silent prayer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ask Not...

"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
 This is probably the most famous statement John F. Kennedy ever made, and for good reason. It reminds us of the often forgotten truth that it is better to give than to receive. It is certainly good to serve America, the great country that has been defending our freedom since before we were born, but the applicability of Kennedy's statement does not end there. Unfortunately, many people today view God as an omnipotent being who exists to serve them, and so they treat Him as a servant. They do not simply ask Him to satisfy their needs and wants, they demand it, and far too often they leave the Church because He fails to live up to their expectations. But why should we expect this of Him? He already warned us against this in the Bible: "You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?" (James 4:3-4). Even if God existed for the sole purpose of serving us, it would still be better to seek to serve Him-after all, America exists for precisely that reason: the purpose of a country is to benefit its citizens. And if we should serve America, which exists to serve us, don't we have even more reason to serve God, whom we exist to serve, yet who chooses to serve us anyway? Ultimately, it does not matter how much we have asked from God, or how much we have received from Him. All that matters is how much we have given Him. Ask not what your God can do for you - ask what you can do for your God.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Running the Race

"Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Have you ever considered what it takes to be an Olympic gold medalist? No one wins by natural talent alone. Many train several hours a day, every day. Their training is often so extreme that to most of us it seems impossible to perform. And yet even with that training, very few manage to earn the prized gold medal. How do they manage to endure such harsh training? It's simple: they keep their eyes on the prize. They want that gold medal. Anyone can say they want an Olympic gold medal, but if you're not willing to fight for it, if you're not willing to dedicate your life to earning it, you don't really want it. But if you do really want it, if you see it as a prize so valuable that it is worth sacrificing almost anything to earn it, then you will not only be able to train for several hours a day, but you will find it easy. And what is the gold medal? It is a great honor, but the medal itself has very little value. Once you're dead, you won't care about the honor, and pretty soon everyone else will have forgotten it too. But what is our prize? It is not merely a great honor, but also a prize of infinite value: God Himself, and the perfect happiness found in being completely united with Him, loving Him, and being loved by Him, at every moment, for all eternity. If we truly recognize the value of this prize, and remain focused on it, we will not only be able to do whatever it takes to get there, whether that is getting up early to go to Mass, finding a few hours to pray, or giving up our favorite sins, but we will be able to do it easily and joyfully. This is all it takes to be a saint: to do everything for the love of God.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Prayer

Jesus, I love you. I am so sorry for all the suffering I have caused you, and for all the times I have failed to prevent others from hurting you. I want to do everything I can to ease your pain. Let me be your angel in the garden and comfort you in your agony. Let me be your Simon and carry the cross for you. Let me be your Veronica and wipe the blood and dirt from your face. Let me be your beloved disciple and remain with you to your death. Let me be your Mary and take you down from the cross and hold your body in my arms. If it is possible, let me take your place and suffer the scourges and crown of thorns and the five sacred wounds so you don't have to. If suffering the pains of hell for the rest of my life, or even for eternity, could save you even a little pain, I would gladly do it; just help me to always remember that I do it for you. Lord, I offer you my life, my death, and even the place you have prepared for me in heaven. Mold them, as clay in your hands, into whatever shape is most pleasing to you. Amen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Good Thief

"Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)

How great a promise is this, coming from the mouth of Jesus Himself! Would any sacrifice be too great if we knew that we would get this promise, the promise of eternal life in paradise with Jesus, as our reward? How much more should we work for it since it is so easy to obtain it! St. Luke gave us the story of the repentant thief to serve as an example for us, to show us that if we do what he did, we will be given the reward he received. So let us examine what he did to receive this reward:

"Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.' The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, 'Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'" (Luke 23:39-42)

1. He was crucified with Christ. St. Paul, in two of his letters, explains what this means for us: "We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Romans 6:6-8); "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). For us to be crucified with Christ simply means that we have chosen to give up our sins to follow Christ and to let Him live in us instead of continuing to live for ourselves.

2. He confessed to Jesus, in person, that he had sinned and deserved to die. He didn't just pray for forgiveness, but he spoke to Jesus in person. We are given the opportunity to do this in the sacrament of Confession, when we speak to the priest who has been given the power to act in the person of Christ. Since the priest, unlike Christ Himself, does not know what our sins are, we also must name each mortal sin we are aware of having committed, so that the priest knows what we are asking absolution for.

