Thank you for everyone’s kind words and encouragement. Every time I thought about not writing this, one of you would reach out to me and share your appreciation for the first volume as you were reading it. This kept nudging me forward and confirming it must be God’s will. I hope He speaks in your hearts and embraces you in His profound love.
Life in Christ is all about connection. Jesus emphasized it over and again: “Abide in me and I in you,”(v.4), “I am the vine, you are the branches” (v.15), “Take my yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29), “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), “Come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21), “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age”(Matthew 28:20) “ No longer do I call you servants,… but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
The Word of God which created us in love, wishes to re-create us by grace. He personally heals wounds, corrects faults, frees from oppression, and inspires to higher greatness. Parents don’t give birth to their children and then consider the relationship over. Instead they devote themselves in love to the development and flourishing of their child throughout his or her entire life. Their ability to do this depends on how much connection the child is willing to reciprocate. That connection strengthens their foundation in who they are, anchoring them against the confusion of the world’s conflicting messages and pressures. Similarly, connection to Christ anchors us in our true selves, beloved children of God Who has a plan and a purpose for our lives.
There are paths to holiness, steps one could say that mark advances on the road. Nevertheless, each person’s sanctification is unique and includes steps forward, setbacks, bumps in the road, etc. It’s more of a winding, curvy road than a straight shot. Sanctification isn’t a to-do list with a report card at the end. Rather, it’s the deepening of a relationship with the Lord through His Son and a richer experience of our authentic self. St. Josemaria Escriva encouraged people to just keep turning back to Jesus, Who we find is already there to guide us.
“In this adventure of love we should not be depressed by our falls, not even by serious falls, if we go to God in the sacrament of penance contrite and resolved to improve. A Christian is not a neurotic collector of good behavior reports…Jesus understands our weakness and draws us to himself on an inclined plane. He wants us to make an effort to climb a little each day. He seeks us out just as he did the disciples of Emmaus whom he went out to meet.” ( Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By: Homilies)
Jesus is the life of our soul. He guides the seed of faith to sprout, grow, blossom, and bear fruit. We remain connected to the vine through prayer and the sacraments. Intimate union with Christ through a strong interior life keeps the flow of nutrients and hydration from the roots flowing into the branches. Jesus also prunes away useless or harmful growth which drains nutrients and fruitlessly redirects them. This may be sin, unholy attachments, or even unhealthy people or places in our lives.
Developing an interior life of prayer, of constant connection to Christ, takes time and effort, but will eventually become second nature. Josemaria encouraged, “Although it is not a question of sentiment, little by little the love of God makes itself felt like a rustle in the soul.”
St. Francis de Sales offered wonderful spiritual counsel for how to remain attached to the vine of Christ in his work, Introduction to the Devout Life. First, he distinguished the difference between true and false devotion. Essentially, true devotion is marked by a generous love for Christ that is quick to act when it perceives something that will delight Him, much like a couple in love takes pleasure in doing things that make the other happy. Next, he laid out the purgations necessary to detach us from weeds that choke our relationship, a pruning we do not do by ourselves, but rather intentionally cooperate with the Lord in doing as He cuts them away. Finally, He spends a great deal of time directing how to develop an interior disposition wherein Christ remains always present to our hearts.
“I especially counsel you to practice mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of our Lord. By often turning your eyes on him in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with him.”
In this way we abide in Christ, and by spending so much time with Him we inevitably become like Him. In truth we all pick up the habits and attitude of those we are around – for better or worse. If we want to become proficient in something, we particularly need to spend time with someone accomplished in it and allow them to train us. Similarly, de Sales asserted, by abiding in Christ through cultivating meditation on His life, we will pick up His habits:
“…just as little children learn to speak by listening to their mothers and lisping words with them, so also by keeping close to our Savior in meditation and observing his words, actions, and affections we learn by his grace to speak, act, and will like him.”
I have found this to be so very true in my own life. When I get too busy for prayer or quiet with Christ, my virtues quickly wither along with my joy and love. I become easily agitated, distracted, and far less productive. When I begin with connection to Christ, and recollect Him throughout the day, I feel like the tree planted by running water (cf Jeremiah 17:7-8).
What fruits do you experience from spending time with Christ in prayer?
When has Christ pruned something in your life away? How did it cause greater growth afterward? What might He be pruning now?
Pray with the image of the vine and branches, of Jesus’ connection to you in such a personal way.
Build in reminders and opportunities for yourself to turn inwardly to Christ throughout the day.
This could be index cards with Scripture passages taped in frequented spots, wearing a crucifix so you see it each time you glance in a mirror, having a piece of religious art in your common view to remind you of Christ, a small spiritual book you can carry along with you and read for a few minutes periodically, a rosary in your car to pray as you drive, or your music preset to a Christian radio station or playlist.
Upon meeting someone new, two questions commonly start the conversation: learning the person’s name followed by asking what they do. Why? Since our work occupies most of our day it reveals something of our values, our unique personality and talents, and it shapes us too over time.
