St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

margaretmary“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” St. Margaret Mary spoke these as her dying words, while being anointed at the age of 43. Margaret was a simple woman and a Visitation nun. She worked as an assistant in the convent infirmary, but God had other plans for her. After being a nun for just three years, she began to receive revelations in which Christ called her to make his love for all humanity known. His human heart was to become the symbol for this divine and human love for all of us. He called her to frequent Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and to spend Thursday evenings in an hour’s meditation on the agony at Gethsemane. This devotion eventually spread to the entire Church under the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I have two Margaret Marys in my own life: my sister and my grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was one who was a great model of faith for me. She and I would often sit together and talk about her childhood in Ireland, and all the problems of the world. She was one of my best friends until her death shortly after I graduated from college. She too had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and her love for Christ and the Church helped stimulate my vocation throughout my life.

St. Paul says to the Romans today, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” If we were simpler in our faith, like St. Margaret Mary, maybe we too could catch the holy from what is out there in creation. Maybe we would be more able to see the love of Christ in our brothers and sisters and become devoted once again to his Sacred Heart. We tend to be a people so focused on the task at hand, that at times we might be really able to get through an entire day, even a day of service, without ever once thinking about God in a significant way. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not supposed to be that way. With St. Margaret Mary, we need to say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Youth Reconciliation Service

As you get ready to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation less than a month from now, the Church gathers you together to celebrate another Sacrament: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How long has it been since you’ve celebrated that sacrament? People used to go to Confession every week back in the day, but maybe you’ve been someone who has gone to confession a few times a year. You might go with your family during Advent and Lent, and maybe you’ve been to Confession on a retreat or something. But maybe you haven’t been to Confession in a long, long time. Maybe this is even your second Confession ever, the first one being way back in second grade.

Whether you’re a regular participant in this sacrament, or if this is your first one in a long time, we are glad you are here. We’re here this evening because the Church knows that all of us are a long way from being perfect. As important as our relationship with God may be, as much as we might want to live good lives and get along with our parents, brothers, sisters and friends, we sometimes mess up. Sometimes we mess up a whole lot. And sometimes messing up a whole lot makes us feel so bad about ourselves that we mess up a whole lot more. It’s a kind of vicious circle, and we might have a real bad time getting out of it.

Maybe your relationship with your parents is pretty horrible. Maybe you haven’t spoken to some of your family in a long time. Maybe you don’t have the friends you would like to have any more, and the people you’re hanging out with are only making you feel worse. Maybe some of those relationships have turn sexual or are pretty inappropriately close to it. Maybe some of those relationships lead you to victimize others as a bully. Maybe you’ve done something to someone that seemed funny at the time, but you had no idea how hurtful it would become. Maybe gossip is so much a part of your life that you don’t even stop to consider the consequences of it.

Maybe you have the beginnings of some addictive behavior. Maybe you’ve tried drugs, or alcohol, or are spending too much time on the internet. Maybe you’ve been surfing the internet and found things that don’t make you feel too good about yourself or others. Maybe you’ve wanted to stop it but you haven’t been able to do that.

Maybe school isn’t a good place for you. Maybe the only way you can get through it in the way that meets the expectations of your parents, or your teammates, or your friends is to cheat. Maybe you have no idea how you’re going to get out of the rapidly-developing hole that is developing because you are so far behind in your studies even in October that you’re just lost.

Maybe you’ve completely turned away from the Church and have no idea why you’re going to be Confirmed. Maybe you haven’t gone to Mass on a regular basis in years. Maybe the only time you’ve been recently is in your small groups. Maybe you don’t know how to pray, or you don’t even have a sense of God enough to know why it’s wrong to use his name in vain.

Maybe you’ve taken something that was not yours to take. It could have been something that belonged to one of your siblings that you took without asking. Or maybe it was bigger, something from a store or the place where you work. Maybe you’ve stolen money from your parents to buy stuff they’d never let you have voluntarily.

