Weeks 31-40

Week 31: Detachment Even from God: A Reflection on John 20: 1-18

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look* into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-18)

 

Mary Magdalene is one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament. Wherever Jesus is, Mary Magdalene isn’t far behind. Even though it’s not explicitly stated in scripture, it is commonly held that the woman caught in the act of adultery, the woman who bursts into the house of the Pharisee and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, Mary who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, are all the same person. Most Scripture scholars dispute this, believing there were two or more “Mary’s,” but we do know one thing for sure in Scripture.

 

It does explicitly say in the scriptures, that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene. So whatever the case, we know that spiritually, Mary Magdalene was in pretty bad shape before she encountered the Lord.

 

Perhaps that is why we always see her so close to Jesus throughout the scriptures.

 

People who have lived lives in serious sin, and then have a profound experience of God tend to live lives of rigid, almost austere piety afterwards because people who were steeped in sin know what it’s like to live in bondage. People who lived steeped in sin know what slavery truly is.

 

So when these people have a conversion experience, they know how desperately they have to cling to God.

 

This happens to priests many times when we, as instruments of God, help bring someone back to the faith and then they kind of latch onto us. It’s flattering. It’s humbling. It’s scary, because we realize what power we have over another person at times. And to be very honest, sometimes it’s also annoying. Nobody likes to be smothered, and Mary Magdalene smothered Jesus.

 

It becomes very clear in the scriptures that Mary Magdalene loves Jesus, but she loves him selfishly. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb before dawn. She’s early. It’s still dark. This is symbolic because her reasoning is still darkened. She doesn’t understand yet what Jesus is about, but she’s about to be enlightened. Why is Mary Magdalene there? She is there to anoint the body of Jesus, which the women couldn’t do when they laid him in the tomb, because of the Passover. But it isn’t her place to anoint Jesus’s body. She’s not a relative. This was the place of Jesus’ mother.

 

She finds the tomb empty and she’s upset. She sees the angels who ask her why she’s weeping. She responds, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.” Now translations vary, but the original Greek text is very clear, Mary uses the possessive, ‘They have taken MY Lord away.’ MY Lord. He’s mine. She then encounters Jesus, but mistakes him for the gardener. Look what she says next. “Sir, if you have moved him, show me, and I will take him away.” Now can you just picture this? Imagine a little Jewish woman dragging a man’s dead body down the road. She doesn’t care. Mary is willing to look like a fool for Jesus. Even in death she longs to possess him. It shows the depths of her love.

 

Then Jesus reveals himself to her. As soon as he does, what’s His very next statement? “Do not CLING to me!” I can only imagine how Mary threw herself on Him again. Jesus sends her to tell His disciples. In that mission He gives her, He is trying to teach her, “I know the depth of your love, but you cannot love me like this. I wasn’t sent here only for you, but for everyone. Do you love me enough to share me with others?” That is the role of true discipleship: not just embracing the Lord in our lives, but bringing Him to others.

 

Mary Magdalene does go to tell the others, but when she does she doesn’t say, “I have seen my Lord,” rather she says, “I have seen the Lord.” She doesn’t use the possessive form anymore. There is the lesson Mary Magdalene represents for each of us. We love the Lord. We want to embrace him in our lives. But the real test of our love is how much we are willing to share Him with others.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.” -- St. Therese of Lisieux

Prayer: "Oh, my God, help me to remember that I came into this world with nothing, and shall take nothing from it when I die. To gain You, I must leave all." -- St. Alphonsus Liguori

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. In what ways do you relate to Mary Magdalene?

2. List some reasons why she might cling to Jesus as she did.

3. What did she need or want or expect from Him?

4. What is the difference between the clinging of Mary Magdalene and the people described in paragraph three?

5. Describe any experience you have had in clinging to the Lord.

6. What mission has the Lord given you?

7. How do you share Him with others?

8. What new idea do you take away from this lesson?

9. Is there any way in which I need to detach from God?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 32: Love Your Neighbor: A Reflection on Matthew 22:37

 

“This is the greatest commandment, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.’”(Mt 22:37)

 

Jesus, in this passage, is quoting the Shema, the heart of the Mosaic Law. This is what the Law boils down to, and none of us really have a problem with it. Yeah, this is pretty logical, that God would want us to love him first and foremost. But it also raises a question; how do we know if we truly love God, with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole mind?

 

I mean I go to Mass. I put my budget envelope in the basket each week. I think I’m a pretty nice guy. Everyone seems to like me. Is that it?

 

No, that’s not it. And that’s why Jesus completes the question the way He does. “And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Think of how radical a statement that is for a moment. Love your neighbor as you love your very self. That doesn’t mean be nice! That doesn’t mean tolerate! Treat your neighbor as you would be treated. Make sure your neighbor has everything you have, not just the bare necessities, but even the luxuries and privileges you enjoy. That’s hard. People rarely reach a level of charity where we completely give up our edge and put everyone on equal footing with us. Why does Jesus include this? Because when we can love our neighbor as ourselves, then and only then are we loving God with our whole heart, and our whole soul, and our whole mind, and not just parts of our hearts, souls and minds.