I’m a wife, mom, teacher, and writer. This reflects my value for family and my love of learning and the development of persons. I also have a knack for explaining things and a zany side that works well with kids. My roles have also shaped me. After teaching for so many years, I catch myself conversing in a Socratic way in every-day conversation. Before sharing something, I ask if the person happens to know the answer. As they talk, I ask more questions. By the end, I might recommend a book or article to read. At the grocery checkout or fast food restaurant, I can’t help but see teen employees as students (of course, sometimes they are!). I catch myself gently guiding them as they navigate taking my order. The mom in me is here to stay too. I was at a Master’s class and noticed one of my classmates fighting a runny nose and cough. As I took notes and listened to the lecture, I instinctively grabbed Kleenex out of my purse and passed it down. Afterward as she thanked me, she laughed and said, “I should have known you’d have Kleenex with you. You’re such a mom.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus identified Himself and His work as the Good Shepherd. It reveals that He values the care of His flock with nurturing and protective love. He lives with them, guides them, feeds them, and protects them at all costs. Moreover, His sheep belong to Him. The hired hand works transitionally – for the day and for income. He may be providing for a family or saving for a pasture of sheep of his own, but the flock he watches temporarily is not his love nor his own. In consequence he will not risk or sacrifice much for it. Christ on the other hand, knows each sheep by name and would sacrifice His own life to save even one.
“I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own.” John 10:17-18
We are not just a number to Christ nor is He a distant king. Rather, He dwells here in our midst, in our mess, in our lowliness – and He loves it. He cares for even the smallest details of our lives.
Pope Francis emphasizes this as well in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate:
“the Lord is ever mindful of you; he never forgets you. So it makes sense to ask him to shed light on the smallest details of your life, for he sees them all.” no. 153
Before His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus entrusted His flock to Peter – not as a hired hand or a babysitter – but as a steward in Jesus’ name loving His flock with the love of Christ.
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ A second time He said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” John 21:15-16
At baptism each of us receives a calling from Christ, a flock to tend. Although He works personally in hearts through grace, He also personally cares for His sheep through His Mystical Body the Church – you and me. Jesus asks each of us to love Him by loving those He has entrusted to our care. This includes your family, co-workers, and the particular ministry to which God has called you.
“The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts…We are called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate no. 11) “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” (no. 19)
To love with the heart of Christ, He shapes us in prayer. He pours His love into us, from which we receive the generosity and joy to serve. He opens our eyes to see others with the love in which He sees them, and to see their needs as He does, down to the smallest detail.
Holiness is about loving our Good Shepherd and in turn loving the sheep whose care He shares with us. Wherever God has placed us, we can witness Him to others through our sacrificial love. After learning to trust Jesus’ little shepherd, they might take a leap of faith and trust the Good Shepherd Himself.
Reflect on Christ’s love for you, down to the smallest detail of your life. Take a moment to lay your worries and your hopes before Him and to rest in His care.
Pray for your little flocks. Who has Christ placed in your life? How might you serve them with love and joy?
Meditate on the love of Mary, who cares for everyone who belongs to her Son and consecrated her whole life to His mission.
Pray Psalm 23 each day this week.
Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for an increase of Trust in Christ’s Merciful Love.
Read the Biography of Blessed Stanly Rother – an American priest who returned to his mission in Guatemala to die with his people so they wouldn’t die without him.
Christ’s parting words summon every disciple to be a witness of their encounter with Him, repentance for sin, and God’s merciful love.
In our frenzied culture many people vacillate from anxious stress to temporary escape through superficial pleasures. In contrast, disciples of Christ rest in His Peace and rejoice in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18). When others wonder if anything can be true or lasting, Christians make decisions with confidence knowing that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that He has a plan for their lives. Although choices may not be easy, Christ’s disciples can look to His teachings, His Church, and to the Holy Spirit to guide them, Who “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
Worried about the future or how to find meaning in life, many turn to psychics, gurus, ideologies, pop culture, or other general spiritualities. In contrast, Christians encounter Jesus – who is alive and real, and therefore has the power to truly act in their lives on their behalf. They know that everything will be okay, because Jesus has conquered death and made them adopted children of the Father. They experience the deepest kind of meaning in their lives because they believe that every act of love and kindness will reverberate into eternity. Wealth, status, beauty, health, fame, and honor can all be taken away in a moment against one’s will. Faith, hope, love, goodness, joy, and peace cannot – as so many martyrs and persecuted Christians have witnessed in the past and continue to do so today.
Our witness requires speaking about our faith at times. We need to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” as St. Peter instructed (I Peter 3:15). This means immersing ourselves in Scriptures and prayer and making an effort to keep learning more about our faith. In this way, we can then pass on our faith to our children and stand up for the truth in society.
