Weeks 11-20

Week 11: Complacency with Sin: A Reflection on Sirach 5: 1-8

 

“Rely not on your wealth;
say not: “I have the power.”
Rely not on your strength
in following the desires of your heart.
Say not: “Who can prevail against me?”
or, “Who will subdue me for my deeds?”
for God will surely exact the punishment.
Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?”
for the Most High bides his time.
Of forgiveness be not overconfident,
adding sin upon sin.
Say not: “Great is his mercy;
my many sins he will forgive.”
For mercy and anger alike are with him;
upon the wicked alights his wrath.
Delay not your conversion to the LORD,
put it not off from day to day.
For suddenly his wrath flames forth;
at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.
Rely not upon deceitful wrath,
for it will be no help on the day of wrath (Sirach 5: 1-8)

 

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9: 42-48)

 

Of all the achievements we can make in this life, of all the goals we can set for ourselves and accomplish, only one really matters--getting to heaven. And yet, for so many people, material things rank so highly and spiritual things rank so low. I cannot understand this.

 

I don’t know why only one in four Catholics attends Mass, and so few people visit the confessional every week, or come to adoration, or holy hours. I don’t know if this is a crisis of faith, or a lack of will. I don’t know if it’s just that many people don’t really believe in heaven in hell or don’t care, but I think maybe it’s because many people are gambling on the mercy of God.

 

Sirach in our first reading makes a few astute observations. “Say not, ‘I have sinned, what has befallen me? … Of forgiveness do not be overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not: ‘Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive….Delay not your conversion to the Lord, putting it off from day to day.’”

 

Now Sirach is not suggesting that the Lord is not merciful, or not forgiving. What he is saying is be careful not to take God’s mercy for granted because that leads us to become complacent with our sins. And when we become complacent with our sins we stop challenging ourselves to holiness.

 

If there’s one sin we need to beware of in our modern world, it’s complacency with our sin. I notice there tend to be two extremes in people. Either people are way to hard on themselves and demand absolute perfection, so if they even have a sinful thought, they panic about the state of their souls. Or the opposite, which is a far more common phenomenon, where people just seem to think they can live any way they want, with no consequences, and for some inexplicable reason, when they go before God they’re going to say, “Sorry,” and He’ll say, “Forget about it.”

 

Now while it is true that some people do have deathbed conversions, (I could tell many stories from my experience as a hospital chaplain), we always have to remember, that the conversion has to be sincere. The desire has to be genuine. It is impossible to deceive God. And this is why Jesus is being so explicit in the Gospel reading for today.

 

Note, please, that Jesus boils getting into the kingdom down to two basic points.

 

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Any man who gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ will not, I assure you, go without his reward.’” So the first precept of attaining the kingdom is charity.

 

Jesus also said, “But it would be better if anyone who leads astray one of these simple believers were to be plunged in the sea with a great millstone fastened around his neck.” So the second precept of attaining the kingdom is avoiding sin, and giving scandal because of our sin.

 

And then Jesus expounds as to how radically we should be avoiding sin--cut off your hand, tear out your eye. Now, Jesus is being dramatic, of course. Jesus is not telling us to perform self mutilation, but he’s being graphic intentionally to show how devastating sin is and how radically we should be avoiding it.

 

My brothers and sisters, of all the achievements we can make in this life, of all the goals we can attain, only one really matters--getting to heaven. Therefore there is only one enemy we really have to fear, and that is sin. We all have room to improve our relationship with God. We all have sins or defects of character that we need to shed. It is my prayer for all of us that our sin never becomes, our comfortable friend.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Let us not esteem worldly prosperity or adversity as things real or of any moment, but let us live elsewhere, and raise all our attention to Heaven, esteeming sin as the only true evil, and nothing truly good but virtue which unites us to God.” – St. Gregory Nazianzen

 

Prayer:

 

Prayer to Turn from Sin (from catholic.org)

 

Father, Your Love never fails. Keep me from danger and provide for all my needs. Teach me to be thankful for Your Gifts. Confident in Your Love, may I be holy by sharing Your Life, and grant me forgiveness of my sins. May Your unfailing Love turn me from sin and keep me on the way that leads to you. Help me to grow in Christian love. Amen

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. Discuss the reading from Sirach. Does this seem to speak to you about the times we live in?

2. Father Sisco wonders why concern with salvation is not uppermost in people’s minds. What does he postulate might be the problem? Do you agree? Why or why not?

3. Are you complacent about any sin? How do you know? Is this sin in your life or in the life of someone else? How can you combat your complacency? Is it ever prudent to be complacent? What can we do to avoid complacency if we feel that we cannot effect change in others or in ourselves?

4. Have you ever been present at a deathbed conversion? What was it like?

5. Do you know anyone who seems to think that he or she can put off turning to God? How might you begin a dialog about eternity with that person?

6. Father Sisco says that there is only one thing that matters in life and that’s whether or not we get to heaven. Do you agree? What would happen if we lived as if this were the goal of all our decisions and actions?

7. Jesus spoke about “cutting off our arm” to avoid habitual sin. Silently meditate on the following questions: What habitual sins do I have? Do I think I can rid myself of them? What would have to be done to rid myself of these sins? How drastic would this be in my life? Am I courageous enough to try this?