 

In the book of Ruth we have a wonderful story in scripture. The basic summary of the situation is this: Naomi, had two sons. Both her sons and her husband died. In her day and age a woman was dependant on a man to provide for her. With all the men in her life dead, Naomi is left desolate.

 

Now both of Naomi’s sons had married Moabite women, that is, pagans. When their husbands die, Naomi tells both her daughters in law, “Look, you’re still young enough to remarry and have a family. I’m old. Go back to your own people for your own sakes.” One daughter in law does just that. But the other, Ruth, refuses to abandon Naomi. She says she’ll stay and take care of Naomi as best as she can, and whatever happens, it will happen to both of them. And the Lord notices Ruth’s great charity.

 

Because Ruth loved Naomi as herself, even though she was a pagan, the Lord brings her and Boaz together. Boaz takes Ruth as his wife, and also takes in Naomi. Boaz isn’t just any guy. Boaz has wealth and influence.

 

Boaz and Ruth have a son named Obed, who becomes the father of Jesse, who is the father of King David. So Ruth is King David’s great grandmother, and therefore also in the ancestral line of Jesus himself.

 

Because of Ruth’s great love and willingness to sacrifice herself for Naomi, God doesn’t just provide for her. He doesn’t just give her enough to get by.

 

God gives Ruth the honor of being in the family tree of the Messiah.

 

So now the question remains: Can we love like that? Do we love our neighbor as our self? Before you say, “Oh, of course, I do, Father,” think for a minute. Do the Democrats love Republicans as they love themselves? Do the Republicans love Democrats as they love themselves? What if the color of your neighbor’s skin is different, or what if they’re in the country illegally? What if they haven’t left the womb yet? What if they’re a different religion, and a religion that hates people of our religion? What if they’re someone who hurt us, or doesn’t appreciate us?

 

I find it kind of ironic that Ruth and Naomi are in-laws because--forget our neighbor--often we can’t love members of our own extended family like we love ourselves! It’s not easy, is it? But striving to love our neighbors as ourselves is the only path to truly loving the Lord as He deserves to be loved, because He showed that love for us. God sacrificed himself to make us part of Him, and now He expects us to do the same for one another.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“He alone loves the Creator perfectly who manifests a pure love for his neighbor. -- St. Bede the Venerable

Prayer: "Mary, give us a heart that is as beautiful, pure, and spotless as yours. A heart like yours, so full of love and humility. May we be able to receive Jesus as the Bread of Life, to love Him as you loved Him, to serve Him under the mistreated face of the poor. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." -- Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. Make a lengthy list of the attributes of love? (Use 1Cor 13, if necessary)

2. Do you love in this way? Do you really?

3. Do you always?

4. What type of person do you find it most difficult to love?

5. What obstacles or fears make it difficult to love?

6. How might you overcome these?

7. In this quote from Matthew, we read, “love your neighbor as yourself.” In

(Joh 15:12), Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Is there a difference? If so, what is the difference?

8. How does this difference change my love?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 33: The Making of a Holy Nation: A Reflection on 1 Peter 2:9

 

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)

 

What was the Mosaic Law all about, and what was wrong with it? The Mosaic Law was a code of civil behavior. It was a code to govern this society that God had brought out of slavery in Egypt, and it was to help them begin to form themselves into God’s people. The Mosaic Law was a code to moral behavior.

 

Well fine, what’s the problem with that? Absolutely nothing, if all you’re after is to form a moral nation. And that’s where God needed to begin, but that isn’t where God wanted to end. God didn’t just want to form a moral nation. God wanted to form a Holy nation.

 

Why? To what end? God wanted to form a Holy nation whose job was to lead the nations in holiness. The Israelites were supposed to lead the way for all the rest of the world, so all of the stray sons and daughters of Adam could be reunited as God’s family once more. The problem is that the Israelites weren’t doing it! And every time they started to do it, they failed.

 

Joshua gives the Israelites a little recap of salvation history, after they had crossed into the Promised Land. (Jos 24:1-13) He did this right before their siege on Jericho, to remind the people of what the Lord had done for them, so they wouldn’t be afraid to attack the city. Yet despite Joshua’s military success, shortly after he dies, instead of completing the task of conquering the Land of Canaan, they start worshipping the Canaanite gods along side them. So God lets them get overrun by the Philistines who won’t be driven out of the Promised Land until the time of David.

 

After David, his son Solomon is reputed to be so wise that people from all the nations seek him out to hear his wisdom. But immediately after this, success goes to Solomon’s head and he loses his kingdom because his love of God turns to love of money, sex, and power.

 

This happened throughout Israel’s history, because in their hearts the Israelites didn’t want to be holy. What they really wanted was success. So they were satisfied with just being moral. The problem is if you don’t want to be holy, ultimately you won’t end up being moral either. It’s only a matter of time before you make a few concessions, and then a few more, and then a few more, until you’re no different from the pagans.

