Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 640: Behold the sign of the cross : A reflection on the Letter t the Romans and the Gospel of Matthew (Romans 12:2 and Matthew 16:21-27)
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. 22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 2 Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Above my bed on the wall hang two crucifixes and a Sacred Heart plaque. The two crucifixes came from my brother Nick. One is carved from a solid piece of olive wood and he brought it back for me from the Holy Land. The other is solid silver and used to belong to his father-in-law. When Sally’s father died, they wanted me to have it. They’re both about 8 inches long. The plaque came from my parents’ home when we were cleaning things out after my mother’s death. It always hung on the mantle in the family room beneath a crucifix. That’s where we would light a candle and say the rosary every night. My dad would kiss this Sacred Heart plaque before going to bed.
Crucifixes on the wall used to be more common in Catholic institutions like schools and hospitals. There are still plenty of them in Trappist monasteries. The one above the door to the office in our farm shop is kind of gory and realistic. I think the Spanish crucifixes tended to go in that direction.
It’s kind of amazing when you stop and think that the cross has come to be the main symbol of Christianity. Thinking merely humanly, it should have been a symbol of defeat and disgrace. But God has a way of turning things on their head. When Peter tried to divert Jesus from his cross, he was told, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
How was God able to turn something so negative into something so positive? I think the answer is love. The cross is such a powerful symbol because it shows the extreme means Jesus was willing to go to to gain our salvation. We will never be able to plumb the depths of his love for us. At the same time, it is a symbol of the love of Jesus for his Father, that he would go to such extremes to carry out his will. You may wonder, though, what kind of a monster does that make the Father, that he would will such suffering for his Son? The answer, again, is love – the Father’s love for us. He went to such extremes as to watch his Son suffer so that we could be happy with him forever in eternity. As St. Paul wrote, “God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). Any parent will tell you how hard it is to stand by and watch their child suffer. Because of their love, it would be easier to be going through that suffering themselves. Like Abraham, God the Father made the supreme sacrifice – and there was no angel to stop the knife.
Let’s say, instead, that God obtained our redemption with a pot of gold coins. How effective would that symbol have been in the centuries that followed? Could you see an image of a pot of gold hanging above my bed, or wearing it around my neck as a sign that I’m a Christian? No way! The Cross shows God wasn’t all words – he had skin in the game. How many of the Saints died with their hands clinging to a crucifix? To them it was a soothing symbol of hope and God’s tremendous love.
But this same paradox holds true in our own lives. I asked earlier, “How was God able to turn something so negative into something so positive?” And we saw that the key that unlocks the riddle is love. Whether we like it or not, the cross will always be a part of our lives. There will always be bodily ailments, disappointments, failures, humiliations, injustices. The degree to which we accept them will be the difference between them becoming a pot of gold or a pot of lead. If we think as God does, and not as human beings do, we will see the hand of a loving Father in them, and accept them as a demonstration of our love of God, as Jesus did. Love will make his “yoke easy and his burden light” (Mt 11:30). Love will transform our bitterness and resentment at this misfortune into joy. We will rise above our human condition and see things in the light of eternity.
In a private revelation to Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity, Jesus further explained this connection between love, suffering, and joy. :
Some call the way that leads to My Heart ‘Love,’ others call it ‘suffering.’ Love without suffering does not lead to My Heart. Love and suffering are inseparable – inseparable in their growth, inseparable in their demands – indissolubly united; but there is a fruit which they infallibly produce, and which men often forget to name when they speak of the way that leads to Me. I will tell it to you, My little daughter, it is Joy. Keep in your heart this threefold name of the way that leads to My Heart: Love – Suffering – Joy! (#622)
So as our second reading exhorted us, let us “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship.” For as Jesus said so clearly in today’s gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO
Prayer: “Most High glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, sure hope and perfect charity. Fill me with understanding and knowledge that I may fulfill your command.” –Saint Francis’ prayer before the crucifix
Quote from a Saint: “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Begone, you evil powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. Alleluia!” –Saint Anthony of Padua
Questions for reflection:
1. Do you have a crucifix on the wall over your bed? What about the other rooms in your home? Why or why not? What do you think about when you see the crucifixes in your home?
2. In what areas of your home would it be good to have a crucifix present and why? Have you considered putting one over your door or in the rooms that your family gathers in?
3. What does the crucifix mean to you? Do you find it comforting, disturbing, or just another religious decoration?
4. Have you ever tried using a crucifix during your times of silent prayer? Do you have a crucifix in the place where you pray most often? In what ways could you use a crucifix for prayer?
5. Do you have a favorite style of crucifix or a specific crucifix that has meaning to you? What is it about the crucifix that appeals to you? If you have never considered this before bring this thought with you to your silent time of prayer and include the crucifix.
6. Have you ever experienced something being “turned on its head” and then been used by God for good? Have you thanked God for this experience? If not, why not do that tonight before bed?
7. How do you do in accepting the crosses that God gives you in life? Do you accept them with open arms or a hunched up back? Do you try to be a Simon of Cyrene for others who have much harder crosses to bear? Has anyone ever done that for you?
8. Why do you think love without suffering does not lead to the Lord’s heart? What are the benefits of suffering? What fruits does it produce?
9. Do you offer yourself as a living sacrifice? Have you considered doing this? How does this make you feel? Bring this to the Lord in prayer.
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 639: The Blessed Virgin Mary : A reflection on The Gospel of Luke (Luke 1: 26 - 38)
26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” 35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In composing his Gospel St. Luke had an inspired plan for the ﬁrst two chapters - there are 7 scenes and each scene shares a similar pattern - he writes of time and place, introduces the people and then ﬁlls it out with some event or dialog. Today’s Gospel of the Annunciation follows exactly this plan: it was the sixth month - the place a town in Galilee called Nazareth - a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph- the angel Gabriel - and a most sacred dialog between them, a wondrous message and a heartfelt response.