3. He humbly begged Jesus to show him a little mercy ("remember me when you come into your kingdom"), knowing that he did not deserve even that much. Again, we have the opportunity to do this in the sacrament of Confession, when we ask God to forgive our sins, knowing that we do not deserve forgiveness.

This is all the good thief did to obtain the promise, and thus it is all we have to do. We must choose to die to our sins and let Christ live in us, confess our sins to Him in person through a priest, and ask God for forgiveness. We do this every time we make a good Confession. And remember that compared to eternity in heaven, our entire life is not even a day, so every time we make a good Confession, we receive the good thief's promise: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Many saints went to Confession every week. A few went every day. But they all agree that every Catholic should go once a month, minimum, and why wouldn't you, when you can receive this great promise?

There is one condition on this promise: like the good thief, we must remain with Jesus until our death. Clearly, this is harder for us than it was for him, and we can never be certain during our life that we will persevere until death, but when eternity is at stake, it is worth doing whatever we can to remain with Him. The best advice I can give is one of the favorite sayings of St. Padre Pio: pray, hope, and don't worry.

Pray: We know that we cannot make it to heaven by our own strength, so we must ask God to help us get there. We should pray every day that we will persevere until death, knowing that "everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:8).

Hope: We must desire to persevere, and trust that Jesus will keep his promise that "If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14). But this doesn't mean that we do nothing and trust that God will take care of everything-that would be like praying for God to help you run a marathon and then standing on the starting line hoping He'll send an angel to fly you to the finish. While it's not impossible, it's not likely that it will happen. If we want to persevere, we must try our best and trust in God to make up for what we lack. Even if we know that we can't even take the first step of the marathon on our own, we must try our hardest and trust that God will give us the strength to finish. So what steps can we take on this race? Frequent Confession and Communion are the most important step-these two sacraments give us the grace to conquer sin and remain in a relationship with God. We should also place ourselves under the protection of our heavenly mother, and consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary (I'll talk about this more later), so that she may help us to persevere. Devotion to the other saints and to the angels is also important-I especially recommend entrusting yourself to your guardian angel, whose duty in life is to keep you on the right path, and to St. Michael the Archangel, who leads God's army in the fight against Satan. Finally, we should frequently meditate on the Passion of Jesus (I'll talk a lot more about this later), and consider how much He has suffered for love of us, how much we should love Him in return, and how much He is hurt by our sins, which are even worse since we have committed ourselves to following Him.

Don't Worry: There is no reason to waste time worrying about whether you will persevere for the rest of your life: "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil" (Matthew 6:34). Remember what Thomas à Kempis said in the Imitation of Christ: "One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said: 'Oh if I but knew whether I should persevere to the end!' Instantly he heard within the divine answer: 'If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure.' Immediately consoled and comforted, he resigned himself to the divine will and the anxious uncertainty ceased. His curiosity no longer sought to know what the future held for him, and he tried instead to find the perfect, the acceptable will of God in the beginning and end of every good work."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In the beginning...

Since this is my first post, I think it's appropriate to start "in the beginning." No, I'm not talking about Genesis, where "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). Even before that. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Even before creation, from all eternity, there was Jesus, the Word of God. And the Word was God. Jesus is God. I'm sure all of you recognize that fact, but have you ever really considered what it means? It means that only a few verses later, when "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), it was God who chose to give up His infinite majesty to live as a lowly human in a life of poverty. It was God who chose to make Himself totally dependent on Mary until He could take care of Himself. It was God who chose to die on a cross, who allowed himself to endure unimaginable sufferings as He was beaten and mocked, crowned with thorns, betrayed by one of His closest friends, denied by another, abandoned by all but one of the rest, nailed to the cross, and forsaken by His Father; It was God who endured all of this to offer eternal life to each one of us, knowing that each of us would reject Him again and again through our sins. It is God Himself who invites every one of us to be fully united to Him in Holy Communion every day. If any man had done this for us, we would surely be extremely grateful, and do everything we could to repay him for saving our life. Why should we give any less when it is God who gives to us? On the contrary, we should give much more, since God's life is much more valuable than any man's, and He deserves infinitely more than we can possibly give Him. So what should our response be? It is very simple: we just give Him whatever He asks for. And what does He ask us to do? "Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love...This is my commandment: love one another as I love you" (John 15:9-12). God only asks for one thing: love. Who are we to refuse Him?