Today’s Thoughts: "Repairer of the breach...Restorer of ruined homesteads." (Isaiah 58:12) Do we not have a picture of these titles in the Gospel today from Luke? Jesus invites Levi (Matthew) to follow him. Jesus invites a tax collector a profession that made the people involved hateful to society. Yet, Jesus brings them into the community of faith. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners and the religious leaders are taken a back. Jesus brings those who are thought to be outside the community into the community. Yes, Jesus is the true "repairer of the breach and restorer of ruined homesteads.”
However, these words and this story are not just about Jesus. Isaiah is speaking to us. Jesus is laying down an example for us. We are to be the repairers of the breach and restorers of the ruined homesteads. It is our job as members of the faith community to reach out and make those on outside welcome within the community. It is our job to offer God’s mercy.
So often we find within the faith community people who find it much easier to judge, to exclude, to criticize, to question the actions of people then to reach out and help, then to be merciful. So often we find people within the faith community who create the breach and ruin the homesteads.
As people of faith we live with the hope that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in the person of Jesus, but we also live with the challenge that as a disciple of Jesus we need to keep that hope alive. It has been said that through what God "does" we come to know who God "is." I think this can also be said about us. Through what we do for others as a people of faith people, people will come to know who we are.
As we continue this journey of Lent let us respond to Jesus' invitation to follow and give life, mercy and hope to life as repairers and restorers!
Have a blessed Saturday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: Who shall know the mind of God? No one really, God's thoughts are not our thoughts; God's ways are not our ways. (Adapted from Isaiah 55:8)
I find the reading from Isaiah rather interesting today. It confirms for me something about my faith that I have struggled with for many years, the idea of doing things to be seen rather than doing things to make a difference.
In recent years there has been a movement among some to kneel or bow profoundly when receiving communion. There are those in high places who commend this practice and there are others who think all should be doing this. Now I truly believe that when we receive communion, we should do it reverently. That said there are many ways to be reverent. If we were to apply Isaiah's words in the first reading to the action of receiving communion, they might sound something like this, "Do you call receiving communion in this way what I want? This rather, is how you are to receive communion, I want you to receive and then take me into the world, help others, be the presence of God everywhere you go. In other words, as Isaiah reminds us God is not about rituals, God is about actions.
However, we receive communion is not the point – it is what we do once we receive the Lord. It is how we treat people that makes all the difference. God does not put a lot of importance in the "show" of things, in the "how" we do it, in the "what" we look like when doing it, in how many people see it, in the how reverent it is. God puts value in the way we live our faith, the way we interact with the world, the way we treat others, the way in which we bring God's compassion and mercy to the world.
In the Gospel, the religious leaders are once again hung up on the rules, regulations and rituals but Jesus is about the living of life. Jesus is about recognizing God in our midst. Lent keeps reminding us that our thoughts are not God's thoughts and our ways are not God's way, yet we have the opportunity to recognize the presence of God in our life and change the way we think and the way we act so that we are about God and not ourselves.
Have a great Friday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: "Today I have set before you, life and prosperity, death and doom...I have set before you, life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life..." Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy presents to the people, presents to us two roads for the taking and suggests to us that we choose the road of life.
Many years ago, as I was entering religious life my sister gave me a gift; I think it was for Christmas. It was a picture of a road sign, with an arrow pointing in two directions. It is the kind of sign that you find as a road comes to an end and as a driver you have to make a choice to go either right or left. Beneath the picture were the last three lines of Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken.
"Two roads diverged in the woods, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
The picture has hung on my wall wherever I have lived over the years and has been an inspiration; it has been a reminder that the journey that I have traveled even though difficult at times has been the right journey.
We might say that Moses is presenting to us two roads that diverge in the living of life. That we stand before those two roads that Moses calls Life and Death, blessing and curse, prosperity and doom. There are no signs just the choice of two roads, two ways to live life and we have to choose. Moses suggests that we choose life. In many ways this suggestion is the road less traveled because it is not always comfortable, it is not always self-gratifying, it is not always easy, and it is not always the road everyone else is traveling. The road of life can be filled with crosses, struggles, challenges, steep hills and selfless responses.
