Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 540: Your Barley Loaf: A Reflection on John 6:1-14
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ (John 6:1-14)
Consider the Gospel passage about the loaves and the fishes. Before Jesus works this miracle, someone has to make an act of faith. A little boy offered what he had: five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish. Maybe this boy was on his way home from the market when, out of curiosity, he started following the crowd. Maybe it was the lunch his mother had packed for his older brothers working in the fields that this boy was supposed to deliver and then, like little boys do, he got distracted. We don’t know. The Scriptures don’t tell us. But we do know that, out of this immense crowd, that small boy is the only one who makes a step of faith and offers everything that he has. And look what the Lord does with it!
Could Jesus have worked that miracle without the boy? Sure. Could he have worked that miracle without the five loaves and the fish to start with? Certainly! But he waited. He waited for somebody to step out in faith.
My mom is no theologian. She never went to college. She worked most of her life. But my mom can knit. And for sixty years, longer than I’ve been alive, my mother and a few of her friends have been knitting for charity. They formed the “Needy Knitters Knitting Club.” These women knit hats, blankets, and mittens for the poor, and they’ve never had to buy a stitch of yarn! They find it left in bags on their porches. That’s an act of faith. A few women who know they can’t change the world, but God can. That’s offering a barley loaf. That’s offering a dried fish.
Years ago, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was honored by the United States Congress. The Speaker of the House at the time said, “As a political body, we are concerned with secular power, with military power, with financial power, with legislative power, but you’ve shown us a power that transcends that. You have shown us that one person, willing to live by what they believe, can change the world.” Not bad. And he later converted to Roman Catholicism.
My brothers and sisters, we all have a barley loaf that we can give the Lord. We all have a dried fish. We all have gifts or talents that the Lord can use for others. If we examined how much money we spend on ourselves, how much disposable cash we have, maybe we can decide to sacrifice something of that and increase our offering to the collection basket or to another worthy charity.
If we’re already giving to the extent of our financial limits, how about giving time instead? Volunteer to teach religious ed. Every time I say that, people come up to me and say, “Oh, Father, I don’t know enough about the faith to do that.” You know more than the kids do! And we’re going to give you a book. Of course you can. Or you could volunteer to bring Communion to the sick, or to help with parish fundraising. We all have a part in the Lord’s divine plan. And the Lord has given us the sacraments administered through his priesthood to give us all an abundance of his grace.
Grace means, literally, God’s life within us. When we receive the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, God dwells within us. And God dwells within us so he can work through us to change the world around us. But ultimately it’s our choice, like that little boy. It’s up to each of us to step forward and offer the Lord whatever little gifts and talents you have, and in offering that, you can watch the Lord take what little we have and multiply it to do wonderful things. It is my prayer for all of us today, my brothers and sisters, that when we approach the altar of the Lord to receive the Bread of Life given to us from God, we may also bring to the altar the barley loaf of our lives for the Lord to put to his good use. Blessed be God forever. –Father Michael Anthony Sisco
My God, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Son’s Sacred Heart, for the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of Christians. Amen.
Quote From a Saint
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux
What benefit is there for Jesus to ask his disciples where to buy bread, when he already knows that he will multiply the loaves and fish?
Andrew knew that by human ability, it was impossible to feed so many. What happens to our faith when we begin to think only of human ability rather than God’s ability?
We are sometimes fearful that giving to the Lord will leave us empty. How does the Lord respond to this fear, both in the Gospel, and in our lives?
Why does Jesus almost always perform miracles only when someone makes an act of faith?
Where in your life is the Lord prompting you to make an act of faith, big or small?
Think of a saint whose offerings were multiplied by the Lord. What does their life tell us about the way God works with us?
What happens when we try to multiply our impact on the world apart from God’s grace? How can we be sure to always act in accord with Him?
Think of someone in your life who has made a sacrifice of time, talent, and/or treasure. What fruits have come about because of their sacrifice?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 539: The Generosity of God: A Reflection on Mark 6: 41-44
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. (Mark 6: 41-44)
When God gives, he gives big. Abundantly. Overwhelmingly. He gives more than we need. Jesus gave everything he had to us, right down to his own life, right down to his own flesh and blood. But he didn’t wait until he died to give us the abundance of his grace. While he was still living, he gave us his word, now recorded in Scripture. He gave us his teachings to live by. He gave us his apostles, the priesthood. He gave us his mother, Mary. He gave us his bride, the Church. And he gave us miracles, like the one in Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
With the exception of raising Lazarus from the dead and Jesus’ own resurrection, this miracle is probably the most dramatic of all of Jesus’ miracles because there were so many witnesses. The Scriptures tell us there were 5000 men in that crowd. The evangelist didn’t even count women and children. So if we can figure one woman for every man and two children for every pair of adults, which is being generous because the Jewish families of this time were generally much bigger, this estimates about 20,000 people in that crowd. And they all got fed.
They all got fed with an abundance left over. Twelve wicker baskets. Have you ever had a Thanksgiving dinner where there were so many leftovers you ate turkey and stuffing dinners every night for a week? That’s what was left over!
