Tag Archives: Sunday’s Gospel

Moments of Glory

Moments of GloryBeing a disciple of Christ is hard work.  To stand up for what is right when it is more popular to do what you know is wrong is tough.  To preach the gospel through our words and actions despite how we might be feeling that particular day is not easy!  To love our neighbors, including our enemies, is a difficult concept to comprehend let alone live out in our daily lives.  And to remain filled with the joy,  hope, peace, and love of Jesus Christ, even when things around us seem to be too much to handle, well that can seem impossible.

And in truth, it very well might be impossible if we had to do it alone.  But the wondrous truth is that we are not alone.  We never have to face these tough times of discipleship on our own.  Even at times when we might not feel God’s presence, even during times when we may have strayed or turned away from the faith, God is still there.  Sometimes the things going on in our own lives or the things we see on the evening news discourage us and make us feel as though all is lost.  But God is still there.  Remembering this even during the times we do not “feel” His presence can be a struggle.  So how do we do it?

This Sunday in Mass we will hear Luke’s gospel account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.    Peter, James, and John go up on the mountain with Jesus to pray.  They are overcome with sleep and awake to see Jesus transfigured before them.  Jesus is standing there, dazzling white in all His glory with Moses and Elijah at His side as they discuss the events to come.  A cloud from heaven comes upon them and the voice of God says, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Some time ago, our wonderful parish priest gave a homily on this very gospel story that has stuck with me.  He spoke of how the memory of this glorious experience remained with them and served to bring them hope in the tough times to come.  They had many trials yet to face, but the moment of glory that they had witnessed would provide them with strength to carry on.  It would serve as a reminder for them of the truly awesome glory of our God that surpasses any difficulties we face here on earth.

In our own lives, we have moments where we glimpse the glory of God. They may be large or small, but they are there.  Maybe it is a particularly breathtaking sunrise over the ocean that, each time you think of it or see a photo, you are reminded of the glory of the Lord.  Maybe it is your wedding day that you can look back on and see how clearly God’s glory was shown as you said your vows.  It could be a moment during mass when you were overcome with emotion or a silent moment alone in adoration where you felt His presence in an undeniable way.

These moments of glory stick with us and remind us that yes, God is there!  When things seem impossibly difficult in our own lives and when the world around us seems hopelessly lost, God has given us moments of His glory to look back upon and remember that the same God who created the sunrise, who brought you to your spouse, who is there in the Blessed Sacrament…He is here with you right now.  Even as you are reading this, He is there.

No matter how bleak or dark things may appear, find the glory of God around you.  Before becoming overwhelmed with stress, worry, fear, sadness, strive to remember a moment in your life when God’s glory shone through. And don’t stop there, but seek to find His glory displayed all around us each day.  Collect these moments of glory and keep them safe in your heart.  Use them to fill you with renewed strength to preach His gospel, to share His love, to stand up for what is right, to love those around you, and to remain filled with joy, hope, peace, and love in Christ no matter what happens.

We may not see the Lord transfigured here present be fore us like Peter, James, and John did.  But we can certainly see moments of His glory all around us.

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The Spirit is Willing

rose-655361_640Each year as we reflect upon the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week, I am filled with resolve to be a better person.  To turn away from sin and to fill my life with all that is holy.  To think of the pain Christ endured because of my sins makes me yearn to never sin again.

And yet, as wonderful as it would be to say that since last Easter, I have not sinned, that is certainly not the case.  Although in my heart I firmly intend to turn away from sin, in my soul I long to be closer to the Lord, I am still only human.

Thinking about our sins and our failings in light of the sacrifice Jesus made for us is one thing.  What would it have been like to be there?  We sing the words, “Oh  sometimes it causes me to tremble, were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  And while we journey alongside Christ through prayer and the Mass, we were not there.  But the apostles were.  They followed Him, learned from Him, left everything for Him.  They loved Him deeply and in their hearts they were so filled with resolve to follow Him always, never to sin again.

We hear the apostles one by one almost pleading with Jesus to not be the betrayer, “Surely it is not I?” (Mk 14:19)  We hear Peter promising the Lord that “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29) and “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly. (Mk 14:31)  They ate with Him and listened to Him as He told them of His coming death, even while their hearts did not fully understand.  They followed Him to Gethsemane to be with Him while He prayed and stayed there to keep watch as He asked.  And then, in their final moments with the Lord, they fell asleep.

Jesus comes to Peter saying, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  (Mk 14:37-38)  Despite His words, twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep.  Though their hearts were in the right place, they could not bring themselves to stay awake!

