Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

“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 – in fact, I remember seeing the painting of the Sacred Heart on the wall of her living room, prominently displayed, with last year’s palm from Palm Sunday tucked behind it. It’s a huge understatement to say that grandma’s love for Christ and the Church helped encourage my vocation throughout my life.

We all have a place wrapped up in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we have St. Margaret Mary to thank for bringing that devotion to the Church. Like St. Margaret Mary, we disciples are also called to make God’s love manifest in the world through his most Sacred Heart. With St. Margaret Mary, we need to say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

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.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever been sure of the Lord’s call in your life and it just terrified you?  I have.  And for those of us who have been in this position, we can perhaps understand Jonah’s reaction in today’s first reading.  He had been called by the Lord to preach to the people in Nineveh.  And let’s be clear about this: the people of Nineveh were unspeakably evil and had long been persecuting the people of Israel.  And so for Jonah, this call was a bit like being called to preach to the people of ISIS or something like that.  Not only did Jonah fear for his life in going to them, but, quite frankly, he also could not possibly care less if they repented and God had mercy on them.

But it’s a little hard to run away from God.  He always catches up with you sooner or later.  If that weren’t true, I wouldn’t be standing here today, I can tell you that!  It would certainly be easier for us Jonahs if we would just give in to God’s will at the beginning and not have to do all this running.  But sometimes the human heart just isn’t ready for radical change.

That was true of the scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading.  I think his question is more about testing Jesus than really wanting to be converted, but even so, he can’t help but get caught up in Jesus’ teaching.  The question is, is he ready to “go and do likewise?”  The reading ends before he can make that decision, but the implication is that it will be very hard for him to really love his neighbor in the same way that the good Samaritan loved the robbery victim.

And so those of us who look a lot like Jonah or the scholar of the law today, need to pray for softening of our hardened hearts.  Will it take three days in the belly of a big fish for us to finally give in to God’s will?  Or can we just give in and trust?

Our Lady of the Rosary

Today’s readings

The Battle of Lepanto was a naval engagement that took place on this date in 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, of which the Venetian Empire and the Spanish Empire were the main powers, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the fleet of the Holy League sailing east from Messina, Sicily.  The Holy League was victorious this day, which was attributed to the praying of the Holy Rosary, as requested by Pope Saint Pius V.  To commemorate the victory, Pius instituted this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and it was extended to the entire Church in 1716.

We all experience varying degrees of tragedy or worry or need or concern in our lives.  It is important, I think, to have prayer as a tool to keep the faith in those circumstances.  Pope Saint Pius V encouraged the Rosary as a powerful tool for a real time of concern.  Praying the Rosary is effective in those times because it is simple. The constant repetition of words helps create an atmosphere in which to contemplate the mysteries of God. For me, the Rosary gives me the opportunity to see God at work in the mysteries of my own life, even as it draws me into the mysteries of salvation.

There are a lot of ways to pray.  Many are as complex as they are beautiful.  But it helps, I think, to have a simple prayer like the Rosary at your disposal for those times when prayer is urgent, and the words don’t come as readily as we would like.

Pope Saint John Paul II said, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”  The powerful combination of Jesus and Mary in the praying of the Rosary was a force for the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto.  We should, then, have no pause in bringing the Rosary to bear in the battles of our own lives.

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Pride and presumption are insidious sins. They make any kind of grace impossible, for they even deny that grace is needed or wanted. If we have no need of a Savior, then no relationship with God is even possible. And not having a relationship with God is something we call “hell.” So the disciple doesn’t get to harbor pride and doesn’t get to presume that God will take care of her or him. Instead the disciple must be very mindful of God, and must constantly nurture the relationship in such a way that they are caught up in the very life of God.

The Hebrew exiles in Babylon realized how far they were from this relationship, and with the prophet Baruch, pray a prayer of repentance. And that was an experience the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida needed to have. They were totally unmindful of God, and they refused to repent. Which is inconceivable given the mighty deeds Jesus had been doing among them. Even a ton of bricks falling on them wouldn’t seem to get them to repent. Jesus calls them to task on it. Who knows if that had an effect on them. What’s important is that we too are called to repentance every time we are so presumptuous of God’s mercy and favor that we refuse to repent of the things that separate us from Him.

The disciple is called to humbly place himself or herself in God’s mercy, acknowledging dependence on a Savior who has loved us into existence and sustains those who follow him. The disciple shuns pride and presumption, and humbly prays with the Psalmist, “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that something is in our best interest when we first hear of it.  I can remember often growing up not wanting to do something like go on a retreat or join the youth group, but my parents giving me that gentle nudge to do it anyway.  And then of course, when I went, I’d always have a really great experience, and then I had to admit to them that I liked it, which was harder still.

