Today’s Thoughts: Usually when I hear today's Gospel the thought that comes into mind is, "Right question, wrong time!" What I mean by this is that Mrs. Zebedee asks the right question but it at the wrong time. She wants the best for her sons; she wants eternal life, who doesn't? It is the goal of every person of faith. Yet if we listen to the passage closely, Jesus has just talked to them about what lies ahead, he has shared with them the reality of his Passion and Death. What's their response, "Can my sons have a place of honor in the Kingdom?" If Jesus were like us he might have responded, "Lady, did you just hear what I said!" But he doesn't, Jesus turns it once again into a teaching moment in the hope his disciples will continue to grow.
We might say that Mrs. Zebedee's question is a typical human response when someone is sharing their deep human emotions and feelings. When someone shares with us a personal struggle, a personal tragedy, a personal hurt or pain, at those moments we tend to want to change the subject or turn inward and think of ourselves. Jesus and the readings the last few days have been trying to focus us beyond ourselves. A disciple serves. A disciple looks outward toward others. A disciple tries to right the wrongs of society. A disciple thinks of those who have no one to help them. A disciple is not concern about herself or himself. A disciple has entrusted herself or himself to God. Jesus uses this moment today to once again make this point. He has "not come to be served but to serve and to give his life in ransom for the many."
Jeremiah wants to know why bad things happen to good people. Why for all the good work he has done he faces being repaid with death? All he did was to bring God's message to the people. All he did was be a faithful disciple. What Jeremiah learns and what eventually Jesus' disciples learn is that discipleship is not easy and often dangerous. Yet if we trust in God, if we look beyond ourselves to others God will take care of us when it counts most.
As we continue to make our way through this Lent let us listen to Jesus and not respond by thinking just of ourselves but let us trust in God's kindness and love because we too are willing to serve rather than be served. We too are willing to look beyond ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom!
Have a great Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Now I must admit that I struggle every time I hear or read today's Gospel. The images that Jesus uses to talk about the religious leadership of his time seem all too familiar and being a part of the leadership of our Church I wonder about myself and whether I am making the same mistakes as those Jesus is talking about in the Gospel.
I think about the scandals and struggles of the Church today and wonder if the very pitfalls that Jesus points out about the leadership of his day are not alive and well in the leadership of the Church today. Let's remember that the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day were good people for the most part. They were doing what they thought they were supposed to do. However, they were caught up in a religious leadership culture that had developed over centuries. They thought they were doing what was right.
Many in religious leadership today are good people doing what they think is right, but they caught up in the leadership culture that has developed over centuries. But like in Jesus' time does that make it right and life giving?
For me whether you are part of the religious leadership of today or not the challenge of the Gospel is that of being a humble servant. Throughout my life and ministry as a priest I have always imaged myself as a servant and a shepherd. Those are the two images that make the most sense to me for who I am and how I am supposed to live. I work at trying to be a humble person, but I am not always successful. What always brings me back to reality when I get too full of myself is that I am a servant nothing more.
Too often today we see people in leadership who feel entitled, who look for the places of honor, who seek out titles, who do place burdens on others without any thought of helping. They become people who are distant, at times unapproachable and certainly not shepherds or servants!
Perhaps our task today is to pray for leadership, especially within our Church that they - we might find the virtues of servant and shepherd once again. That they - we might take to hearts the words of Jesus and seek to be humble servants who learn to do good again!
Have a great Tuesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: I have decided I am glad that cell phones, computers and social media came along long after I was out of college and at a time when I hope I am wiser in how I respond to things that happen around me. Often when I am reading through Twitter, Facebook or the comments people post after an article that I have read online I want to respond to something someone has said. Most of the time I do not want to respond with a positive comment, I want judge, condemn make fun of or show the person the error of their ways. I want to be negative. It is very easy to do after all it is just words and there is no way other than words for the person to respond. I do not have to look at them or be in the same room with them. I can just hide behind my computer, IPad, or cell phone. No risk involved and certainly no responsibility.