8. Those who wish may share their responses to some or all of the questions in #7.

9. Do you believe that God will give you the grace to conquer habitual sin? What might you have to do to cooperate with that grace?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 12: Prophecy Is Recalling God’s Works: A Reflection on Sirach 42: 15

 

“Now I will recall God’s works; what I have seen, I will describe.” Sirach 42:15

 

Recalling God’s works. I’m a big Star Wars fan. I recall when I went to see the first in the second series of Star Wars movies, The Phantom Menace. The Phantom Menace was episode one. When the first Star Wars movie came out I was in Junior High School. That movie, “A New Hope,” was episode 4. I became instantly enthralled in this story, about a small group of rebels struggling for freedom against the evil empire.

 

Because the three Star Wars movies, episodes 4, 5, and 6 were such box office successes, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, decided to take us back in time to see how this all began. I remember that many critics didn’t like episode I, “The Phantom Menace,” saying it has a weak story line. But for a Star Wars nut like me, it’s exciting to see how this whole saga began, and what events led up to this epic conflict.

 

Now most people think that a prophet is someone who can look into the future. Yes and no. Prophets at times did predict what the future held. Often though, this is not because God has granted them some kind of mystical power, although that did happen on occasion to the prophets. Most commonly, the reason a prophet could accurately predict the future, is because the prophet properly understood the past.

 

Prophets used to spend hour upon hour meditating on the law of God, and on the events of the past in which God revealed himself. And because of that, when prophets saw certain behaviors rising in the people, they knew how God was going to react. They knew, because their study told them how God reacted to similar things in the past.

 

Understanding the past is the key to understanding the present and the future. This is why we read Scripture within the context of Mass. When we read Scripture we’re not thinking, “Isn’t that neat what God did two thousand, or three thousand years ago!” We listen to the word of God because we believe that the truths God revealed to us in the past still apply to us today. And when we understand what God wanted from his people then, we understand what he wants from us now, because God doesn’t change.

 

This is why the Church speaks prophetically when it says, ‘abortion is wrong.’ Did Jesus actually say ‘abortion is wrong?’ No. This was not an issue that needed debate in his time. But from what we do know of what Jesus said and did, and the commandments and the law God gave us from of old, AND how the Fathers of the Church, the disciples of the first apostles, interpreted the teachings, we can make that statement. Because the Church understands the past, she also understands the present. That was the role of a prophet. To examine and study what God said and did and apply it to a present situation.

 

As Christians we are all called to a prophetic role in much the same way. We are called to study the past works of God, and apply what we learn into our present lives. In this way we are all like prophets. We are called to read the word of God in sacred Scripture and share it with others. In this way we are like prophets. We are called to embrace the truths of God and to warn others when we see them leaving God’s covenant by their behavior, because we know what future lies in store for those who reject God. In this way, we are like prophets.

 

It is my prayer for all of us today that we all spend some quiet time meditating on the works of God everyday, and describe what we see to an unbelieving world.

 

And blessed be God forever.
Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. --St James

 

Prayer:

 

 Let nothing disturb thee,

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth. 

--St. Teresa of Avila (prayer found in St. Teresa of Avila's breviary after her death)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What is the popular definition of prophecy? What is Father Sisco's definition of prophecy? Which definition do you agree with and why? Is there truth in both definitions?

2. Father Sisco suggests that we look to the past to see how God responded and then apply what we have learned to what is happening today. Do you believe that God does respond to what is happening? Does He take an active role in dealing with decisions we are making? What makes you say this?

3. Consider prayerfully one or more of these past events. What might God have been trying to teach the world through the event? Can you think of a similar event today? What is it? What might God be trying to teach the world through today's event?

The Black Plague

The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the Destruction of Pompeii

The Crusades

Slavery

The Holocaust

4. How is the Church speaking prophetically today? What is the Church saying? What is the response of society to this?

5. Father Sisco says that we are all called to be prophets. In what way? How can you exercise your prophetic ministry in your family and in your friendships?

6. If we are prophets, should we be trying to bring the prophetic message to others via the media? How might we do that?

7. Consider the prayer from Saint James. How do wisdom and prophecy work together? Can we use Saint James' prayer to pray for the gift of prophecy? Have you ever considered praying for this gift?

8. How does St. Teresa's prayer correspond to the topic of this lesson? Can prophets have the peace she advocates? Why or why not?

9. Father Sisco suggests that we meditate on the works of God and then share what we discover with others. Take five minutes of quiet time to reflect on His works, and then share your perceptions with your Oratory group.

 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 13: Uniting Our Sufferings to Jesus: A Reflection on Luke 9:22

 

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man must endure many sufferings, be rejected by the elders, the high priests and the scribes, and then be put to death and raised on the third day.’” (Luke 9:22)

 

Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. And Jesus not only embraced the cross, but Jesus also understood the cross.

 

Jesus takes something painful, negative, and destructive, a monument to humanity’s cruelty to his brothers and sisters, and transforms it into a thing of beauty. Jesus takes the ultimate symbol of death, and by embracing it, makes it the ultimate symbol of life.

 

That’s part of the beauty of being Catholic.