Our encounter with Christ is also witnessed in our silence. I once had the opportunity to attend a private Mass at the Vatican with Pope St. John Paul II in 2001 along with about 20 other people. When we entered the chapel, he was already there kneeling before the Lord intense in prayer. His silent conversation with Christ was so real it was palpable. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai the people knew he had encountered God because “the skin ofhis face had become radiant while he spoke with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29 NAB). People often say of new mothers or new couples in love, that they are “glowing”. Love has a way of doing that. When we spend time with Christ in prayer, when we walk with him throughout the day, we too glow with His love. Imaginary myths or wishful thinking cannot produce this kind of radiance.
Finally, Christ becomes visible to others through His work from within us. If I came home and the house were a mess, I wouldn’t believe my husband if he said that he had hired a maid for us. If, however, when I returned home all the dishes were done, the floors vacuumed, laundry washed, and surfaces dusted, I would believe his word without even having met the person – their work would be evidence of their existence. In the same way, if we tell others of Christ’s redeeming grace but remain the same mess of sin and confusion, it may be hard for them to believe. However, when we tell them of how Christ transformed us, and they see our anger replaced with love, envy replaced with gratitude and contentment, and selfishness replaced with loving relationship, His grace will be evident to them in a real way.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). God is here. He is real. We struggle to see because we are blinded by things – pleasure, over-ambition, anxiety, fear, anger, greed, and other distractions. The more we cooperate with Christ to remove these obstacles the more easily we will see God, and the more easily others will see Him in us.
Who do you know that seems to “glow” with love for Christ? Who seems to radiate His peace?
When have you experienced the peace of Christ?
When have you found Jesus’ words to be true?
How might you become more pure in heart? What obstacles blur your vision? How might you grow your love for the Lord?
Try to keep Christ present in your heart throughout the day. Spend 10 minutes in prayer every morning, pause for a prayer midday, and close with 5 minutes of prayer in the evening.
Learn more about the faith by joining a bible study, attending Faith Formation at your parish, or reading a book about the faith with a group of Christian friends.
The Christian faith is neither a well-crafted myth nor a brilliant philosophy. Rather, the Christian religion is based on eye-witness testimony of the resurrected Lord.
It began with the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who encountered the risen Christ in the morning when she went to His tomb and was subsequently sent by Him to tell the apostles. They felt excited and a bit confused “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9 NAB). In the evening, Jesus appeared to them as well except for Thomas who wasn’t there. Upon seeing Him with their own eyes they believed and rejoiced.
When they shared their Good News with Thomas he refused belief until he could see it for himself. Thomas had been willing to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16) but he couldn’t envision rising with Him. In consequence, his faith – though fiercely loyal – remained limited to his own personal experience. One week later however, Jesus showed mercy toward Thomas’ obstinate self-reliance, appearing to him in the flesh and so enabling Thomas to believe.
We too can fall into the trap of self-reliance in matters of faith – limiting our belief to personal experience and rejecting the witness of Jesus’ apostles and His Church. Our present culture tends toward “cafeteria Christianity”, meaning we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don’t. We view doctrine as a buffet of ideas that we can take or leave according to our personal preferences and reasoning.
Imagine Thomas saying to the other ten, “you have your truth and I have my truth, one is not better than the other.” Yet, one is that Jesus is risen and the other is that Jesus is dead! How could Jesus’ Church endure with such conflicting beliefs? The same remains true today. Capitulating to the attitude of an individualistic faith undermines Christ’s work.
Jesus chose to share His Truth and grace through the apostles’ witness (and their successors – the pope and bishops). Their interpretation of Scripture and the power of their miracles came from the Holy Spirit bestowed on them by the Lord. At the final moment of Jesus’ death, He breathed His last and surrendered His Spirit to the Father. On the evening of His resurrection, He breathed upon the Apostles, and gave them His Spirit and His authority:
“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” John 20:21-23
Christianity is an encounter with the incarnate God who dwells within the very souls of His baptized disciples and makes them one Body. Jesus is not a restauranteur who offers the world’s greatest buffet. He is the Son of God who desires all persons to be united as a family in the Lord. He therefore established a visible Church endowed with His invisible presence to guide and govern its members to His eternal kingdom.
Today, one week after Easter, we celebrate the inexhaustible, generous, mercy of Christ which He lavishes on all who will accept it. As He did for Thomas on this same day, Christ reaches down into the darkest parts of our souls, to our most acute failures and sins, to apply the healing balm of His Merciful Love poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Our Lord is a crucified Lord. When He appeared to the apostles “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20). He did not choose, as Satan tempted Him to be in the desert, a king without the Cross. Similarly, true disciples are crucified disciples. They have died to self, and self-reliance, and live by the Holy Spirit in communion with the Church.
There’s no sin too great for Jesus to forgive. He only requires a repentant heart which chooses to trust in His love. There’s also no weakness of faith He can’t strengthen, no doubt He can’t heal, and no question of doctrine He can’t explain to you – if you let Him. And remember, He has given us the fellowship of the Apostles through both the Scriptures and the living voice of authority in His Church.