After Jesus is arrested,  although Peter proclaimed His dedication to the Lord and was determined never to deny Him, we know that he does just that. Not once, not twice, but three times does he deny even knowing Jesus.  After this the Gospel tells us that Peter “broke down and wept”. (Mk 14:72)

Peter was not just a bystander who listened to Christ from a distance.  He had dedicated his whole life to Christ!  He had boldly answered Christ,You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29)  And while his spirit was so very willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, he still fell to sin.  Though his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak.  Weak with fear, confusion, and exhaustion.

But Peter’s story does not end here.  Despite the weakness of his flesh, despite his failings and sin, his spirit was still willing!  He wept at the realization of what he had done.  He resolved once again to try harder, to follow more closely, to turn away from sin and live a holy life dedicated to the Lord. The Lord knew that He could do great things through Peter.  Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus knew that the willingness of Peter’s spirit would prevail against the weakness of his fleas.  Peter’s story is not one of despair, but one of hope and of great mercy and grace.  Despite his failings, Peter allowed the Lord to work within him.  He repented of his sins and did not let his past failings prevent him from continuing on in Christ.

As we celebrate our Lord’s passion this week we call to mind our own sinfulness.  While we are called to repent and turn from sin, sometimes our flesh is weak.  During these moments of weakness, we do not need to despair.  Our God is loving and merciful beyond our understanding and His grace is more than we can fathom.  When we find that we have failed, we need only to ask forgiveness, turn away from sin, and return fully to His endless love.  We are not held back by past failings but are renewed in Christ.  Though our flesh may be weak, if our spirits are willing He can still work within us to draw us ever closer to Him and to share in His love.

Stop and Listen

Giovanni_Gerolamo_Savoldo_005Yesterday at Mass we heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  It is a truly wondrous and awe-inspiring event.  The disciples saw Jesus in all His divine glory shining brilliantly before their eyes.  They saw Him talking with two of the most respected and holiest men, Moses and Elijah.  How amazing to be witness to the Lord in such a holy and divine moment!

In the midst of this, Peter wanted to help out.  He sees Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and offers to make tents for the three. I wonder what motivated Peter to make such an offer?  Perhaps he was simply responding to what he saw as a fundamental need in front of him.  Or maybe he thought by building tents for them to rest in, Moses and Elijah would stay longer.

Obviously I do not know what Peter was thinking in that moment.  But if I try to imagine myself in that position I think I know what my reasoning would be.  And I can’t help but wonder if Peter’s was the same…What if he was feeling overwhelmed by the encounter and felt the need to do something?

When I feel myself overwhelmed by a situation, often my first response is, what can i do?  In my feeble human attempts to make sense of the things in my life that may fill me with emotions, I feel the need to do something.  To make myself useful.  Sometimes this urge is good and motivates me to take action where needed.  But many times, my desire to act pushes aside the greater need to stop, take in the moment, and listen for God’s voice to be my guide.

As we have been trying to have a family, there have been many when I feel overwhelmed with emotions.  When I feel myself getting upset, confused, or discouraged, often my first thought is, “I need to do something.”  But the fact is that many times, there is simply nothing I can do.

My frustration at not knowing what to do next only overwhelms me even more.  My mind begins to race and I feel as though the only way I can find peace in the situation is to find the next action to take.  I fool myself into thinking that if I am not actively doing something, I am only prolonging the situation or even moving backwards.

While Peter was offering his suggestion to make tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a cloud came over them.  Suddenly from the cloud came the voice of God, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Sometimes in the midst of life’s most overwhelming moments, rather than rush into action, we simply need to stop and listen to the voice of God.

I may not be witness to the glory of Our Lord transfigured before my eyes, but I know I am surrounded by His glory.  The wonders of His creation, the countless blessings He has bestowed on us, the very gift of Himself on the cross for our sins and the miraculous gift of Himself to us each and every Mass in the Eucharist.  Yes the glory of the Lord is not hard to find if I simply take a minute to stop and open my eyes.

The voice of God may not come to me from a cloud in the sky, but I still can hear Him.  Just as He told Peter, James, and John on the mountain, I can hear Him telling me that Jesus, who came and died for our sins and rose again to bring us all new life, He truly is the beloved Son of God!  And just as the disciples were instructed to listen to Him, I am called to do the same.

What does He tell me?  He says not to worry (Mt. 6:34).  Do not be afraid! (Mk. 6:50) He tells me to ask God for the things I need and to trust that He will provide  (Mt. 7:7-11).  He tells me just how much God loves each one of us (Jn. 3:16).  He tells me to pray to Him as a Father (Lk. 11:1-4).  He tells me that He is always with me (Mt. 28:20).