 

Our Protestant brothers and sisters can’t understand suffering the way we do. Non-Catholics have no concept of joining our sufferings to the cross. They think this concept is blasphemous. They think that we believe that we are adding to or changing Jesus’ sacrifice.

 

No. We don’t believe that all. We simply join ourselves to it. Say you have a friend whose Mother has just died, and you comfort this person by saying, “I know what you’re feeling. I remember what it was like when my Mother died.”

 

Has anything changed? No. Your friend’s mother is still dead. But because you share that common cross, you can comfort that friend on a more intimate level than someone whose mother is still living. This is why alcoholics in AA meet together. These people share a common cross that most of us take for granted--sobriety. And so they come together. Does that change anything? No. They’re still alcoholics, but being with people that share a common cross enables them to rally and support one another.

 

When we share a cross with someone, we form a bond of intimacy with that person. Now God is no longer a stranger to us, because of the cross. Through the cross we share an intimacy with God that did not exist before.

 

So when we are rejected or misunderstood, we can join that suffering to Jesus through the cross because Jesus says, “I was rejected and misunderstood as well.”

 

When we undergo physical suffering or agony, we share an intimacy with God as Jesus says to us through the cross, “I know how you feel; I was in agony also.”

 

When we feel most alone, through the cross Jesus says to us, “All of my friends abandoned me, too.”

 

When we join our sufferings to Jesus, we are allowed to share an intimacy with Him that we could not otherwise have had, if we did not embrace the cross. That is why we should not fear suffering, because it brings us closer to Christ. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who suffer,” because it brings us closer to Christ. And that is why Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, let him deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow me.”

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Suffering out of love for God is better than working miracles.” – Saint John of the Cross

 

Prayer:

 

“Lord Jesus, grant that we may ascend the mountain of a holy life from this valley of tears, so that, conformed to your Passion, and well grounded in meekness and mercy, we may be enveloped by your cloud of light, and hears a voice full of joy proclaiming: "Come, beloved of my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world." To you be honor, glory and power, majesty and eternity throughout all ages. Amen."

 

 

Questions for reflection:

 

 1. Father Sisco said that embracing the cross and understanding the cross are two different things. Explain the difference. Is it possible to embrace across without understanding it?

2. How does the Catholic view of suffering differ from the secular view?

3. How does embracing our suffering bring us to intimacy with Jesus?

4. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. On one side, write all of Jesus’ sufferings you can think of. Then, on the other side, right how these sufferings parallel your own. Do you believe that Jesus is present to you in your suffering?

5. How might the world be different if it understood the Catholic idea of suffering?

6. Read a quotation from St. John of the Cross. Why do you think he believed that suffering out of love for God is better than working miracles?

7. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, let him deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow me.” What did He mean by saying deny yourself? Does this mean only fasting or giving up things that you like? Might it have a broader meaning such as seeing others as more important than yourself?

8. Which suffering individual are you comforting now? How can you help that person unite his or her or her suffering to Christ?

9. Do you have a favorite prayer that help you in your suffering? Share it with your Oratory group.

 

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Week 15: Personal Conversion Is a Prerequisite to Evangelization: A Reflection on Ezekiel 18:25

 

“You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezekiel 18:25)

 

I really like our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel. “You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezekiel 18:25)

 

I love that passage of scripture. It’s one of those passages that reminds us that we really haven’t changed so much in two thousand years. So often I hear people accuse God of being unfair, or the Church of being unfair, but me? I’m never the one being unfair.

 

The passage also points us to the truth that the need for personal conversion is ongoing. Note what I say; personal conversion. All too often, we’re so anxious and concerned over the state of someone else’s soul, that we’re really not focusing on what we need to do to bring us into a closer communion with God.

 

Saint Augustine, great psychologist that he is, summed it up perfectly when he said, “Having failed to convert ourselves, we become intensely interested in the faults of others!”

 

There’s a great story about Saint John Vianney, the curette of Ars, and the patron saint of parish priests. A brother priest had gone to John Vianney complaining that his parishioners were a bunch of pagans and he couldn’t do anything with them. So Saint John said to him, “How often do you fast on bread and water for them? How often do you sleep on the cold, hard, marble floor for them? How many times do you keep an all night vigil in front of the Blessed Sacrament for them?” The priest admitted he had done none of these things. Then John Vianney said, “Well, now go do them, and after a year, if they still haven’t changed, come back to me, and I will give you more to do.”

 

The late great Bishop Sheen in his book, The Priest is Not His Own, which if it were up to me I’d make mandatory reading in all seminaries, wrote “Father, don’t get on your pulpit and complain that the world is too materialistic. “If the world is too materialistic—then the priesthood is too materialistic. (Lustful-selfish-lazy) Bishop Sheen said, “The world, whether they admit it or not, follows the priesthood.” Bishop Sheen published this book in 1967, forty two years ago!

 

We cannot convert others until we convert ourselves. When I was in seminary, I was very naïve. I thought if I became a good enough apologist; if I just learned all the arguments; if I just became a good enough debater; if I just became an eloquent enough speaker; well, then everyone would come to see my point of view. I would bring people back to faith. No. Only God brings people to the faith. I have to preach the truth, but, more importantly, I have to live the example.

