Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 599: Curiosity, freedom, and acceptance: A Reflection on Luke 19: 1-1
1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.
5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19: 1-10)
Each of us has a family story, unique, personal – perhaps heard many times and in the telling, there is a dynamism of bonding, a sense of tradition and of belonging and we need that. St. Luke recounts a family story, one that is common to all of us because it is about one of our ancestors in our family of faith – he belongs to us and we belong to him – Zacchaeus the tax collector who was short in stature.
In reﬂecting on this Gospel, three words came to mind – I’m sure there are more but I’ll keep to these three: curiosity, freedom, and acceptance. There was a curiosity on the divine and human levels: Zacchaeus curious to see Jesus and Jesus to see him – it was a “must”! There was freedom: Zacchaeus had the freedom to climb a tree and it did not matter what others thought and Jesus who had determined to proceed to Jerusalem had the freedom to stop – you might say, just to see Zacchaeus. And then there was acceptance: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Perhaps, jumping down Zacchaeus received Jesus “with joy.”
Jesus’s ﬁnal words crown this meeting: “Today salvation has come to this house…” to this man, short in stature and also short in another way. In his humanity Zacchaeus is limited by his history, his choices, failures, imperfections, and yet, Jesus, Salvation Incarnate, comes to him, stays with Him, and dines with him and his friends. Zacchaeus could have said, “Why me?” and Jesus could have replied, “Why not!” I have come to and for people like yourself, people in need and desirous of true life.
Like this ancestor in faith, we are short, limited in our souls by original sin, history, choices, etc., etc., and yet none of these deter the Lord, Salvation Himself, from coming to us as He does in this gathering of faith – through the proclamation of the Sacred Word, through the celebration of this Holy Eucharist. Jesus has been called “This Tremendous Lover” and so He is for us. Because this is what it means to be God, our God. For conviction, for belief in our God that in accepting Him we grow in love, the love that consumes us.
The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself – we hear it in the reading from Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.”
--Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
Quote from a Saint: “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.” – St. Thomas Aquinas
Prayer: Lord, help me to daily seek You and to increase my life of faith through prayer. May my prayer help me to receive Your holy and perfect will into my life. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.
Questions for Reflection:
Discuss the quote: “Like this ancestor in faith, we are short, limited in our souls by original sin, history, choices, etc., etc., and yet none of these deter the Lord, Salvation Himself, from coming to us as He does in this gathering of faith.” What does the Lord’s willingness to come to us in our “shortness” say about the nature of God? Of Salvation? About our worth as children of God?
If you were an onlooker to Zacchaeus’ interaction with Jesus what would have been your reaction?
What can we do during Mass to make ourselves more able to receive God when he comes to us through the Liturgy of the Word? The Liturgy of the Eucharist?
How do we show curiosity in our spiritual lives?
Have you ever done anything out of curiosity for the Lord without caring what others thought?
In what way does our freedom allow us to act upon that curiosity? How does this bring us closer to Jesus?
What does receiving Jesus with joy look like in your home? How does this reception influence how you live your life?
What does it mean that “in accepting Him we grow in love, the love that consumes us?” What aspects of our lives are consumed by His love? Does the concept of being consumed by love cause you discomfort? What areas of your life do you need to surrender to God’s love?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 598: Love of One Another: A Reflection on Philimon 7-20
7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[a] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. – Philimon 7-20
20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:20-25)
“I do not think it an overstatement to say that the purpose of life is to love whoever is around to be loved” (Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan, pg. 253). God is love and He made us in his image and likeness. God also makes the rain fall on the good and the bad alike. Being made in the image and likeness of God, we are to love always and to love everyone. Having been made in the image of the farmer who sows seed with abandon, we are to spread the love lavishly, not choosing who is to receive it. Saint Paul found great joy in all the good Philimon did. By conforming our hearts to the heart of Christ, we become sources of hope for those in need.