 

What did Jesus’ teaching do? Jesus took the Mosaic Law and internalized it. The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him, ‘Well Moses allowed divorce; how about you, Jesus?’ Jesus tells them. Moses didn’t desire divorce, but he permitted it. Why? He permitted it because if he didn’t, you guys would have been killing your wives whenever you got tired of them. It was a law to protect women. But divorce isn’t what God desired. That wasn’t His plan.

 

The law said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Jesus also internalized that. “So it will be with each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Now it’s just not, “Well, OK, I won’t kill him.” Now I must forgive my brother. Forgive so you can be like your heavenly Father who longs to forgive you.

 

We as Christians should be going out of our way to forgive. We should be looking for people to forgive. We should thirst to forgive, because we have all been greatly forgiven by God. We should long to love more, because we have been loved beyond our wildest imagination. That should be our prayer every day.

 

“Lord, make me love as You love. Lord, make me forgive as You forgive. Lord, make me holy as You are holy.”

 

My brothers and sisters, if you’re satisfied with being moral, if you think you’re good enough, you’re missing the boat. Pray with me today, that Christians everywhere, desire, thirst, crave to become holy.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 Quote from a Saint:

 

“Good example is the most efficacious apostolate. You must be as lighted lanterns and shine like brilliant chandeliers among men. By your good example and your words, animate others to know and love God.” -- St. Mary Joseph Rossello

 

 Prayer:

 

Eternal Father, Jesus has promised that whatever we ask in His Name will be granted to us. In His Name, I pray: give me a burning faith, a joyful hope, a holy love for You. Grant me perseverance in doing Your Will and never let me be separated from You. My God and my All, make me a saint. Amen." -- St. Alphonsus Liguori

 

 Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What is the responsibility of a moral nation and how would that be accomplished?

2. What might a holy nation be like?

3. Describe the moral character of our nation.

4. What was the consequence to Israel for its failure to become a holy nation?

5. What is personal holiness?

6. What is your path to personal holiness?

7. What is the responsibility of personal holiness?

8. Who are you leading to holiness and are they following?

9. What correction, if any, do I need to make in my path?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 34: Becoming Something for the Lord: A Reflection on Luke 10: 41. 42

 

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and concerned about many things; but only one thing is required. Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.” (Luke 10:41, 42)

 

Poor Martha. She really does get a raw deal. Here she is trying to make sure all the expectations of hospitality are being met; making sure everyone has something to drink, making sure everyone has had a second helping of food. She is making what sounds like a reasonable request. “Lord, tell my lazy sister to get up and help me.” This is not only reasonable, what Mary is doing is downright unacceptable.

 

It was unheard of that a woman would sit in the company of the men while a rabbi was teaching them. And not just eavesdropping at the door, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet! Mary took the best seat in the house. This would have been seen as very rude…or at the very least, a disregard for etiquette. That place was reserved for the honored guest, or the master of the house. In this case Lazarus. In fact, what Mary is doing is so out of place I’m surprised none of the apostles made a comment about it. It would have been very much in character for them to do so.

 

Jesus, in his response to Martha, sounds like he’s rebuking her, but he isn’t.

 

Martha represents here the Old Law. Martha is very concerned about following proper etiquette, about obeying all the rules. Mary has gone beyond that. Mary has stepped out of her traditional role, and gone on to discipleship. That is why Mary is pleasing to the Lord.

 

Her concern is not just for doing something for the Lord, but for becoming something for the Lord. That’s why her choice is superior to Martha’s.

 

This is not to belittle Martha’s role. Without Martha there would be no dinner. Without Martha there would be no hospitality, and without Martha there would be no encounter in the first place. Remember it’s Martha who invites Jesus and the apostles to the house. Martha initiates the encounter.

 

This also happens later in John’s gospel when their brother Lazarus dies.

 

When Jesus finally arrives, the gospel says it’s Martha who goes out to meet him, while Mary stayed home. Again, Martha initiates the encounter.

 

Service is a perfectly valid way to please the Lord, but the Lord wants us to aspire to something deeper; to become a living image of him. For that we need to sit at his feet. We need to listen and learn.

 

But again, we are not to belittle Martha’s contribution, because where would we be without Martha? Every parish needs its Martha’s to run smoothly. The volunteers who run the parish functions. The people who sit on the finance committee, who fund raise and juggle the books. The people who give of themselves to work in lay ministries to serve their brothers and sisters who need to be counseled, or are in hospitals, or nursing homes. All of them are Martha’s. And all of them are loved dearly by Jesus for their sacrifice.

