Saturday, March 23, 2013

Devotion for today: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

What wondrous love is this?

To prepare for Holy Week, let us take a look at a beautiful hymn which reminds us of the gift Christ gave us on the cross, of His wondrous love and mercy, and of the need for us to always sing to the Lord!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sign on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.
Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Al­ex­an­der Means.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Devotion for today: Come back to me with all your hearts

I think it is interesting that so many misinformed people today love to mock the concept of sin as “good old fashioned Catholic guilt.” Although this language may get a laugh or two from an audience, it has nothing to do with reality. The Catholic Church did not create the concept of sin so it could hold people captive in fear and quaking, as I read in one article.  It is not for the purpose of perpetrating a lie that unless you feel horrible about yourself because of your wretchedness, you will never get to heaven. Nor did Jesus create the Sacrament of Reconciliation to introduce a new concept to the people of His time. We must always remember that Jesus was Jewish. He preached to Jewish people. He came as the Messiah the Jewish people longed for. His teachings were based on the teachings that all good Jews knew by heart, and the Old Testament is filled with the concept of sin and the need to turn away from it and come back to God. God has always wanted His people, all people, to acknowledge that sin exists, and that it keeps us from experiencing the fullness of His love. Let’s take a few minutes to look at just a few Old Testament verses where God, through his prophets and holy men and women, asks His people to “Come back with all your hearts.” As we continue our study of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, let us take time to get rid of pride which says there is no sin, and adopt an open and humble heart so that God can speak to us through His words, and heal us of our transgressions.

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

In the Old Testament sin is set forth as an act of disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17;3:11; Isaiah 1:2-4; Jeremiah 2:32); as an insult to God (Numbers 27:14); as something detested and punished by God (Genesis 3:14-19; Genesis 4:9-16); as injurious to the sinner (Tobit 12:10); to be expiated by penance (Psalm 1:19)

Joel 2:12: "Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning."

Deuteronomy 4:29: But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Jeremiah 4:1: "If you, Israel, will return, then return to me," declares the LORD. "If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?

Daniel 9:3: So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Hosea 12:6:  But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

Prayer: Psalm 51:3-6, 12, 16, 19: “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offence. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn…A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit….Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power…My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart”.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Devotion for today: One small fall, one step toward a higher degree of perfection

Whenever you feel guilty, even if it is because you have consciously committed a sin, a serious sin, something you have kept doing many times, never let the devil deceive you by allowing him to discourage you. My beloved, may every fall…always become for us a small step toward a higher degree of perfection.  Maximilian Kolbe.

I am reading a very challenging book entitled, “Unbound” by Neal Lozano. In it he takes the reader deep into his soul to pull out, by the roots, the source of the sins we habitually commit due to patterns of behavior we developed as events in our lives hurt or scared or scarred us. It is fascinating to rediscover the patterns which govern our adult lives. Why are we so addicted to gossip? Why do we live in fear of being discovered for the “frauds” we think we are? Why are we always feeling sorry for ourselves, or looking to be offended, or constantly battling anger, resentment, self-importance, desires for revenge, tendencies toward unforgiveness, or a need to control everyone in our lives? Well, I can only say the book has changed my life, but it isn’t easy. I have come to realize how special I am to God, how much He loves me, and how He really did have a dream for my life when He placed me in my mother’s womb. But life has had its way of changing my path and because of events which made me vulnerable to following ways which were not God’s ways, I changed my path from the one He formed for me to one that led me away from the profound reality of who I am. In truth, we have all done this to a degree. We can all say that we have trouble totally realizing the amazing love God has for us and tapping daily into that love. It is something we all crave, yet we shy away from claiming it. Maybe we don’t really believe in it; maybe we feel unworthy; maybe we never experienced unconditional love before. Well, it is never too late to start. The first way anyone can do this, besides reading this book, is to do some real soul searching and list those emotions and patterns of behavior that rule our lives and cause us to feel dark and sad rather than light and joyful. They are not from God, and like weeds in a garden, should be pulled out, confessed, and thrown away for good. God will fill the empty spaces with His love and grace and we will walk in the light of a new life. So, we will begin today to look at the very Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation. It is not at all what many people think, nor will you find any real understanding of it in the secular world. You will only discover its true value in the Word of God. We begin today by simple looking at a few Scripture passages, and the explanation of the sacrament found in the Catechism.

1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."
1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction. 1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God." He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call:  “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”

Act of Hope: O my God, trusting in your promises and because you are faithful, powerful and merciful, I hope, through the merits of Jesus Christ, for the pardon of my sins, final perseverance and the blessed glory of heaven. Amen!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Devotion for today: Could you cast the first stone?