At the wedding of Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine, because the wine was running out, he made approximately 150 gallons of wine! There was so much wine, they were probably drinking it for a month!
When God gives, he gives big!
Now if anyone is thinking, “Well, that’s just not true, Father, because I asked for something once and I never got it. My response to that is, “What were you asking for?”
Were you asking for something to glorify yourself? Or were you asking for something to glorify God?
My second response is, “How did you ask for it?” Jesus is a gentleman. He forces himself on no one.
When I was in my first year of seminary, I was having a particularly difficult time in one of my classes. But instead of studying for the mid-term, I said, “Well, I am going to put my trust in God. I am going to step out in faith. I am going to use this time to pray in the chapel. Then I’m going to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.” And you know what happened? I flunked. I flunked so bad that I had to take the exam over again!
Trusting God does not justify laziness. The Lord waits for us to take a step of faith toward him. We’re not just supposed to be active pray-ers. We’re not just supposed to sit in the pew once a week. We have to be actively seeking the Lord, every day, all of our lives. We have to be actively seeking what we can do to build the Kingdom of the Lord. And blessed be God forever! – Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint: “If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers.”—Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Prayer: The Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, yours is the praise, the glory and the honor and every blessing. To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no one is worthy to speak your name.
Praised be you, my Lord with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day through whom you bring us light. And he is lovely, shining with great splendor, for he heralds you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars. In heaven you have formed them, lightsome and precious and fair.
And praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind, through air and cloud, through calm and every weather by which you sustain your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water, so very useful and humble, precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord through Brother Fire, by whom you light up the night, and he is handsome and merry, robust and strong.
Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains us and directs us bringing forth all kinds of fruits and colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be you, my Lord through those who forgive for your love and who bear sickness and trial. Blessed are those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death from whom no living being can escape. How dreadful for those who die in mortal sin! How blessed are those she finds in your most holy will for the second death can do them no harm.
O praise and bless my Lord, thank him and serve him with great humility!
Questions for Reflection:
Saint Francis wrote a Canticle to Praise God for His abundant, generous gifts. What other “big gifts” has God given us?
Discuss the quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Have you ever had the experience of trusting in God and praying and not having your prayers answered the way you want? What did you learn from this experience?
Father Sisco gave the example of taking an exam without studying for it. Have you ever asked for something without thinking what you could do to advance the Kingdom of God through that request?
Do you think of asking God to advance His Kingdom when you pray for something? If you do think about this, how should your prayer be stated?
What do you think is the most amazing miracle of Jesus? Why?
Father Sisco mentions the loaves and the fishes, Jesus Resurrection and raising Lazarus from the dead as dramatic miracles where God gave abundantly. What other miracles of Jesus would fall under the amazing dramatic miracle category?
Have you ever experienced an amazing miracle of God’s grace? What was it? How did you respond? Are you still seeing fruit of this in your life?
What should be our response if God does not answer our prayers as we wish?
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 538: A Tongue to Praise God: A Reflection on Psalm 119: 171-76
My lips will pour forth praise,
because you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are right.
Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and let your ordinances help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments. (Psalm 119:171-76)
After a religious persecution in the eighth century, which included the destruction of religious images, an image of the Blessed Mother holding the infant Christ Child somehow ended up in a tree on Mt. Civita, Italy. A deaf and mute cowherd found it while searching for a lost cow. Kneeling in awe and prayer before the image, the cowherd miraculously and immediately regained both the ability to hear and to speak. Just like in Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus healing a man who was deaf and mute (Mark 7:21-37), the cowherd raced into his village of Itri and began to praise the Lord and proclaim the miracle.
Why was the icon found by a man who was deaf and mute? This discovery happened during the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Many saints believed that the scourge of the Ottoman Empire was God’s just punishment on a Christian world that had become decadent in their lifestyles and lax in their faith. When we grow decadent in our lifestyles and lax in our faith, what happens? We stop hearing God’s truth. And we stop speaking God’s truth. In essence, we become spiritually deaf and mute.
Notice how Mass attendance has dropped over the last twenty years, long before Covid. Ever notice how so few people talk about the faith anymore? “Oh, you know, you can’t talk about politics or religion in social gatherings.” Great! Well, now we have two generations that are mostly illiterate in the subjects of politics and religion. We have two generations that don’t know what is in the Constitution and what isn’t. And we have two generations that may know what the Church teaches, but they certainly don’t know why. And because they don’t know why, they don’t believe because we stopped talking about religion.
Everything we have been given has a higher purpose from God. The primary purpose of our voice is to give praise to God. I would like to repeat that. The PRIMARY purpose of our voice is TO GIVE PRAISE TO GOD. That’s why God gave us a voice!
The secondary purpose of our voice is to promote and defend the faith!
And the third purpose of our voice is to conduct the business necessary for daily living.
I’m not going to ask you how much of your day you spend praising God and promoting and defending the faith in comparison to conducting your daily business. I know that ratio cannot be proportional. But I am going to ask you how much time do you spend praising God and promoting and defending the faith as opposed to gossiping? Swearing? Blaspheming? Complaining? Judging? Insulting? I’m guessing that ratio needs to change. God didn’t give you a voice for those things! He gave you a voice to praise Him!