 

Really, the three siblings; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, demonstrate the three ways of coming to Jesus. Martha represents service. Mary represents contemplative prayer. Lazarus represents redemptive suffering. But that’s another homily. We’ll talk about that another day.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

Quote from a Saint:

 

“Think well. Speak well. Do well. These three things, through the mercy of God, will make a man go to Heaven. -- St. Camillus de Lellis

 

 

Prayer:

 

 “May the life of Blessed Mary be ever present to our awareness. In her, as in a mirror, the form of virtue and beauty of chastity shine forth. She was virgin, not only in body, but in mind and spirit. She never sullied the pure affection of her heart by unworthy feelings. She was humble of heart. She was serious in her conversations. She was prudent in her counsels. She preferred to pray rather than to speak. She united in her heart the prayers of the poor and avoided the uncertainty of worldly riches. She was ever faithful to her daily duties, reserved in her conversations, and always accustomed to recognize God as the Witness of her thoughts. Blessed be the name of Jesus. Amen.” – Saint Ambrose of Milan

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. In what ways do you relate to Martha?

2. In what ways do you relate to Mary?

3. What are you becoming for the Lord?

4. What is your understanding of discipleship?

5. What attributes of Martha and Mary would you include in discipleship?

6. Of the three ways represented by Mary, Martha and Lazarus, to which are you most prone?

7. Give your opinion as to whether it seems better to follow one of these paths or a combination?

8. Describe your current path to Jesus.

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 35: Christ is the Image of the Invisible God: A Reflection on Colossians 1: 15-20

 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in* him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

 

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians is so rich in meaning that we could unpack it for weeks. It is an ancient hymn that was sung in the newly formed Christian Church.

 

Paul begins by taking God out of the abstract. Christ is the image of the invisible God. All throughout the ancient world, philosophers, mystics, and seekers of wisdom pondered the question of God. What was he like? What did he want? Why did he create us? God was abstract. Paul makes this statement to show his readers that this isn’t the case any more. God is no longer an abstraction. Now God is something tangible. Christ is the image of God. Now God has a face, and God has a body.

 

Many people make the statement, “I don’t have to go to Church. God is everywhere.” The latter part of that claim is true enough. God is everywhere. No doubt about it. But God is present in the sacraments in a tangible way. We hear the words. We taste the Host. We feel the oil and the water. The sacraments make Christ present in a way that is beyond our power; a way beyond our reasoning. The sacraments bring God’s presence out of the abstract and into the tangible.

 

Paul continues by asserting the primacy of Christ. “In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, principalities or powers.” (Col 1:16a) Paul sets Christ apart from all other creatures. Why? Remember he was writing this letter to converted pagans who still had some of their old pagan ideas. So they were treating Christian worship as worship to just another one of the gods. Others maintained that Jesus was not equal with God but an angel. Paul corrects their thinking, and in several sentences asserts over and over that Christ is apart from all other things in creation.

 

Here’s a line I think we often overlook; “...all were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16b) We were created through God and we were created FOR God! I think we need to occasionally remind ourselves and others of that little truth. How many Catholics do we hear make statements like; “my freedom, my body, my choice,”? No! This is absolutely wrong. We were created by God and for God! That means God’s freedom, God’s body, God’s choice!

 

I don’t know how anyone who calls themselves Christian can honestly think that Jesus would be OK with abortion. If we are part of Christ’s mystical body we have a responsibility to act as its members, and that means sacrificing ourselves for others, not sacrificing others for us.

 

Paul says next; “It is he who is head of the body, the Church;” (Col 1:18) God is running this Church! The Church is not a solely human institution. The Pope is the visible head of the Church, but the Church itself is led by God. If this Church isn’t led by God, we would have never survived the centuries of persecutions we’ve endured; Nero, the Ottoman Turks, Napoleon, Hitler, Karl Marx. They all tried to destroy the Church, and they all failed.

 

God is our head and we are parts of his body. That means we are responsible to act in imitation of him. Paul closes with sacrifice, “making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:20) The cross reconciles us all to God, and our sacrifices unite us to his sacrifice.

 

I cannot stress enough the need for family prayer, fasting, sacrificing, because that’s how we can change the world. Let’s do that. Let’s make a resolution today to change the world, by making a resolution to continue living lives of committed discipleship as part of his body.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 Quote From a Saint:

 

 

“Let us therefore give ourselves to God with a great desire to begin to live thus, and beg Him to destroy in us the life of the world of sin, and to establish His life within us.” -- St. John Eudes

Prayer: “O Lord my God. Teach my heart where and how to find you. You have made me and re-made me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me or find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire; let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you; let me love you when I find you." -- St. Anselm

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. What is Christ like?

2. What characteristic most sets him apart?

3. What does he want?

4. Why did he create you?

5. What does it mean to you to be created for God?

6. Describe your understanding of the mystical body of Christ.

7. How does the cross fit into your image of the mystical body?

8. Where do you find the strength and fortitude to carry your cross?

9. Saint Anselm says, “I have not yet done that for which I was made.” Have you?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 36: Prepared for the Bridegroom: A Reflection on Matthew 25: 1-13

 

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids* took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.* 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids* got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids* came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.*’ (Matthew 25: 1-13)

 

The lesson of the parable of the ten virgins in Mt 25:1-13 can be summed up in a single sentence; we should not let anything distract us from our vocation.