Knowing all that He has told us and seeing His glory surrounding me, I feel at peace. I do not need to find the solution on my own or rush into action simply for the sake of doing something.  I need only to keep focused on Christ, to pray, and to listen to Him as He guides me.

The Cross and The Eucharist

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

Yesterday we heard these words as a part of our Gospel reading at Mass. It was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and hearing these familiar verses emphasized just how important the cross is. Before Christ’s crucifixion, the cross was a symbol of death and cruelty. And if the story ended at the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the cross would mean nothing. But the story did not end! Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, forever opening the way to eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven. The crucifix and the empty cross serve as symbols of the immense love God has for us.

As we were preparing to receive communion during Mass, I opened my hymnal to join in our communion song and was surprised to see the music choice: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” While I love the hymn, I am used to singing it solely during the Lenten season. But as I listened and joined my voice in our sung prayer, I could not think of a better song for the moment.

During Lent, I sing this song and find myself meditating on what Our Lord went through at Calvary.  Meditating on His sorrow and pain and the incredible fact that He did it all willingly for us.  Certainly a worthwhile and emotional meditation, but it was in a past tense.  The song lyrics, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” drew my meditation to the past.  Singing this hymn outside its typical Lenten context and during Communion gave it a whole new meaning.

“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”  – Blessed Mother Teresa

The Holy Eucharist is a beautiful mystery beyond comprehension or explanation.  It is the full presence of Christ, of His crucifixion and death.  It encompasses His love in a way we cannot fathom.  This most Blessed Sacrament brings us to Calvary, to the foot of the cross, to our Savior in a way far more personal than we might even realize.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross draws our attention to the beauty and love that is held within the cross.  By singing this hymn, it connected this wonderful Feast to the Eucharist in a way I was not anticipating but that truly resonated with me.  The love that is spoken of in John 3:16, the love that resulted in Our Lord’s sacrifice to us in the crucifixion, the love that we see in the empty cross as a symbol of the Resurrection and conquering of evil and death, that love is still present to us here today.  We can feel the love of the Lord within us, surrounding us, and in others.  That love is felt so strongly and shared so miraculously with us through the Blessed Sacrament.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

While we may not have been there some 2,000 years ago for the actual crucifixion, through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are united with Christ in that moment.  And that surely is a cause to tremble.

 

Walking on Water

“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  (Matthew 14:22-33)

387px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallBeing out at sea tossed by the waves with the wind howling all around, the disciples are understandably afraid.  Seeing the Lord walking out on the water does not immediately alleviate their fears but instead terrifies them even more as they mistake Jesus for a ghost!  Peter wants proof that this man walking on the water towards him is in fact Jesus. Peter wants to trust God.  He asks for proof that this really is the Lord.  And when Jesus replies “Come,” Peter follows His instruction without hesitation. Peter does trust Him!  He trusts in Jesus so much so that he leaves the boat to go out onto the water with the wind whipping around him.

Peter’s faith in leaving the boat is quite strong.  But once He takes His eyes off of Christ and sees the wind whipping around him, he begins to panic and sink.  Even in his moment of doubt and panic, he still trusts in the Lord’s saving power, “Lord, save me!”

What makes this Gospel reading so relatable to me is that I can feel Peter’s struggle within myself.  I feel within me the desire to fully trust, to completely give it up to the Lord without any fear or doubt.  Being completely honest, there are times when I am too afraid to even leave the boat, let alone calmly walk on the water.  I see myself time and time again giving into the fears and doubts when I take my eyes off Christ and try to reason things out for myself.  I want to walk out on that water.  But, like Peter, I have a hard time keeping my mind off the winds and waves that surround me.

Peter, despite his flaws, was given the keys to heaven and was the rock upon which Christ built His Church (Matthew 16:17-19).  Despite his doubts, despite his denial, despite his fears, he still trusted in the Lord and the Lord saw the faith that was in Peter’s heart.  Even though Peter panicked while out on the water, in the midst of that panic he still called out to the Lord.  He knew his own trust was weak.  But as he felt himself starting to sink, he did not thrash about and try to save himself.  Instead, he called out to the Lord who immediately reached out His hand to save him.

We will all face fears and doubts in our life, just as Peter and the disciples did.  When we find ourselves scared to leave the boat, we need to pray for help in trusting the Lord.  We need to take the leap and jump out of our comfort zone to follow Him when He calls to us.  And when we find ourselves faltering and about to sink, we need to realize that God is always there by our side.  He will not leave us to drown.  Rather than relying on our own understanding to solve the problems and fears we face, we need to call out to God to save us and steady our steps.