There is so much for prayerful reﬂection in this Gospel of the Annunciation - too much for a homily and surely for one’s personal meditation. So I center on one verse that always for me and perhaps for you makes me pause: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
“You have found favor” - the verb indicates something that has already taken place and continues on. Mary’s whole life has been blessed, anointed, embraced by God’s loving gaze and presence and all has led to the moment of her conception of the Eternal Word. The rest of her life will ﬂow from it - such is God’s favor for her.
She lived that most sacred favor in conceiving and bearing Jesus, the Son of God and there is more. In the few passages about her in the Gospels she ever shares that favor, reaching out to others: her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, her concern for the couple at Cana when the wine ran out, her words to all: “Do whatever He tells you” and her forgiving, loving presence after the Ascension in the upper room with the women and the apostles who betrayed her Son. She is a model of faith and charity to us who also are favored by our God.
In the Book of Lamentations, chapter 3, we read: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning so great is His faithfulness.” This verse speaks to us and of us; we have only to think of the Holy Eucharist - the incomprehensible favor of receiving the Incarnate Son of God. Mary, our Mother, tells us that this extravagant favor is to be lived in our daily lives - love, mercy, forgiveness.
Received and given, welcomed and shared, adored and lived - this is the way of true gratitude for God’s inﬁnite, inexhaustible favor. “Do whatever He tells you” - the words of our Queen and Mother - words of wisdom, words of her own experience. We have truly found favor with God!
Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
Prayer: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
Quote from a Saint: “Our mother is a model of correspondence to grace. If we contemplate her life, our Lord will give us the light we need to divinize our everyday existence… First, let us imitate her love. Charity cannot be content with just nice feelings; it must find its way into our conversations and, above all, into our deeds. The Virgin did not merely pronounce her fiat; in every moment she fulfilled that firm and irrevocable decision. So should we.” — Saint Josemaria Escriva
Questions for reflection:
Do you have a devotion to Mary? If you do not, would you consider starting to develop one? You can start by simply praying a Hail Mary once a day and reading about Mary in the Gospels.
Do you struggle with any of the Church’s teachings about Mary? If so, which ones and what have you done to try to improve your understanding?
If you had to explain the Virgin Mary to someone who does not understand her special role and status what would you say? What resources could you use if you need help?
Are you as responsive to God’s promptings as Mary was or do you try to do things your own way, without submitting yourself and desires to God?
Do you use scripture as a source of prayerful reflection? Try starting with the Sunday or daily readings from the lectionary.
Are you willing to “Do whatever He tells you?”
What are the characteristics of Mary that you most admire or can relate to? How can you use Mary’s life as an example for how you live your own life?
Do you experience God’s favor through the Eucharist?
In what ways do you show gratitude for God’s favors to you? Do your share the favor of the graces that God has granted you with others?
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 638: Everlasting love of God : A reflection on The Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6: 4-13)
4 Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.
6 Take to heart these words which I command you today. 7 Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
10 When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would give you, a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11 with houses full of goods of all sorts that you did not garner, with cisterns that you did not dig, with vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant; and when, therefore, you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful not to forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that house of slavery.
13 The LORD, your God, shall you fear; him shall you serve, and by his name shall you swear.
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (Deut. 6:4). In these few words we find a summary of our faith. If we listen to the Word of the Lord with the ears of our hearts, we will find the anchor of our souls. If we look to the heavens with the eyes of faith, we will see the handiwork of the God of our salvation. He who revealed himself to our ancestors in the flames of a burning bush chose to walk among us as our brother in the flesh. The creator of the universe is the only living and true God and there is no other. He made us and we belong to him, in Christ he redeemed us and by Christ’s blood purchased us as his own possessions. God is love and his love for the human race is everlasting. Hearing the cries of his people, Israel, he led them out of the land of slavery. Hearing the agonized groans of his beloved Son, he brought all of us to salvation.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of God’s enduring love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you to myself with loving affection” (Jer. 31:3). It is important to keep reminding ourselves that the creator of the universe, the one and only God loves us. Not only does he love us, but he also draws us to Himself with bonds of love. Those are the words we need to hear over and over again, especially when we feel dirty, rejected, and unworthy of love. Then, having heard them, we need to surrender ourselves to God’s loving embrace. He is God and there is no other. His love is everlasting. Anything to the contrary is a lie.
True joy consists in being possessed by the One true God and in possessing Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole being. The words taken from the book of Deuteronomy are quite explicit. “Whoever has ears, must listen to the Spirit and respond to what he has to say” (Rev. 2:29). “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). “Come closer and closer to God, and he will come even closer to you” (Jam. 4:8). As God draws us into his loving embrace, he speaks to our hearts. “You are precious to me. I take great delight in you and I love you” (Is. 43:4). How are we to respond to God’s boundless expressions of love for us? (CF. Ps. 116:12) Love Him. Love calls out to love. We are to love Him with all our hearts. Love calls out to love. We are to love him with all our souls. Love calls out to love. We are to love him with all our strength. Love calls out to love. We are to love him with an all-consuming love and so be united to his love.
Following God and serving Him is always out of gratefulness and humility for all He has done for us. In a word, it’s all about love. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” Deut. 6:5).
Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Prayer: “O my God, I love Thee above all things with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and I ask pardon for all whom I have injured.”
Quote from a Saint: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”— St. Augustine
Questions for reflection:
How do you feel about the fact that God loves you with an everlasting love? Do you ever feel that God does not love you? Look at all of the examples in the reflection where God expresses His love for each one of us. Does that change how you feel?
How have you seen God’s love in your own life?