 

In this parable of Jesus, what distinguishes the wise virgins from the foolish ones? Very simply, the wise virgins bring extra oil. It seems like such a trivial thing, but it tells a great deal. In this wedding ceremony the virgins have the important task of watching and waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. They are waiting to announce the bridegroom’s arrival and usher him into the wedding feast. In our wedding ceremonies, everyone waits for the bride. In ancient Israel it was the opposite, everyone waited for the arrival of the groom.

 

So these wise virgins bring extra oil. Why? First, they recognize the importance of their role in the wedding ceremony. Second, they anticipate the worst, a delay in the bridegroom’s arrival, and this motivates them to be prepared for the long haul. They don’t take for granted that their vocation is going to go smoothly. They don’t assume this is going to be a quick, easy job. So the wise virgins make sure they are equipped to respond to any problems. And as it always happens, problems occur. The bridegroom is late. Please take note; they all nod. They all fall asleep. Both the wise and the foolish succumb to human weakness.

 

As a little added tidbit, I think Jesus was purposely being a bit prophetic here. In the Divine wedding, in the marriage supper of the Lamb, who is the groom? Well, Jesus, of course. On the eve of the groom’s wedding, while he is praying in the garden with his attendants, were his attendants attending to the needs of the groom, ready to announce his arrival the next day? No. Where were they? They were asleep.

 

So should we be so arrogant to think that we will not nod, that we will not fall asleep from time to time when we should be awake? No. No matter how wise we are, no matter how much we grow in the Lord, we will still sin from time to time. We will still nod. We will still fall victim to human weakness. This should not discourage us. “But Father, how can it not discourage us? I don’t want to end up like the foolish virgins! I don’t want to be left out!”

 

At first glance, it may appear that everyone is being rather harsh and uncharitable to the foolish virgins. First, the wise virgins won’t let them borrow any oil when they discover their lamps are going out. Then they get locked out of the wedding feast and no one will let them in! This is an important point to get; they are not locked out of the feast because they fell asleep. They are not condemned for their human weakness. They are condemned for their lack of foresight. They’re condemned because they weren’t prepared for the arrival of the groom.

 

How many people live their lives like they’re going to live forever? How many people spend and waste time like they’ve got a million years? How many people whoop it up and indulge every desire of the flesh with no thought of God or eternity? They’re the foolish virgins.

 

But you who go to daily Mass, who go to confession, who pray everyday, who do not let anything distract you in your vocation to be children of God, you are the wise. Does that mean you don’t sin? Does that mean you won’t nod? No. That means you know who you are, you know who the bridegroom is, and you’re doing everything you can to be ready when he comes for you.

 

Let us pray today that the bridegroom finds us all ready upon his arrival.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 Quote From a Saint:

 

“The Church alone, being the Bride of Christ and having all things in common with her Divine Spouse, is the depository of the truth.” -- Pope St. Pius X

 

Prayer:

 

“I love Thee, Infinite Goodness, with all the affection of my heart and of my soul, because Thou dost merit all my love. I wish I knew how to love Thee as the Angels, the Saints, and just men love thee. I unite my imperfect love to that which all the Saints, Most Holy Mary, and Jesus Christ, bear to Thee.” -- St. Alphonse de Liguori

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. Describe your spiritual vocation.

2. In what ways do you view Christ as your bridegroom?

3. What do you anticipate might go wrong while you await the groom?

4. What most discourages you as you await the groom?

5. Where do you find oil for your lamp and what price are you willing to pay for the oil?

6. What else might you do to be prepared for the groom when He comes?

7. What does it mean to you to be betrothed to Christ?

8. How will you usher in Christ for the wedding?

9. What does it mean to you to be the Bride of Christ?

10. How are you attending to the needs of the groom?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 37: Birth of Mary: A Reflection on Micah 5: 1, 2

 

“You Bethlehem, too small to be among the clans of Judah. From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.” (Micah 5:1,2)

 

Why do we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Mother? WELL! You wouldn’t forget your OWN mother’s birth day would you?! OK. That is reasonable, but that’s not the reason. The Church is not being schmaltzy or sentimental by commemorating the birth of Mary. There are important theological reasons for this.

 

Remember the Church’s job is to get us to see ALL aspects of God. In the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the genealogy of Jesus. Whenever we hear the genealogy, it’s always of Jesus’ descendants through his foster father’s line, Joseph. OK, that’s expected. In the ancient world you always traced your lineage through your father’s line. From the genealogy, we know that Jesus is a descendant of King David, of the tribe of Judah, which goes to fulfill the prophecy that was spoken by Jacob to his sons before he died in Egypt, that the Messiah would be born through Judah’s line. So through Joseph’s genealogy we know that Jesus is a descendant of kings.

