Reflection: Christmas is here! Oh wait…

 

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

tired-of-christmas2

Are you ready? Or maybe you’re already done… Why not take a step back and breathe… And pray. Image Credit: Agape COC

We have officially entered the “Christmas Season”, full of gift buying, food preparation, and celebration. These next four weeks can be some of the busiest of the year, filled with family visits, last minute details, and all manner of hustle and bustle. This can be a time of great happiness, but at the same time, it can also be a time of great stress. The remedy? Remembering that we aren’t really in the “Christmas Season” at all; rather, we are in the “Advent Season”, a time of quiet prayer and reflection as we await the coming of the Lord.

Each Sunday of Advent has a specific “theme” that is reflected in that day’s readings and Mass prayers: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Reflecting on each of these themes, especially through our participation in the Sunday liturgies, we are called to “climb the Lord’s mountain…that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths” (Is. 2:3). The lessons of Advent teach us that even amidst our busy lives, we must keep our focus always on the Lord, so that we may “go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122) with hearts open to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friends, this Advent let us cultivate an attitude of prayer and reflection, even amidst our hectic schedules and long to-do lists. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5) and use this time not only for preparing for the coming holidays, but preparing our hearts and souls to be more fervent followers of the humble child who will be born in the manager in just a few weeks time, for “so too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44).

For reflection:

  • How can I include just 15 more minutes of prayer in my life each day?
  • How can I better witness to the truth and love of the Gospel through my busy schedule of the holiday season?

Reflection: Beacons of Hope

gondor-beacons2

Through the month of November, we remember those who have gone before us: those whom we commemorate as saints in heaven, as well as all those who have passed in our own lives, praying for them and remembering that they pray for us as well. The month of November can, at times, be a bit somber or bittersweet, but this is also a time of hope. While we remember those who have gone before us, we are reminded that this life is not the end. “With the hope that God gives”, we know that this life is meaningful and yet fleeting all at once. Moving our “hearts to the love of God” we experience “the endurance of Christ.” In the memory of those of have gone before, us we have the reminder of God’s love and presence in our lives today, yet also a reminder of the reality of the life that is to come.

As we move closer to the end of the liturgical year, approaching Advent, we see that God indeed “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” As our Savior and King, He gives us eternal hope and peace, if we but trust in the mercy and love of Christ. Yes, November can be bittersweet, but it serves as a reminder to always keep our focus on the things that really matter, and not on the distractions and pitfalls of the world. Let us then pray for our loved ones as we embrace this hope in eternal life, and become beacons of hope for all those around us as visible signs that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

For reflection: How can I be a sign of hope to others? Do I live my faith in an intentional but humble way, such as praying grace in public, or telling people that I will pray for them and following through?

Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Reflection: Pray without ceasing

As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! More on the pastoral internship itself in a later post. Pax.


hpbox_personalprayerWhat does it mean to “pray without becoming weary” or perhaps in a more familiar formulation, to “pray without ceasing?” I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty tall order! We are bombarded constantly by outside distractions, some of which are even good and necessary. Even so, we are called to make our lives ones of prayer and reliance on God. The psalm reminds us today that “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” and so we need to constantly turn to Him, being persistent in our faith, whether it is “convenient or inconvenient.” All we have is from God, and so all that we do needs to be directed towards Him.

How do we cultivate this life of unceasing prayer? One early Christian writer suggested this: a person “prays without ceasing who prays with good works and works with a prayerful spirit.” In other words, prayer does not simply consist of going to Mass, saying grace before meals, and other times of structured prayer. While these are good and essential for the Christian life, it also means turning everything we say and do into a prayer itself. We must not only set aside time each day for personal prayer, but make the entire day itself a living prayer. This is possible no matter what one’s vocation, job, or state in life, in good times and bad, in triumphs and challenges, and even in everyday mundane tasks. By offering our words and actions to the Lord, no matter how insignificant, we remain focused on Him, which will inevitably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling life here on Earth as we seek to be with Christ forever in Heaven.

Question for reflection: What are some concrete steps I can take to make my life more prayerful and centered on God?

Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday (Reflection)

For His mercy endures forever…

Acts 5:10-16, Ps. 118.2-4, 13-15, 22-24

Rev. 1.9-11A, 12-13, 17-19

800px-The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is mercy? Well, let me ask you another question, in hopes that we discover the answer: Are you a “doubting Thomas?” If you are anything like me, there have probably been many times throughout your life where you could answer “yes” to that question. Especially in our world today, we tend to look for hard, physical evidence, looking for the scientific basis of this or that situation. But even more so, I think there is another reason why we can call ourselves, at times, “doubting Thomas.” It’s hard for us to believe that our Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, hung upon the cross for us, and not just us as a collective group, but for you and me individually, as if we were the only persons in existence. Even though it is only a week after we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord, we might have doubts and questions! But this is why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, to serve as a reminder that all of us have received the free and unmerited gift of His mercy, that His triumph over death is real, if only we are willing to accept it. We see this in our first reading as the “believers in the Lord” were gathering: even though they were sick and maligned, “they were all cured”[1] at the hands of the apostles. Nothing was asked of them but faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing more is asked of us in order to find true healing. All we have to do to accept this gift of mercy is proclaim Jesus as the one who triumphed over death, and to embrace that “[our] strength and [our] courage is the Lord.”[2]

So let’s return to the image of the doubting Thomas: where can we find mercy? A doubting Thomas looks for the proof, and finds it difficult to accept in faith, something that many of us may be able to readily identify with! The beautiful reality, brothers and sisters, is that He brings the proof to us; He meets us right where we are at, with all of our sins and failings, inviting us to something more, something beautiful and glorious. This is mercy! When Thomas expresses his doubt, the Lord, in His mercy, approaches him and invites Thomas, invites him!, to bring his hand and place it into the Lord’s side. Only then, when Thomas is able to physically touch the Lord, does He exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”[3] The Lord knew Thomas, and knows us, and just as he knew that Thomas needed that moment of physical touch, so too does He know exactly what we need in order to experience and accepts His grace and mercy. Mercy is the Lord reaching out to us.

Divine Mercy

Pope Francis describes mercy as, “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”[4] But we do not build this bridge; it is Christ’s mercy, Christ’s bridge, that brings us closer to Him. Just as the Lord knew what bridge had to be built for Thomas, namely showing him and allowing him to feel the wounds in His side, He knows as well just what form the bridge needs to take for us, but we have to be willing to cross it to accept His mercy.

But where is our bridge? Of course, each one of us experiences Christ’s everlasting mercy and love in a unique manner, but it all flows from one place: from the sacraments, from confession, and most especially, the Word made flesh on the Eucharistic table. It is here that He calls to us and tells us, “do not be afraid.”[5] In His mercy, He provides the bridge, beckoning us to open our hearts to being led across, telling us, “do not be unbelieving but believe.”[6] The gift is there waiting for us; we just have to accept it. When we do cross this bridge, we die to sin, and are born to new life.[7]

So brothers and sisters, the Lord invites you and me, as He invited Thomas, to a deep and personal encounter with Him. This encounter, which takes place especially in the Eucharist and Confession, is one where we will discover the mercy of Christ, “by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn and by whose blood [we] have been redeemed.”[8] Let us “receive the Holy Spirit”, inviting mercy into our lives. As we profess our faith, let us keep the Easter acclamation, “Alleluia!” in our hearts, minds, and actions, proclaiming to the world that His mercy endures forever, and His love is indeed everlasting.[9]


 

  1. [1] Acts 5.16
  2. [2] Psalm 118.15
  3. [3] John 20.26
  4. [4] Pope Francis, Misericordae Vultus
  5. [5] Rev. 1.17
  6. [6] John 20.27
  7. [7] CCC 1988
  8. [8] Collect for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Yr. C
  9. [9] Ps. 118 and Response

From Wandering Hobbit to Believing Astronomer

Well, I meant to post this update about a week ago, but alas, as a seminarian in graduate-level theology, other matters tend to take the forefront (and rightly so!). But I finally have a moment to sit down and give a proper update here at The Believing Astronomer, what used to be The Road Goes Ever On.