We can give love because we have received love from God. He has made us stewards of his loving kindness toward all we meet. We have been created in the image and likeness of our loving Father and we insult him whenever we are miserly in extending love and compassion toward others. The Beloved Son poured himself out for our salvation. Having been made in his image and likeness, we should pour ourselves out making his salvation known to the world. Everything we have is a gift from him, so what have we to lose? If we squander on others what he has squandered on us, we are only taking after our prodigal Father. He grants deliverance to captives. He breaks the chains of sin. He opens the eyes of the blind. He feeds with the bread of life those who hunger and thirst for salvation. He is the constant companion of the poor. He shows mercy to the lost. All the Father has done through the Son, He wants to continue doing through us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).
Through Baptism, we have been grafted to Christ. Because Christ lives in us, the Kingdom of God is among us. God has pitched his tent in our hearts and abides with us just as he abided with His only-begotten Son. Christ who is nearest to the Father’s heart desires to set our hearts ablaze with the Fire of Divine Love. Because of the glory shining on His face, we can radiate his light to the world. Because the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, the people who walk in the valley of darkness have seen a great light. When Christ stretched out his arms in the everlasting sign of love, the fire of divine love vanquished the realm of darkness and death forever.
“We are living at a time when humanity, connected as never before, appears much more divided than united... we continue to find ourselves on the brink of a delicate precipice and we do not want to fall… We appear to be witnessing a dramatic and childlike scenario: in the garden of humanity, instead of cultivating our surroundings, we are playing instead with fire, missiles and bombs, weapons that bring sorrow and death, covering our common home with ashes and hatred… let us open our hearts to our brothers and sisters; let us press forward on the journey towards greater knowledge and understanding of one another. Let us strengthen the bonds between us, without duplicity or fear, in the name of the Creator who has put us together in this world as guardians of our brothers and sisters. So that, together, we may be prophets of community, artisans of unity, and builders of peace” (Pope Francis in Bahrain).
--Fr. Jerome Machar, OSCO
Quote from a Saint: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta
Prayer: Lord, help me to love You and to love others for Your sake. Amen
Questions for Reflection:
Discuss the quote: “I do not think it an overstatement to say that the purpose of life is to love whoever is around to be loved.” Do you think this is the purpose of life? Who is the “whoever” this refers to? Suppose the “whoever” is not very likeable?
Is it possible to have love radiate from one’s face? Have you ever known anyone who you could say radiated love?
Jesus says He will be rejected. What does this say about love in this generation?
Discuss the quote from Pope Francis. What other ways is humanity drifting apart? What is causing this drift? Can it be stopped? How and what will help?
How can we love those who annoy us? Who commit evil?
Love is a lovely emotion. But how do we show love? List several ways.
Discuss the five love languages listed below. These are ways that people show love. Which ways do you show love best? How do you like love to be shown to you? Evaluate each love language and tell how to put it into concrete action. How might each impact the receiver?
Love Language 1: affirmation (compliments)
Love Language 2: quality time
Love Language 3: receiving gifts
Love Language 4: acts of service
Love Language 5: physical touch
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 597: Thoughts on the Faithful Departed
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of Himself.
As gold in the furnace, He proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings He took them to Himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in Him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with Him in love:
because grace and mercy are with His holy ones,
and His care is with His elect.
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into His death?
We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His,
we shall also be united with Him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with Him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with Him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over Him.
On All Souls Day, the Church invites us to commemorate all the faithful departed. As a community of faith and love, we celebrate the victory of the cloud of witnesses surrounding the throne on high and lovingly remember those who have gone before us. Feasts celebrating the dead are in keeping with St. Benedict’s injunction: “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” (RB 4. 46-47). Knowing that death is not the end, St. Benedict adds, “Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (RB 49.7). Death and resurrection are inseparable. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Forget all else, Lucilius, and concentrate on this one thing: not to fear the name of death. Through long reflection make death one of your close acquaintances, so that, if the situation arises, you can go out to meet it” (On Earthquakes).