Have you been to adoration lately? If not, make the time to spend with the one that you love.
Do you love God? Does your life show that you love God? Would someone observing you know of your Love for God?
Our love for God should not be held onto internally-- like a crush or infatuation. Is that how you love God? If so, how might you begin to show your love for God in an outward manner and share it with the world?
What are some ways that the sacraments help us to connect to God’s love?
In what ways does God’s infinite love for you allow you to trust Him? How does returning love to God cause us to surrender everything?
If God loves all of us, he also loves those whom we do not like and make us uncomfortable. Does that change how you will treat those that are hard to love?
What are some ways to love God back?
One way to follow God’s will is to perform works of mercy. Which of these do you already do out of love for God? Which ones could you start doing and how?
Corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Visit the imprisoned, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Bury the dead.
Spiritual works of mercy: Admonish the sinner. (Give correction to those who need it.), Instruct the ignorant. (Share our knowledge with others.), Counsel the doubtful. (Give advice to those who need it.), Comfort the sorrowful. (Comfort those who suffer), Bear wrongs patiently. (Be patient with others), Forgive all injuries. (Forgive those who hurt us.), Pray for the living and the dead.
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 637: Solitude : A reflection on The Book of Kings and The Gospel of Matthew (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a, Matthew 14 : 22-33)
9a There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. 11 Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
13a When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
25 During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
27 At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Every human life has a religious dimension, something in us that responds to the overwhelming presence of God. The context is different for everyone, but also there is something in common. We heard that Elijah spent the night alone on Horeb, the mountain of God and that Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. They seem to have felt a call to meet God, and they knew that God can only be met in solitude.
It might seem that this solitude can’t be experienced by ordinary people living outside the monastery. Somehow we think that we precede God in solitude, but actually, it is God who waits for us: he waits for Elijah to reach the mountain of God, he waits for Jesus to go up into the hills, and Jesus waits for Peter to come to him across the water. In finding God, each of these people found solitude, because true solitude is Spirit, like “the sound of a gentle breeze”. True solitude lies not in the absence of other people, but in the presence of God.
When we place our lives face to face with God, and surrender our lives to him, all at once we find ourselves in what we may call the land of solitude, and at home in it. Solitude is wherever our soul encounters God, as Elijah did on Horeb and Jesus in the hills. A sure sign that it is God whom we encounter in solitude is that the experience leaves us calm and steady. Elijah simply went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. Jesus calmly walked across the waters.
The experience of God in solitude is an individual experience, but it is not an isolating one. It leaves us radically at one with the entire human family, our own flesh and blood, descended from Adam and Eve, and each one of whom is an image of Christ, the human face of God.
There is no solitude without silence. Silence can sometimes mean keeping quiet, but always it means listening. As the psalm [Psalm 85] this morning puts it, “I will hear what the Lord God has to say”. It’s possible to have an absence of noise, but if there is no listening to what the Lord God has to say, then it does not count as silence. Or a day can be full of noise and people’s voices, and yet be a day of silence, if the sound becomes for us an echo of the presence of God, “a voice that speaks of peace”.
When we speak just about ourselves and on our own initiative, we leave the land of silence behind us. But when we repeat with our lips what the Lord God has to say to us in the depths of our hearts, then silence is not broken. Saint Paul did not break silence when speaking about the Jewish people, because he spoke from the solitude of his soul where God dwelt, and his words were charged with life. Saint Peter did not break silence because his words were a prayer: “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”.
Silence is not like a deer that disappears at the least little sound. It’s more like an eagle soaring in the air, flying high above earthquakes and fire and storms on the lake. And the way to reach the mountain of God, the land of solitude and silence, is Jesus Christ, who is himself the presence of God. He says to us what he said to Peter, “Come”.
Let us hear what the Lord has to say, and come to eat his Body and drink his Blood. That is the only food that can make us more sensitive to the presence of God, and able to hear his voice among all the noises of the earth. And when our ears can no longer hear any earthly noise, may we recognize the voice of the eternal Word saying to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid”.
Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
Prayer: “Be still and know that I am God.”--Psalm 46:10
Quote from a Saint: “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”—Saint Mother Teresa
Questions for reflection:
What are some of the places or situations where God has found you? Did He find you in the silence of prayer or in the middle of the chaos of life?
How do you handle solitude? When was the last time that you were somewhere alone? If it has been a while, try to schedule some time alone this week, even if it is only for a few minutes.
Consider that solitude is not the absence of people but the presence of God. Does this idea change how you view solitude?
How do you handle silence? Does it make you uncomfortable at all? Have you experienced silence lately? If not turn off your television, radio, and other devices. Set a timer for one minute and just sit with the silence. Reflect on how it made you feel. Keep working to add more time each day.
Is silent contemplative prayer part of your prayer life? If so, what has been your experience? If not, is there something holding you back from trying? Give it a try-- you can start by trying Lectio Divina or by contemplating the daily Mass readings.
Have you worked at cultivating a silence inside of you so that God can you find you wherever you are? If not, why not start today? Try praying in different environments: the silence of adoration, a busy coffee shop, etc. Being able to enter your own interior chapel to pray will help you to connect with the Lord and prove to yourself that you have time and a location to pray at all times.
Reflect on this statement, “It’s possible to have an absence of noise, but if there is no listening to what the Lord God has to say, then it does not count as silence.” Have you experienced sitting in a quiet spot but not listened to the Lord? Was that prayer time fruitful? Do you think that you are a good listener? Are you quick to act when you feel that the Holy Spirit is inspiring you to help someone or get involved in something that you would normally have avoided?
Reflect on the statement” “[A] day can be full of noise and people’s voices, and yet be a day of silence, if the sound becomes for us an echo of the presence of God, “a voice that speaks of peace”.” Have you ever considered that you can be in silence in the middle of a lot of noise? What do you think that would look like?