Pray the Rosary every day because every decade of the Rosary praises God. In every approved apparition of the Blessed Mother, she stresses the power of praying the Rosary and the need for more people to pray it. Praying the Rosary is so powerful that praying it with others carries with it an indulgence, meaning some of your Purgatory time gets knocked off! Whenever you pray the Rosary with someone else, you’re getting your Purgatory time reduced. If you pray the entire Rosary, all twenty decades, you also get an indulgence. If you pray the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament, you get an indulgence. Pray the Rosary!
When the man discovered the icon of the Madonna della Civita, what did he first do? He got down on his knees and he prayed. What happened? He was cured of his deafness and his voice came back to him. So he ran to Itri and told everyone what had happened to him. He used his voice to praise God and promote the faith! The village followed him. They retrieved the icon which later saved them all from plague.
Praise the Lord with your voice and promote and defend the faith. Pray the Rosary every day. That will prevent you from becoming spiritually deaf and mute because there is a new invasion now, not by the Ottoman Turks but by atheism, agnosticism, and secularism. There is new plague afflicting us now. Not Covid but something far, far worse. Apathy. Indifference. The intercession of Our Lady saved Itri then, and the intercession of Our Lady can save us now. Madonna della Civita, pray for us! --Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint: “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” St. Gianna Molla
Prayer: You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are Almighty. You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and You suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Saviour. Amen. – St. Francis of Assisi
Questions for Reflection:
Do you pray the Rosary daily? If not, why not? If so, why?
If you are guilty of any of the wrong uses of your voice, how might you change?
How can you develop the courage and skills to talk about religion charitably?
What is the danger of people not discussing their faith in public?
List some dangers to a society that relegates faith to church on Sunday.
What can we learn from the Blessed Mother as an example of faith?
Think of one place in which you can proclaim your faith. How might you do that? Consider ways to share with your voice but also other ways such as wearing a cross or crucifix or a t-shirt with a religious quote. How about envelope stickers? Bumper stickers? Cards of spiritual encouragement you can leave in the grocery among the apples? Other ideas?
Do you know anyone who uses his or her voice to praise God and defend and promote the faith? Who is that? How does he or she do this? With what result?
Read St. Francis’ prayer of praise to God. Then write your own of at least five lines.
. Discuss the quote from Saint Gianna. Recall that she is the saint who died of cancer because she would not abort her baby to treat the disease which was diagnosed when she was pregnant. Knowing this, how is Saint Gianna a witness to the faith and a woman who praises God?
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 537: The First Step to Discipleship: A Reflection on Matthew 16:24-26
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:24-26))
In the eighth century, Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered a religious persecution and the destruction of sacred images. Two monks of St. Basil were trying to hide Most Holy Mary, whose image was said to have been painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. Soldiers discovered them and locked them plus the image in a house overlooking the sea. The monks concluded that death would be their lot and destruction the icon’s fate, so the hurled the wooden icon out the window into the sea. Their reasoning was, "If this is really a miraculous thing, it will save itself." The Blessed Mother first protected the monks from harm, then preserved the icon.
After 54 days of floating on the sea, the icon’s journey ended when it washed ashore on the coast of Sicily, in the county of Messina. The icon was venerated in Messina for a while, but one day it mysteriously disappeared.
Some time after, a simple deaf-mute cowherd was looking for his cow, which had gotten lost on Mt. Civita. He found the beast kneeling before a holm oak, its eyes fixed on the sacred icon which was lodged in the branches. The cowherd knelt in awe, and immediately regained his ability to hear and speak. Astounded, he raced to his village to proclaim the good news.
The sacred image was entrusted to the Benedictine monastery on Mt. Civita. Pilgrims flocked to see it. The Sanctuary housing it has been enlarged over the centuries, In 1527, the Black Death struck Itri. On the 21st of July that year, many people gathered at the Sanctuary and processed with the image through the towns and villages. The Madonna’s help was evident as the many were spared from the plague.
This is an interesting story. The first question that comes to mind is why was the image of the Madonna found in a tree? Well, I have a theory.
The first step of discipleship is embracing the cross. Could it be because the fall of humanity began with a tree when Adam and Eve fell while eating the fruit of a tree which God had forbidden them to touch. And also our redemption and salvation began on a tree: Jesus’ cross on Calvary. All through her life and in eternal life, Mary is always pointing us to her son Jesus .So embracing our cross, sacrificing ourself for the good of others is the first necessary step to discipleship.
So we have police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, missionaries, who put their lives on the line every day for other people. That is certainly self sacrifice. But there are many other forms of self sacrifice as well. At my former parish, which is in a depressed area, I could not give the teachers a raise for six years as we were trying to keep the school open and tuition affordable for the parents. My school principal took two voluntary pay cuts to save the school. She is the lowest paid Catholic School principal in the Diocese. These people are some of the finest educators I have ever met. They sacrificed in so many ways to keep the doors of that school open. For that, they will always have my undying love and respect.