If I had these opportunities in high school, college or my early years as a young adult I am pretty sure my self-control would not have been as good as it is today. I would have thrown my opinion into the cyber mix often with no thought of who it might hurt or of the consequences that my words, my criticism, my negativity might have on others and myself.
In the Gospel today, Jesus reminds us to be people who don't judge, who don't condemn. We are asked to be people of mercy and forgiveness. People who somehow find the good in others and work as letting that goodness shine.
It is very easy to have a knee jerk reaction to something someone says especially if it is not along the lines of the things we believe or value. It is very easy to be critical especially when we do not walk in the shoes of the person we are criticizing. It is very easy to point the finger of blame. It is very easy to condemn, to judge and to be self-righteous, especially when we have nothing to lose because we are sitting behind a computer not in front of the person we have just judged, just condemned by our words.
Throughout this season of Lent, we look for forgiveness for our sinfulness, we fast, we pray, we give up things, we do good works all in the hope that God will be merciful and forgiving. In the living of Lent, we hope for a life, for a world that is more positive, peaceful and God centered. Today Jesus asks us not to be passive disciples who sit and listen, but active workers for the Kingdom. We can start by living our lives as merciful, forgiving loving people. People, who do not judge, do not condemn, do not tear down with our words but people who build up. People who help to build the peaceable Kingdom of God!
Have a blessed Monday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: In our Gospel Peter, James and John are given the opportunity to see and hear Jesus differently, not just through the eyes and ears of the world but also through the eyes and ears of faith. What they see and hear is terrifying, awesome and wonderful.
Abraham gets put to the ultimate test. He is asked to sacrifice his son. In many ways, this story in Genesis is a powerful one. One that probably makes every parent cringe. I cannot imagine any parent agreeing to sacrifice any of their children. They would first offer their own life. Now it is true that parents would like to kill their children at certain times but no sacrifice them! Yet, Abraham stakes his life as a parent and his son’s life on the promises of God and that makes all the difference. Abraham is not transfigured he is transformed.
Like Abraham, Peter, James and John, are gifted with God's presence. It is a presence that is also overwhelming and terrifying. They encounter the breath of God's covenant and the essence of Jesus divine nature. They want to hang on to both but quickly learn that they cannot. It is an encounter to be remembered, an encounter that they can take with them as they return to the life they live. It becomes for them an encounter of hope. Even though they must return to their everyday life, to the struggles, difficulties, the challenges, even though they must go back down the mountain and continue their journey to the next mountain, Calvary, they have this memory that will keep alive the hope they need no matter what they encounter. Peter, James and John are not transfigured they are transformed.
And so, it is for us as we continue this journey of Lent, this journey of life. We too have an encounter with the presence of God. It perhaps doesn't seem as terrifying or as awesome as Abraham’s or Peter, James and John's. It sometimes is quickly forgotten but if we have faith it is the very hope that will help us continue this journey with all its struggles, with all it difficulties, with all its challenges. Our encounter with God is the Eucharist. It is not a transfiguration but a transubstantiation. The substance changed but not the appearance. It is our mountain top, it is our moment to see and hear God not through the eyes and ears of the world, but through the eyes and ears of faith! It is our moment to be transformed.
Have a blessed Sunday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you..." Probably some of the hardest words of the Gospel to put into practice. Perhaps on an intellectual level some of us might understand them. Maybe when we hear them proclaimed at mass we might give them some thought. However, when it comes to living, the vast majority of the time, these words do not find their way into how we look at life.
Enemies are not people to invest love in. People who persecute us do not find their way into our prayers. Most of the time these days we trash them on Facebook or Twitter, we gossip about them and find any way we can to discredit them, to demonize them. The twenty-four-hour news stations like FOX, MSNBC and the like will give you all the ammunition that you need! Living Jesus' words is leaving one's self open to all kinds of bad things. It reflects weakness in a world built on strength, power and being number one. We can point to many examples were others tried to be nice, tried to follow Jesus' advice and were persecuted, hurt, overrun, sent into slavery, exiled, lost all they had and end up worse than they started off. We can point to wars and conflicts that escalated into world problems because people didn't act with strength, force and might.