And this is just the beginning of the many ways that we can mess up in our world today. The temptation to go in these directions is so strong, and most of the world has given up trying to discourage us from seeking these things. But the Church is here to say that the cycle of our sinfulness doesn’t have to be endless. We are not what we do, or what we have become. And we don’t have to be that way forever.

A popular Christian song right now says,

Turn me around pick me up
Undo what I’ve become
Bring me back to the place
Of forgiveness and grace
I need You, need Your help
I can’t do this myself
You’re the only one who can undo
What I’ve become.
(“Undo” by Rush of Fools)

And right here tonight we have the way to undo it. We are asking you to come to one of the priests here for Confession. We know that this might be your first time in a long time, so if that’s true, tell us that, and ask for help if you need it. Confessing your sins to God and doing the penance is our way of turning to God for his mercy. And on his part, God always grants that mercy.

We may have lied, but we were never created to be liars. We might have stolen, but we weren’t meant to be thieves. We might have been hurtful, but weren’t made to be inconsiderate and uncompassionate. We might have addictions but were never intended to be enslaved to something that is not God. And tonight’s confession might be the first step for you in receiving the mercy it takes to undo all that. Because God is the only one who can undo what we’ve become.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time: A People of Gratitude

Today’s readings

“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Today’s Gospel is a reflection on our need for healing, our need for God’s presence in our lives, and perhaps most especially, our need for gratitude. Not gratitude for what we have done; rather, gratitude for what we have received, for what has been done for us, and for the many graces and blessings that we have in Christ Jesus. The Christian disciple is called to be a person of gratitude.

Jesus is on a journey, and he enters a town where he is met by a group of wandering lepers. It’s important to know why they would be out wandering around. As you may know, leprosy was thought to be a horribly contagious disease which made the person with the disease completely unclean. That person could no longer remain with his or her family nor worship in the Temple. So this was a disease that not only made the person suffer physically, but also cut them off from the community and left them with no means of support, nor a place to stay. They had to be out wandering around.

A Maryknoll priest who was in Korea about 40 years ago tells the story of lepers who were in the area where he lived. They were not allowed to be with their communities or families. Once a year they went to a playing field. Two ropes were stretched across the field about 50 yards apart. The lepers stood at one rope and their families at another and they called out to each other-across the erected chasm that separated them-it was their annual “family visit.” So you can see that being healed from leprosy was no small salvation.

But we are not so different from this group of lepers, I think. The lepers in today’s gospel story are an unusual group. They consist of Jews and Samaritans, two groups that didn’t mix in usual society. But misery and affliction had united them. As someone once said, “Whatever our social ranking, we all shed the same tears.” We too are aware of our need for God, who alone can help us. We all have had our missteps and regrets and can feel separated from others. Our presence at Eucharist today says that we want Jesus’ company with us on this stage of our journey. We want him to show us the next steps and we want to stay close to him and one another as we travel through life’s journey.

What’s very important for us to get, then, is that our gratitude must be the natural reaction that we have to that presence of God as we travel the journey. As we gather here for the Eucharist, we know that the word “eucharist” is Greek for “thanksgiving.” Our very gathering every Sunday is a celebration of thanks to our God who walks with us through the good times and the bad and sees us through the perils of this world to the joy of everlasting life. Our celebration must always overflow with gratitude for the salvation we have in Christ.

But when we stop to think about it, how often are we really grateful for our gifts? Do we sometimes miss noticing the good things God has given us, simply because we forget to take the time to be grateful? What are the joys that God intended for us that we never had the opportunity to know because we did not have an attitude of gratitude? Are there times when we have not seen God’s hand at work in the hard times of our lives because we are not a basically grateful people?