When you try to achieve silence is it like a deer that flits away at the slightest disturbance or is it like the eagle, able to soar above all the commotion? How can you make your silent time rise above noise and distraction?
Do you take time to pray in silence after receiving Communion and at the end of Mass? What kind of prayer do you say during these times? What would be some appropriate prayers at these times?
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 636 : The Importance of Understanding Scripture : A reflection on The Book of Genesis and The Gospel of Matthew (Genesis 21 : 5, 8-20a, Matthew 8:28-34)
5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great banquet on the day of the child’s weaning. 9 Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; 10 so she demanded of Abraham: “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”
11 Abraham was greatly distressed because it concerned a son of his. 12 But God said to Abraham: Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Obey Sarah, no matter what she asks of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants will bear your name. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, since he too is your offspring.
14 Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away. As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, 15 the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under one of the bushes, 16 and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, “I cannot watch the child die.” As she sat opposite
him, she wept aloud.
17 God heard the boy’s voice, and God’s angel called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not fear; God has heard the boy’s voice in this plight of his. 18 Get up, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up.
28 When he came to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. 29 They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. 31 The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And he said to them, “Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned.
33 The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. 34 Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
How literally should we read Scripture? The two readings we have just listened to pose problems for those who advocate for reading the Bible too literally. In our first reading we heard about Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael. It said, “Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent them away.” That all makes perfect sense if the child is one or two, but what if he is 15? Would you place him on his mother’s back and have her cart him through the desert on an arduous journey? No wonder the water ran out so quickly! The passage continues, “As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer sheba, the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under a shrub.” Not only was she lugging a 15-year-old boy, but water, provisions, and all their belongings too, which, granted, probably wasn’t all that much.
So, how old was Ishmael at the time? Let’s do a little math. Our reading this morning was from chapter 21 of Genesis. Earlier, in chapter 16, it says, “Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.” The opening verse of our reading this morning was, “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” Okay, 100 minus 86 equals 14. Then, we are told in today’s reading, it is at the time of his weaning that Abraham held a great feast and that’s when Sarah noticed Ishmael playing with Isaac and demanded of Abraham, “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” Let’s say Isaac was one year old when he was weaned. 14 plus 1 equals 15. Certainly, it would make more sense for a 15-year-old boy to walk rather than be carried by his mother.
We mustn’t think of all the sacred writers of the Bible taking dictation from an angel. The human element has to be taken into consideration. What is recorded in Genesis was oral tradition for hundreds of years before it was written down by the final redactor. This sacred writer had such reverence and respect for the various strands of tradition that he chose to weave them together rather than reconcile them. Scholars detect four main strands, represented by the letters J, E, P, D. These represent four traditions: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist. Picture it like a braided rope. As you’re looking at the rope from one side you see one strand come around and disappear, then another, then another, then the first one again. The tradition that would make Ishmael one or two at the time is different than the one that would make him 15.
Okay, that was the Old Testament. Surely there are no discrepancies in the New Testament. Well, in today’s gospel reading, we hear of TWO demoniacs. That’s Matthew’s version of the herd of swine stampeding into the sea and drowning. Mark and Luke have only one demoniac. You can’t say these were two different events because all the details are way too similar. Also, it has been difficult for scholars to pinpoint the location of this story since the town no longer exists. In Matthew, it is in the territory of the Gadarenes. In Mark and Luke, it is the territory of the Gerasenes. The most likely location is something like 12 miles from the Sea of Galilee. I remember Raymond Brown making the comment in the old Jerome Biblical Commentary that the pigs would have died from overheating before completing their 12-mile charge because they don’t have sweat glands.
Well, if we can’t trust Scripture, what can we trust?! I’m limited in my explanation because of time. This may have gone over 5 minutes already and Fr. Isaac will write me a note letting me know. The short answer is the Catholic doctrine of inerrancy. The Second Vatican Council stated, “The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”
Were there two demoniacs or only one? Does it really matter? How old was Ishmael when Abraham sent Hagar away? Is it necessary for our salvation? Those details are on the surface, on the periphery. The heart of the message in the two stories is guaranteed to be without error and completely trustworthy. Discrepancies in the Bible should not cause us to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO
Prayer: “Father, anoint me with your Holy Spirit, so that as I read your eternal word, your word may penetrate my whole being and transform me. Grant me the blessing to be a faithful disciple in believing the Word of God and that I may be a light shining upon all who are in darkness. Amen.”
Quote from a Saint: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” – St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah (4th Century)
Questions for reflection:
Do you read the Bible regularly? How have you handled any discrepancies that you have encountered in the past? Does this homily make you reconsider your methods? Why or why not?
What resources have you found useful to explain confusing aspects of the Bible?
Do you regularly read commentaries or reflections on scripture? If so, which ones do you find most useful?
Have you put in much time studying biblical history in order to gain some knowledge of the historical milieu that these texts arose from?
Have you ever met someone who was bothered by what they saw as discrepancies in scripture? Were you able to offer them reassurance? Will today’s reading be of help during future encounters? Why or why not?
Have you ever been stuck on an issue of discrepancy in scripture? Does looking at it in the context of “is it essential to salvation?” help you or not?
Was there ever a time in your life when you “threw the baby out with the bathwater” regarding scripture and the faith? If you came back, what brought you back? Were you able to resolve that issue?
Have you ever taken any of your issues with scripture to prayer? If not, why not try the next time that you pray?
Other than the two passages mentioned above are you aware of any other contradictions in scripture?
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 635 : Prayer : A reflection on the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter to the Romans (Matthew 13 : 24-43 and Romans 8 : 26-27)
24 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
31 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”.