 

But what about Mary’s genealogy? Her genealogy isn’t recorded in Scripture. Why? Because inheritances were handed down by fathers, not mothers. Therefore the male lineage was carefully tracked, but not the female. Still, we can make a general inference of where Mary’s people are from.

 

John the Baptist is Jesus’ kin from Mary’s side of the family. Who is the father of John the Baptist? Zechariah, the high priest ,is his father. Therefore, Mary was of the tribe of Levi. This is very significant. It means that Mary was of the same tribe as Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were Levites, and, because it was only their tribe that stood by Moses when the rest of the Israelites went to worship a golden calf, God decreed that instead of the first born son of every household being a priest, the priesthood would pass through the tribe of Levi only.

 

Jesus is Mary’s first born son, a descendant of Levi; therefore, Jesus is a descendant of kings on his father’s side and a descendant of priests on his mother’s side. So, Jesus, by virtue of his very bloodline, had the qualifications to fulfill a kingly role, and establish a kingdom on earth, as the prophets predicted the Messiah would. This kingdom is the Church. He could also fulfill a priestly role, by offering a sacrifice worthy of atoning for the sins of creation, as the prophets also predicted the Messiah would.

 

That’s the significance of celebrating Mary’s birthday. It’s a reminder of where she came from, and what role that fulfills in Jesus’ life. It’s interesting; Matthew’s Gospel is very concerned with the kingly role of Jesus. So in Matthew you get Jesus talking a lot about his kingdom. There are very kingly images in Jesus’ parables and the settings in which Matthew places Jesus.

 

In Luke’s Gospel, coincidently the Gospel that gives us the most information about Mary, Luke’s images of Jesus are predominantly priestly images. There’s more talk of Jesus’ sacrifice in Luke’s Gospel. The images of shepherds and lambs come up more in Luke’s Gospel than any other, because lambs were the customary sacrifice of atonement from sins.

 

Our concern should be that we never latch on to one image of Jesus to the exclusion of the others. In our meditation we should always be contemplating different aspects of the Savior to better worship him, better serve him, and be better imitators of him.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

 Quote From a Saint:

 

 

“Mother of Grace: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." For note, Mary, for you have found grace, not taken it as Lucifer tried to so. You have found grace, not lost it as Adam did. You have found favor with God because you desired and sought it. You have found uncreated Grace, that is, God himself became your Son, and with the Grace you have found and obtained every uncreated good.’

-- Saint Albert the Great

 

Prayer:

 

“Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin; give me strength against thine enemies, and against the enemy of the whole human race. Give me strength humbly to pray to thee. Give me strength to praise thee in prayer with all my powers, through the merits of thy most sacred nativity, which for the entire Christian world was a birth of joy, the hope and solace of its life. When thou wast born, O most holy Virgin, then was the world made light. Happy is thy stock, holy thy root, and blessed thy fruit, for thou alone as a virgin, filled with the Holy Spirit, didst merit to conceive thy God, as a virgin to bear Thy God, as a virgin to bring Him forth, and after His birth to remain a virgin. Have mercy therefore upon me a sinner, and give me aid, O Lady, so that just as thy nativity, glorious from the seed of Abraham, sprung from the tribe of Judah, illustrious from the stock of David, didst announce joy to the entire world, so may it fill me with true joy and cleanse me from every sin. Pray for me, O Virgin most prudent, that the gladsome joys of thy most helpful nativity may put a cloak over all my sins. O holy Mother of God, flowering as the lily, pray to thy sweet Son for me, a wretched sinner. Amen. ” -- Saint Anselm

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What do you know of your own genealogy? From who are you descended?

2. What does this heritage mean in your own life?

3. What spiritual heritage has been passed down to you?

4. As a child of the living God, how do you live out your kingly role?

5. As a child of the living God, how do you live out your priestly role?

6. What other images of Jesus do you hold dear?

7. How have you found grace and favor with God?

8. Which attributes of your parents do you best reflect?

9. Which attributes of Mary do you best reflect?

10. Which attributes of Jesus do you best reflect?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 38: Call to Personal Conversion: A Reflection on 1 Timothy 12: 1-14

 

Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy is one of my personal favorites among the Pauline letters. I think it’s one of my favorites, because Paul is addressing one of the Church’s first priests: Timothy. The apostles were the Church’s first bishops, and Paul, an apostle, is writing to a priest under his authority. Timothy was a former disciple of Saint Paul. Paul makes mention of Timothy in other letters, and makes statements like, “I am sending you Timothy, because I cannot come to you myself.”

 

What strikes me about this letter is a theme: the call to personal conversion. Saint Paul writes in his opening to this letter; “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, that he has made me his servant and judged me faithful. I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance; --but because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully, and the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”(1 Tim 1:12-14)

 

Saint Paul is writing this letter toward the end of his career; and this is a man who had to undergo numerous sufferings for the faith. He was whipped and imprisoned. In fact, Paul is writing this letter to Timothy from prison. He was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked.