First, you’ll notice that I have my own website domain now, thanks to a generous Christmas gift from a family member (thanks Dad!). I’m still running trusty ol’ WordPress, but it should be easier to find the site now. The new address is also reflected in the new title, which is, as you can see, The Believing Astronomer.

But why the new name? Well, there are a couple reasons:

  1. Science and faith are two important aspects of my life, especially astronomy and cosmology in terms of science. While science can never replace my faith, I fully believe that faith and reason go hand-in-hand. God gave us minds to use and to observe, to study the world. We are called to a responsible examination of everything around us, and by doing so, we can get to know His creation even better. I wanted this to be reflected in the blog, not only in title, but in actuality: I plan on posting more astronomy and cosmology based articles from time to time, as well as other odds and ends such as a series on backyard astronomy basics, the first post of which can be seen here. At the same time, my faith, as I said, remains paramount, so I will continue posting on matters concerning my Catholic beliefs, and continuing series such as On the Journey. From time to time, the two topics will most certainly intersect. Of course, I will also post updates on my journey towards the priesthood, as that is, of course, my first concern in my life (well, besides loving and serving God and neighbor, but they all go together, in my opinion).
  2. While I loved the Tolkien reference in the name of the blog (from the poem “The Road Goes Ever On“), I fear that it might be a copyright issue, so rather than even have the remote possibility of receiving a friendly note from the Tolkien estate (although I would like to think he might appreciate some of the work here), better safe than sorry.

So there you have it. This particular hobbit continues the journey, seeking God, looking up, and as always, keeping you in prayer. Please pray for me as well!

Pax.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Christ is coming; are you ready? (Reflection)

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year C

Micah 5.1-4a, Ps. 80.2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Heb. 10.5-10, Luke 1.39-45

Christ is coming; are you ready? Oh, we are getting ready for many things in these last days before Christmas: family, celebrations, gifts… But are we ready for what, for who, really matters: the coming of Jesus Christ?

Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

In the Gospel today, we read the story of the Visitation, one of the events on which we also meditate when we pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary, where the Virgin Mary, who has been visited by the angel Gabriel, travels “to the hill country in haste,” seeking her cousin, Elizabeth.[1] We see this young girl, perhaps riding a donkey, moving quickly along, looking forward to visiting her cousin, as she approaches a small house. Then another woman, older than Mary, comes out. This person, Elizabeth, is understandably excited to see her cousin and opens her arms in welcome. But then we see something else, something more: Elizabeth, who is by this time visibly pregnant, feels the child in her womb, John the Baptist, leap for joy. This is the same John the Baptist whom we heard last week announce, “one mightier than I is coming.”[2] Elizabeth, immediately recognizing what is happening, exclaims those words that are so familiar to us: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”[3]

What if Mary, with the Christ-child in her womb, were to come to our door? Would we leap for joy like John the Baptist? Would we react in wonder and gratitude, asking, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”, like Elizabeth? Or would we notice at all, absorbed with all of the busy details of the Christmas season?

In other words, would we react to the coming of Christ with hospitality or indifference? As we grapple with how we would react, we can take our cue from one of the great saints in Western civilization, Saint Benedict, who told his followers, “all should be received as Christ.”[4] I think this is what we should strive for in this Christmas season: we must strive for true hospitality, whether we are receiving others or receiving Christ Himself, since as believers, we know we are indeed receiving Jesus Christ when we encounter those around us in our daily lives. In the person of Elizabeth, and even in John the Baptist who was still in her womb, we see a striking example of hospitality: there is no trepidation, no fretting over this or that detail, just pure joy and wonder. Granted, they had the privilege of literally welcoming Christ.

Then again, we have that privilege too. We encounter Christ in an intimate and miraculous way on the Cross. That child in Mary’s womb, the one that will “stand firm and shepherd his flock, by the strength of the Lord” and whose rule “shall reach to the ends of the Earth”[5] will one day leave Bethlehem and enter Jerusalem, giving Himself up on the cross, dying for us. That small infant who is to be born in five days, who we are called to welcome with open arms, the child for whom the Innkeeper didn’t even have hospitality for, will offer His body once for all[6], destroying sin, opening up to us the gates of heaven. Even in this early moment with Elizabeth, we get a glimpse of the true nature of the child who will make the journey from womb to manger to cross and finally to the tomb. Let us remember all of this when He approaches us!