By keeping the prospect of death ever before us, we learn to live in the present moment with holy abandon. By remembering the Saints in Heaven and the Souls in Purgatory, we keep alive the memories of all those who have gone before us. Having been united with them in Christ, we can walk with them all the days of our lives, until we meet again.
All Souls Day is marked with a sweet melancholy. With grateful hearts, we praise God for the blessings we received through the people who have touched our lives. We enjoyed the gift entrusted to us on loan. As with all loans, we feel pain and sorrow when the one who deposited the pledge takes it back. Losing a loved one is never easy, and grief is the price we pay for having loved them. The liturgy reminds us that God’s mercy is carried on the wings of the wind, and He is our light as we walk through the valley of darkness and death.
On All Souls Day we commemorate all those who have "gone before us marked with the sign of faith and... who sleep in Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer I). The Church, our mother, like Christ her eternal bridegroom, shares the tears of those who grieve the death of loved ones. Like Christ, and through Him, holy mother the church echoes the hymn of thanksgiving to the Father who has delivered us from the dominion of death. By His resurrection, Jesus taught us that death is like sleep from which He awakens us. It is comforting to think that it will be Jesus Himself who will tell us to open our eyes in eternity.
St. Augustine left us these beautiful thoughts. “How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you” (Confessions 10, 20: PL 32, 791).
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Quote from a Saint:
"Let us consider that Jesus Christ submitted to a cruel and ignominious death in order to obtain for us the grace of a good death." - St. Alphonsus di Liguori
God of infinite mercy, we entrust to your loving kindness all those who have fallen asleep in death. When our time comes to enter into our heavenly homeland, draw us into your loving embrace.
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Questions for Reflection:
How can we keep the “prospect of death ever before us” without becoming gloomy, sour-faced Christians?
What shall not touch the souls of the just?
What are we to put away now that we have been baptised into Christ’s death?
What is meant by the Church Glorious? the Church Militant? the Church Suffering?
Who are the Faithful Departed?
Why does God allow the faithful to undergo trials and sufferings?
What can we do to assist the souls in purgatory?
What are the conditions necessary to gain Indulgences?
Can Indulgences be applied also to the Souls in Purgatory?
How are the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory different than the sufferings of the souls in Hell?
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 596
I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the
sea, “Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the
servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked
with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand
marked from every tribe of the children of Israel.
After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches
in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever.
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him,
“My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes and made them white in
the Blood of the Lamb.”
[Rev 7: 2 - 4, 9 – 14]
Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.
[1 John 3:1-3]
St. John shares his overwhelming vision, 144,000 from every tribe of Israel. It is interesting that he sees Israel before all the others; surely it was because they were the ﬁrst to be in covenant with God. And then, a great multitude, uncountable, from every nation, tribe and tongue and all caught up in the full glory of salvation. Prostrate before God they acclaim, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and might to our God forever and ever. Amen!” They cry out because every grace, the gift of salvation comes from Him, from Him alone; their praise is like thunder! It rolls on again and again and again!
In reﬂecting on this holy multitude it is clear to me that surely our lives have brushed shoulders with some of these saints - be they relatives, parents, friends, priests, nuns, fellow monks - people no less holy than the famous, the canonized and beatiﬁed - all now held in God’s eternal, merciful embrace that has no end.
A personal note: I was stationed in a parish for ten years while teaching in a local Catholic high school; I had the 6:30 AM Mass Monday to Friday and I can still see the people who came at that early hour. The men, women, the Sisters, each had their particular place in church (true in every church!) They had their personal devotions before Mass, some came to Confession; participating in the Holy Mass each received the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as they began the day. And we know that similar scenes happened, do happen in churches, convents, monasteries every day - to the glory of God!
Can it not be said that all these lived to some degree the Beatitudes Jesus proclaimed and so the Lord delighted in them. He saw their trials, failings, He knew their victories so much so that St. John in his letter can write “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are!”