How about parents? Parents make all kinds of sacrifices for their kids. My great grandparents came to this country with nothing. They worked endless hours in ungodly conditions in granite quarries and mills in the hopes that their children and grandchildren could have better lives than them. I’m sure all of you can tell similar stories. We should want to be the best people we can possibly be for them, our ancestors, who sacrificed everything so that we could have these wonderful lives that we now live. We owe it to them to be the best people that we can be.
We should sacrifice because Jesus sacrificed himself completely for us so we can have an eternal life when this life ends. That’s the first necessary step of discipleship. Embracing the cross. And that’s why I believe that the icon of Madonna della Cività was found in a tree. Blessed by God forever!
--Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” ~St John of the Cross
Prayer: Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope, and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said to You, my Jesus:
"They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones." Amen.
Questions for Reflection:
The Prayer is to be prayed before a crucifix. Do you often pray in a similar way?
Why must we embrace the cross as the first step of discipleship?
Who else, besides those mentioned by Fr. Sisco, are sacrificing for others?
Make a list of at least five people who have sacrificed for you.
Make a list of a at least five people for whom you have sacrificed.
What is the most difficult aspect of sacrifice?
What is the joy or satisfaction that comes from sacrifice?
Sacrifice is an unpopular notion in much of today’s society. How can you witness to others about the virtue of self-sacrifice?
How did the Blessed Mother participate in the sacrifice of her Son?
What sacrifices is God asking of you today?
How do you deal with sacrifice?
Do you make any sacrifices of your own choice? If so, why?
What sacrifices were made in the story of the Madonna della Cività?
Reflect on the quote by Saint John of the Cross.
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 536: Three Hinderances to the Spiritual Life: A Reflection on Matthew 21:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again, he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 21:1-14)
We read in tabloids and on the internet and hear broadcast gatherings and parties of rich and famous and often powerful people. Imagine your opening your mail one day and finding a personal invitation from one of these people. They are inviting you personally to a graduation party for their child.
You wonder why you are getting this invitation. Maybe it’s a mistake. Then you remember that, over the summer, this person’s child had to do some community service work and you offered your non profit as a venue. The young person seemed appreciative of the experience. But that appreciative that you’d be invited to a graduation party?
What will you do? Out of respect for the young person and powerful and well known parents, would you even consider refusing? Or would you do everything possible to attend?
In Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, a king (this is an important detail) is hosting a wedding banquet for his son. The king is the one human being ultimately responsible for your safety and protection. If the king does not do his job, you might be captured, enslaved, imprisoned, or even killed by one of the king’s rivals. Is the king important to your peace and survival? You bet!
So imagine guests ignoring the king’s invitation or thinking their own personal business can’t be put off for a day so that they can show respect to their protector by attending this event so important to him. Or imagine that one of them does attend and then refuses to put on the dress which is given to him by the king’s attendants so the he blends in appropriately with the other guests. Rude isn’t a strong enough word for these behaviors.
Of course, Jesus was using this parable to illustrate several truths about the Kingdom of the eternal king God Himself. The guests illustrate three responses to God’s invitation to enter the spiritual life of conversion. Those responses are indifference, hostility, and incomplete conversion.
The guests who preferred to conduct their businesses or follow their own plans illustrates two responses. Some are indifferent to the invitation – they can’t care less about it. Others are openly hostile to the point of maltreating and even killing those who brought them the invitation.
The third reaction is incomplete conversion, personified in the man who came to the feast but did not accept the wedding garment he was given. He apparently wanted to attend on his own terms.
All three of these groups missed out on the joys of the banquet. You cannot experience joy if you don’t accept the invitation to it. You can’t experience joy if, instead of listening to the invitation, you mistreat those offering it. And you can’t experience joy if you go into it half-heartedly. The king wanted his guests to be joyfully present and fully aware of the importance of this happening. When the great King invites us to be in His company, we need to jump at the chance. We need to enter wholeheartedly into wherever He’s inviting us. And we need to take with us the grace He extends so that we can be in His company.
–Reflection inspired by a homily by Father Dan Koehl, expanded by Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Quote from a Saint:
You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or not saint at all. – St. Therese of Liseaux
Heart of love, I put all my trust in you; for I fear all things from my own weakness, but I hope for all things from Your goodness. – St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Questions for Reflection:
Has an important, well known person ever unexpectedly invited you personally to an important event? If so, what was your response? If this never happened to you, how do you imagine you would react?
This parable is often spoken of as the wedding feast of Christ and the Church. How might that apply?
Note that the king had everything ready and then went and invited the guests. This differs from how we plan. We plan and then determine the meal by the number of attendees who say they will come. God does things differently. Jesus died for all humanity, and then God invited all to come to the wedding banquet of heaven. Why do you suppose He did it this way?
When have you ignored God’s invitation? What followed from that?
Have you ever been hostile to it? If so, what caused you to change?
Have you ever followed God’s Will halfheartedly? What was the result?
Name at least three ways that God invites us into spiritual union with Him. Which way seems most inviting to you? Which way seems most difficult?
What excuses, other than the ones shared in this reflection, do people give for not following the Lord? Can you think of a good response for each of these?