And He does approach us! We encounter Him on the cross, and so we encounter Him now in the Eucharist: in humility and mercy, he entered Mary’s womb, in humility and mercy he died on the cross for our sins, and in humility and mercy, he comes to us today, “just as He filled with His power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”[7] Let us open the doors of our hearts in hospitality, seeking to embrace His presence, welcoming His “humility who bears witness to the truth.”[8] Let us follow the example of Mary, who “most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” by welcoming “the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel”[9] as we seek to invite Christ into our lives.

In these final days of Advent, the Holy Spirit prompts us to welcome the infant Christ with open arms and hospitality, calling upon His name, so that He will give us new life.[10] As Christmas draws near my friends, “may we press forward all the more eagerly”[11], inviting Him into our hearts, even leaping for joy, knowing that in five days, our God will be born in a manger, He who “shall be peace”[12], in the anticipatory hope that one day we will hear the words, “Blessed are you who believed.”[13]

Christ is coming. Are you ready?


 

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice! (Reflection)

Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday

Zephaniah 3.14-15, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

Philippians 4.4-7, Luke 3.10-18

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Pope Francis at today’s Mass for Gaudete Sunday, via Catholic.org. The color is rose, not pink! Real men wear rose…

“Rejoice in the Lord always!”[1] Rejoice! During this Advent season, we have so many things for which we can rejoice: family, friends, celebrations, but do we remember the reason for which we should truly be rejoicing? My friends, that reason is, of course, Jesus Christ. As we proceed through Advent, we prepare for His coming, readying our hearts for the Nativity of our Lord. What a beautiful time of year this is!

At the same time, I think it can also be very difficult to rejoice, or at least to take the time away from our busy schedule in order to rejoice. Those same items I mentioned above for which we are joyful can hinder our focus on the real reason for joy. Preparing for family visits might have us running errands all over the place, or Christmas lists might have us focused on shopping. Or perhaps more serious concerns keep us from rejoicing… Maybe we have to choose between paying an electric bill and buying gifts. Perhaps there has been the death of a loved one. Or maybe the winter weather has put us in a depressed mood, despite the much needed rain and snow!

So how are we to rejoice then in this season? How do we reorient ourselves towards the true reason for rejoicing as we look expectantly for the coming of our Savior?

Well, one practical thing we can do is turn to others. In this season of Advent and the coming season of Christmas, it is important to remember those who are missing something, whether they are missing dry clothes, a hot meal, or the pleasure of family and friends. The Gospel today tells us that “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”[2] We shouldn’t leave Church and act as if nothing we do here has changed us. We must go out into the world and be a force for good, allowing the Lord to work through us in our words and deeds, showing those around us that “the Lord is near”[3] and he is ever-faithful in His promise to remain with us all the days of our lives.

There is another way we can reorient ourselves towards joy, more so than any of the other things I have mentioned thus far: simply turning to the Lord Himself. After all, how can we show others that the Lord is near if we do not first believe and act on it ourselves? For no matter what is going on in our lives, in the moments in which we rejoice or in the moments in which we might despair, we must recognize that the reason for our joy never ceases, as God has “a single motive for choosing”[4] us, for coming to us in the child Jesus, and that is His never-ending love for us to bring forth our salvation through that small child in the manger who will one day hang on the cross.

