On the Scripture Readings we had in Lent

During the past few Sundays of Lent, the Church, being an extension of Christ, has ventured into the desert in the footsteps of her spouse. And as a result, I’ve contemplated the cohesive illustration painted by the Sunday Mass readings which Holy Mother Church has offered.

1st Week:

Adam and Eve were exiled out of the garden paradise of Eden, into the wilderness or desert. Jesus leaves the Paradise of heaven and enters the desert wilderness to bring mankind back to its original state. For 40 days, Jesus is in the desert praying and fasting. If food symbolizes the cause of the fall, it is fitting that fastiom food should remedy it. The gates of heaven were closed off due to the original sin, Jesus comes to open them.

The Old Testament nation of Israel was supposed to act as a corporate “son of God,” to make reparation for the sin of Adam, who was 1st given the title of “son of God.” But the Israelites, after being called out of Egypt, failed their 40 days of testing in the desert.  At the heart of every sin and temptation is a willful and obstinate doubt in the Providence of God, a chosen disbelief in the goodness of God. So it was with Adam, and so it was with Israel. The Israelites failed to come through with the obedience, trust, and gratitude necessary to make up for the disobedience, mistrust, and ingratitude of Adam. Jesus, being the Divine Son of God and perfect man, passes where the Israelites fail and thereby steers humanity in the right direction.

The Israelites doubted God’s ability to feed them, quench their thirst, give them whatever they needed, and bring them to the place he promised. That’s a basic overview.  The law stated in the book of Deuteronomy rebukes the people for their lack of trust. Jesus quotes from it 3 times and fulfills it in place of the people of the old covenant.

 2nd week:

The account of the Transfiguration. Jesus shows the 3 core disciples a glimpse of his divinity. This is a preview of humanity perfected, which will be fully realized at the resurrection. Moses appears. Jesus is the new Moses who leads all humanity into freedom from the slavery of sin and death. He is the one who Moses mentioned when he said that God would raise up a prophet like him; he says that the people should listen to him. God says that the people should listen to him. The whole Old Testament story is one of exodus and exile: Jesus comes to usher in the definitive exodus, thus breaking the cycle. Jesus is the new Elijah. He prophesies the glorified and fully divinized state of humanity.

 3rd weeK:

The Samaritan woman represents all humanity, We’re broken, hurting, and lonely having gone through a number of relationships, from looking for love in all the wrong places… and the one we are with is not the God who can fulfill us. Israel was the bride and God the bridegroom on the pages of the prophetic, and wisdom books of the Old Testament. The woman had 5 husbands, +1, plus Jesus equals 7, the number of perfection.

Oncewe find Jesus, we want to go and tell everyone, as the woman did. Jesusthirsts to bethirsted for… we thirst for forfulfillment. Boththirsts are met in this account…neitherone leaves with a single drop of water. And Jesus is no longer physically hungry, having become satisfied with the will of the Father.

4th and 5th weeks:

A lesser miracle and a greater one … the healing of the man born blind and the rising from the dead ofLazarus were intended to get the people to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. The authorities failed to believe. Jesus gavethe ultimate proofs…a Gentile sees andbelieves, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest miracle possible…  and it is what we are entering into this week…

Lord,  may we be given the sight we need.

In Solidarity with Emmanuel, God-with-us

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and I’m not feeling it. While many people here in the United States have been celebrating Christmas since Thanksgiving, under the commonly used (and often over-used) term, “holiday(s),” I’ve been struggling to live Advent. Now that Christmas is tomorrow, I still feel unprepared.

For the past 2 Advent seasons, I’ve had difficulties that tend to divert my attention away from full, prayerful, conscious preparation. Last year, it was a new power wheelchair that I couldn’t use––and still can’t use, current whereabouts unknown. This year, the issue is having nursing hours cut by 4. It’s not easy dealing with the situation––by the time I’m in the wheelchair, it’s practically time for the nurses to leave. Along with that, one of my best nurses is away for a while and may be going back to school soon. All of the events of the past a few days and weeks have caused me to become uneasy, anxious, and a little sad.