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 535: Our Covenant with the Lord: Reflection on Psalm 105:8-11 and John 8:51-55
“He remembers forever his covenant,
the word he commanded for a thousand generations,
Which he made with Abraham,
and swore to Isaac,
And ratified in a statute for Jacob,
an everlasting covenant for Israel:
“To you I give the land of Canaan,
your own allotted inheritance.” -Ps 105:8-11
“Jesus said to the Jews: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word.” -Jn: 51-55
“He remembers his covenant forever...” That short verse of scripture simply means that God is true to his Word. God doesn’t lie or make empty promises. And so the Lord kept the promise he made to Abraham, although it may not seem that way. Abraham’s descendants have become numerous and filled the earth. You might argue that the Jewish people are a rather small ethnic group by comparison to others. But remember, it is not only the Jewish people that call Abraham their father, but also Christians and Moslems. (Remember, the Moslem people are Abraham’s children also, descended not from Isaac, but from Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the slave girl.) So the Lord does indeed remember his covenant forever.
But the question remains, do we keep our end of the covenant with him? That was the deal. God said to Abraham, I’ll bless you with descendants, but in return, they have to worship me. This is what Jesus is following up with in John’s gospel when he says, “Amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
Now first of all, we normally say “Amen” at the end of a prayer. “Amen” means let it be done. So why does Jesus often say “Amen” at the beginning of his statements? It shows his unity with the Father. The prophets before Jesus prayed and fasted, and would have a vision or message from God, and then come back to the people and say, “Thus says the Lord…” In other words, “OK, during my meditation, this is what God told me to tell you...”
In Jesus’ case, God the Father has a thought, and that thought is immediately received by the Son. So the Father thinks, “Whoever keeps your word will never see death.” Jesus says “Amen” to the Father’s thought, and then repeats it to the people. It demonstrates the unity between the Father and the Son, and underscores the reality that Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is on a completely different level.
After reading the gospels you must conclude that Jesus either was who he claimed to be, the Son of God, or he was crazy. There are no other conclusions. You can’t even say he was a con-man, because if that were the case, when he was threatened with death, he would have backed down.
So how do we know that he was the Son of God, and not crazy? Because of the miracles he performed, primarily his Resurrection from the dead, for which his apostles and disciples willingly accepted execution, rather than deny. That’s the real proof. Nobody dies for a lie. The fact that all of the people who claim they saw Jesus risen from the dead accepted horrible executions, rather than recant that story, is our proof it really happened. And if Jesus is the Son of God, then like the Father, Jesus remembers his covenant forever. So if he says, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death,” we can be assured that promise is true.
And so we come back to this question: Jesus remembers his covenant with us, but how well do we remember our covenant with him? If it is true that those who keep Jesus’ word will never experience the eternal death of hell, how well are we striving to keep that word? Do we challenge ourselves not only to grow in goodness every day, but to grow in holiness every day? Because that is our end of the bargain. Holiness, nothing less. Christianity is a challenging lifestyle, my brothers and sisters, but the reward is worth it, because the Lord is true to his word.
-Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
“To keep the word of Jesus, then, is one condition of our happiness, the proof of our love for Him; and this word seems to me to be His very Self, for He calls Himself the Uncreated Word of the Father.” -St. Therese de Lisiuex
Act of Hope
“O my God, because Thou art almighty, infinitely good and merciful, I hope that, by the merits of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ our Savior, Thou wilt grant me eternal life, which Thou, most faithful, hast promised to all those who shall do the works of a good Christian, as I purpose to do by thy holy help.”
Questions for Reflection
What happens to our lives when we don’t keep our end of the Covenant? What happens when we do keep it?
It is sometimes difficult to believe in God’s promises. What are some of the causes of this?
Reflect on a time when you were filled with faith in the Lord’s promises. What helped you to believe?
The Lord promises us everlasting life. What does the world promise? Why do we turn away from God and towards the world so easily?
What are habits we can form to help us stay oriented towards the Lord’s promise of eternal life?
What does St. Therese mean when she says that the word is Jesus’ very self? How can we then “keep his word”?
Jesus demonstrates His unity with the Father by saying “Amen” at the beginning of his statements. What are some other ways he demonstrates this unity?
What saintly martyrs do you particularly admire? What can they teach us about the truth of God’s word?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 534: Confidence In the Lord: Reflection on Jeremiah 20:10-13
“I hear the whisperings of many:
‘Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!’
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.’
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!” Jeremiah 20:10-13
Listen to the confidence in Jeremiah’s voice. He has no doubt at all that the Lord is with him. He has no doubt at all that his enemies will never succeed over him.
A few truths come out of this reading. First, that in following the Lord, persecution is inevitable. There are always people who don’t want to be confronted with their sins. People don’t like being told when they’re wrong, so instead of admitting their faults, they’d rather shoot the messenger. The second truth is that the Lord will prevail, and those who serve the Lord will prevail. The third truth is that we need to have confidence in the Lord’s power.
My brothers and sisters, Catholicism is not a religion for the timid, and so we have to stop being timid. Why is it that television and music can insult and blaspheme Roman Catholicism left and right but they’d never dare do that to Jews or Moslems? Because Jews and Moslems have no problem speaking out when their religion is insulted.