 

On more than one occasion Paul was persecuted by his fellow Christians, particularly the Jewish converts to Christianity, because he went to convert the Gentiles. On more than one occasion Paul had his authenticity called into question by Christians, who didn’t believe his conversion story, and thus claimed that he was not a true apostle. Yet Saint Paul still makes statements like; “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, that he has made me his servant, and judged me faithful.”

 

With all the hardship and suffering Paul had to endure throughout his career, he still finds it within himself to praise and thank God. That’s incredible. Why can he find it within himself to praise and thank God? Because Paul is always reminding himself of everything God had done for him. Look at all these sins he listed in this passage; blasphemer, persecutor, arrogant. Paul can give thanks to God because he sees how far the Lord’s grace has taken him from what he was.

 

This goes to underscore the point I am making--as Catholics we are called to constantly strive to do better. We are constantly called to change, and then to change some more. Whether we’re in our thirties, fifties, or nineties, we are all called to personal conversion. We are all called to do better. We should all be able to look at our lives from five years ago and say, ‘I am doing spiritually better today than I was five years ago.’

 

I look at my own life five years ago, and in some ways I have dramatically changed for the better; in other ways I haven’t changed at all. That means I have more work to do in my own personal conversion. To borrow a phrase, that’s real change we can believe in! God gives us the grace to change ourselves, and in changing ourselves we do change the world for the better, one person at a time.

 

Our looking backwards should also bring us joy. When we see how far the Lord has taken us from what we were; when we see the improvements that have been made in our spiritual lives, we should be encouraged. We should be joyful. We should be thankful.

 

It is my prayer today that all of us can say with Saint Paul, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, that he has made me his servant and judged me faithful.”

 

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 St. Gregory the Great

 

Prayer:

 

“O Lord my God. Teach my heart this day where and how to find you. You have made me and re-made me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire; let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you;

let me love you when I find you.” -- Saint Anselm

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. By what means has Christ strengthened you?

2. In what ways has He made you His servant?

3. Give an example of a time when Christ has judged you and found you faithful.

4. When and why have you been treated mercifully?

5. Give an example of a suffering or hardship you have endured for Christ.

6. Did you thank and praise Him at the time? Do you do so now?

7. At what stage of conversion do you find yourself now?

8. What part of your life are you trying to convert at this time?

9. How can you best be supported in this conversion process?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 39: For the Sake of the Kingdom: A Reflection on 1 Timothy 6:7

 

“We have brought nothing into this world, nor have we the power to take anything out.” (1Tim 6:7)

 

Saint Paul in this passage is warning Timothy about greed. We have brought nothing into this world, nor have we the power to take anything out. That’s a good line to meditate on today. That means everything we have, everything we claim as ours, really isn’t ours at all. It all belongs to the Lord. Everything we have has been given to us on loan by our heavenly father and one day, for whatever reason, he may take it back.

 

Your children are not yours. They belong to the Lord. God has loaned them to you and trusted you to teach them about him. But they’re not yours. They were never yours. They’re his. Intelligence, wealth, talents--we all possess these in different proportions in different areas, but we didn’t bring any of it into this world, and we won’t take any of it with us when we go. All of these have been gifts God has given us, for the purpose of building his kingdom on earth.

 

In this passage to Timothy we have the most famous and most misquoted line Saint Paul ever wrote. “Money is the root of all evil.” No. That isn’t what Paul said. Look at this line closely. “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” (1Tim 6:10) That’s what Paul says. There’s a big difference. Money is neither good nor bad. It’s neutral. It’s a tool like any other. It all depends on the purpose it’s being used for.

 

What do we use our money for? Do we use it all on self or do we use at least a portion of it to do God’s work? This was the whole purpose of tithing, you know. This is why the Jews gave ten percent of their gross wealth to the temple every year, to avoid getting attached to money.

 

Why is loving money so bad? It is bad because we’re only supposed to love God. As I said, that’s a significant difference, because it’s the old widow example. Remember the old widow who puts two copper coins in the temple treasury and Jesus remarks how she gave more than anyone else? Why? It is so because her love for God compelled her to give everything she had.

 

Someone can make twenty five thousand dollars a year, and give a very small amount to charity, but if they’re sacrificing to make that gift because they love the Lord, they’ve given more than these rich big shots we hear about that give millions to charity every year but sacrifice nothing. There are a number of reasons people give to charity that have nothing to do with loving God. Because of that, they get no moral credit. It’s not the amount of the giving. It’s the quality of the giving.

 

It all comes down to this. Everything we have has been loaned to us by God so that we can help one another get to the kingdom. If we use our gifts for anything other than that, we use them selfishly. Paul begins this passage by talking about people in the Church who were teaching things contrary to the Church. This still happens today. In some Catholic schools today you can find teachers who promote abortion and birth control. They’re taking a gift God has given them, the charism of teaching, (and that is a gift,) and they’re NOT using it to build up the kingdom, but rather they’re using it either for their own selfish ends, or because they want to justify their own lack of faith. That’s exactly what Paul is talking about.