 

It took years as a priest, for me to realize what really effects people is when they see a person striving to grow in the holiness of the Spirit. Dedication. Self sacrifice. Commitment. Which brings me back to Ezekiel.

 

Someone who is striving for holiness wouldn’t say, “The Lord’s way is not fair,” but would be overjoyed to see the sinner repent of his ways and be saved. Someone who is striving for holiness wouldn’t say, “The Lord’s way is not fair,” and wouldn’t even consider returning to sinful ways as if it was a right they were entitled to.

 

Jesus makes a very profound theological point in our gospel today; sin is not an action, but rather sin is in the desire of the heart. Murder is wrong, but the sin of murder begins with harboring hatred in one’s heart. The act of murder is only the natural consequence of what has already taken place in the will. So it is with all sin.

 

The secret to striving for holiness is to change one’s heart. And the secret to changing one’s heart is prayer, self denial, and works of charity. And isn’t that what Lent is all about--using these very things to change our hearts? It is my prayer for all of us today that, in the spirit of Lent, we become living witnesses to the way of the Lord.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

 

 

 

“There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection. In the beginning they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle the contests of temptation; and in the end the fullness of perfection.” --Pope Gregory the Great

 

Prayer:

 

“O Father, most merciful, who, in the beginning, didst create us; who, by the Passion of Thine Only Begotten Son, created us anew; work in us now, we beseech Thee, both to will and to do of Thy good pleasure. Grant us Thy heavenly benediction, that in whatever work we undertake, we may do all to Thy honor and Thy glory. Amen” --Saint Anselm

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. In what ways do you see manifested in society this attitude that the ways of God are unjust? In what way is it manifested in your own life?

2. To a Christian, what is meant by personal conversion? In what state is my own personal conversion?

3. By what means are you working on your own personal conversion?

4. In what ways have you grown in holiness?

5. One mission of the Church is to evangelize. How are you currently meeting this duty to evangelize others?

6. How might we better dispose ourselves for this mission as living witnesses?

 

 --Susan Boudreau

 

Week 15: Humble Openness to the Plan of God: A Reflection on Esther 12

 

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.

 

 “And now, come to help me, an orphan.
Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion
and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy,
so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.
Save us from the hand of our enemies;
turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.” (Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25)

 

 It’s interesting that during this first week of Lent; the Church has that reading from Jonah preaching to the Ninevites on Wednesday, and Queen Esther’s plight the following day.

 

I say it’s interesting, because it sets up an interesting contrast. Jonah is a prophet, a position of lofty status, and he is humbled by God. He’s humbled by God who allowed Jonah to be swallowed by a fish. He’s humbled by God at the end of the story when the Lord tries to demonstrate to Jonah that he has no right to be angry, by using the gourd plant. And God humbles Jonah by not allowing his prophecy to come true.

 

That’s one we overlook I think. Remember the message Jonah preached, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.” (Jonah 3:1-10) He doesn’t say, “Unless you repent,” and he doesn’t say, “The Lord might destroy Nineveh.” His statement is absolute. In forty days, Nineveh is toast. So when the people repent, and God doesn’t destroy the city, it makes Jonah look rather foolish, doesn’t it? All throughout the story Jonah’s one problem has been presumption. So Jonah who holds a lofty status is humbled.

 

Esther, by contrast, is a poor Jewish maiden living in exile with her uncle because her parents have died. She has nothing; she doesn’t even have a country. She doesn’t have parents. But when they’re rounding up women looking for a replacement for the Queen, because of Esther’s beauty, she catches the King’s eye, and he eventually falls in love with her. Esther goes from lowly status to lofty status precisely because she doesn’t presume anything. She puts everything before God. And this is where we see her in today’s reflection.

 

The King has signed a royal degree at the behest of his royal vizier, Haman, to exterminate all the Jews in his province. And Esther fasted for three days before offering this prayer to the Lord to pity her people and guide her in what to do. Esther presumes nothing, but puts everything before God, and for that the Lord continually blesses her. But look at the prayer. It’s honest. It’s passionate. It’s sincere. It acknowledges God’s love and his might.

 

The lesson today is not to presume that we know the will of God. Work as if everything depends on you, and pray as if everything depends on God. That’s our mandate. Because if we’re honest, we realize mostly we’re a lot more like Jonah than we are like Esther. Part of the purpose of prayer is to get us to stop trying to fit God into our agenda, but rather be open to His.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“We often say that we are nothing. But we would be very sorry if anyone should take us at our word. We pretend to retire and hide ourselves, so that the world may run after us and seek us out. True humility does not make a show of herself or use many humble words; for she desires not only to conceal all other virtues, but most of all to conceal herself.” --Saint Francis de Sales

 

 

 

Prayer:

 

“Grant, O Lord, that my heart may neither desire nor seek anything but what is necessary for the fulfillment of Thy Holy Will. Amen.” --Saint Ignatius Loyola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. How is the contrast between Jonah and Esther evident in your own life?

2. If your prayer life were examined closely, would the examiner find the honesty, passion, sincerity and humility evident in Esther’s prayer? How so?