As men and women in the Body of Christ, we celebrate with the saints their victory in Christ and we know and believe we are surrounded by them. We are truly ediﬁed by their lives and supported by their prayers.
And in that, there is a message for us in our present journey, are we not, as brothers and sisters in Christ called and graced to edify one another by the witness of our faith, our charity, and are we not to support one another by our prayer, our example? Isn’t this what the Communion of Saints is about? In the Body of Christ, in this sacred communion, we are brothers and sisters - not independent contractors - ships that pass in the night. We are one in Christ!
-Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
Quote from Pope Francis:
“The Saints and Blessed are the most authoritative witnesses of Christian hope, because they lived it fully in their lives, amidst joys and sufferings”
O brave and victorious band, protectors of mankind, generous intercessors when invoked, be our advocates with God! –St. Basil
Questions for Reflection:
1. Do you believe it is right and pleasing to God to venerate the saints and to invoke their intercession?
2. Why is it useful and profitable to eternal salvation for us to do so?
3. Since Jesus Christ is our only mediator with God, why have recourse also to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints?
4. What is meant by the Communion of Saints?
5. May we honor the sacred images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints?
6. Why is Mary the Queen of all the Saints?
7. May the relics of the Saints be honored?
8. What is the difference between the honor we give to God and the honor we give to the Saints?
9. Who is your favorite saint?
10. When is their feast day?
11. What virtue comes to your mind when you think of your favorite saint?
12. Can you see yourself becoming a Saint?
Oratory Reflection 595: Life-Giving Grace: Luke 13:1-9
“At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’ And he told them this parable: ‘There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” He said to him in reply, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”’”
“Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ.” (Eph. 4:15) Each of us who has been baptized into Christ is called to put on Christ, living no longer for ourselves, but allowing Christ to live in us. Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father where he has prepared a place for us. Following in the footsteps of St. Paul, “[We] keep pressing on toward the goal to claim the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) As we run in the path of the gospel, we journey with those who pour themselves out in service of the poor and marginalized. Remembering how Christ poured himself out to fill us up, our acts of love and service become an encounter with the Living Word. The Word who became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary chooses to become flesh in us and lives among us.
The call to transformation in Christ does not start with us, but with God. “He predestined us for adoption into his family through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his good pleasure.” (Eph. 1:5) God has gifted each of us with grace according to our ability to fulfill his will. The Son of God not only calls us to be holy, but he also gives us sufficient grace to be holy. In Christ, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells (CF Col. 2:9), and we have all received this fullness. Christ bestows grace upon grace to all who seek him. The Only-begotten Son enables all his brothers and sisters to grow in holiness to the glory of his Father. In him, we live and move and have our being. In him, we are made partners in the eternal dance (Perichoresis) of the Blessed Trinity. By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into communion with the Trinity.
As we consider the parable of the fig tree, allow me to mention a passage from the Gospel of John: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (Jn. 15:1) In the gospel, Jesus tells a story about a gardener (his Father) who is willing to invest time and energy in a tree that is not producing. His decision springs from something deeper than human logic. He knows what the tree is capable of doing, since he created it, and is willing to provide the nutrients (grace) it needs to flourish. In the story, Jesus tells us of the compassion and patience of his Father. The gardener does all the work. The tree just has to enjoy the attention. The heavenly gardener knows the parts of our lives that have not developed and are unfruitful. He patiently waits for us to allow him to do the pruning. Thanks to God’s loving kindness, it is never too late for us to produce new growth. The loving Father (the gardener) has grafted us to Christ (the vine). In his provident care, he gives us more than our bare necessities. He gives us what our souls crave. By gently watering us with grace and fertilizing us with the Bread from Heaven, he provides us with all we need to produce a fruitful harvest.