Living by Jesus' words seems to make us vulnerable and weak in the eyes of the people around us and the eyes of the world and to be honest with you I cannot dispute it. However, if we read a little further in the Gospel we might say in some ways Jesus is not talking about world problems and issues between nations or complex situations. Jesus is talking about our daily lives, greeting people, caring about people around us, treating people with honor and respect as we encounter them in the living of life.
Perhaps the point that Jesus is getting at is if we do the little things well, if we respect, honor and care about people in our one on one encounters. If we see a person who has hurt us or who does not value our point of view, our beliefs with love and respect and hold them in prayer, then perhaps our world problems would not be such a challenge. In other words, if we live the words of Jesus in our everyday lives then our world might have the chance of being a better place. If we do the little things with faith the big things might be easier to overcome!
Have a blessed Saturday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this”” (Pope Francis – Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel)
Pope Francis words today might not seem like they touch on our readings, but they do. Pope Francis challenges us to be people of the world, to be people who get down and dirty with those around us. We are to be people of mercy and compassion. We are to be people who find the good in others even if they have done us wrong. We are to be people who bring joy to the world.
Sometimes this can be a difficult task. When others hurt us, our natural response is to keep them at a distance, to wait for their apology, to seek justice, to wait for repayment, to hold on to the hurt. However, Jesus challenges us to be people who seek reconciliation, who offer forgiveness, who move beyond the hurt, who are people of service and joy.
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:20-26) Jesus teaches us about sin. He does not talk about mortal sin and venial sin. Jesus just talks about sin. The things we do, don’t do, the things we say or don’t say that hurt our relationship with God. Sin as Jesus speaks about it is not hierarchical it is on a continuum, anger at one end, killing someone at the other. If we do not deal with our anger, we are headed down the wrong road. So, in the Gospel today Jesus asks us to look at all our faults, our failings, our struggles with others whether they are small or great. He asks us to seek forgiveness and to be compassionate so that we remain on the right road.
In other words, we are to reach out to others, to serve others, to bring the gift of God’s joy to others. And if we live life this way we will be blessed!
Have a blessed Friday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and our thoughts and prayers are with Pope Francis, a humble and courageous man who has brought great joy and spirit to our Church and the world over the past few years. Some people criticize him for the way he goes about being pope but I admire him for his honesty, for his faithfulness, for his joy, for his smile for letting go and letting God!
The Gospel today is one of my favorites that scene when Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" I know scripture scholars do not interpret this question a Jesus wanting to know what people think, however each time I hear it that is where my thoughts go. This scene for me makes Jesus a little more human in my book.
He asks who to people say that he is, and then he asks the disciple who they say he is. Don't we all want to know the answer to these questions about ourselves? What do people think of us? What are they saying about us? We wonder what people in general whom we meet and perhaps work with think about us. We wonder what our friends really think. They are questions that we would like answered.
For me, I think Jesus did too, perhaps not for the same reasons we do, but I think it was important for him to know. Maybe he wanted to know how his message was getting across. Maybe he wanted to know how well his disciples were paying attend, were learning. Maybe it was a way to know just how well their relationship had grown.
As always we can count on Peter to bring life to the moment. Without hesitation he responds to Jesus' question with what was in his heart, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." You can almost hear the love in Peter's voice. This heartfelt reaction and answer to the question and Jesus says, "Blessed are you Simon....For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father." Peter was speaking from the depth of his soul. He would still struggle in his relationship with Jesus, there would be more mistakes but Peter had his hand of the pulse of his friendship with Jesus.
Perhaps Pope Francis does too; maybe his journey as pope is one that constantly reveals the joy and mercy of God. As people of faith perhaps we need to trust that Pope Francis is a shepherd who doesn't lord it over us but is an example to us.
Let us remember the words of St. John of the Cross, "In all our necessities, trials, and difficulties, no better or safer aid exists for us than prayer and hope that God will provide for us by the means God desires."