33 He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, 35to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation [of the world].”
36 Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, 38 the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
[Romans 8 ]
26 In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. 27 And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
First, the bad news: “We do not know how to pray as we ought.” How many of us have not been able to relate to this saying at some point in our life, or perhaps most of the time? After all, who are we to try to communicate with Someone so far out of our league? If we tried to set up an appointment with President Biden or King Charles or some entertainment celebrity or sports star, we would be brushed aside and ignored. How much more God, who is so far beyond these little gnats.
Or, similarly, maybe we think God is actually interested in us but he is way too busy with far more important issues. Picture it as the old-time phone operator switchboard with little red lights blinking from all the calls coming in from all over the world of people who want to talk to God at this very moment. Surely, my call must be at least a billion people down the priority list in urgency.
Or, perhaps we’re plagued by the thought that we’re not going about it the right way. I’m using the wrong technique. I need to switch to another method. If I just found the right combination it would all flow effortlessly like it did before. As anyone who has been at this awhile can tell you, dryness is all part of the process. We need to become convinced that it doesn’t all depend on us. God isn’t going to be controlled by us. He’s not an inert safe where we punch in the right set of numbers and the door swings open and all kinds of glittery things come spilling out. We need to learn on a deep level just how truly we are merely beggars.
OK, our second reading took note of this bad news. But it also shared some really good news, namely: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness . . . the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”
What tremendously good news! The Holy Spirit himself is inside us praying to the Father. We have an Advocate who is doing all the work for us.
But this doesn’t happen automatically. The Holy Trinity isn’t going to force itself on us. We have our role to play in it too. There are certain things we need to do on our end.
One thing is to make time for prayer every day – a period of time that is dedicated to God alone. As monks, we should be doing that at least twice a day. Lay people will not regret making that a priority and arranging other things around it. It could be maybe 20 or 30 minutes long. Fulton Sheen strongly recommended to priests a holy hour every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It’s good to make it the same time everyday so our body and soul gets into a rhythm. Once we’ve found a time that works, we need to be faithful to it and show up everyday, whether we feel like it or not. Speaking of feelings, it’s tempting to judge our prayer times by how we felt, or like what we got out of it. But we have to remind ourselves intellectually that the Holy Spirit is praying within us and that God is not required to give us consolations every time. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting addicted to the consolations instead of God himself, rain or shine, thick or thin.
On our end, we need to make a fit dwelling place for the Holy Spirit to pray within us. We need to be in the state of grace. If we can think of any mortal sins, we need to go to confession. All sin obstructs, restricts, and slows down the amount of grace that God wants to flow into us, and through us to others. It’s good to begin our prayer period with a heartfelt Act of Contrition to sweep the house clean. Are we holding onto any unforgiveness or resentment? We need to let that go. It’s hurting us more than the other person. And in the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Then, do our best to ignore distractions. Distractions are bound to come, but once we realize we’re trailing off on one we smile and bring ourselves back once again. The devil doesn’t like it when we’re praying and he’s going to think up some really juicy distractions to get us derailed. Some find it helpful to repeat over and over again a word or phrase, maybe something from Scripture.
I once heard it compared to a landing strip. Think of being in a place that is uneven and has rocks and bushes and trees and stuff. No pilot is going to try to land there. Our job is to clear the landing of all obstructions and make it nice and inviting. Then God will land when and how he likes. We can’t command him down on our terms. We can only invite him. And we are reassured in this reading today that he is eagerly longing for that invitation and will come down and do all the rest, regardless of whether we feel like it is taking place or not.
Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO
Prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Quote from a Saint: “When through dryness or distraction of mind, you feel unable to form any good thought at mental prayer, offer to the Eternal Father the prayer the Sacred Heart makes for you in the Blessed Sacrament, thus to supply for your insufficiency.”-St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Questions for reflection:
Would you react like the owner of the field whose enemy planted weeds amongst his wheat? Do you react with patience, prudence, and wisdom when someone does something malicious against you? Meditate on this during your next time of prayer.
What does your daily prayer life look like? Pick one practice that you can improve or add. Start doing it this week.
Are you tenacious in your prayer time? Do you pick yourself up and start over again if you get derailed by distractions or intrusive thoughts or do they cause you come to a grinding halt?
What do you do when you encounter distractions in prayer? What are some things you can try when you inevitably become distracted?
How faithful are you in making a time for prayer in your life? If you struggle with this start small and build it up over time. Like exercise, sustained prayer takes time and practice to successfully implement in our lives.
Do you have a specific place that you pray at home? Have you ever thought of setting up one?
Have you tried to pray in different environments? It is good to learn to pray in perfectly quiet place but we should be prepared to pray at all times.
Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayer?
Are you a frequent flyer in the confessional or do you only go when you feel the need? If it has been a while sit down and ask the Holy Spirit to highlight the things in your life that you need to bring to confession and then go to confession.
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 634 : Faith in the family : A reflection on the Sirach and the Gospel of Matthew (Sirach 44:1, 10-15 and Matthew 13:16-17).
[Sirach 44 : 1, 10-15]
10 I will now praise the godly, our ancestors, in their own time … Yet these also were godly; their virtues have not been forgotten. 11 Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants. 12 Through God’s covenant their family endures, and their offspring for their sake.
13 And for all time their progeny will endure, their glory will never be blotted out; 14 Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on and on. 15 At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praises.
[Matthew 13 : 16-17]
The Privilege of Discipleship. 16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
17 Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
"Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time" (Si. 44:1). Today, the Church encourages us to remember our ancestors. Our identity is wrapped up in the lives of the people who have gone before us. By celebrating the parents of Mary, we insert our faith journey into a context of living faith, faith that is passed down from one generation to another. We have only to recall this passage from the Book of Deuteronomy. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be in your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deut. 6: 4-7). Thanks to the fidelity of our ancestors, we have come to know the love and fidelity of God. By recalling the hands that caressed us and the arms that carried us we can find consolation in moments of discouragement, a light to guide us, and courage to face future challenges.