Because God loves us, we can not only acknowledge the wrongs we have done, but also lift our heads and look to the future with confidence and trust, towards the good we shall do. The loving gardener grants us another day, another hour, another breath. The Master of the Universe and the savior of our souls stands at the door of our hearts knocking. He calls each of us by name and waits for us to open the door and permit him to come in. We have no reason to fear opening up to him. He takes nothing away but our sins. In return, he gives us himself. How will we receive him?
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Edited by Erica Faunce
Lord, I love You and I give my life to You. I pray that I may be planted in the fertile soil of Your abundant love and mercy. Help me to be nourished by the life of grace You have lavished upon me and, as I grow in holiness, bring forth an abundance of good fruit in my life. Amen.
“Look upon yourself as a tree planted beside the water, which bears its fruit in due season; the more it is shaken by the wind, the deeper it strikes its roots into the ground.”
-St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
God is the divine gardener. What does it look like when he “prunes” our lives?
How can we better accept the times when God asks us to let go of the bad parts of ourselves?
How can we better accept the times when He asks us to let go of the good parts of ourselves so that He can give us something even greater?
What habits can reinforce our belief that God gives us all the graces we need to do His will?
What does it feel like to live life totally in line with God’s will?
What does God ask of us in terms of our daily life? In terms of our life as a whole?
When God gives us grace upon grace, how can we “bear fruit” in response?
Oratory Reflection 594: Blinding Light: Galatians 1:13-24
“For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions. But when [God], who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord. (As to what I am writing to you, behold, before God, I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown personally to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only kept hearing that ‘the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ So they glorified God because of me.” -Galatians 1:13-24
I always take great delight in reading Paul’s recollections of his conversion. That intriguing event stands as a beacon of hope for all of us. Saul who was going to save Judaism from the contamination of Christ was stopped in his tracks by Christ. He who prided himself in being an observant Jew was called to the obedience of faith. He who walked according to his own light, was blinded by the Light of the World. He who sought to make himself holy was called to holiness by the grace of God. The Light of Truth knocked him down and the Fire of Divine Love purified his heart. His conversion was brought about by the love of Christ working in him.
Saul did not stay on the ground. Acknowledging his interior blindness, he stretched out a hand and asked those around him to help him get back on his feet as he prepared to take the next step in faith. The First Letter of Peter might describe how he felt: “Even though you have not seen him, you love him. Even though you do not see him now, you trust in him. Your hearts are filled with an indescribable joy that has been touched with glory.” (1 Pet. 1:8)
Our conversion–indeed, the whole walk of faith–begins and ends in Christ and his grace at work in us. The love that God has for us is mind-boggling. To think that God so loved the world that he came to us, even before we knew our need for his love. The Light of Christ dawns on our darkness. The Son of God extends a nailed, scarred hand to raise us out of the mire. The Good Shepherd calls us by name and draws us to his sacred heart in a loving embrace. The Savior of mankind floods us with infinite, patient, and indulgent love as he puts us back on our feet. Mercy will always be greater than any sin; no one can put a limit on the love of the all-forgiving God. Just by looking at him, just by raising our eyes from ourselves and our wounds, we create an opening for the action of his grace. By his abundant grace, our heavenly Father transforms us and remolds us until we can see his Beloved Son in ourselves.
God has perfect knowledge of us. All our thoughts and actions are exposed to his loving gaze. When we allow Christ to gaze upon us, we are transformed. Because we have been conformed to the Beloved Son in Baptism, we have become a new creation. We need God’s favor to be happy. We need Christ’s loving embrace to be saved. If we seek God in all creatures with ardent longing we will be aware of God’s presence and be attentive to his voice every day of our lives. In those sacred moments, we will be as near to God as we are to ourselves.
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Edited by Erica Faunce
Most High glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, insight, and wisdom, so I can always observe Thy holy and true command. Amen.
-Saint Francis of Assisi
“Now listen to a marvel! How marvelous, to be without and within, to embrace and be embraced, to see and be seen, to hold and to be held – that is the goal, where the spirit is ever at rest, united in joyous eternity!”