Have a great Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Recognizing and responding to God seems to be the tread that connects our two readings today. In the first reading from the Book of Jonah, Jonah is finally convinced by God to go to Nineveh and preach his message. Before Jonah gets half way through the city the people begin to repent. They proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth. As the word of God's message gets to the king, he puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes. In other words, much to Jonah's surprise the people hear God's word and respond to it right away. There is no debate, no bargaining, no resistance, the people hear the word of God and repent!
In the Gospel Jesus uses the example of Jonah to make his point to the people he is preaching to. His point is that God is in their midst, but they are missing this gift. Other people, people you would not expect, people outside the faith community hear the word of God and respond but people in the faith community do not. They want signs and yet God in right in their midst.
Recognizing and responding to God, that is always the challenge. It is certainly the challenge for us today. How many times is God present in our lives and we fail to recognize him? How many times does God speak to us and we fail to hear or listen?
God is compassionate and forgiving but we have to recognize him, we have to hear and respond. This was the biggest problem for the religious leaders of Jesus' time, God was right in their midst and they did not recognize him; they did not hear and respond to him. Let us not make the same mistake. Today let us be open and aware to the many ways God enters into our lives and invites us into his mercy and love!
Have a blessed Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: God's Word in our life is like nothing else. As our first reading from Isaiah remains us it cannot return to God without nurturing, correcting, healing and inspiring us. God's Word is just like the rain, it refreshes us, it softens us up and helps life to grow within us and around us. God's Word is always going to grow our challenge is to allow it to grow within us.
The Our Father has always been one of my favorite prayers, perhaps because it probably was one of the first prayers I learned. It keeps me connected with the beginning of my life. It is also important to me because it is the last prayer I prayed with my father. It happened one night in the hospital not long before he died. I asked him if he wanted to pray and he said yes. We said the Our Father together and when we were finished a great feeling of loss came over me and I began to cry. My dad reached out and comforted me. I think the feeling of loss came from the fact that all that the Our Father speaks about my own father did for me in life and in praying it that night I recognized the loss that was about to take place in my life.
The hopefulness of the Our Father is that God will never leave us. That each and every day we pray that simple pray, its promises, its challenges will always be taken care of by Our Father, God. Our daily bread will always be there. Forgiveness will always be there. The care, compassion and presence of God will always be there. We just have to trust and give life to the Word of God planted within us!
As St. Augustine puts it, "If you run through the petitions of all holy prayers, I believe you will find nothing that is not contained in the Lord's Prayer."
Have a blessed Tuesday everyone and stay warm!
Today’s Thoughts: While the section of the Book of Leviticus which is our first reading today seems to be a list of what to do and not do I think more importantly it is a reminder of how to be a Christian, a Catholic. These commands that Moses offers the people today are all about being a compassionate and loving person. Yes, they say what to do and not do, mostly what not to do, but if we think about not doing things like stealing, lying, swearing falsely, using profanity, making fun of people with disabilities, not acting dishonestly, not gossiping, not living with hate we can begin to see a life enriched by the presence of God. We can begin to see a life were we love our neighbor rather than hate our neighbor.
The advancement in technology and social media is a wonderful thing. It gives us information in an instant. It makes it possible to communicate across vast miles in a second. It brings people and experiences into our homes at the instants they happen. But it also enables us to be very non-Christian without even thinking about it. We can slander, berate, gossip, hurt and even hate others without even leaving our homes. It is like playing a video game and yet our words, our thoughts put down on Facebook, Twitter and all the other forms of social media can sometimes be profoundly hurtful and un-Christian.
The first reading reminds us today that whether we are standing in front of a person or thousands of miles away we still have a responsibility to be a person of faith, a person of God and that means being loving not hateful and destructive.
Jesus continues this theme in the Gospel with the very famous phrase, "whatever you did to one of the least brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did to me." Our words and actions whether in the midst of people or over the internet have consequences. If we are kind, loving and compassionate to whomever we encounter, wherever we encounter them we will be welcome in the Kingdom!
Have a blessed Monday everyone!
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...