In his first letter, Saint Peter wrote: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, as a result, you can declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Our ancestors are sources of richness and connect us with our roots. We are the heirs of a marvelous heritage that has been handed down to us by past generations. Jesus learned at the knees of Mary, what she was taught by her mother, what she inherited from her mother before her. Homeschooling has an ancient pedigree. Today’s celebration is a reminder that faith is homegrown. Gathered around the kitchen table, the family altar, we are nourished with the bread lovingly baked, and words lovingly spoken. It is there that we learn to graciously receive what has been offered and to share with others what we have received.
Within the family of God, there is a bond that unites the young and the old. I was touched by what Pope Francis had to say. “The Lord trusts that young people, through their relationships with the elderly, will realize that they are called to cultivate memory and recognize the beauty of being part of a much larger history. Friendship with an older person can help the young to see life not only in terms of the present and realize that not everything depends on them and their abilities. For the elderly, the presence of a young person in their lives can give them hope that their experience will not be lost and that their dreams can find fulfillment.”
All who partake of the One Bread and the One Cup have become one family. Having been fed by the Bread of Life, we are called to become bread blessed and broken for others. The Eternal Word became man to show us how to accompany one another on our pilgrimage of life. To think that a simple crust of bread in the hands of the Lord becomes a banquet for those who believe. The passage from Saint Luke’s gospel is fulfilled in our hearing. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Lk. 24: 30-31). Jesus turns his loving gaze toward us as we gaze upon him. As he did to his disciples of old, he says to us: "Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Mat 13:16). May Joachim and Anne intercede for us that we may cherish the history that gave us life and may build a history that gives life.
Prayer: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
Quote from a Saint: “If it were but known how great is the power of the good souls in Purgatory with the Heart of God, and if we knew all the graces we can obtain through their intercession, they would not be so much forgotten. We must, therefore, pray much for them, that they may pray much for us.”-- St. John Vianney
Questions for reflection:
1. Did your parents form you in the faith or at least prepare the way for you to a relationship with Jesus and His Church?
2. Do you pray for your relatives who have fallen asleep in the Lord? If not, why not start tonight before going to bed?
3. Have you worked to pass on the faith to those people in your life for whom you are responsible? If you came to faith after your children were grown did you still make an attempt to share what you had found with them?
4. Have you ever considered the story of how the faith came to you? Was it passed down in your family or did you receive it from somebody in the larger family of Christ and His Church?
5. Do you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength? If not, spend time with the Lord every day, be it in silent prayer, in adoration, while taking a walk in creation-- just dedicate an amount of time to being with Him. He is waiting for you.
6. Are Sunday dinners something that your family or friend group partake in? If not, maybe start a new tradition that will be passed down to future generations.
7. Have you attempted to cultivate friendship with people who are not from your age group? It is said that there is an epidemic of loneliness that effects people of all ages. Reach out to others and see what happens.
8. We all become one family through Christ. Do you feel that kind of relationship with your fellow believers? If not, pray about it and the next time you go to Mass introduce yourself to someone new or maybe that person who sits near to you every Sunday who you have never spoken to before.
9. Do you pray for the souls in purgatory? They too are our family through the vine of Christ. If not, start today.
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 633: Seeing the Lord : A reflection on the Gospel of John (John 20: 1 - 2, 11 - 18)
1 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
11 But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”
14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what He told her.” St. John does not tell us how she announced this outstanding news so, I believe, we have to use our imagination. Perhaps, she burst into the room and almost shouted, not being able to contain her joy, or perhaps, she entered tearfully and almost in a whisper said, “I have seen the Lord!” - it seemed too good to be true.
However she made that announcement, she would never forget the experience and His calling her by name, Mary; later perhaps she would laugh remembering that she thought he was a gardener. For her, this meeting carried her through the rest of her life - recalling this divine act of love directed to her, pondering it again and again as the Risen Lord drew her more and more into His divine life. In addition to all this, she with His Mother and the other believers would receive Him in the “Breaking of the Bread.”
The Lord, in His most generous love and mercy, provided for this woman, one he healed, not only to see Him but also to receive Him. Today we celebrate the extravagant graces of her life.
Our celebration is unique since each of us can truly identify with her experiences. “I have seen the Lord!” and you, I can say the same. We do see the Lord but in a different form - not face to face as Mary saw Him - we see His Eucharistic Face - in Mass the Consecrated Host and Wine are held for our gaze - when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance - we look upon His Eucharistic Face - yet it is the same Lord, the Jesus Mary tried to hold. In the “Breaking of the Bread” she received Him, true God and true Man and we do as well, as we will in a few moments.
And the Lord can say to each of us and does say - you have seen Me - you have received Me and it is My most ardent desire that this be so that you live your life as My own, My most beloved brother or sister, My friend. What do I, what do you say to this - rather how do we live in response to this?
Fr. John Denburgerr, OCSO
Prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Quote from a Saint: “If you have the courage to imitate Mary Magdalene in her sins, have the courage to imitate her penance!”—St. Padre Pio
Questions for reflection:
Do you remember the time that you first “saw the Lord”? Were you filled with zeal and wanted to share it with others or was it something that you kept to yourself?
In the homily above we are told that we can see the Lord in the Eucharist. Do you see the Lord in this way? If not, bring it to the Lord in prayer.
Reflect on the passage: “when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance - we look upon His Eucharistic Face - yet it is the same Lord, the Jesus Mary tried to hold.” Does the Blessed Sacrament being the same Lord that Mary tried to hold change the way you think about the Eucharist? Bring this to prayer, especially at adoration.