John 8:1-11: Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

This past Sunday’s gospel continues to occupy my mind. I keep dwelling on it as I go about my daily activities. It is so rich in significance, and I find myself picturing myself in the event in three ways: as one of the crowd, as one of the elders, and as the woman.
As one of the crowd: I can see myself as someone who would have come to the temple area that morning. After all, Jesus was pretty famous for His preaching and teaching, and being interested in all things pertaining to God, I probably would have migrated to Him that morning. Maybe I had heard Him before and was captivated, wanting to here more. Maybe I heard rumors about Him and was curious. In any event, I would not have been prepared for what followed next.
 As one of the elders, scribes and Pharisees: Here I would be one of the ones who really did spend time knowing the law or tenants of my faith, yet came before Jesus lacking mercy. Many times I have been guilty of a judgmental attitude, and many times I present my case before God with somewhat distorted theology, as these men did, for the actual law said that both the man and the woman must be stoned if found guilty. If misinterpreting the law of God gets me what I want, then there are times when I will do it. I call that, “Playing in the gray.” It means I know what the truth is, but the truth isn’t convenient to what I am trying to do. So I change it. Anyway, if I do not have the proper authority to be judging someone, then what is the point? Self-righteousness is a serious problem for those who want to be holy. It can make them very “Phariseeish.”
 The woman caught in adultery: Now this is where I see myself in complete fear and trembling. Every one of us knows that we never want our sins to be exposed. That is why sinning is walking in darkness and obeying God is walking in light. Sin is dirty and awful, and being caught in it is shameful. We try to hide it in the darkness so we look good on the outside. The problem is, of course, that God sees everything, so our sin is always exposed to Him. I picture myself as the woman staring at Jesus as my judge, for that is what I think she must have thought he was, and waiting for the verdict. The truth is evident. I did commit the sin, but what is He going to do? And how awful to be exposed this way in front of everyone, yet for every sin we commit, we harm others. There is no private sin. To believe there is, is to believe one of the greatest lies Satan has sold us.
 Now I picture myself back in the crowd listening as Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” I feel electricity going through my body. Who is without sin? Who is there among us who hasn’t wasted precious brain space and verbal time condemning others when it is we ourselves who need to take a hard look and see what we have done to offend God? The woman committed a real sin; that is a fact. But who among the accusers had not committed offenses against God? I watch and see. Obviously, they were all sinners, because they all left. Now we watch Jesus with the woman. What a shock it is to see Him look at her, forgive her sin and tell her to go and sin no more! What to think? She did sin, but sin is forgivable, as long as the desire to sin no more is real? Jesus judges the sin and not the sinner, and offers mercy and forgiveness when a person is truly, truly sorry? I wonder if I would be able to comprehend all this. Lucky for us, I have a few commentaries and Catechism passages to help us out.

Catechism of the Catholic Church - 1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).  1451: Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again."  Being forgiven entails having contrition for the sin and also experiencing conversion to God. Conversion is not simply turning away from our sins. It also entails turning towards, and coming closer to God.

From Pope Francis’ homily for the fifth Sunday of Lent:
“Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message. If we are like the Pharisee before the altar, [who said], ‘Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all the other men, and especially not like that fellow at the door, like that publican…,’ well, then we do not know the heart of the Lord, and we shall not ever have the joy of feeling this mercy. It is not easy to entrust oneself to the mercy of God, because [His mercy] is an unfathomable abyss – but we must do it!  He has the ability to forget, [which is] special: He forgets [our sins], He kisses you, He embraces you, and He says to you, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now, on, sin no more.’ Only that counsel does He give you.  We ask for the grace of never tiring of asking pardon, for He never tires of pardoning.” 

This story also illustrates another pastoral issue. As Augustine noted (In John 33.8), we are in danger from both hope and despair. That is, we can have a false optimism that says "God is merciful so I can do as I please" or a despair that says "there is no forgiveness for the sin I have committed." This story shows we should keep these two inclinations in balance. There is no sin that God does not forgive. Christ's death atoned for all sin. The only sin that remains unforgiven is the one that is not repented of. But, on the other hand, God's call to us is to intimacy with himself, and sin cannot be in his presence any more than darkness can be in the presence of light. Christ's atonement cleanses us from sin as we repent day by day, and his Spirit is working in us a transformation so that in the end we will come out pure, though not in this life (1 Jn 1:8). But sin must be cut off. We must take it seriously. Jesus himself often tells us to fear God and his judgment.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Devotion for today: Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

For meditation Monday today, I have chosen a passage recommended to me by a reader who felt it very much explained the ways of Christ and His Church, and actually its new leader, verses the world and its standards. Note how God chooses the weak– that means you and me - to shame the strong – the worldly.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31:  

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 

 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,  but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  so that no one might boast in the presence of God.  

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Devotion for today: a prayer of St. Francis

In honor of our new Pope, here is a prayer by the saint whose name he chose. It is so simple, yet it speaks volumes about the faith of the saint and the man who loves him.

St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer before the 

Crucifix at San Damiano:

Most High, glorious God,

Enlighten the darkness of my heart

And give me true faith,

Certain hope and perfect charity,

Sense and knowledge, Lord,

That I may carry out

Your holy and true command.