The road of life has none of the allurements that you often find on the other road, power, wealth, instant gratification, self-importance, status and greatness in the eyes of the world. Yet, on the road of life you also do not find loneliness, judgmentalness, selfishness, greed, anger and death. On the road of life, you will find a community. It is a community ready to help, ready to walk with you. It is a community with a vision, a purpose beyond this life. It is a community of faith, of hope and of love. On the road of life faith will be strengthened, hope will be enlivened, and love will be the order of the day!
Yes, as we begin Lent, we are presented with two roads diverging in front of us. There is a great crowd walking down the one, no so many on the other. Which road are we going to choose? My hope is that we choose the road less traveled, my hope is we choose life because that will make all the difference!
Have a great Thursday everyone.
Ash Wednesday Thoughts: Ash Wednesday 2020 – I feel like a broken record when it comes to Ash Wednesday each year because I always have a struggle with the scriptures at mass on Ash Wednesday, especially the Gospel and what we do as a Church. Jesus' words all point to a quiet, non-public, personal and hidden commitment to fasting, alms giving and prayer. Yet, right after the Gospel we parade up and get a large cross of ashes that we can wear throughout the day for everyone to see. It doesn't seem right but that is what we do. When I was a kid, we got a little smug of ashes that faded quickly but today if you don’t get a large darkened cross of ashes people feel cheated.
In dealing with my struggle I usually harken back to an Ash Wednesday several years ago, when a Passionist who was celebrating the community mass articulated my struggle but then said perhaps it is important for us as a faith community to do this as we begin Lent. Ashes are a sign of unity, a sign of belonging and often for us that is important. I had never considered it that way. The ashes we Christians receive today connect us, they bring us together for a common purpose. Now we will each live out that common purpose differently, some more involved than others but we are together, we are connected.
However, to be honest I still struggle with the fact that churches are full to overflowing today because people want the ashes and they will take them anyway they can get them, often wishing to avoid the mass or the service, just give them the ashes so that they can be on their way. But, every Sunday when we have the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, most people who receive ashes today are nowhere to be found and there is plenty of room in the church. I do not think I will ever understand how ashes became more important than Eucharist! Perhaps it is wearing the badge, the outward sign of ashes for all to see that makes us feel closer to God. I don't know!
On to more positive thoughts..."Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation. [So] a clean heart create for me O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me," words from St. Paul and Psalm 51 that help us to begin this journey of Lent.
St. Paul was one for always putting things in the moment not caught in the past or looking too far ahead, St. Paul in the here and now. Now was always the time, today this moment is what we should be concerned about. Somehow, some way God will be present to us today, God's Spirit will be alive for us today and we dare not miss it! The journey begins today and every day. The end of the journey is today and every day. The time is now!
I have always found the Psalms to be a wonderful book of prayer and if I could make a suggestion for your journey of Lent go to the Psalms and use them as part of your prayer. In fact I would suggest using Psalms 51 and 139. Alternate them during Lent spending some time with each. In Psalm 51 we seek forgiveness, joy, hope and God's love. In Psalm 139 we are reminded of God great love for us and the intimacy a relationship with God can bring.
During Lent, we are challenged to live each day in the present moment, in the hope that now is the time and go to prayer in our inner room knowing that we are not perfect, that we struggle but that God is right there with us!
Blessing on this Ash Wednesday to all.
Today’s Thoughts: In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus as teacher and a moment in his journey of teaching. The task of a teacher is often a very difficult one, so was Jesus’ task as teacher. His students were his disciples, were mostly women and men long past their childhood. Most of them did not have much formal schooling. They were not ideal students and teaching them was not always easy. There was no classroom and there was none of our modern teaching equipment and technology. The teaching of Jesus was often done in the open air and subject to many distractions for the students. The teaching was often done, as in our story today, while the group traveled on foot. Such obstacles were frustrating for Jesus. He sometimes expressed his frustration with his disciples, especially with their slow progress of understanding, of believing.
On this journey through Galilee with his disciples, Jesus was a teacher. He explained the things that he wanted them to learn. For the second time, he predicted his coming passion and death. Yet, once again his disciples didn’t understand what he meant, and they were afraid to ask any questions. They probably feared that any questions they might ask would reveal their failure to understand. And, of course, they did not want to be seen as ignorant by the other disciples. How little has changed over the centuries. How often have we had a teacher tell us: “If there is something you don’t understand, let me know.” And yet how often do we find that difficult because we fear to show our ignorance?