Do you spend time in adoration? If you do, what has your experience been? If not, why not give it a try?
Prayer, reading and meditating on scripture, and encountering other people are all ways that we can see the Lord. What has been your experiences with these activities? What are some other ways that we encounter the Lord?
Have you ever identified with Mary Magdalene? How did the Lord find you and lead you home? Have you helped others to find the Lord and His Church?
How do you live out your thankfulness for what the Lord has done for you?
When people see and talk to you do they have a sense that you are a follower of Jesus? Do they see Jesus in you? If not, start reading the New Testament daily and start conforming your life to the lifestyle that Christ taught. It was said that the early Christians were known by how they loved.
Mary saw the Lord crucified and die. How would you react if encountered your dead loved one alive? Meditate on the passage from John by putting yourself in Mary’s position.
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 632: God’s Kingdom on Earth: A reflection on Zechariah and the Gospel of Matthew (Zechariah 9:9-10, Matthew 11:25-30)
9 Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
25 At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. 26 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote: “Our job is not to get to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth.” I used his reflection as a springboard for today’s homily. “When it all began, heaven was here on earth. This physical, earthly world, more than any of the higher spiritual worlds, was the place where the very essence of G d’s infinite light could be found. But humankind, step by step, banished that divine presence from its home, with a tree of knowledge, with a man who murdered his brother, with all those things that human beings do… Since humankind chased it away, only humankind can bring it back” (Chadab, org). He continues: “The Torah originates in heaven and consists of G d’s vision for the perfection of the world. By spreading the knowledge of the Torah to ourselves and others, we are bringing heaven down to earth. By reshaping both our own lives and the lives of others following the Torah’s teachings, we are bringing life on earth up to heaven.” What an awe-inspiring thought!
In today’s first reading, the prophet Zechariah shared a moment of ecstasy with us. He had a vision of the coming of the Messiah. As he put his vision into words, he described how Christ, the Light of the World, returned to his earthly dwelling. One hears echoes of the Book of Revelation. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him” (Rev. 3:20). The Lord of Lords entered into the lives of people who step by step had banished him from their lives but now have heard his voice and opened the door for him to enter their hearts. The beloved Son came into our world to make all things new. By conforming our lives to his, we can work to build up the dwelling place of God in our midst. When we keep God’s commandment to love one another, the love of God binds us together.
God made us in his image and likeness. God, who is Love, made us out of love for love’s sake. Because he first loved us we can love one another. God so loved the world that he drew us into the communion of love with cords of love. When we give freely that which we have received from him, we manifest God’s infinite love and mercy for the whole human race. He is rich in mercy, and he enables those among whom he had made his dwelling place to do works of compassion and grace. Those who have been consumed by the fire of divine love, radiate the glory that shines on the face of Christ and bring heaven down to earth. The apostle to the Gentiles wrote. “You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on fleshy tablets of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3). Through baptism we are drawn close to the heart of Christ. With him, we find our resting place close to the heart of the Father, and with bonds of love, we draw all we meet into the communion of love of the Trinity, thus bringing life on earth up to heaven.
The Psalmist left us these beautiful words. “The Lord takes delight in his people. He crowns the humble with salvation”. (Ps. 149:4). In today’s gospel passage, Saint Matthew spoke of Jesus’s delight in the love of his Father and how he manifests the Father’s love by being the word of revelation to all the Father brings to him. As the Word Made Flesh he brings heaven down to earth and makes his dwelling among us. As the risen and ascended Lord, he brings earth to heaven and prepares a dwelling place for us in his Father’s kingdom. Jesus delights in all that he sees the Father do, and in imitation of his Father, he calls all who are willing to respond. "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). He who is the Lord of heaven and earth is calling us to come to him. He who poured himself out for the love of us desires to fill us with his love and give us every good gift. He sees how we are struggling under the weight of the burdens we carry. Moved by infinite compassion, he asks us to let him take our burden upon his shoulders. Yoked to him, we will never walk alone.
Jesus invites us to come to him where we will find rest for our souls. Because he is close to the heart of the Father, he shares the fathers love for us and wants us to know the depth of the Father’s love for us. If we respond to his call and accept his invitation, we will receive rest for our souls and find peace in our hearts. Because of his great love for us, He who is the Lord of the Sabbath has become our Sabbath Rest. By becoming his disciples and listening to his words we become his friends and begin to build the future according to his designs. When we have made life into “heaven on earth” – reconciling the two – heaven and earth will testify that we have fulfilled our mission in life. Please ponder this beautiful insight from Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B.
I began to realize that “a good life” had something to do with making life good for other people. Slowly, slowly I began to arrive at the oldest Catholic truth of them all: all of life is good, and that sanctity does not consist in denying that. Sanctity consists in making life good for everyone whose life we touch.
Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
Prayer: “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.”
Quote from a Saint: “We should make a dwelling-place within ourselves where he can stay, he who is the Lord God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” - St. Francis of Assisi
Questions for reflection:
Do you go to Jesus to find rest for your soul? If so, what has been your experience? If not, what is holding you back?
Have you ever considered the fact that we can help build God’s kingdom (Heaven) on Earth? What are ways that you can do that?
Jesus talks about how we should be treating others in the Beatitudes and Judgement of the Nations. Do you see these as being related to bringing Heaven to Earth? If not reread Mathew 5: 1-12 and Matthew 25 31-46. During your next time of prayer Lord meditate on these.
How are you doing with loving others as you love yourself? Do you love God more than all other things?
How does it make you feel that God made us out of love and because of that we should love others? Does this cause disquiet in your soul? Is there tension between you and someone else? Have you tried praying for their salvation and making sacrifices for them? Remember, Jesus does ask us to pray for our enemies.