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A voice crying out from the wilderness reminds us of this love, and the presence of the Lord in our lives. We hear it in today’s Gospel: while John was in the womb of Elizabeth, he foretold the coming of the Lord; now on the banks of the Jordan, he foretells the coming of Jesus once again, proclaiming that Christ will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[5] In this baptism with the Holy Spirit, we are made a new creation and are truly given a reason to rejoice: we have new life in Christ and “can cry out with joy and gladness.”[6] He never ceases to call us, and in our baptism we find true life and happiness.[7]

Finally, not only do we have this enduring promise, but He makes it easier to attain joy and hope than we can possibly imagine: He comes to us, right here and right now. We don’t have to travel far, we don’t have to do anything complicated, we just need to turn to His love and mercy in the sacraments. In the Sacraments, “the Lord is in our midst”; in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he renews us in His mercy, and in the Eucharist, He will renew us in His love. We only need to have confidence in Him.[8] Take advantage of the treasures He has given us in the faith, these tangible and real signs that echo the voice of John the Baptist as he cries out to us proclaiming the presence of the Lord.

My dear friends, in this season of Advent, on this Gaudete Sunday, we have a true reason for joy. As we look to His coming at Christmas, we find a hope and peace that no thing or person in this world can satisfy. Let us enter His infinite love, becoming signs of that love ourselves, and “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”[9]


 

  • [1] Phil. 4.4
  • [2] Luke 3.11
  • [3] Phil. 4.5
  • [4] CCC 218
  • [5] Luke 3.16
  • [6] Responsorial Psalm Verse
  • [7] CCC 30
  • [8] Zeph. 3.17
  • [9] Responsorial Psalm Verse

Note: I am back after exams and the end of the semester. Thank you for the prayers!

Silver Glass and a Swift Sunrise

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. – John 6.40

Today in the Abbey Church, we celebrated the Mass for All Souls Day, calling to mind all of those who have passed before us. In those moments, there was a tinge of sorrow, yes; perhaps it was a longing to once again be with loved ones. Then again, there was also a joy, a joy that recognizes the loving mercy of the Father who draws His children to His bosom.

It was following Mass, however, during the procession to the monastery graveyard, that the reality of death became more pronounced. As we walked in silence, I was acutely aware of the biting chill that enveloped us. The reds, golds, and browns of the changing leaves gently swayed on their respective branches, ready to fall to the earth. Autumn had certainly descended, preparing the way for the coming of winter, reminding all gathered of the fleeting nature of our lives. Here at the changing of the seasons, the Church in her wisdom has us call to mind the reality of death, the need to pray for each other, and the Paschal Mystery that frees us from that same death.

Entering the graveyard, I was struck like never before by the row upon row of gravestones, monks who had dedicated their lives in faithful service to the Lord. These monks, who crossed an ocean and a vast country to settle in the Northwest had directly affected thousands of lives, and through their work in forming priests, indirectly impacted hundreds of thousands. Filled with gratitude for their witness, I recognized how “they saw the Son and believed in Him.” As we sang the antiphon “In Paradisum”, I was struck at how much God can work in our lives, if we let Him. If we allow His grace to prevail, we will have eternal life. If we follow His example of humility and obedience, death will have no power. Death has yielded to the King who humbled Himself:

Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered. -St. Athanasius

And so as we proceed into the month of November, remembering those who came before, let us give thanks for their influence on our lives and the work that God performed through them. At the same time, let us remember to pray for all those who have departed us, that perpetual light may shine upon them. In a particular way, I am remembering the following individuals (listed by last name), and others whom I am probably forgetting, throughout this month:

Fr. Paschal Cheline

William Childers

Msgr. Andrew Coffey

John Elrod

Fr. Thien Dang

Fr. Richard Doheny

Fr. John Folmer

Fr. Steven Foppiano

Fr. Terry Fulton

Dean Gabbert

Marie Gabbert

Haley Hall

Kevin Keeley

Tim Mar

Don Marshall

Lois Marshall

Don Oehler

Levia Reynolds

Juanita Walker

(If you would like to add anyone, or remind me of someone I should have listed, please let me know either here or via Facebook.)

While the turn of the season and liturgical calendar brings to mind our own mortality, something we should keep in the forefront of our thoughts more often, we need not despair, knowing that through Him, death has lost its sting. Soon, we will enter the period of waiting, looking to His arrival as a small child in a manger, who will go to Calvary in the ultimate expression of love.

I leave you with words that have aways brought to mind, at least for me, thoughts of eternity and a blessed hope:

“Grey Havens” by Alan Lee

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. -J.R.R. Tolkien

Pax et bonum.