Jesus said, “Blessed are thosewho have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). Today’s Gospel passage concludes with John offering the same witness to us that was offered to Thomas. Today is the day to surrender to Christ in prayer every doubt you harbor and every limitation you place on faith. Then, receive His mercy in daily prayer, immersion in the Scriptures, the Eucharist at Mass, and trying to learn the Church’s reasons for her doctrines. In consequence, you too will become an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ to others.
When buying a product online or hiring someone for a house project, how much credence to you give to people’s reviews? How much credence to you give to the testimony about Jesus from the Apostles, the saints and martyrs, the Christians you know who testify to the Lord’s work in their lives?
It’s hard to trust someone you can’t see. Do you make Christ visible to others in your life? How might you witness the reality of His truth and mercy even more?
Reflect on the choice presented today: whether to sand stubbornly in self-reliance or enter the communion of the Body of Christ – His Church – and lean on one another.
Jesus told St. Faustina that His greatest pain is distrust on the part of souls in His mercy. In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis observed that we fail to believe in Christ’s mercy because we have no experience of mercy in our lives and therefore believe no one – not even Christ – will help us.
To what extent has this been your experience?
What makes it difficult to trust Christ?
How might you extend mercy to the people in your daily life so they might believe in Christ’s mercy?
Every time you feel helpless, turn to Christ in prayer and throw yourself at His mercy. Repeat the words He asked St. Faustina to have written under His image: “Jesus, I Trust In You.”
Order the kindle e-book (or paperback) to read the Christmas meditation, the meditation for Mary Mother of God, and to reflect on the meditations all year at your convenience.
Read the Gospel of Mark 14-15
Palm Sunday we recall together the Passion of Christ as well as the weakness of our personal faith and failures in faithfulness. We remember His entry into Jerusalem received by adoring crowds, quickly turning into Crucifixion and mocking crowds. Like Peter, how we perceive our faith versus how we act under pressure is pause for recollection. Peter’s exchange with Jesus at the Last Supper depicts the Christian struggle well: “Peter said to him, ‘Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.’ But he vehemently replied, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And they all spoke similarly.” (Mark 14:29-31 NAB) When has Peter’s attitude been our own? Complete confidence in our loyalty to Christ – our faith in Who He is, our Hope in Him alone, our notion that our Love is undivided. Yet, Christ knows the truth in our hearts. He knows the real limits of our faith, the weakness of our hope, and the dissipation of our love when confronted with suffering and disappointment. As long as God’s plan corresponds with our plan, we feel ready to follow Him with magnanimous discipleship. Yet, when His will deviates from ours, especially if it’s inexplicable to our natural understanding, we often falter. The Passion of Christ’s love reveals our own tepidity. (Just consider how we complain at reading or standing at Mass for the length of this Gospel passage. Yet how much longer it was for Christ to actually endure!) Thankfully, Christ also redeems our failing character by taking on our weak human failings Himself. Through the power of His victory He infuses supernatural grace into our souls so that we may have His strength to finally acquire in truth the magnanimous friendship with Christ we desired in intention. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his reflections for the third station on the Way of the Cross, reflected: “Three times Our Savior was tempted on the mountain, and three times He fell on the way to Mount Calvary. Thus did He atone for our three falls – to the temptation of the flesh, the world, and the devil.” Jesus experienced natural human aversion to suffering. Yet, in the midst of that stress He turned to the Father instead of away. He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.’” Mark 14:35-36 NAB Have we not all prayed the first part of this prayer?! Begging our Heavenly Father, “all things are possible to You, take this cup away from me”. The agony of the deepest human suffering pleads in these very words. The proverbial question we put to the Lord – “if You are all Good and all Powerful, then why am I suffering?”
This mystery can only be understood in light of Jesus Christ. “But not what I will but what You will.” God wills our eternal salvation. He wills it in conformity with respect for human free will. Human choices cause suffering, but God’s will directs all things, even the events of His Son’s suffering and death, to the triumph of love. Most of the time we won’t know the particulars of how everything will play out, but we do know the final ending. Christ conquers – sin, human weakness, even death. Those who exalt themselves in sin will be humbled, and those who persevere in humility will be exalted. In Him we find healing, wholeness, strength, and eternal joy. St. Paul promises that God works all things for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28), not just some things. Christ promises the Cross to His followers, but He also promises Resurrection. And the two are inseparable. When things get tough, fallen human nature resists faith in the power of the Cross. Sometimes it even mocks it like the passersby at Jesus’ crucifixion. In the account of Jesus’ Passion, individuals respond to His impending Cross in ways that we might be able to relate. I’ll follow until: • Jesus isn’t Who I want Him to be. He won’t make me materially rich: Judas • I’m tired or bored: Apostles asleep during Jesus’ Agony in the Garden • I’m threatened: disciples fleeing the crowd with swords; Peter recognized by the maid • I’m caught: young man in linen cloth • I’ll cause a rift or make waves: Pilate Even still, Jesus invites His betrayers into His mercy. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 Progress in our spiritual journey corresponds to how far we are willing to follow Christ. Hopefully each year, we walk a step closer to the Cross and abide with Him a little longer.