God is always there even when we are too wrapped up in fear and doubt to realize it.  He knows our hearts, knows our desires, knows our fears.  Oh how I would love to have faith so strong that I would leap from the boat and stroll out without the slightest of doubts. Let us pray that our faith might grow and be strengthened so that not only do we jump willingly out of the boat but that we stay on top of the water, eyes focused on Christ, fully trusting in Him despite the winds that rage about us, knowing all the while He will always be there to catch us if we fall.

Image: “Saint Peter Walks on the Sea” by James Tissot

Beyond the Doubt

In the Gospel this Sunday we read the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas.”  How Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas was not with them.  How, upon hearing the disciples recount had they had seen the Lord, Thomas did not believe them.  How he demanded visible proof, to see the Risen Lord and to touch His wounds.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Despite the reputation Thomas has as a doubter, he was certainly not the only one to doubt.  Throughout Jesus’ life, they all took turns doubting. 

When the crowds of 5,000 were gathered and grew hungry the disciples try to urge Jesus to send them off for food. But Jesus instead replies “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” (Mt. 14:16-17)  They did not immediately believe that simply because Jesus said He would feed them, it would happen.  They doubted.

Later that evening out on the boat, Jesus calls Peter to walk out to Him on the water.   But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:30-32)  Peter doubted too.

But in both of these instances, the doubt is replaced with a renewal of faith. When the 5,000 are fed, the miracle is so wondrous that twelve baskets are leftover!   And after Jesus catches Peter and they are safely on the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Mt. 14:42-43).

If we stop reading at the doubt, we miss out on so much!  If the familiar story of the feeding of 5,000 ended with doubt, we would hardly pay it notice.  Jesus was speaking to crowd, they grew hungry, Jesus wanted to feed them but the disciples thought it impossible.  The end.  Or what about Peter?  He began to doubt and sink in the water.  And that’s it?  No.  We must go beyond the doubt.

Throughout our lives we may be faced with doubt.  But we cannot let our stories end with the doubt!  We need to look past the doubts that the devil tries to weave into our minds.  We know that Jesus is Lord!  Let us pray for our faith to be strengthened so that when we are faced with doubt we can look past them and, like Thomas, cry out with all our hearts, “My Lord and my God!”

What Flavor Are You?

The flavor of the foods we consume can linger beyond our initial bite.  The citrus-y taste of an orange, the distinct flavor of a tuna salad sandwich, the rich sweetness of a chocolate brownie.   Not only does the actual taste stick with you, but it becomes familiar with us.  I can imagine the taste of a piece of apple pie without actually tasting it.  In the same way, tastes that we do not like stick with.  If you eat a terrible tasting soup, you will likely shy away from trying that same soup again because the memory of that taste stays with you.  If you eat a bland dish without any distinctive good or bad tastes, you are likely to forget about it because it lacks flavor.

Each one of us leaves our own “flavor” with the people we interact with.  When we meet someone, the first impression they have of us is much like that first bite of a new food.  If we portray ourselves as kind, caring, compassionate, or cheerful, we leave a good taste with that person and they will look forward to future interactions with us.  On the other hand, if we are rude, disinterested, judgmental, or angry, they will not want to be around us.  Even the briefest of meetings in line at the grocery store can leave a “bad taste” if the encounter is unpleasant.

What flavor are you?  When you meet someone new, do they walk away with a good taste or a bad one?  In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus uses the flavor of salt to describe how we are to live as His disciples.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Matthew 5:13

We are called to share the love of Christ.  This has to be a good flavor or we will not be able to attract others to us.  If we leave a bad taste with others, how will they come to know Christ through us?  And if we lack taste completely then what do we have to leave with them?  We are called to leave a good taste with those around us.  To let them see that we have something wonderful and amazing in Jesus!

The taste that we leave should not be brief and fleeting.  Salt is a taste that stays with you.  Think of a bag of salty potato chips.  It seems almost impossible to eat just one!  The salty flavor keeps you coming back for more.  In the same way, our lives should be so full of the love of God and all His glory that people want to be around us.  Our lives should be so seasoned with the salt of the Gospel that it makes others want to know more!

We cannot lose our flavor.  The call to be the salt of the earth is a call to be so filled with the joy of Christ that it carries over into all that we do.  Let us pray that our lives be filled with the never-ending love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that we might flavor the world around us with peace, joy, grace, and love.