I always think of that when I hear this week’s Gospel reading.  I think it’s a pretty human experience to resist what’s good for us, especially when it means extending ourselves into a new experience, or when it means having to inconvenience ourselves or disrupt our usual schedule.  We don’t want to go out into the field and work today, or go help at the soup kitchen, or go teach religious education, or go to the parish mission, or get involved in a ministry at the church, or join a Bible Study, or whatever it may be that’s in front of us.

I remember specifically an experience I had when I first started in seminary.  I became aware that some of the guys, as their field education experience, were serving as fire chaplains.  That scared the life out of me, and I said to myself that I’d never be able to do that.  Two and a half years later, one of my friends at seminary asked me to join him as a fire chaplain.  Figures, doesn’t it?  I told him I didn’t think I had the ability to do that, but he persuaded me to pray about it.  Well, when I prayed about it, of course the answer was yes, do it.  And so I did, and found it one of the most rewarding spiritual experiences of my time in seminary.

People involved in ministries here at the Church can probably tell you the same kinds of stories.  Times when they have been persuaded to do something they didn’t want to.  They could probably tell you how much they grew as people, how much they enjoyed the experience.  When we extend ourselves beyond our own comfort level for the glory of God, we are always rewarded beyond what we deserve.  And that’s grace; that’s the work of God in our lives.

What’s important for us to see here is this: God extends his mercy and forgiveness and grace and calling to us all the time. We may respond, I think, in one of four ways. First, we may say no, and never change, never become what God created us to be. This happens all the time because we as a people tend to love our sins and love our comfort more than we love God. We would rather not be inconvenienced or challenged to grow.

We might also say no, but later be converted. That’s a little better. Let’s be clear: there is no time like the present, and we never know if we have tomorrow. But God’s grace doesn’t stop working on us until the very end. So we can have hope because God does not give up on us.

We might say yes, with all good intentions of following God, being in relationship with him, and doing what he asks of us. But perhaps we get distracted by life, by work, by our sins, by relationships that are impure, or whatever. And then we never actually become what we’re supposed to be.

Or we might actually say yes and do it, with God’s grace. We might be people who are always open to grace and work on our relationship with God. Then that grace can lead to a life of having become what God wanted of us, and that puts us on the path to sainthood, which is where we are all supposed to be.  The model for that, of course, would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was able to say “yes” to God’s plan for her and the world right away.

Today’s Gospel is a good occasion for a deep examination of conscience. Where are we on the spectrum? Have we nurtured our relationship with God and said yes to his call, or are we somewhere else? And if we’re somewhere else, what is it that we love more than God? What do we have to do to get us on the right path? We know the way of righteousness. We know the path to heaven. We just have to make up our minds and change our hearts so that we might follow Jesus Christ, our way to eternal life.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Today’s readings

This is the beginning of a rather angelic few days for us Catholics.  Today we celebrate the feast of the archangels, and on Monday we will have the joy of honoring our guardian angels.  We celebrate the way the angels protect and guide us and keep us on the path to Christ.

Many people think that when people die, they become angels.  That’s not actually true.  Angels are a different order of creation from human beings.  There is a continuum of creation from things that are pure body, like a rock or lump of dirt, all the way to those who are pure spirit, which would be the angels.  We are somewhere in between, being the highest and greatest of the bodies, and the lowest of the spirits.  Everything has its place in creation, and was created the way God intended it.

So today we celebrate the highest of the highest of the Spirits: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the archangels.  Each of these angels is specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Michael is mentioned in the book of Revelation, as the protector of the heavens and the defender of the people of God.  He is the patron of police officers.  Gabriel is the announcer of good news, and we know him from the story of the Annunciation to Mary of her pregnancy.  Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.  Raphael is mentioned in the book of Tobit, in what is a beautiful story.  His purpose in that story is to protect Tobit on the journey to recover his family’s fortune and to introduce Tobit to Sarah, curing her of the despair she had over her last seven marriages, which all ended in death on the wedding night.  Raphael also cured Tobiah, Tobit’s father, of blindness due to cataracts.  Tobit and Sarah get married and live happily ever after, which is why it’s such a great story.  Raphael is the patron of travelers.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of today’s feast. But those stories are not finished just yet.  The angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news.  The angels are probably working through people you know.  They’re even working through you whenever you help someone else.  The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it weren’t for the angels among us.  Today we should thank God for Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.