3. Do you believe God has a plan for your life? Do you know what that plan is?

4. Whether or not you know the plan God has for your life, how do you conduct your life according to His Holy Will?

5. What are the means by which I might increase in the virtue of humility?

6. How might I better react to humiliations?

7. How can I better support the virtue of humility in others?

 

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 16: Trust in the Lord: A Reflection on Jeremiah 17: 5, 7

 

“Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his refuge in the flesh…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5,7)

 

 I am reminded of the novel Le Miserables by Victor Hugo. I have seen the musical, own the soundtrack, and have seen several movie versions of the story. And I would encourage all of you this Lent, if you have an opportunity to either rent the movie, or better yet, go and see the musical. It is an incredible spiritual story about forgiveness and redemption.

 

 The play takes place in post Napoleon France. Jean Valjean is a man who had been imprisoned for twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her son. The play opens as he’s released from prison, but because he’s a paroled convict no one wants to give him a job, or a place to stay. He’s about to give himself over to a life of crime, but the kindness of a Bishop, who takes him in, and shows him mercy, changes Valjean’s life forever.

 

 Valjean breaks his parole, but spends the rest of his life doing good for others. Valjean is the man who is blessed, because he trusts in the Lord. Valjean hopes in the Lord.

 

In the musical, at one point Valjean is praying and he sings, “God on high, hear my prayer, in my need you have always been there.” Think of the man who’s saying this, a man who spent a third of his life in prison for a petty crime, and another third of his life running from the law.

 

 

 

Everyone else in the play is cursed because they don’t trust in the Lord; they trust in human beings. They trust in flesh. Thus they are the title of the play, Le Miserables, the miserable ones. Javert, the relentless police officer who pursues Valjean his whole life to bring him back to prison, doesn’t trust God. If he did, he’d be able to see that Valjean was a changed man and give him another chance. But he doesn’t, because Javert doesn’t trust God. He only trusts the law.

 

Thenardier, the con man, only trusts money and his own cunning. In fact, Thenardier will say at one point in the play that God is dead.

 

 The rich school boys who are going to usher in a new France by starting a revolution, trust that they can inspire the people to join them and overthrow the government. They don’t trust God. They trust a flag, a rallying cry. They all get killed at the barricade.

 

 In that play, all of the people who put their trust in something other than God come to a bad end. Valjean is a Christ figure, who continually sacrifices himself for others. Valjean is the man who lives by faith.

 

In the beginning of the play, a young woman Fantine is unjustly fired from her job because she rejects the advances of the foreman. Fantine is forced to become a prostitute, where she contracts pneumonia. When Valjean learns of her plight, he takes her into his house, and as she’s dying he promises to adopt her little daughter Cosette, and raise her as his own child, which he does. One of the most touching moments in the play is at the end of Valjean’s life; it’s the spirit of Fantine who comes down to take Valjean to heaven.

 

 Blessed is the man, who trusts in the Lord.

 

 Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him… He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.” --John Henry Cardinal Newman

 

 

Prayer:

 

“O sweetest Lord Jesus Christ, may my soul ever yearn towards Thee: may my soul seek Thee, find Thee, tend towards attainment of Thee, ever meditate on Thee, and do all things to the praise and glory of Thy Holy Name. Do Thou alone be my hope my whole trust, my delight, my joy, my rest, my peace and my sweet contentment. Do Thou alone be my refuge and my help, my wisdom and my possession, my treasure in whom my heart and my soul may remain fixed immovably, forever. Amen” --Saint Bonaventure

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. From what do you seek refuge? What in your life might be considered “Miserable”?

2. In what do you seek refuge? Prayer? Solitude? Food? Conversation? Work? Activity?

3. Is my entire a life an offering to God or am I reserving some for myself or someone else? If so, what am I reserving and why?

4. How might you develop more trust so as to be able to turn these reserved things over to God?

5. Since we believe that God is a certainty and His love for us is a certainty, in what does our hope really lie? What is meant by “whose hope is in the Lord”?

6. Have you forgiven all others in the way and to the degree you desire forgiveness from God?

7. Who in your own life story needs forgiveness?

8. How can you best aid this person’s redemption?

9. What is needed before you can resolve to forgive and aid this person’s redemption? Is it possible to obtain what is needed?

 

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 17: Keeping Faith Alive: A Reflection on Jeremiah 7:28

 

 “Say to them: This is the nation which does not listen to the voice of the Lord its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.” (Jer 7:28)

 

 The Lord says this to the kingdom of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah. Let’s look at this statement and break it down.

 

 "This is a nation, which does not listen to the voice of the Lord its God…" Meaning what? How has the nation not listened to voice of God? Their lack of listening is evidenced by not heeding the commandments and by not obeying the Law of Moses. What results in them not heeding the Law of Moses? They don’t "take correction."

They don’t take correction from whom? They don’t take correction from the prophets. The prophets knew the word of God. And the prophets convicted the people to stay true to the Law of Moses. But because the nation doesn’t listen to the voice of the Lord, or take correction, what naturally follows? "Faithfulness has disappeared."

Faithfulness to what has disappeared? Faithfulness to the covenant has disappeared. The covenant called the people to be faithful to God first, and then to one another. And what’s the end result of the disappearance of that faithfulness? “The word itself is banished from their speech." Meaning, they can’t speak the truth and their praise of God is empty.