In spite of these difficulties, Jesus continued his teaching. Even with his disciples fearing to ask questions, he kept to his mission. Jesus had all the characteristics of a good teacher. He excelled in patience and kept repeating the most important lessons that he wanted his disciples to learn. He also made good use of parables and stories to explain the meaning of his teaching. Gradually the disciples came to learn and understand the important lessons that Jesus wanted to teach them.
Today Jesus is still teaching us through the words of the Gospel. The most important teachings of Jesus are repeated often in the Gospel readings at Mass. All of us are encouraged to familiarize ourselves with the teachings of Jesus through our own reading of the Gospel stories. Sometimes we refer to those who read the scriptures often as students of the bible. All of us can be students in this sense. The more we read about the teachings of Jesus, the better we will understand them. And as we come to a better understanding of Christ’s teachings, we will become, like the disciples, true followers, true believers, in other words faith filled friends of Jesus.
Have a great Tuesday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” In many ways, all of us look at ourselves as people of faith, people who have values and, in most cases, can say we are believers. Yet, perhaps like the man in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:14-29) we need help with our unbelief, we need help in those moment, those situations, those circumstances when it is hard to believe.
Belief at times can get away from us, our emotions, our feelings overrun us and cause us to doubt God’s presence in our life. Situations don’t go our way, the burden of all that life throws at us seems to overwhelm us and we let go of what is most important. We become part of a faithless generation.
Perhaps we might take our lead today from our first reading from the Letter from St. James (James 3:13-18). We need to cultivate Wisdom, but as St. James says the right kind of Wisdom, a Wisdom that pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. There is the wisdom of the world and there is the Wisdom of God. The Wisdom of God is the gift that can guide us through the struggles of unbelief. Wisdom can be the very presence of God that helps our unbelief.
Wisdom is the experience of life, the doing, seeing and listening of life that enables us to encounter the presence of God when we most need it. Wisdom can be found in every living thing and thus so can God. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we often recognize when we take the time to pray.
Let us be believers today and trust that God’s wisdom will always help us in our moments of unbelief!
Have a great Monday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: There is a saying, “The devil is in the details.” Meaning that when you do not concentrate on the details of something you may run into unexpected problems. However, there is an older saying, “God is in the details.” Meaning any action or plan one undertakes should be done carefully and pragmatically; attention to small details will ultimately yield the greatest results. Two ways of looking at the same issue, two ways that seem to produce different results, problems vs great results!
Given the negativity, anger, misinformation, violence of our world and the bad things that often seem to happen to good people – living with a generous and willing heart is not always easy and sometimes is downright frustrating. Paying attention to the details does not always bring good results. At least it seems that way to me. I truly want to follow the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 38-48), “Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back on the one who wants to borrow.” Yet, time and time again I struggle with the Gospel way that Jesus outlines today.
At times I want justice or maybe more so revenge, yes, I want an eye for an eye. I don’t like to get hit at all and I certainly don’t want to turn the other cheek. I am happy at times to go the extra mile but not always. You can have my jacket or coat as long as it is an old one and I have another. And it seems at times there are people on every street corner and subway stop if I give to everyone I will be broke within a day!
Yes, often I fail when it comes to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel and that bothers me! How can I be a person of faith, how can I be a Christian, a Catholic and fall so short? Jesus’ words are haunting words today and I have no answers. Sure, I have often rationalized – I can’t give to everyone; the money will surely be used for drugs or drink; they got what they deserved; somebody has to teach them a lesson; it’s too cold; I don’t have time; somebody else will help them; and on and on!
The details of our readings today are not turning the other cheek or an eye for an eye but the fact that we are asked to be holy, to be temples of God, of the Holy Spirit and to work at being compassionate, loving and forgiving just like God.
Perhaps the key to making the details of our readings work today is prayer. If our first response to the challenge, to the difficulty, to the struggle is prayer rather than anger, resentment, and judgment then we have the chance to imperfectly live the Gospel message.