This Holy Week, let us remain with Him. Let us stay close to Him in prayer without falling asleep or rushing off to distractions. Let us enter into the mystery of His suffering, death, and resurrection by accepting the griefs within our own situations and dying to what we cannot change, so that we may rise with Him who can redeem every sin and every situation.
First and foremost, consider Christ’s love for you. Reflect on how He has shared in your suffering. Have you ever felt alone, betrayed, anxious, mocked, lied about, physically hurting, or exhausted? Remember that Christ walks with you through the pain to resurrection in Him. ❖ How can your love for Christ be strengthened? o Jesus observed about us that “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”(Matthew 26:41). Consider times when you have experienced this. o Have you ever sold out Christ for a worldly gain? Consider when you have prioritized money, status, or worldly acknowledgement over doing God’s will for you. o Pilate’s betrayal sprang from “wishing to satisfy the crowd.” Sometimes we deny Christ by failing to speak up out of fear of being persecuted on His account. When asked “Are you a Christian?” or “Are you Catholic?”, how do you respond? Do you hesitate or qualify it? Or do you respond confidently, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” as St. Peter tells us (I Peter 3:15 NAB). o What fears can the devil use to tempt you away from following the Lord? How does he stir up your anxiety, and worry you into hiding, away from the Cross, like the other apostles?
❖ Having identified the Cross in your life, intentionally carry it this week instead of trying to escape it. ❖ Pray the Stations of the Cross or the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary this week
Someone may say to you one day, “[Your Name], I would like to see Jesus.” Imagine that for a moment and take it in. A person looking to you with a hopeful and somewhat anxious expression, addressing you by name, and depending on you to connect them to Christ.
“Why me?” you might say. In a secular culture void of God, searching souls see Christ from a distance and feel more at a loss to find their way to Him than you may think. Your relationship with Jesus, and their relationship with you, may be the bridge they need.
Yet, to be Christ’s light and love in the world, to be a bridge, demands a serious choice which will decide the trajectory of your whole life. Jesus made this choice, and so must each of His followers. The choice – to live for yourself or to live for the Lord, to build a life of your own making or to build the kingdom of God.
A grain of wheat, in and of itself, is small and insignificant – enough to feed only a bird. Yet, within it lies tremendous potential – enough to feed human persons. The movement from potential to actuality however begins with death. If a grain were a conscious soul with a mind and will, it would see before it a decision:
Go on living as a seed for itself, unchanged and comfortable.
Surrender itself to the Creator, be broken apart in death and then transformed into something new and quite different from its experience as a seed.
Although the second option sounds scary, to grow and change also entails being lifted up from the ground, becoming tall stalks of wheat, and finally, maturing to the point where it can be picked as harvest for others. The first choice may be easier, but the second adds so much more meaning to its life.
As Jesus’ Hour approached – His Passion and Death, He came to the final crossroads of His decision. He had said Yes to the Father when He agreed to become man at the incarnation, He had said No to Satan’s temptations in the desert, and now as His ultimate sacrifice approached He weighed His decision aloud for His disciples to hear and one day imitate.
Jesus didn’t want to suffer but He did want to save us. So, what was He really to do? Christ’s magnanimous love refused to live for Himself, so He chose the path to the Cross. He chose to die that He might be lifted up – on the Cross and in His Resurrection – and thereby bear fruit that gives all mankind who plucks it eternal life.
To be Christ’s disciples, we need to be nourished by Him first. Under the appearance of wheat bread in the host, He gives His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to us in the Eucharist. With this union and grace, He begins His work transforming our souls, if we let Him.
He starts by breaking down sin and selfishness. Dying to ourselves marks the first stage of development. Thus prayer, fasting, and almsgiving facilitate this process by putting God first, denying ourselves pleasures, and opening ourselves up to the poor around us.
From this death to self however, which no doubt is painful, emerges transformation. Sin and self at bay, Christ is more free to build virtues within us and to grow authentic Christian love. The process snowballs positively as the greater one loves, the easier sacrifice becomes. In full Christian development, love is so perfected that it, like Christ, can’t bear to choose pleasure or comfort over love of God and neighbor. We experience something of this in human loves between parent and child, spouses, or dear friends. In loving relationships, giving of one’s self or possessions is felt to be an opportunity rather than a burden.
In this fifth week of Lent, you may be feeling the pain of perseverance in the commitments you made Ash Wednesday. However, the more weak you feel on your own, the more reliant you become on Christ and His grace to support you. Have hope, we are past the midpoint! Just as there can be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, we can’t truly feast until we’ve fasted. The more we enter in to Lent, the more joy we will experience during Easter.