Like the lepers in today’s Gospel, we have been healed of lots of things. We have found ourselves healed when:

  • A person who loves us tells us a hard truth we need to hear about ourselves.
  • We experience, in a long relationship, opportunities for growth in generosity, forgiveness, patience and humor.
  • Parenting teaches us to give our lives for another in frequent doses of our time, energies, hopes and tears.
  • We suffer a broken relationship, go for counsel and the guidance we receive gives us hope for our future.
  • We seek help for an addiction and the group members offer us wisdom, support and helping hands when we fall and support us “one day at a time.”
  • We suffer the death of a loved one and family and friends are there to grieve with us and eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Not every gift of our lives is something that at first glance seems like a good thing. Sometimes the fact that God has helped us through a bad situation is grace enough to celebrate. Back when I was in my second year of seminary, just before Christmas, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We got her through the surgery and started on chemotherapy and eventually managed so celebrate Christmas. Just after I returned to the seminary in January, my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I have to tell you, I didn’t know how to pray any more at that point. I didn’t have words to say to God. But some of my brother seminarians came to my room one night and sheepishly offered to pray over me. They had no idea how important that offer was to me. I invited them in and we talked, and they prayed over me. From that point on, I was able to pray again, for my parents and for myself, because they had been God’s grace to me. I’ve never stopped being thankful for that – not for the situation, but for the grace and for my friends, both of which were a gift from God.

I want to offer you two gratitude tools, and I hope that you’ll use one of them in your prayer life. The first is the idea of a “gratitude journal.” Some of you may already be doing this. Basically, every time you find something to be grateful for, you make a note of it in a journal. It doesn’t have to be a long story, just a few notes about what you’re grateful for. And the idea is that you go back every so often and look at the entries to see how you have been blessed, and the many ways that God has been working in your life. There’s no way you can not be more grateful and more joyful when you do that.

The second tool is a tool that I am borrowing and slightly modifying from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s called the “Evening Examen,” and St. Ignatius has required all of his Jesuit and Jesuit-influenced followers to pray it every evening. The way I do it is to ask myself three questions at the end of every day. It takes maybe five minutes, maybe an hour, it depends on the day. But If you do it every day faithfully, you will again see the grace of God at work in you and I believe you’ll find more joy in your relationship with God. Those three questions are:

1. What are the blessings and graces I have received today? (Then give thanks for them.)
2. What are the things I have said or done today that have not been a source of grace to others or to myself? (Then ask God’s forgiveness.)
3. In what way or ways has God been trying to get me to move, or what has God been trying to do in me these days? (Then ask for whatever grace you need to move in that direction.)

So just three things: How have I been blessed? How have I sinned? What has God been trying to do in me? That prayer has been a source of growth for me as a disciple, and I hope you’ll try it and keep it in your prayer toolbox for the future.

Let us not be a people who leave the giving of thanks to others, like the Jewish lepers left the Samaritan to do in today’s Gospel. May we instead be a people marked by an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for the many ways that God sustains us and blesses us. Then we can be a people, when asked, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” can truly respond…

“It is right to give him thanks and praise!”

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Ouch. Jesus has just been given a great complement and he responds to it kind of brusquely. Earlier in this eleventh chapter of Luke, Jesus has taught the disciples to pray, teaching them what has become known as the Lord’s prayer. Then there is the discourse on the need for persistence in prayer that we heard on Thursday. Then a teaching on demons. And now this. From this point on in the chapter, Jesus will turn up the heat on the people’s prayer life. Nothing less is effective. Nothing else is acceptable.

And so we hear the same invitation: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” We have been taught how to pray. We have been given tools in Scripture and in the Church. So the question is, have we observed that teaching? Has our prayer become persistent? Is it the life blood of our relationships with God and others? Does prayer sustain us in bad times and give us joy in good times?

Observing the word of God takes many forms. Most likely, we think of the service we are called upon to help bring about a Godly kingdom on earth. And that is important, make no mistake about it. But that same word calls us to a vital relationship with our God, a relationship that raises the bar for all of our other relationships. That relationship with God can be a blessing to us and to our world. But we can only get there by prayer. We have to make time for the one who made time for us.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Listen to the voices of hope in today's Liturgy:

"But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays."

"For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

"Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."

"Give us this day our daily bread."

