Today’s Thoughts: God's Word in our life is like nothing else. As our first reading from Isaiah reminds 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 and holy Tuesday everyone.
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 where 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 seconds. 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 and holy Monday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: “The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane… [and in living the joy of the Gospel we] can offer believers, as well as the lukewarm and the non-practicing, new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization. The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ.” (Pope Francis – Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel)
All the readings today present us with a lens through which we can look at our journey of Lent and our journey of life. At mass, last Thursday, in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy Moses set before the people, life and death, blessing and curse and asked them to choose. In our first reading, today from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 2:7-9, 3: 1-7) and in the Gospel (Matthew 4: 1-11) we experience Moses’ challenge lived out. Adan and Eve could choose life or death, blessing or curse. Jesus could choose life or death, blessing or curse. They each chose differently Adam and Eve choosing death, Jesus choosing life. In the middle of these two readings, we have St. Paul reminding the Romans where they came from and where they are at this moment and in perhaps a different way St. Paul is putting before the Romans life and death, blessing and curse and asking them to choose life!
The words of scripture today and the words of Pope Francis reminds us of the journey of life, a journey full of choices and decisions. Our decisions are oh so important, they are always about life and death, blessing and curse thus we must always look at the journey through the lens of faith because that can make all the difference.
Life is not easy. The journey of life is full of temptations that challenge us with choices. Thus, it becomes profoundly important that we know the story and hold it our hearts. It is profoundly important that we live with joy even in the moments of struggle because it can make all the difference. Let us this Lent remember the story of God's love and choose wisely as we live life. Let us choose life and let us choose blessing.
Have a blessed and holy Sunday everyone!
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 holy and 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 or my own benefit 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 another sense Isaiah today is telling us that fasting is not about abstaining from something in order to help ourselves, to make us feel better, to lose weight, to show that we are a good Catholic, to get something from God. Fasting needs to be about sharing. Isaiah calls us to share ourselves with others this is true fasting!
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 blessed and holy 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 and blessing because that will make all the difference!
Have a holy and blessed Thursday everyone!
Ash Wednesday Thoughts: Ash Wednesday 2023 – Each year when I pause to reflect on Ash Wednesday I feel like a broken record. Because I always struggle with the scripture readings for today, 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 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. After all Joel does call the people together and suggest a communal act of prayer and penance. Ashes are a sign of unity, a sign of belonging and often for us that is important. I guess I had never really hear Joel’s words and thus never considered Ash Wednesday in this way. The ashes we Christians receive today connect us, they bring us together for a common purpose. Now we will each le 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 on Ash Wednesday 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 can receive the Body and Blood of Christ, most people who receive ashes on Ash Wednesday 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!
Blessings 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 showing our ignorance?
Despite 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 blessed and holy 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 Book of Sirach (Sirach 1:1-10). We need to go in search of Wisdom, God’s gift that was created before anything else. It is a gift to possess because if we do we become friends of God. Wisdom 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 blessed and holy 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, divisiveness, disrespect, 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 seem to bring good results. At least it can appear that way. 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.
At times I want justice or maybe more so, I want vengeance or even revenge. Yes, I want an eye for an eye. I don’t like to get hit at all and so 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 often have no answers for them. Sure, I 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. If we look for God in the details rather than the devil perhaps, we will make better choices, and find the grace we need to live a Gospel life!
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 amid an imperfect world. It is about how we react to people and situations 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 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 forget to give God a little time today!
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...