I’m not talking about the use of threats or violence. For example, William Donahue of the Catholic League peacefully takes on anti-Catholicism in the courts and in the media. He calls people out on their anti-Catholic bigotry, and he gets results. Organizations and individuals back down, apologize, and change policies all because the Catholic League confronted them.
Why is Will Donahue so successful? Because he’s confident. He’s confident that God will prevail over his enemies. My brothers and sisters, we need that same confidence, especially now. This is not a time in history we can afford to be timid.
-Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
“It is sufficient that we have a good desire to fight valiantly, and a perfect confidence that the Holy Ghost will assist us with his helping hand, when occasion shall present itself.” -St. Francis de Sales
To Our Lady, Mother of Confidence
O IMMACULATE Mary, when we venerate thee under the gracious title of Mother of Confidence, how our hearts overflow with the sweetest consolation, how we are moved to hope for every good gift from thee! That such a name should have been given to thee is a sign that none have recourse to thee in vain.
Receive, then, with a mother’s compassion these acts of homage, with which we earnestly pray thee to be propitious to us in every necessity. Above all we ask thee to make us live ever united to thee and thy divine Son JESUS. Under thy escort we shall safely walk along the straight road; and so shall it be our lot to hear on the last day of our lives those consoling words: Come, O faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy LORD. Amen. -Raccolta
Questions for Reflection
What negative effects have you seen when someone acts out of timidity? What positive effects have you seen when someone acts out of confidence in God?
Where have you noticed yourself acting out of timidity rather than confidence?
What obstacles make it difficult to trust in the Lord’s power? How can we begin to overcome those obstacles?
Identify a person in your life who speaks confidently of the Catholic faith. What virtues do they practice? How do those virtues help them speak out about the faith?
How should we approach those who don’t want to be confronted with the truth?
Which saints inspire you to be confident in the Lord’s power? Why?
How does the reading from Jeremiah assure us of the Lord’s power and protection? What other parts of scripture carry this same message?
“Catholicism is not a religion for the timid.” How are we as Catholics specifically called to practice confidence in the Lord?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 533: I Do Not Accept Human Praise:
Reflection on John 5:41-44
“I do not accept human praise;
moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I came in the name of my Father,
but you do not accept me;
yet if another comes in his own name,
you will accept him.
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another
and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”- John 5:41-44
“I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you." So says Jesus to the crowds today, and it is very true. Jesus did NOT accept any kind of human praise. Why didn’t he? Sometimes human praise is sincere; sometimes it isn’t. When Nicodemus initially comes to Jesus he says, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God because no one can do the works you do unless God is with him.” That praise was sincere. Jesus immediately redirects the praise to the Father, responding, “Unless a man be born from above, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
On the other hand, the Sadducees try to set up a theological trap for Jesus, by presenting a hypothetical case of a woman who had married seven brothers, but they begin this dialogue with flattery: “Teacher, we know you are an honest man, and preach God’s word without any bias or thought of status.” Well, if you KNOW that, why are you trying to trap Jesus into saying something wrong? That’s insincere. When Jesus is confronted with genuine praise, he redirects it to the Father. When he’s confronted with flattery, Jesus simply ignores it. Why? Because pride is the deadliest of sins, and pride can take many forms, not the least of which is constantly seeking the approval of others.
Seeking human praise is an EXTREMELY common sin, and it’s deadly, because it’s rooted in pride. And yet it’s so common because everyone NATURALLY wants to be liked! Nobody wants to be shunned or rejected or thought ill of. Nobody LIKES to be criticized. On some level we ALL seek the acceptance of others. And therein lies the trap: we cannot please God if we’re seeking to please other people.
“But Father, what if those other people are ALSO trying to please God? It must be OK to seek THEIR approval, isn’t it?” Even THAT can be problematic, because whether they realize it or not, EVERYONE has an agenda. There’s a whole bunch of Catholic moral teachings, and everyone puts those teachings in a list in their minds according to THEIR interpretation of what’s most important, myself included. So, in my twenty-four years of priesthood, I’ve had parishioners praise me on the quality of my sermons, and then say in the next breath, “But you know Father, you hit the abortion thing a little too hard, and a little too often. You need to back off on that a bit.” There are one million children killed every year in this country alone, and I need to ‘back off’ on it?
Tell me, if this were 150 years ago, would you be telling me that I need to back off on preaching that slavery is a moral evil? I’ll make you a deal, when people stop doing it, I’ll stop preaching on it. Because my job is to please God, NOT the congregation, and that sometimes means talking about things that make the congregation uncomfortable. I try to do justice to all the teachings of the Church, but as I said, some in my mind are more urgent than others. And so, my brothers and sisters, don’t seek the approval of others. Seek only the approval of God. -Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
“But there was no room at the inn”; an inn is the gathering place of public opinion; so often public opinion locks its doors to the King.” -Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
ST PHILIP, my glorious patron, who on earth didst so love humility as to count the praise and even the good esteem of men as dross; obtain for me also this virtue by thy prayers. Thou knowest how haughty I am in my thoughts, how contemptuous in my words, how ambitious in my works. Ask for me humility of heart, that my mind may be freed from all pride, and impressed with the same low esteem of self which thou hadst of thy self, counting thyself the worst of all men, and for that reason rejoicing when thou didst suffer contempt, and seeking out for thyself occasions of enduring it. Great saint, obtain for me a truly humble heart and the knowledge of my own nothingness; that I may rejoice when I am despised, and chafe not when others are preferred before me; that I may never be vain when I am praised, but may ever seek only to be great in the eyes of GOD, desiring to receive from Him alone all my exaltation. -Prayer of St. Philip Neri for Sunday, Raccolta