How are you doing at living the faith publicly? Do others know that you are a Christian by the love that you show for your fellow man? If we are “letters” written for Christ then let us live in a manner that makes his message clear.
Do you bring all of your troubles to God? Is there something that you have held back for whatever reason? If so, give it to Him tonight before you go to bed.
Have you ever experienced the peace of Christ? Is it a constant state for you or something that comes and goes? Is it something that you can experience during the tumult of your daily life?
Do you have a day of rest every week? How do you practice the Sabbath? As Catholics we have Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Do you try to keep Sunday for faith and family or have worldly concerns and activities begun to wear away at it?
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 631: “A prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10 : 37-42 & Romans 6:3-4, 8-11)
37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
41 Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.
42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
3 Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
8 If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.
10 As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. 11 Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
In his life of the 17th-century poet John Milton, Samuel Johnson wrote that “To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is animated only by faith and hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example”. To go to church in order to worship is to allow yourself to be “reimpressed” by Jesus’ saying that there are rewards for external ordinances, even if they are distant: “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because the little one is a disciple, will surely not lose his reward”.
What then happens to someone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet? Jesus says that he “will receive a prophet’s reward”. And the same will happen to anyone who welcomes a holy man or a disciple: the welcomer will have the same reward as the one he welcomes. The prophet and the one who receives him as such both stand on the same level, and both will receive a prophet’s reward, even though only one of them may be inspired by God and the other may never have said a word for God.
That is a remarkable statement. It seems to be saying that the power to recognize character in someone else is to have something of that character in ourselves. Anyone who is capable of being profoundly moved by one of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel is an artist, even though he may never have painted a single brush stroke. Anyone who can appreciate the grandeur of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” has something of a poet in him, even if he’s a “mute, inglorious Milton”, as Thomas Gray describes him in his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”: someone with talents that were never discovered.
Any recognizing of character in another person involves some likeness to that character. The woman of Shunem pressed Elisha to stay and eat there because she recognized that he was a holy man of God. That was her way of entering into the prophet’s mission, and she shared in the prophet’s work and reward, even though his task was to anoint the kings of Israel, and hers was only to bake Elisha’s bread. Anyone who helps a prophet, because he is a prophet, has the makings of a prophet in himself or herself. So long as prophet and helper have the same spiritual motive, they will have the same reward.
There is much encouragement for all of us in this. Even if we never utter a word of prophecy, if we give recognition to the workers who are trying to serve God, and do what we can to help them, and identify ourselves with them as fellow members of Christ’s body, then his saying will apply to us: “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”. Monks who have a contemplative vocation, and can only give silent sympathy and prayer and help, are one with the people they help. That was the reason Pope Pius XI declared St Thérèse patroness of the missions, even though she never left the Carmel of Lisieux.
The doctrine of reward has one other element that St Paul speaks about in the second reading: Christ “died, once for all, to sin”, and “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin”, not devoting any part of your life to pride or any other sin, but taking up your cross and following in the footsteps of Christ. If you lose your life for his sake, you will find it, not as a right, but as a gift; not as a reward, but as a free bestowing of God’s love. And then, however feeble may be your efforts, however, limited the things you can do, your life will be worthy of Christ. And you will find, to your own amazement and to God’s glory, that the one you love will be your judge, that in welcoming others you have welcomed Christ, and he in turn will welcome you in to his eternal kingdom.
Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
Prayer: Prayer for all who carry their cross: “O my God, I thank You for this cross You’ve allowed me to carry. Please give me the strength and faith to persevere so that I may bring glory to Your Name, all while withstanding the burden of its weight. Thank You for offering me a share in Your suffering. I know You have always been, are now, and ever will be, at my side every step of the way. Thank You also for every “Simon” You have sent to help me bear this cross. I’ve prayed so often that this thorn in my flesh would be removed, but I trust that Your grace is sufficient. Change my heart’s troubled cry of: “How long Lord?” into words of trust: “However long, O Lord.” May I seek only to do Your will, and to unite my sufferings with Your passion. Help me to not get lost in my own self-concerns, but that I may find in these trials a way to greater virtue, a call to prayer, and a path to trust in You alone. Permit me not to waste my pain, but to make of all these struggles a sacrificial offering for others, Lord; when I am weary and I fall, exhausted under the weight of this cross, please give me the courage to press on as You did. Lord Jesus, I embrace with love my cross, as a share in Your own. By Your grace, may I carry it all the way to the vision of Your glory. I abandon myself totally to Your will. Christ Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.”
Quote from a Saint: “We cannot go to heaven in featherbeds.” - St. Thomas More
Questions for reflection:
Do you got to church to be re-impressed with the image of Jesus? Has church attendance become a routine practice for you? Is your motivation to go more out of being seen by the “right people”? The next time you go to church set your heart on going to worship God.
Do you welcome prophets and make yourself available to help the servants of God in your life? When was the last time you invited a priest or religious to your house for a meal? Do you know the birthdays of your parish’s priests and deacons? If not, find out and put it on your calendar so that you can remember to wish them a happy birthday.
In the Old Testament prophets did not always get a positive welcome, many of them were killed or persecuted for the messages that they bore. Are you willing to receive this kind of reward?
Are you moved by literature, art, or music? Do you agree that this means that you have some artistic aspects in your character?
Do you give to monasteries and convents? If not, look around your diocese and see if there are any religious orders whom you could be assisting with their work of “silent sympathy and prayer.”
Have you ever read about or studied the life of St Thérèse of Lisieux or any other cloistered religious?
Do you take up your cross and follow Christ willingly? Do you make a morning offering first thing so that you can offer up your entire day to the Lord?
--Benjamin & Kristen Rinaldo