What does it mean for us to experience the Light of the World? Why is this Light blinding?
What was it that enabled Saul to accept the Lord’s radical call?
What would have been lost if Saul had not responded to the Lord’s mercy?
Being blind is ironically what led Paul to see the truth about himself and about God. What are some other ways that God uses paradox to teach us about Himself?
How can we know that God chooses us before we choose Him?
What are some ways that we can reach out to those around us for help in times of blindness?
Paul went on to be a great preacher and writer. How are we called to bring light to others, both as the Church and as individuals?
Oratory Reflection 593: Ordinary Miracles: 2 Kgs 5:14-17 & Lk 17:11-19
“Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy. Naaman returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before Elisha and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.’ Elisha replied, ‘As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it;’ and despite Naaman's urging, he still refused. Naaman said: ‘If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord.’” -2 Kgs 5:14-17
“As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’ And when he saw them, he said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.’” -Lk 17:11-19
A Jewish proverb has it that “God created the world because he loves stories.” These stories include our own life stories. The ones that have a happy ending are the ones in which we see God acting in the most commonplace events of our lives. It is doing the everyday things in union with God, as he would have them done, that gives our life story a happy ending.
Naaman the leper wanted to be cured of his disease, and he had enough faith to go and visit the prophet Elisha. He perhaps expected Elisha to wave his hand over him or make some dramatic gesture, but all Elisha did was tell him to wash up in the river Jordan. Naaman wasn’t accustomed to finding God while washing up, but it was a man of God who told him to do it, and so he finally resigned himself to wash in the Jordan. It was in that commonplace act that God touched his life and cured him of his leprosy. Naaman recognized that it was God who had cured him through an everyday event because he went back to Elisha and said that for the rest of his life, he would worship only the Lord.
A similar thing happened to the Samaritan leper in the Gospel. He too wanted to be cured of his disease, and he had enough faith to go and visit Jesus. Ordinarily, Jesus would lay his hands on people in order to cure them, but that is not what he did with the Samaritan. He told him to go walk and show himself to the priests. No doubt the Samaritan had gone walking many times in his life, but since it was Jesus who told him to do it, he obeyed. And it was while walking that God touched his life and cured him of his leprosy. He recognized that it was God who had cured him, because he interrupted his routine and went back to Jesus glorifying God in a loud voice.
Both stories give us a sense of perspective as to what happens in our own lives. We can know for sure that anything we do is bound to be an ordinary thing like washing up or going for a walk. But also, anything that God does is bound to be extraordinary, like curing leprosy or making bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. These reflections lead us to take a rather modest view of our own actions as compared with God’s. We have only to pray for the grace to avoid frantic behavior, not be too fussy about what needs to be done, and understand that it is God who will act for us.
The secret for a happy ending to our life story is to know how to let God into the very rhythm of our existence. God is more present to us than we are to ourselves. All the moments of our day can be brought into union with him by a loving act of faith that he is present and loves us. God was already with Naaman when he went down to wash in the Jordan, and the healing of his leprosy was only an outward sign of his presence and his love, which are continual. The moral of his story is that we too can seek God in our everyday activities, since he is behind them all, and we are sanctified by the acts he wants from us.
St. Paul was sanctified by being chained up like a criminal, but he bore with everything because God was present with him in jail. Paul knew that if he held firm, then he would reign with Christ. The same applies to us when it is hard to sense God’s presence, for example when we are tired at the end of a long day. The thing is to seek God in the tiredness itself, by accepting whole-heartedly the situation as it is. God is there; he wants just that, and that is enough.