Today’s Gospel is not about excusing offensive acts or being lenient with people who hurt us. It is not about looking the other way and letting people just do what they want. Today’s Gospel is about how we trust in the presence of God as we live in the midst of an imperfect world. It is about how we react to people and situation that hurt us. Do we seek vengeance, do we expect to extract our pound of flesh or do we pause and through prayer place the person, the situation in God’s hands?
Prayer can be a way of offering another Christian love. It can be a way of seeking mercy and forgiveness and also offering mercy and forgiveness. Prayer is not going to make our world perfect, but it can be a starting point for us becoming the people of faith that Jesus asks us to be today!
Have a great Sunday everyone and don’t for get to give God a little time today.
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 six plus 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 Matthew’s version of the story we heard earlier this week in Mark. It 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 Saturday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: I know many of you probably look at today as just Friday. And you are right in doing so along with most of the rest of the world but in the Passionist world today, the Friday before Ash Wednesday is the Feast of the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion. It is one of the most important and special feast days that we have in the Congregation of the Passion. It is a day when we can truly celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ which is the lens through which we view and live our lives as Passionists.
Pope Francis said – “Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus…. A journey in which we do not encounter Jesus is not a Christian journey. It is for the Christian to continually encounter Jesus, to watch him, to let oneself be watched over by Jesus, because Jesus watches us with love; he loves us so much, and he is always watching over us. To encounter Jesus also means allowing oneself to be gazed upon by Jesus. “But, Father, you know,” one of you might say to me, “you know that this journey is horrible for me, I am such a sinner, I have committed many sins... how can I encounter Jesus?” And you know that the people whom Jesus most sought out were the greatest sinners; and they reproached him for this, and the people — those who believed themselves righteous — would say: this is no true prophet, look what lovely company he keeps! He was with sinners... And Jesus said: I came for those in need of salvation, in need of healing. Jesus heals our sins. And along the way Jesus comes and forgives us — all of us are sinners, we are all sinners — even when we make a mistake, when we commit a sin, when we sin. And the forgiveness that we receive in Confession is an encounter with Jesus. We always encounter Jesus.”
Faith is always the key. As Passionists we celebrate this day with the faith that our journey of life is truly an encounter with Jesus, that God truly does love the world and Jesus’ journey to Calvary is the ultimate sign of that love. As Pope Francis says above, we are all sinners and it is that fact that set-in motion God’s greatest act of love for us, Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection. On this Friday before Ash Wednesday that is what we remember and celebrate.
Perhaps in a way we, Passionists, try to live the way Jesus asks the crowd and his disciples to live in our Gospel story today – “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. In other words, our lives are dedicated the remembering the Passion of Jesus Christ which reveals the power of God’s love for the world and through our special vow we bind ourselves to the memory of the Passion of Christ. By our words, our ministries, our living of life and by our faith we strive to bring this gift, this grace of God’s love to every person we meet. Or perhaps stick with the story we seek to bring the struggle to Jesus because he does all things well!
My prayer for you on this special Passionist feast is that as you journey through this day you will not forget that God loves you that you will always be faithful and that the Passion of Jesus Christ will always in your heart!
Have a great Friday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" Their response is to mention various prophets that represent important aspect of his mission. Then he asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Ok, you have heard what people are says, but you have been with me, seen the things that I do. Heard the things that I have said. What do you think? Peter immediately responds, "You are the Christ." Well done Peter! You are catching on, you are listening. You seem to understand.
However, as Jesus continues to talk about his mission, he brings up the fact that he “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Jesus’ self-image reflects the notions of suffering, death, and resurrection. This reflection of who Jesus is does not go well with Peter. Peter’s image of Christ didn’t include a suffering and death. I can see Jesus hanging his head in disappointment. Peter doesn’t understand. More work needs to be done!
Sometimes I think our images of Jesus as Christ would trigger the same reaction from Jesus. Perhaps, like Peter, we think “not as God does, but as human beings do.” After all that is what we are. Maybe we read something into Jesus instead of listening to what Jesus says about himself. Perhaps, it is always good to pause every so often and see whether we are on the same page with Jesus. Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he the Christ? Are we willing to listen to him talk about his suffering and death and understand that this is who Christ’s is?
Our question for this day might be – Who do we say Jesus is?
Have a great Thursday 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...