 

 We can see this same pattern happen in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They stopped listening for the voice of the Lord and were reducing the commandments to rules and ignoring the spirit of the Law. As a result, when Jesus came correcting them, they refused to listen. We see that their faithfulness disappeared in their lack of mercy towards others.

 

 You would think they would be elated that Jesus could heal the sick and cast out demons and free people of such bondage, but because they have no faith, what instead is their reaction? The Word itself is banished from their speech, “He casts out demons by the power of the prince of demons.” Jesus effortlessly demonstrates that this is a ridiculous argument.

 

 My brothers and sisters, we must always be on guard that we don’t fall into the same pattern, because many still fall into it. Our first necessary step is always listening to the voice of the Lord. How do we do this? We do it by listening to the authoritative body through whom Jesus has chosen to speak. In the Old Testament it was the Law and the Prophets. Now it’s the Church. Heeding the Church is necessary for hearing the voice of God.

 

 That also means taking correction. From whom should we be taking correction? It means taking correction from the priesthood and scripture. We take correction in the teachings and exhortations we hear from the pulpit, and we take correction in the confessional. The scriptures should also be convicting us to change our lives.

How do we keep our faithfulness from disappearing? We do so through the sacraments. The sacraments are the source of Grace, and so build up faith and that my brothers and sisters will always keep the word of God on our minds, in our hearts, and on our lips.

 

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote From a Saint:

 

“My daughter, I see more Pharisees among Christians than there were around Pilate. ” -- St. Margaret of Cortona

 

 

Prayer:

 

“Oh my Redeemer, will that terrible moment ever come when but few Christians shall be left who are inspired by the spirit of faith, that moment when Thy indignation shall be provoked, and Thy protection taken from us? O Jesus, author and finisher of our faith, permit not the fair light of faith to be extinguished in us. Turn Thine eyes in compassion upon the vineyard planted by Thine own right hand, and watered by the sweat of the Apostles, by the precious blood of countless Martyrs, and made fruitful by the prayers of so many confessors. O Divine Mediator, look upon those zealous souls who raise their hearts to Thee and pray without ceasing for the maintenance of that most precious gift of Thine: The True Faith. Oh, keep us safe in the true Catholic and Roman faith! Let sickness, vexations, and misfortunes overwhelm us, but preserve in us Thy holy faith; for, if we are rich with this precious gift, nothing shall ever be able to alter our happiness. Otherwise, without this great treasure of the faith, our unhappiness would be unspeakable and limitless. O good Jesus, Author of our Faith, preserve it pure within us; keep us safe in the Barque of Peter, faithful and obedient to his successor, Thy Vicar here on earth. Humble and convert the enemies of Thy Church; strengthen and preserve us in Thy holy service so that we may live and die in Thee! Amen.” --St. Clement Mary Hofbauer

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. How does Jeremiah 7:28 apply to our own nation?

2. As an individual, what can you personally do to improve the nation’s willingness and ability to listen to the voice of God and take correction?

3. In your own life, in what ways are you blocking or ignoring the voice of the Lord?

4. Do you heed the counsel of the Church in all matters, but especially those of faith and morals?

5. What habit might you build in the next few weeks to improve your spiritual listening skills?

6. How do you witness to others your own praise of God?

7. From whom do you find it difficult to accept correction?

8. If God has placed this person(s) in lawful authority over you, how might you improve your ability to accept correction?

9. Are you making full use of the sacraments? Are you making full use of the graces imparted through these sacraments? If not, how can you improve?

 

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 18: The Covenant: A Reflection on Exodus 32: 7

 

 “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go quickly down to your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved.’” (Exodus 32:7)

 

 Moses is the image of the priest. In this passage of scripture we see Moses acting as a priest. Now Aaron, Moses’ older brother, was the high priest. But here we see Moses in the priestly role of interceding on behalf of the people.

 

We know what’s happened; the Lord delivered the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt with a powerful hand with signs and wonders that God worked for Pharaoh through Moses, but Pharaoh would not believe. God fed the Israelites on manna in the desert, bread from heaven, but the Israelites only believed temporarily. And then Moses disappears on this smoking, thundering mountain for forty days to receive God’s law, and while he’s gone the people make a golden calf to worship.

 

 Have you ever noticed that when you’re hungry, stressed, scared, anxious, or exhausted it’s a lot easier to sin? Sure, it’s easy not to sin when life is good. It’s when life is difficult that we’re overwhelmed by temptation.

The Israelites have been traveling through the desert. They’re tired and hungry. And now, their guide has disappeared on this mountain for over a month and they’re scared. What are we going to do if Moses doesn’t come back? He’s the only one who knows the way. And so they revert to worshipping something they’re familiar with, something they grew up with in the land of Egypt: the golden calf, the god Apis. And God is ready to wipe them out for it.

 

 He says, “I will destroy them and raise up for you, Moses, a better nation.” Now what if God had said that to any one of us? This was a test of Moses’ faithfulness, just as much as the people. Moses passes. The people fail.

Moses, despite having been given the opportunity by God to father a new nation, assumes the role of a different fatherhood, a spiritual fatherhood, by assuming the role of a priest, and standing between God and the people, to intercede on their behalf.