Like Jesus, we might pray to the Father:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (v.27)
We choose death to self because we desire life in Christ – which we know to be much happier, peaceful, and fulfilling than anything we could construct for ourselves. We don’t die for its own sake but rather to receive greater life.
Jesus teaches, “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also” (v.26). In consequence, as we approach Holy Week we endeavor to be with our Lord wherever He is – at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, at the Cross on Good Friday, waiting in anticipation Holy Saturday, and rejoicing in His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
If we persevere and remain near to Christ, those near to us can be blessed by His Presence too. Our lived discipleship might drive out the lies of Satan with Christ’s Truth. You could be a witness that Christ brings true happiness to someone disillusioned by the world’s false promises. Your unconditional love could drive out the lie that someone is only as valuable as they are useful. Your forgiveness could cast out the temptation of despair with the truth of mercy.
Christ’s saving love draws everyone to Himself. If we allow ourselves to be conformed to Him, we just might be that bridge to Christ for someone’s salvation, or that stalk of wheat which they pluck to receive our Lord for the first time.
Meditate on the words, “we would like to see Jesus.” Make this your prayer to the Holy Spirit and spend 5 minutes in silent prayer listening.
Consider Christ’s gift of self for you. Pray about how you might give more of yourself to Him and to others.
How does your life witness your faith to others, and in what ways do you sometimes hide your faith?
Are you a joyful or a gloomy Christian?
In conversations, does your speech reflect your Christian values or do you participate in gossip or vulgar jokes.
Do you speak about your church or priest with respect or are you overly critical?
Do you reach out to persons at work or in your neighborhood who seem to be friendless or having a tough time, or are you too focused on your own life?
Do you greet people with a smile? (one of Mother Teresa’s common suggestions)
Invite someone to Mass or Bible Study with you this week.
Pray with someone this week.
Intentionally greet each person with a smile, even if you don’t feel like it.
Pray the Stations of the Cross. Meditatively be with Christ at each step.
Is nothing sacred? That’s how it feels sometimes in our culture. From the vulgarity prevalent in speech, the disappearance of courteous manners, and the dissolution of Sunday rest, to the dismantling of laws which protect the rights of the unborn, the promotion of euthanasia, and the disrespect for the institution of marriage – nothing seems off-limits.
Jesus felt the same way in this Gospel passage. He acted in outrage at the disrespect shown to the most sacred place on earth. The Temple in Jerusalem was where God’s unique and immanent presence had dwelt. God’s presence had been upon the Ark of the Covenant since the time of the Exodus and remained in the Temple from the time of King Solomon to the Babylonian Exile. The Lord had promised Solomon:
“Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’” I Kings 6:11-13
Upon finishing the Temple and dedicating it to the Lord, the priests placed the Ark in the center of the Temple in the Holy of Holies. God, true to His word, dwelt there.
“And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” I Kings 8:10-11
This did not mean the Israelites thought the Ark could “contain” God, who is transcendent and infinite. It was nevertheless, His immanent and particular presence. Unfortunately, over time they abused their relationship with God. On the one hand, they knew with God in their midst no one could defeat them, and this is admirable faith. However, over time they spiraled downward in their sins and so payed lip service to God, expecting Him to maintain His protection over them, while at the same time living in defiance of His laws.
After much prodding by God through His prophets for their words and actions to align, the people remained obstinate, so God took His presence from the Temple (Ezekiel 10) and left them to their own devices. They were quickly conquered by the Babylonians and exiled. In the same way, when we refuse Christ’s grace and mercy, ignoring His calls to conversion, we find ourselves overcome by our sin and feeling exiled from the comfort of God’s peace.
Eventually the Jews were allowed to return and rebuild the Temple. Although it became a place to offer sacrifice again, God’s immanent presence upon the Temple had not yet returned. When He finally did enter the temple, it wasn’t as a cloud descending. Rather, far beyond expectation or imagination, God’s presence returned in His incarnate Son!
Unfortunately on this day that God came to the Temple, He found shady business transactions where there should have been reverent preparation for prayer. He’d had enough and kicked them out.
After His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus established His ongoing immanent presence in the Temple of His followers through Baptism and nourishes those followers with His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Let’s not become too complacent in our faith, but rather live as if we are in the presence of God – because we are.
Like the Israelites, it’s easy for us to begin taking God’s gifts and presence for granted. In what areas has reverence for God slipped a bit in your life? What “tables” would Jesus overturn if He spent the day with you? How might you restore sacredness there?
Are there areas of your life where you pay lip service to God? What habits do you persist in that don’t correspond to God’s ways?
How might you live more authentically as a baptized Christian – a Temple of Holy Spirit, a Light of Christ, a child of God?
In the media you consume
In the work you do
In your friendships
In your prayer life
In your priorities and goals
Take concrete steps to restore the sacred in one area of your life.