Reflections: On True Discipleship

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Isaiah 50.5-9A, Psalm 116.1-2, 2-3, 5-6, 8-9

 James 2.14-18,  Mark 8.27-35

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Does it mean helping the less fortunate? Perhaps. As Christians we are called to help the poor and the lonely. Does it mean that we need to act nicely to people, be helpful and courteous to those around us? Maybe, since we are called to be meek and humble of heart. Does it mean that we need to go to Church on Sunday? Yes, I suppose. We need to give reverence where it is due.

To be brutally honest, however, we could be doing all of these things and not have the faintest idea of what it means to be His disciple.

jesuspeter

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means a complete surrender and sacrifice of our lives. We are called to allow God to open our ears so that we may hear, so that the promptings of the Holy Spirit may guide us throughout our daily lives. This is no easy task! After all, the Holy Spirit doesn’t exactly call us up on the phone or shoot us a text message! Nonetheless, He is there, and if we trust in Him, if we are truly disciples of the Lord, we will allow Him to take and lead us, to be our help and shield, no matter what or who may confront us in life. If we walk before the Lord, as the Psalm says, then our lives will become so much more than doing good works or even going to Church on Sunday (although that is a good, necessary, and essential part of being a Christian): by recognizing our place as children of the Father, He becomes our only light, and again as the Psalm says, He frees us from death and keeps our feet from stumbling. When we open our ears to hear, He in turn hears and guides us with His grace.

We see then that the first step is hearing and listening to God, and that is a big step! I know – I still struggle every day to hear the voice of the Lord, trying to overcome my own shortcomings and foibles. But next, we have to do something, for after all, St. James tells us that if our faith does not do anything, then it is dead. Does that mean that we must prove our mettle as good Catholics through the works that we do? Should I go around saying, “ooh, guess how many Hail Marys I said today” or should I devote all of my waking moments to some sort of project or program, no matter how good, to the exclusion of my prayer life, in order to somehow gain favor with God? Of course not! But the evidence for a true faith is found in its fruit, in the works that it produces, and likewise, works that are not supported by faith carry so much less weight.

So we open our ears to the Lord in order that we may hear, we allow our faith to bear fruit in its works, and then we take another step in our journey, and it is the most important step of all: we follow Christ Himself to the Cross, accepting and embracing the reality of the Paschal Mystery. We cannot be like Peter, rebuking Christ, because if you notice in the Gospel, it is when Peter protests the Cross that he is told by Jesus to “Get behind me, Satan!” Rather, we must “call upon the name of the Lord” and follow Him. We must deny ourselves and take up our own crosses, just as He took up His cross for us. This is not some sort of masochistic thought that we have, wanting to delight in the pain of the cross. No! We take up our crosses to share in His, to come to the reality of the Paschal Mystery and the love of the Trinity. By emptying ourselves, we leave room for Him, and can join Him at the heavenly banquet of which we are called to partake. This is true joy!

By offering ourselves, our joys, our sufferings, our triumphs, and our challenges, we make the sacrifice complete, not in a way that says His sacrifice was somehow incomplete, but rather in that way that St. Paul shows us we complete the sacrifice of Christ, namely by cooperating with His fully effective sacrifice by joining ourselves to Him, or as St. Thomas says, by patiently bearing the trials that God sends us, so as to become like Christ. (cf. Col. 1:24). Only then, through surrender to Him, can we realize the beauty and depth of the Paschal Mystery and come to join Him at His table.

It is from here, my friends, that those good works mentioned above develop into true fruit. Only after we become true disciples, that is by joining Him, taking up our cross and following Him, can we perform the good works to the fullest extent that we are called to perform them: to feed the hungry, relieve the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. Only by becoming true disciples and opening our ears to hear can we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, and pray for all people both living and dead. This is a life-long task that has been given to us, and we must strive daily to fulfill it, persevering, and trusting that even when we fail, like Peter did, He is with us.

In Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, do we find the true meaning of discipleship, good works, and life itself. To God be the glory.