 

 Moses says, “You can’t do it Yahweh! Remember the covenant you made with your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Remember how you swore by your own self. You’re stuck with these people just as much as I am, because you have bound yourself to us by covenant.”

 

 God performs signs in the form of plagues, but Pharaoh won’t believe. Jesus performs signs in the form of healings, but the Pharisees won’t believe. God fed people temporarily in the desert on manna. Jesus feeds thousands temporarily on a few loaves and a couple fish.

 

 At one point in His ministry, Jesus listed that testifies to his authenticity: John the Baptist, God the Father, his miracles, the scriptures, even Moses. It's like Jesus is saying, "And that same Moses who stood between your fathers and the Almighty God and stopped him from annihilating them in the desert is going to be the same Moses to condemn you on a later day, because you refused to believe me, your true high priest, who will intercede for you before the Father. I am your true high priest who came to form with you the new covenant that Moses began."

Every priest is now an image of that high priest. We are bound to God through covenant. He is ours, and all of us are his, for better or worse. The priest is true to that covenant through the sacraments of the Church that God has entrusted to us, to stand between the people and Almighty God, to intercede on their behalf.

 

 Woe to the priest who neglects his sacred responsibility to dispense God’s Grace. And woe to those who seek to undermine the office of the priest. Pray for your priests. We have been trusted with a power and a responsibility that we cannot possibly fathom. Pray that God raise up more priests to serve him. And pray that he makes holy the ones he has already raised up.

 

 Blessed Be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

 “Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in all of them we see people who achieved sanctity by fulfilling their obligations well.” -- St. Anthony Mary Claret

 

 

Prayer:

 

“O my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church: Grant it love and the light of Your Spirit and give power to the words of priests so that hardened hearts might be brought to repentance and return to You, O Lord. Lord, give us holy priests; You Yourself maintain them in holiness. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil's traps and snares which are continually being set for the souls of priests. May the power of Your mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests, for You can do all things. I ask You, Jesus, for a special blessing and for light for the priests before whom I will make my confessions throughout my lifetime. Amen.” --Saint Faustina

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What does the word “covenant” mean to you?

2. How would you describe the covenant we now have with God?

3. What are the signs of God’s faithfulness to His present covenant with us?

4. What are the priests’ responsibilities to this covenant?

5. How can you support the priests in their responsibilities?

6. What are your responsibilities in this covenant?

7. How can you be best supported?

8. What stressors in your life could you resolve so as to reduce the risks of temptations to turn away from this covenant?

 

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 19: The Great I AM: A Reflection on John 8:48

 

 

 

48 The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ 49Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. 51Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’* 58Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8: 48-59)

 

“Before Abraham was, I AM.” (Jn 8:58)

 

Now, in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus has really crossed the line. Before this they were always trying to get Him to say something or do something to trip Him up, so they’d have something with which to accuse Him. But after this scene, they really want Him dead. It is after this incident that they actively seek a way to bring Jesus down. Why? What did Jesus do here that sets Him apart from anything else He had ever done? Here Jesus says, “I solemnly assure you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

 

Now Jesus has said controversial things before, but people could rationalize away some of it. What does He mean when He says that He’s the Son of God? People might rationalize, “Well, the psalms describe God’s faithful people as being the sons and daughters of God; maybe He meant that.” What does He mean, “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no life in you”? Is He talking about cannibalism? People might rationalize, “Well, maybe He’s only speaking metaphorically.” But when Jesus says to a Jew, “I solemnly assure you before Abraham was, I AM,” there can be no misunderstanding what He means.

 

We have to go way back to the book of Exodus to understand this. God calls Moses from the burning bush and says, “Tell Pharaoh; let my people go.” Moses replies, “Whom should I say sent me?” God answers, “I AM WHO AM. When Pharaoh asks, tell him, ‘I AM sent you.’” From this comes the Old Testament name for God, Yahweh. Yahweh, literally translated, means, ‘I am who am.’

 

When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He revealed His true identity.

 

Jesus was saying “I AM WHO AM.” Jesus was saying, “I am Yahweh. I AM that same God that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. I AM that same God that made the covenant with Abraham. I AM God!”

 

This is too much for the Pharisees. They’re going to stone Him on the spot, but Jesus slips away again. But from this moment on, they actively seek out someone to betray Jesus. The scene is all set for Judas Iscariot.

 

I think we need to remind ourselves on occasion, and remind others, that Jesus is God. “Well, Father Sisco, isn’t that self evident?” No. Not really.

 

Many today say that Jesus was one of the great sages of history, with Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and Socrates, but He wasn’t God.

 

There are some today that say that Jesus was a great teacher, a great philosopher, a great mystic, but not God. If you look on A&E, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel at this time of year, you’ll see documentaries like, “Who was the REAL Jesus?”

 

Even within our own Church, we have theologians who try to rationalize away the miracles of Jesus. We have historians who say that we must separate the Jesus of history from the biblical Jesus, which is, in and of itself, arrogant presumption because it presumes that the Jesus of history must be different from the biblical Jesus and there is no proof of that. We have organizations like “We are Church,” “Call to Action,” and “Catholics for a Free Choice” that oppose various teachings of the Church. They don’t believe in their heart of hearts that Jesus is God, because they buck the system He set up.