Questions for reflection
1. Why shouldn’t we seek the approval of others?
2. What is the difference between seeking counsel from someone and seeking approval of
3. How is seeking the approval of others rooted in pride?
4. How is Saint Philip Neri a model of humility?
5. Respond to Our Lord’s question in St. John’s Gospel, How can you believe, when you
accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only
6. How do we seek the praise of God?
7. How is the public opinion locking out the King today?
8. What are some other manifestations of the sin of pride?
9. What is different about how Nicodemus and the Sadducees question Jesus?
10. Given how dangerous it is to seek the approval of others, is it appropriate to praise others
for their works? Why or why not?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 532: The Lord is Close to the Brokenhearted: Reflection on Ps 34:19-23
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,
saves those whose spirit is crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him from them all.
He watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
those who hate the righteous are condemned.
The LORD is the redeemer of the souls of his servants;
and none are condemned who take refuge in him. - Ps 34:19-23
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” says the psalmist. And if we look in the gospels, we see this is very true. Jesus, in his compassion, extends himself to those who are grieving, even when they don’t directly ask him for anything. One passage that leaps to mind is when Jesus catches sight of a crowd carrying the corpse of a young man out of a house with his widowed mother weeping behind him. Nobody ASKED Jesus to intervene, still, Jesus approaches, touches the liter being used to carry the dead man, and brings him back to life.
After Jesus’ own death on the cross, he appears to Mary Magdalene while she’s grieving at Jesus’ tomb. He appears to Thomas when he doubts. When Peter is confused and says, “I’m going fishing,” and the others accompany him, Jesus appears again. When two disciples in fear decide it’s time to high tail it out of Jerusalem and head for Emmaus, Jesus appears to them. The Lord IS close to the brokenhearted. But why them? I think there are a couple of reasons.
The first I already said: Jesus is motivated by his empathy for us. The second, is that when we’re brokenhearted, our prayers get really, really honest. I often say in funeral homilies, “Maybe you’re mad at God right now. If you need to be mad at God right now, it’s OK, be mad. God is a big boy. Trust me, he can take it. But talk to him about your feelings, ESPECIALLY the angry ones.” And I say that because the angry prayers are often the most honest prayers we offer. I know in the past when I’ve gotten angry in prayer, that’s when I feel the greatest consolation from God. God respects honesty.
Right now, my mom is starting to feel the effects of my dad’s death. Now that the busyness of the funeral is done, now that people have stopped coming to the house to visit and everything is quiet, it’s setting in. My mom said to me on my day off this week, “I keep looking at his chair and he’s not there. I miss hearing his cane coming down the hall. I look for him on the porch and it’s empty.” Strangely though, I can’t grieve. I haven’t shed one tear for my father, because I know he was a good man. I’m confident in his salvation. I know I’ll see him again. And I’m happy he’s no longer suffering. People have told me it hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe that’s so. But what makes ME brokenhearted, is when I check in on former students I had in Catholic school, now in college, and I see their Facebook status change from “Roman Catholic,” to atheist, or agnostic, or no affiliation. THAT breaks my heart. When so many people work so hard to try to make this parish work, and others diminish it by starting silly rumors, suggesting ulterior motives, THAT breaks my heart. When I look at the world of politics and see NOTHING but nastiness! People can’t even have a civil conversation about issues anymore without it turning into a name-calling contest. THAT breaks my heart. And so, this is what we need to take to prayer- the things that break our hearts. Because that’s where the Lord will be closest to us. -Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything. -St. Teresa of Avila
ST PHILIP, I am filled with wonder at the great miracle which was wrought in thee by the HOLY SPIRIT when He poured into thy heart such a flood of heavenly charity that, in order to contain it, two of thy ribs were broken by the power of Divine love; and I am confounded when I compare thy heart with my own. I see thy heart all burning with love, and mine all frozen and taken up with creatures. I see thine inflamed with a fire from heaven, which so filled thy body that it radiated like flames from thy countenance, while mine is full of earthly love. I love the world, which allures me and can never make me happy; I love the flesh, which ever wears me with its cares and can never render me immortal; I love riches, which I can enjoy but for a moment. Oh, when shall I learn of thee to love nothing but GOD, my incomprehensible and only good? Help me, then, blessed patron, that by thy intercession I may begin at once: obtain for me an efficacious love, manifesting itself by works; a pure love, making me love GOD most perfectly; a strong love, enabling me to surmount all obstacles hindering my union with GOD in life, that so I may be wholly united to Him forever after my death. -Prayer to St. Philip Neri for Wednesday
Questions for reflection
What are some examples in scripture not mentioned by Fr. Sisco of the Lord being close to the brokenhearted?