Everything we do in this spirit makes us sensitive to God’s presence in all that is ordinary, and it leads us to praise him in the common things of life, just as Naaman praised him after washing up and the Samaritan after going for a walk. God touched their lives as he does ours, and then our life is made up of praise in every part. Each little action is an immense event in which Paradise is delivered to us, and in which we can give Paradise to others. Every activity becomes just the outer shell of the glorious reality of our encounter with God, an encounter which is renewed at each moment, and grows in grace at each moment, and makes a person even more pleasing in the sight of God.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
Edited by Erica Faunce
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
“He who knows that a certain person in disguise is the king, behaves towards him very differently to another who, only perceiving an ordinary man, treats him accordingly. In the same way the soul that recognises the will of God in every smallest event, and also in those that are most distressing and direful, receives all with an equal joy, pleasure, and respect. It throws open all its doors to receive with honour what others fear and fly from with horror. The outward appearance may be mean and contemptible, but beneath this abject garb the heart discovers and honours the majesty of the king.”
-Jean-Pierre De Caussade
What is an everyday task during which you don’t typically think of Christ? How can you incorporate prayer into that moment?
Why does God use ordinary things like bread and wine to perform such extraordinary miracles?
Think about the simple things a human person is made of, both literally and figuratively. What does God do with this “raw material”?
What ordinary things do we see Jesus doing in the Gospel? Why is this important?
Why do we sometimes forget about God through the course of the day? What are some ways we can remind ourselves of Him?
Is there any part of your life that you believe God is “too good” for? Why?
How can we recognize the extraordinary life of Christ in our own ordinary lives every day? How can we make our story part of His?
Oratory Reflection 592: Foolishness and Wisdom: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.’ Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” -1 Corinthians 1:17-25
Paul’s speech at the Areopagus seems to have been a watershed moment for him. Never after that meeting do we find Paul speaking of faith in terms of a philosophical debate. He presents faith as a personal relationship with God and not as an academic research project. He states it quite simply in his Letter to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ.” (Phil. 1:21) Paul was trained by one of the most renowned teachers of the time, Gamaliel. His encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus changed his life. As the Lord spoke heart-to-heart with him, he sought to speak heart-to-heart with the people he encountered.
The notion of entering into a personal relationship with God is rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Do not be afraid. I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine.” (Is. 43:1) Our redemption was purchased by Christ’s self-sacrificing death on the cross. Our hope is rooted in the fact that Christ endured punishment he did not deserve to pay the price of the punishment we did. God, in His “foolishness,” allowed His Son to become a slave to free us from our slavery to sin. The Eternal Word died on the cross, and by his death conquered death. Having risen from the tomb, death no longer had dominion over him. He who was condemned for our sake does not condemn us. Remember Christ’s compassionate conversation with the woman caught in adultery. “Woman, where are they? Hasn’t anyone condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” (Jn. 8:10-11)
People seem to be binging on guilt, blame, and shame. Compounded with this, some people are mounting soapboxes of self-righteousness to harass anyone who does not agree with their point of view. God’s method is quite different. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn. 3:17) The Beloved Son, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, said, “The Son of Man came to seek and find that which was lost.” (Lk. 19:10) He who is closest to the Father’s heart makes tangible the compassion of the Father, who searched for Adam in the Garden of Eden. Like Father, like Son, the Good Shepherd scours every nook and cranny searching for the lost sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and carries it home.” (Lk. 15: 5-6a)
By prayerfully pondering the Scriptures, we enter into God’s mind and see the world as He sees it. By abiding close to his heart, we feel what God feels, and experience some of his delight in the work of his hands. The Master of the Universe came down into our depths desiring to draw us up to his heights. Although he had every right to demand a pound of flesh in payment of our debt of sin, the beloved Son chose to pour out his blood in full payment of the debt. Because of his indomitable love, we have been purchased as a people uniquely his own. Lucky for us, God does not mind looking foolish.
-Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Edited by Erica Faunce
Lord Jesus, though you endured many sufferings and humiliations for us, you did so with the deep, burning love of your most Sacred Heart, and did not despair. As a man in love did you expose yourself to unspeakable pain, that your Beloved, the Church, may come to life, pure and whole. With abiding joy did you take our sins upon yourself, for your love and compassion far outweigh our brokenness. Fill us with this same burning love, and give us your endurance in the face of trial, that we too may bring glory to the Father, who with you and the Holy Spirit, is love itself. Amen.