Arrive at Mass 5 minutes early, or read the Scriptures ahead of time so you can better prepare
Delete any social media accounts, music, or channels that are inconsistent with your Christian calling
Make a plan as to how you will avoid break room gossip or crude jokes
Develop greater sensitivity toward the dignity of life by contacting your local crisis pregnancy center or nursing home and helping them with a need
Restore the sacred in your marriage by doing something intentional to deepen your relationship and show your appreciation, cut out habits of disrespect.
I can’t believe my eyes! Peter, James, and John must surely have thought this at the Transfiguration. They would again – though for a different reason – at the Cross; and again at the sight of the risen Lord. There, at the Transfiguration, Jesus’ divinity and Messianic promise radiated unveiled in glory. Despite the awe inspired by this divine theophany, they struggled to understand what Jesus later meant by rising from the dead.
The Apostles believed Jesus to be the Messiah and remained with Him through the entire three-year tenure of His public ministry. Nevertheless, they often underestimated Christ, and despite the innumerable miracles they witnessed firsthand, regularly regressed to earthly problem solving without calculating the supernatural aid of their divine Master. Consider the storm on the sea in which they were sure they would drown while Jesus lay asleep (Mark 4:35-41), or their concern over forgetting to bring bread on their voyage even though Jesus had just multiplied loaves and fish on two different occasions for the multitudes (Mark 8:14-21).
People often say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Yet, despite witnessing miracle after miracle in our own lives, we continue to worry anyhow. Jesus could very well say to many of us, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:18).
Every disciple of Christ struggles to move from the immediacy of the visible world, to consistent sight of the even deeper reality of the invisible world. Discipleship requires the movement of grace and the Holy Spirit to enable us to follow the Lord where He leads, even though it may mystify and surprise us. As God reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
During Lent we take a step back to evaluate just how deep our faith really goes. For example, do you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting wholeheartedly that if you do so He will provide for everything else (Matthew 6:33)? Or do you hedge your bets, keeping up worldly-minded safety nets in case God doesn’t come through for you?
These attachments hold us back from full freedom in the Lord. Like the apostles, we worry about things like bread and tents (financial and physical security), when Christ has provided everything we need and more…including life itself and a room in His Father’s house. As we contemplate the awesome, sacrificial love of Christ, we are challenged to invite Him more fully into every aspect of our lives. Certainly He has proven that we can trust Him – the man that died and rose again for us, the man who is also God!
So, consider: What limits do you place on God? Where are the boundaries of your faith? Do you trust God to secure your eternal home, but doubt with matters related to your earthly one? Sometimes the visible world can seem more real than the invisible. The immediacy and demands of each day’s tasks can beguile our imagination into feeling as if God is remote and unrelated to the day’s needs, at least in any concrete or practical way. However, God is Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Abraham believed this to his very core. He trusted God to be Who He claimed to be. His faith was so confident that he raised his knife to sacrifice his only beloved son and his only hope of a legacy, believing God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be. St. Paul described Abraham’s magnanimous faith in his letter to the Hebrews saying:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said ‘Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.’ He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence he did receive him back, and this was a symbol.” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The eyes of faith see the visible and the invisible. They “understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (Hebrews 11: 3). Faith trusts that God is who He says He is, and who He has shown Himself to be time and again. Yes, it exceeds our understanding, because for us many things are impossible, but “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
As we journey through Lent, may we place our trust more fully in Jesus Christ. Maybe by the end, we will be somewhat closer to the confidence St. Paul expressed in his letter to the Romans:
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” Romans 8:31-32
Sarah conceived Isaac despite being barren and past the natural age. God did this because Sarah believed in the power and faithfulness of God. “She considered Him faithful Who had promised” (Hebrews 11: 11).
Consider God’s faithfulness. How has God been there for you when it counted? How has He answered prayers in a way you didn’t expect? How has He brought good out of a bad situation?
Consider God’s generosity. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look back on the day, week, year, and course of your life and see God’s blessings. Then spend a few minutes in prayers of gratitude.
Entrust your cares to Christ. Make a list of your worries or of what’s weighing on your heart and surrender them to Him.
Pray the Act of Faith, Divine Praises, Serenity Prayer, or Suscipe Prayer each day this week.
The transition from Christ’s hidden life to His public ministry began with His Baptism and then the temptation in the desert. There, He decidedly chose the path of self-sacrifice over self-gain.
At the Incarnation Christ, though the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took on a human nature and humbly chose to fully live the human experience with all of its limitations and difficulties.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:6-7
As man, Jesus grew “in wisdom andstature” (Luke 2:52), obedient to His parents, embracing the temporal condition of human development. He did not begin His public ministry until the age of thirty, which marked full manhood at the time and the transition to leadership roles. It was also the age Levitical priests would enter the full service of the Lord (see Numbers 4:3, 30).