What makes you brokenhearted?
When have you felt God most in your life?
With whom do you confide when you are feeling brokenhearted?
Reflect on how you communicate with your closest friends. How does this compare to how you pray?
Why is honesty important in prayer?
How is St. Philip Neri a model of God’s closeness to the brokenhearted?
There is a worldly adage, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved.” How does a broken heart reveal what we love?
What sort of things should make us “brokenhearted”? What things should not?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 531: Clean out the Pop Clutter: Reflection on Deuteronomy 4:1,5-8
Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today? -Deuteronomy 4:1,5-8
Moses tells the people to observe the statutes and decrees of the Lord carefully. Why? This is for two reasons. First, so they can grow in wisdom and intelligence. Second, so they can give witness to the other nations of the world. That’s an important detail. The covenant was not JUST for Israel. Israel was the primary beneficiary of the covenant. The Jews were a people that were called by God to be PARTICULARLY his own, but the covenant was supposed to benefit the whole world. The Jews were called to embrace the covenant so they could grow in wisdom and intelligence, and thus inspire the world so that the world would also WANT to become like Israel and embrace the covenant. So, the original plan of God was that ALL the nations would come to him through Israel’s example. And it worked for a while!
The pinnacle is when the Queen the Sheba makes this long journey from the South to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Unfortunately, that’s also the turning point that marks the beginning of the end, because it’s AFTER that encounter Solomon thinks, “That’s right! Why am I sharing my wisdom for free? I should be charging people for my advice.” And that’s the beginning of Solomon’s descent into idolatry. And it’s Solomon who ultimately leads Israel into ruin.
We look around today and we see so much folly, so much insanity, and we ask, where has common sense gone! I saw a meme on Facebook of a pizza box that said, “remove pizza from box before eating.” SERIOUSLY?! We need to be TOLD to do that?! Like we need to be told that the coffee in a paper cup is hot. Preparation H; “do NOT take orally.” These are REAL warning labels!! And I think we can agree that these are just symptoms of a much larger problem. Common sense isn’t so common anymore. And the reason is that our culture as a whole has turned away from God. Like Israel of old we have embraced idolatry, and exchanged wisdom for folly, and it’s OUR fault.
From the close of the Second Vatican Council until our present day, the Church has gotten away from the basic teachings of Catholicism and exchanged them for pop wisdom and cultural fads. And so, from the 1970’s to our present day, we’ve seen a decline in our catechesis, then our church, then our society, and now our country.
When we have Bishops who call our president a “good” Catholic and congratulate him on his victory, with his career of opposing ANY pro-life legislation, we have a problem. And we have a problem that I believe only direct Divine intervention can correct at this point. And so, THAT’S what we need to pray for. My brothers and sisters, first pray that the Holy Spirit reclaim his Church, clean out the pop clutter, and set her message straight again. Second, pray that our Church leaders clearly TEACH Christ’s message and stop confusing the faithful. And third, pray that the world will heed the wisdom of that teaching and abandon the folly of idolatry. It’s up to us. -Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
There is no health in them to whom any part of your creation is displeasing, nor was there health in me, when many of the things that you had made displeased me. Since my soul did not dare to be displeased at my God, it would not admit that anything displeasing to it was your work. From there it turned to the theory of two substances, but it found no rest in it, and uttered the errors of other men. Turning away from that belief, my soul fashioned for itself a god that filled all the places in infinite space. It thought that this god was you, and set it up in its heart. Thus, it again became the temple of its own idol, a thing abominable before you. But afterwards you soothed my head, unknown to me, and closed my eyes, lest they see vanity, I turned a little from myself, and my madness was lulled to sleep. I awoke in you, and I saw that you are infinite. – Confessions of St. Augustine
Refrain: Blest holder of the heavenly keys,
Thy prayers we all implore;
Unlock to us the sacred bars
Of heaven’s eternal door.
By penitential tears thou didst
The path of life regain;
Teach us with thee to weep our sins,
And wash away their stain.
Firm rock, whereon the Church is based,
Pillar that cannot bend,
With strength endue us; and the faith
From heresy defend.
Oh, worship’d by all Christendom,
Her realms in peace maintain;
Let no contagion sap her strength,
No discord rend in twain.
Refrain of St. Peter, Raccolta
Questions for reflection
What cultural fads most threaten our church today?
How can we avoid falling into these fads?
Why did Solomon fall lead Israel into sin after having been given such a gift of wisdom? How does the same temptation plague the Church today?
Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. How does this compare to the mission of the Church today?
What makes someone a “good Catholic”?
How does turning away from God lead to a lack in common sense?
What led St. Augustine to return to idolatry?
How does St. Augustine’s return to idolatry compare to Solomon’s fall?
What is wrong with being displeased with any part of God’s creation? Is this different than having a natural dislike for something? How?
What promises did Our Lord make to Peter regarding the Church?
How can St. Peter’s intercession help the church escape the heresies of our times?