The Divine Liturgist today is inviting us to find our hope in God, and inviting us to turn over our lives to God in hopeful anticipation that God will answer our needs. Sometimes I wonder how willing I am to actually do that. It's almost like I want to pray to God just in case I can't fix things on my own or work out my needs by myself. Kind of like a divine insurance policy. Maybe your prayer is like that too.

But that can't be the way that the Christian disciple prays. We have to trust that God will give us what we really need. He certainly won't be giving us everything we really want . And he probably won't be answering our prayers in exactly the way we'd like him to. And we will certainly find out that he will answer the prayers of our heart in his own time. But he will answer. He will give to the one who asks. He will be present to the one who seeks. And he will open the door to the one who knocks.

The Christian disciple must be willing to accept God's answer in God's time on God's terms. When we do that we might even find that when God gives us what we really need, instead of what we really want, our lives are so much more blessed than we could ever have imagined. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This homily is for those of us who sometimes have trouble on our spiritual journeys. All those who have achieved perfection and glory are excused. … It’s interesting that none of us left, isn’t it? If you’ve been attending our Amazing Gifts program here on the weekends, you heard this week that the spiritual life is a process and sometimes we fall, and sometimes we fly. Today’s Liturgy of the Word gives us the stories of some great saints who have those same trials.

The story of Jonah that began yesterday and will continue for a few days is not at all about the great things Jonah did. It is more about the journey of discipleship that was Jonah’s life, and about the wonderful things that God did in and through the very unwilling disciple who was Jonah. Today’s reading has Jonah finally doing what God asked him to do yesterday. Fresh out of the belly of that big fish, Jonah finally realizes that God’s call in his life is not optional. So he does what he is told to do, and affects the conversion of the evil city Nineveh. But Jonah’s story is not done yet, and we’ll see this week the ups and downs he still has to endure.

And then we have the story of poor Martha in today’s Gospel. I often think that Martha, as Luanne Roth said at last week’s Amazing Gifts, gets a raw deal in this story. Someone had to make the food! But I think the real message of this Gospel story is that neither Martha nor Mary had it all wrapped up. Because there are times when we definitely have to be Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet in adoration, prayer and praise. But if we are never Martha, our faith is useless, as St. James says in his letter. There has to be a balance between our spiritual life and our service, or, in the words of St. Benedict, between our prayer and our work.

So for those of us who haven’t yet achieved spiritual perfection, the message is that we have lots of saints in Scripture who are on the journey with us. The point is to keep moving on the journey, so that we will one day reach perfection in that kingdom that knows no end. And may God be glorified in the belly of the big fish or in Nineveh; in our Martha days and our Mary days, in our prayer and our work.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor

Today’s readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 131; Matthew 18:1-4
Today’s saint

thereseliseuxSt. Thérèse knew well the instruction of today’s Gospel reading: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest of the kingdom of heaven.” St. Thérèse had a child-like faith, child-like, that is, in her trusting obedience to God’s will, even in the smallest of matters. She truly believed that small acts of faith and love would work wondrous miracles for the Kingdom of God.

Thérèse was a very sickly young lady. A childhood illness left her weak for the rest of her life, and her last year had her dying of tuberculosis. She entered the convent at the age of fifteen, and when she died she was just twenty-four years old. Yet in that short span of time she wrote much about her faith and encouraged others to embrace a simplicity of life and a dedicated obedience to God’s will. In 1997, Pope John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church, one of just three women to have that special title.

Thérèse was not one who sought the limelight. She did not seek to make a name for herself or become anything other than what God wanted her to be. In Thérèse’s view, even the most menial tasks in the convent could be transformed into great acts of love. And her preference for hidden sacrifice did indeed convert souls. Few saints of God are more popular than this young nun. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is read and loved throughout the world.

Today’s entrance antiphon says “The Lord alone was her leader.” The Psalmist reflects Thérèse’s rule of life by singing, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.” Perhaps today we too can find the peace of God in doing small acts of love for the great glory of the Kingdom of God.