The pain that some experience during this time of year is something, i can relate to. I’m facing the reality of my own brokenness, dependency, and helplessness. And maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s an entry point into the very meaning of Christmas…

Jesus Christ, God–made–man, sees my poverty and meets me there. He was not born in a resplendent palace, he wasn’t born in a kingly household––he was born in poverty, in a lowly stable, a cave, a feeding trough for animals. There wasn’t even room for him in the inn! (“He came to his own and was not received by his own,” is one of the saddest statements in the New Testament.) Who was he revealed to, at the outset? Not to the ruling class. Poor shepherds. These were people who practically lived outdoors and smelled like sheep. Outcasts.

And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

–Luke 2:10-Luke 2:12 RSV

The poor baby in the cave was a sign to the shepherds, a sign that God was with them, quite literally. But he’s not just a sign for them but for all. God is for us, he is with us in our poverty. I think of him saying to me, personally:

“Look at me, see how small I have become for love of you. Do not be afraid to approach me. Yes, you are helpless and dependent––I too was dependent, unable to move, wrapped in swaddling bands. I had to be clothed and fed and carried (by my mother who took such good care of me).”

When we think about the suffering of Christ, we usually focus in on the cross–rightly so. But Jesus suffered in Bethlehem as well. God, He who is all sufficient in and of himself, became poor for our sakes. He who is limitless was constrained, exposed to the cold, prickly straw, stinking stable. He united himself with our humanity so that we could be united to his divinity.

Adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

During these past few Christmas seasons, I’ve found myself relating more to the shepherds, the animals, the straw in the manger. At the same time, I can unite myself to that little child shivering in the cold––I can identify with him who 1st identified with me. God became poor. He who created the entire universe! He entered into my poverty. He entered into my loneliness and fear so that I wouldn’t feel alone or afraid. All he wants in return is to be loved, because, who doesn’t love a baby? (Sadly there are some who don’t.) He wants to be loved, often in and through the defenseless, the poor, and the forgotten.

Again, He manifested Himself as poor to the poor shepherds, as a sign to them.

The point of all my disjointed rambling is that God is with us, he knows what we go through because he chose to go through it himself. He is in solidarity with us, and we with him if we so consciously choose. By acknowledging our weakness, we identify with the suffering infant of Bethlehem who suffers in order to identify with us. God is with us. Are we with him? We can console that Child in the manger—He who became man, limiting Himself to be in solidarity with us. Making another’s suffering one’s own—this is a definition of mercy… taking another’s suffering into one heart… a heart for the miserable. And if we get this we get what Christmas is really all about.

Merry Christmas!

Movie blurb: St. Vincent (2014)

I’ve always been meaning to post movie reviews. For a long time, I’ve been writing a few words about movies I’ve seen. Unfortunately, these few lines (written quickly for Facebook, etc.) usually do not develop into full-fledged pieces that treat movies in depth. But something is always better than nothing so I have decided to go ahead and post the little that I do have.

This is the 1st of my “movie blurbs.”

I watched the 2014 movie St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray. It’s about a cranky old bum of a man who finds himself having to look after the new neighbor lady’s son, the kind of kid who gets picked on, every afternoon after school. As you might imagine, an unlikely friendship develops.The man is very flawed, fallen, and broken: he lies, he cheats, he gambles, and he sometimes lives with a prostitute. He is a very public sinner but the kid sees more in him. Maybe he sees what the man can be. In this regard, I think he’s a lot like Jesus—he looks beyond us, beyond our sins, and gives us the real possibility of becoming a Saint. We can transform and become “the best version of ourselves” if someone believes that we are inherently good, capable of goodness. Anyway, yeah, it’s a great movie. Comedy–not those trashy kinds of movies—but funny and entertaining with a purpose. You might want to read about the content 1st (PG-13 stuff)–that’s what I do anyway. Check it out on Netflix streaming.