“We are not saints yet, but we too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment as the all-wise God sees us.”
-St. Philip Neri
What is the difference between human wisdom and God’s wisdom?
How can we learn God’s wisdom?
What is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God?
Why do we sometimes mistake our own flawed wisdom for God’s perfect wisdom?
Think of the Passion and the humiliation that Christ endured. How might this be considered foolish?
What would it look like for a person to be “foolish” like Christ?
How can we reflect God’s “foolishness” in our daily lives?
Oratory Reflection 591: Our Lady of Sorrows: John 19:25-27
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” -John 19:25-27
Our Lady of Sorrows brings to the forefront one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. “We honor the compassionate love of the Virgin Mary,” says one of the feast day prayers, and the Gospel shows us the suffering side of love. The love between Jesus and Mary deepened the suffering of both as she stood beside the Cross. Because of her sorrow, his sorrow is limitless.
He might have spared himself this. But he never spared himself the inevitable deepening of every experience to those who love, who have the courage to face that responsibility without flinching. He taught love, and he is love, and he will not shut his eyes to his mother, or spare his heart from her, whose own heart was pierced at the sight of him. As they were trudging up the hillside, he might have asked the beloved disciple to take his mother home, but he loved her too much to refuse her desire to stay with him to the very end. His mother would suffer because of him, and he would not be able to comfort her. He would have to leave her to his friend, and it is all because he loved her that she would have to suffer.
This kind of love is a sorrowful mystery that surpasses understanding. Who but her Son should comfort Our Lady in her sorrows? Surely he should. But his hands are nailed. He was helpless, without the ability to comfort Our Lady in her Sorrows. That is the measure of his love for us. He knew it would comfort her if she could somehow ease his sorrow, but he did not spare his own mother. He gave her up for us all, saying, “Behold your mother.”
There is some divine paradox here, some sorrowful mystery by which those who love more, suffer more on earth, and she who loved most like Christ had to suffer most like Christ. She had to see it all, to hear the crowd, the blasphemies, the insults, see the wounds, and suffer it all in herself because she loved him so much. Her very love was made to be a sorrow to them both. And yet she did not cease to love any more than her Son did, of whom it was said, “He loved his own who were in the world, and loved them to the end.”
But the love of this Son is perfect love, unselfish, unpossessive. It is hard for us to understand unselfish love because we so rarely experience it, the kind that can say, “Son, behold your mother!” But there are times when we too are required to commit those who are closest to us to the care of others, to keep our hands nailed to the cross of our duty, to keep our feet nailed in the way God has chosen, in spite of longing to be somewhere else.
Only Christ’s life in us, his Body and Blood, can purify our hearts and make such unpossessive love possible for us. May our hearts be like Mary’s at the cross, so open that they cannot close again, and grow to include everyone for whom Christ died.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.
Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!
Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
'Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that mother's pain untold?
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child,
All with bloody scourges rent.
For the sins of his own nation
Saw him hang in desolation
Till his spirit forth he sent.
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.
Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.
Let me share with you his pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
By the cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of yours.
Wounded with his every wound,
Steep my soul till it has swooned
In his very Blood away.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In his awful judgment day.
Christ, when you shall call me hence,
Be your Mother my defense,
Be your cross my victory.
While my body here decays,
May my soul your goodness praise,
Safe in heaven eternally.
Think of a time you shared your sorrow with someone. How was it different from carrying sorrow alone?
What might the relationship between Mary and John have been like after the Ascension?
How can we treat Mary as our Mother? In what ways can we honor and depend on her?
How are sorrow and love related? What about sorrow and joy?
Jesus kept nothing as his own, not even his mother. What happens to a relationship when it is surrendered to the Father’s will?
What is the good that comes out of deep suffering? Why does God allow it?
What are we called to do when we are unable to love someone the way we wish we could?