 

The book The DaVinci Code, ironically a work of fiction, is being treated like a scholarly work. This book calls into question the authority of the Church by claiming that the Church suppressed certain knowledge about Jesus and invented His divinity.

 

Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is not God, we’re in big trouble, because if Jesus is not God, we have no way to stop the rising flood waters of evil in the world. Pray with me today that all people, everywhere, truly surrender our hearts to Jesus, Lord, God, the great I AM.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote From a Saint:

 

“The Church is that one wherein the true word of God is preached, which Christ left to His Apostles, which the same Church hath always observed, the doctors preached, and Martyrs and confessors witnessed. This is the Church I believe to be true.” -- Saint Margaret Clitherow

 

Prayer:

 

“O good Jesus, author of our faith, preserve it untainted within us; keep us safe in the bark of Peter, faithful and obedient to his successor and Thy Vicar here on earth, that so the unity of Holy Church may be maintained, holiness fostered, the Holy See protected in freedom, and the Church universal extended to the benefit of souls. O Jesus, author of our faith, humble and convert the enemies of Thy Church; grant true peace and concord to all Christian kings and princes and to all believers; strengthen and preserve us in Thy holy service, so that we may live in Thee and die in Thee. O Jesus, author of our faith, let me live for Thee and die for Thee. Amen. ” --St. Clement Hofbauer

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. At times, we all fail to recognize Jesus as God. Where has this been true in your life?

2. Where do you see the lack of belief in Jesus as God in your own community?

3. In what ways does your community separate the historical Jesus from the biblical Jesus?

4. What does it mean when church-going Catholics buck the system Jesus established? What causes this movement?

5. How are we experiencing “big trouble” in our lives and in our Church because of this lack of belief in Jesus as God?

6. How can we best fulfill our mission within the Church to evangelize those who do not fully believe that Jesus is God or who do not understand the implications of that belief?

7. What personal shortcoming keeps you from evangelizing or standing up for Jesus when His divinity is challenged?

8. The development of which virtues(s) will help you strengthen your ability to resist the rising flood waters of evil in the world and then turn the tide?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 20: The Spirit of Godliness: A Reflection on John 3:34

 

“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God; he does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” (John 3:34)

 

A couple of things come out in that line of Scripture. First, godly people talk about godly things. “The one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” People who are into their faith like talking about their faith, and they tend to gather with other people who like to talk about their faith.

 

I always encourage people to get into prayer groups. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Get together with a few friends and pray the rosary once a week or do Bible reading. Everyone takes a turn picking a Scripture passage and reflects on it for a few minutes. Or just get together and share the ways God has touched you this week.

 

There are lots of things you can do. Husbands and wives can do this. Families can do this. Small prayer groups are incredibly helpful for building each other up. I must confess I avoid large prayer groups, but a group of two or three people can be very uplifting. Make a faith friend, get a prayer buddy, and talk about godly things.

 

The second truth is that God “does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” God isn’t stingy with his Word and God isn’t stingy with his Grace. It never says in Scripture that God sprinkles his Spirit. The Scriptures say that God pours his Spirit. God gives abundantly. To whom does God give his Spirit? He gives it to godly people. God gives his Spirit to those people who pursue godly things.

 

When people were amazed at all the wonders Jesus preformed, Jesus said that his apostles would do greater works than him, through the Holy Spirit.

 

We see this in the lives of the saints. They did incredible things through the Spirit of God. And the same is true of us.

 

Haven’t we all experienced God’s grace in little ways in our lives? Can’t we all tell a story of a moment or an experience when we knew the Lord was present to us? Why do we have those moments? Why do we have those experiences? We have them because God wants to make us eager for those moments. God wants to make us thirst for those experiences. God wants to make us hungry for his grace, so we will pursue sanctity and holiness with that much more fervor. God whets our appetite, so we will have an unquenchable desire for godly things.

 

Believing in the Son, submitting to the Spirit, may we all desire the Father, above all other things.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.Father Michael Anthony SiscoVisitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote From a Saint:

“Not the goods of the world, but God. Not riches, but God. Not honors, but God. Not distinction, but God. Not dignities, but God. Not advancement, but God. God always and in everything.” -- Saint Vincent Pallotti

 

Prayer:

 

“O God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate. Inspire me to speak with piety, holiness, tenderness and mercy.  Teach, guide and direct my thoughts and senses from beginning to end.  May Your grace ever help and correct me, and may I be strengthened now with wisdom from on high, for the sake of Your infinite mercy. Amen.” -- Saint Anthony of Padua

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What are the evidences of your Godliness?

2. In what groups are you sharing faith?

3. To whom have you been sent to share faith?

4. Describe the abundance of Spirit poured into your life and how you are using it.

5. In what ways are you pursuing Godliness?

6. What wonders have you seen performed through faith?

7. What wonders have you performed through faith?

8. Tell the story of a moment or experience when you knew the Lord was present to you.

9. How are you currently pursuing sanctity?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Bible Study, c/o Confraternity of Penitents, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN 46803 USA  OratoryDivineLove@gmail.com   260-739-6882