The commencement of His mission was preceded by temptation and trial. He, like us, had to choose which trajectory His life would take. In the desert, Satan enticed the Lord to direct His divine gifts to pampering His human nature. Matthew (4:1-11) details the temptations specifically: bodily pleasure (bread), tremendous fame (leap from the temple pinnacle), and worldly power (all the kingdoms of the earth). Satan forced the choice before the Lord: the immediacy of the visible world and self-gain without the Cross, or the work of establishing the invisible kingdom of God which would require self-immolation and suffering Crucifixion before rising again.
Each of us faces the same temptations and the same choice. We can either use our God-given gifts to promote ourselves and worldly achievements or direct them to the Father’s will and the building up of His kingdom.
Lent provides a time to step into the desert with the Lord, to pray and fast, and to re-orient the trajectory of our lives. As a Church, the People of God, we take 40 days each year to shed the illusion that we can live for both worlds or that we can have the kingdom without the Cross.
Through fasting, with the help of grace, we deny ourselves tempting pleasures to strengthen our will and remember that:
“man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Furthermore, it reveals the truth of just how attached we may be and loosens the hold that habit may have over us. Fasting also unites us to the redemptive value Christ has placed on suffering through His own suffering and death. In fact, on one occasion Jesus even said to His disciples that some demons “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). Thus, through our Lenten fasting, we join our sacrifices to His, to cast out the demons in our lives with His help, so that we might share in His mission and thus share in the hope of His Resurrection.
Through prayer we draw closer to the Lord, that the invisible might become more visible and His grace might transform us. Encountering Christ in the Scriptures, the Mass, the Rosary, the lives of the saints, Eucharistic Adoration, the Stations of the Cross, and other prayerful devotions, our love for Him is enkindled and our discipleship strengthened.
Finally, the Lenten practice of almsgiving moves us outside of ourselves through service toward others. This can range from sharing your money with the poor to sharing a blanket with your child. It also includes sharing your time with someone sorrowing, lonely, or sick. It begins with meeting the needs of your family then your co-workers or neighbors and friends, your local parish and community, and finally the world-wide needs of the Church. Catholic Relief Service’s Operation Rice Bowl provides an opportunity as a family to make simpler meals during Lent and to donate the money saved to feed the hungry in poor areas of the world.
During Lent, we join Christ in the desert. We withdraw from the immediate pleasures of the moment and usual temptations toward worldliness. With that space we can draw nearer to Christ and the eternal, even more real, pleasures of the Heaven. At the end of this purification we share in the joy of His resurrection at Easter. Easter is the beginning of a new creation, and we hope to be a new, or renewed, creation Easter Sunday as well. Lent is a time to “repent and believe in the gospel” so that, transformed by grace, we may live in the Kingdom of God which is now at hand in Jesus Christ.
Consider in prayer the deeper, truer, reality of the spiritual world. Reflect on the illusory promises of pleasure, fame, and status compared with the enduring graces of Christian love, strength, and joy.
Ask Christ in prayer to reveal an attachment you may have, that up until now you have been blind to such as subtle forms of pride, vanity, greed, or pleasures.
Take time for gratitude.
Ask Mary to help you see the needs around you as she did at the Wedding at Cana.
Swap out 15 minutes of media time for 15 minutes of prayer or silence.
Encounter with Christ can seem paradoxical – both private and public, personal and communal, and silent or exclamatory. We experience the healing of Christ when we go to Him in the quiet solitude of personal pleading in faith to our Lord, whether in moments of private prayer or in approaching him through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. At the same time, love and gratitude from this experience overflow our hearts and almost compel us to share it.
In addition, sometimes Jesus instructed people to tell of their experience, and at other times He bade them to be quiet. Similarly, the Church sends out missionaries to preach the Gospel in every corner of the world, and at the same time relies on the cloistered prayer of contemplatives and hermits. Our own duty to attend communal worship at Mass on Sunday, is fed by daily personal prayer all week, and vice versa.
In our own lives we may experience both calls too. At times Jesus asks us to withdraw in quiet faithfulness, alone with Him and just a few close followers. At other times, He calls us to publicly witness our faith to others in a visible way.
How do we discern the difference? Listen. Just listen to the Holy Spirit Who guides the heart’s prayer and provides the words of witness. The man in this passage couldn’t help but share his joy, it was too overwhelming to keep to himself. Jesus did ask him to keep quiet because Jesus wanted it to be a personal not public miracle. Yet, His personal miracles in our lives become public as our joy radiates.
How has Christ been working in your life? What are the small (or big) miracles?
Is Jesus calling you now into a time of quiet or of witness, or both?
How does taking time for personal prayer, make your Mass experience richer?
Spend time offering your plea to Christ like the leper in this passage, and time listening and receiving His healing touch.
Read the lives of the saints this week – they offer real life examples of this paradoxical tension between silence and solitude, and courageous witness.
(If you don’t know who to read about, look up the saint of the day online)