 

My brothers and sisters, always remember to call nothing your own except your soul. Everything other than that has been given to you by God for the building of his kingdom, and it will all be taken away when you die. The only gift God gave you that will last forever is your soul. Remembering that will help us keep life in proper perspective.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

 

Quote From a Saint:

 

 

“The bread you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.” -- St. Basil the Great

 

Prayer:

 

 

“Lord, you were rich yet, for our sakes, you became poor. You promised in your Gospel that whatever is done for the least of your brothers and sisters is done for you. Give us grace to be always willing and ready to provide for the needs of those whose parents have died or whose homes are broken, that your kingdom of service and love may extend throughout the world, to your unending glory.” -- Saint Augustine

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. Of all the things given to you by God, what would you find it most difficult to give back?

2. What do you love most in this world?

3. How do you make a return of your money to God?

4. How do you make a return of your time to God?

5. How do you make a return of your talent to God?

6. What is the quality of your gift?

7. Truthfully, what is your motivation for giving?

8. In what areas or ways is there room for improvement in your giving?

9. What are you storing up for a later time?

10. Who will most benefit from this storing up now and who will most benefit from it when you pass over?

 

--Susan Boudreau

 

Week 40: Where Do You Say That I Am?: A Reflection on Haggai 1:14-2:4

 

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.

 

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 1: 14-2:4)

 

Jesus asks the pivotal question recorded by all the evangelists; “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer that is crucial in our relationship to God. I’ve preached on that before. But after we answer that question, (and I think it’s safe to say most of us have), we’re led to the next logical question, Where do we say God is?

 

That question is never asked in Scripture; however, how we answer that question is just as pivotal and is just as crucial in our relationship to God as the first question is because the majority of Christians, not just Catholics, (this applies to Protestants as well) keep God confined to their respective Sunday services, like God doesn’t see what they do and how they act the rest of the time. That’s called ‘keeping God in a box,’ and it’s a dangerous attitude. So where do we say God is?

 

The prophet Haggai reprimands the people about their lack of commitment to God, because they’ve been lax in their responsibility to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem, which the Babylonians had destroyed some seventy years earlier. Later, after the project has been well under way, the elders of the people, who are old enough to remember what the temple of Solomon had looked like before it was destroyed, are weeping, because the new temple couldn’t compare in grandeur to the old.

 

But the Lord tells Haggai to tell the people, “Keep working, because even though this temple can’t match the splendor of the old, it is still more pleasing to me.” Why? It is because the first temple was built by a king. The second was built by a priest. The first temple was built by an abundance of political and financial might. The second temple was built by very poor people with lots of faith. That’s what made the second temple so pleasing to God.

 

You know, my brothers and sisters, we have to be careful not to get so sentimental about buildings that we forget where the Lord is. We see this all the time. In my hometown of Westerly, when the old Immaculate Conception parish was abandoned and the new one built, some people left the Church because they didn’t like the modern architecture of the new building. Something similar happened in Woonsocket where I was last stationed. When Saint Ann’s closed, which was a gorgeous church, some people stopped going to Mass all together, because it wasn’t in their parish.

 

All of these people have something in common. They’ve answered the question, “Who do you say that I am,” but failed to answer the question “Where do we say that he is?”

 

The simple truth is that God is in several places. First, wherever there is a tabernacle and his sacraments are celebrated, there is the presence of God. Whenever the Pope and Magisterium of bishops speak on an issue of faith or morals, there is the presence of God. Wherever believers gather, “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst,” there is the presence of God. If we respect the presence of the Lord in all these places; if we receive his sacraments, if we heed his teachings, if we worship in community, if we let him transform us and not keep him in a box, then he dwells in one more place. He dwells in our heart. The Scriptures say our bodies are the TEMPLE of the Holy Spirit.

 

Brothers and sisters, all buildings eventually outlive their usefulness, but this shouldn’t disturb us, because what is pleasing to the Lord is not the splendor of a building, but the faith of the people inside. That is where I hope all Catholics realize the Lord is.

 

Blessed Be God Forever.

Father Michael Anthony SiscoVisitor,

Confraternity of Penitents

 

 

 Quote From a Saint:

 

“When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.” --Saint Ambrose of Milan

 

 Prayer:

 

“Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.

Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.

Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.

Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.

Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.”

-- Saint Augustine

 

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

1. What is your favorite way to refer to God?

2. Name three places where you most frequently experience the presence of God?

3. What does it mean to you that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?

4. How do you build up that temple?

5. When people speak about you, about which attribute(s) of Christ do they speak?

6. In whom do you best see the attributes of Christ?

7. How might you better reflect the attributes of Christ?

8. How do you build up the mystical Body of Christ?

9. How might you make yourself more open to the working of the Holy Spirit in your daily life?

10. Have you fallen into the temptation to compare one church building with another? Has this reflection caused you to view your comparisons in a different light?

 

-- 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