St. Mother Teresa and the Exaltation of the Cross

It’s hard to believe that people actually had/have the gall to criticize St. Teresa of Calcutta. I have to say that I don’t find any of the objections to be very convincing (but just the same, I’m planning to address them in a future blog post—watch this space!). A particularly serious attack leveled at our newest saint is that she was a mentally disturbed sadist: They say that St. Teresa believed that suffering was a good thing, something noble and invaluable, so, instead of opening hospitals, she opened hospices for the dying so they could embrace their suffering. They say that someone who tells a sufferer that “[s]uffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus, [so let Jesus kiss you]” can only be crazy or evil.

The critics of St. [Mother] Teresa do not understand her—-more fundamentally, they do not understand Christianity, especially Catholicism! To be specific, they don’t get the idea of redemptive suffering, which is at the heart of our faith.

Christ Carrying the Cross 1580

Today, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Cross. The Feast is the acknowledgment of the victorious power of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It’s the opportunity to rejoice that Christ transformed an instrument of death into an instrument of life. He destroyed the power of death by taking it upon himself, and in the process, suffering became redemptive. He took the curse and made it a blessing, the means for salvation. Catholics believe that we can unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ on the Cross, and in doing so, our suffering becomes redemptive, capable of bringing about the salvation of souls. As St. Mother Teresa herself pointed out, “suffering in and of itself is useless,” and there’s nothing remotely good about it, “but suffering that is shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift and a sign of love.”

So, St. Teresa, recognizing that the Cross of Christ is clothed in light, endowed with the power to save souls, saw that suffering, in its proper perspective, could serve a purpose. That doesn’t mean that she created opportunities for suffering, or for prolonging it. Suffering is part of the human reality. It comes to all of us without our asking for it. We should do all we can to alleviate suffering, and for crying out loud, didn’t St. Teresa of Calcutta to her best to alleviate it? If she said that the greatest suffering is the lack of love, and if she did her best to alleviate it by striving to love the poor and the unwanted (by caring for them, taking them out of the street where they would die alone), then doesn’t it follow that she saw physical suffering as something to be alleviated also?

All the Saint said, in keeping with 2000 years of Christianity, is simply, when suffering comes, suffering that is unavoidable, unable to be fully cured, see it as the opportunity of being one with Jesus Christ. I know that in my own life, understanding that my suffering could be used as a prayer, as a means to save people, gave me great consolation. It’s sure beats complaining. And of course, suffering is still difficult, and we must do everything we can to alleviate it. At the same time, we can share in his sufferings, wielding them as forces for good, as instruments of redemption. And then, as surely as Jesus was glorified and rose from the dead never to suffer or die again, we too will share in the victory.

The Church celebrates the Triumph of the Cross, and in her lifetime, St. Mother Teresa faithfully did the same.

Life Matters

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time now. Today’s feast day of St. Peter Claver reminded me to go ahead and do it. St. Peter Claver ministered to Africans brought to the New World in chains, at the port city of Cartagena, Columbia. He saw the humanity of those who were regarded as not having it––those who were treated as trash, brought on slave ships, penned up like animals with hardly any breathing room, covered in feces and vomit, beaten, raped, fighting to survive in the most hellish conditions.

St. Peter Claver is relevant to our day and age in which certain lives are more valued than others (though not to the same degree of the time in which he lived). He’s someone who would have understood the slogan “black lives matter.”

Now, I should say up front that the reason for my writing this is not based in any kind of political ideology or agenda. I simply want to share some reasonable thoughts on the importance of being consistent about the unchangeable truth of the dignity of the human person.

As I’ve stated several times before on Facebook and in other forums as well as in real life conversations, I understand what is meant by “black lives matter,” and why saying “all lives matter,” as a knee-jerk response is disingenuous and dismissive. We can’t pretend that there isn’t a problem, a problem of dehumanizing and devaluing people, a problem of racism and injustice. Let me explain. When I hear or see that “black lives matter,” my brain adds the word “too.” See, the reason why I think that it’s wrong for someone to say that “all lives matter,” as a comeback to someone who says that “black life’s matter,” is precisely because some people act as if all lives actually don’t matter. What good is it to say that “all lives matter” if you act as if this were not true. And this is why the necessity of the slogan arises. With all the cases we hear of police shootings of unarmed black men and the other instances of systematic racism, we need to be reminded that “black lives matter.”

Objectively speaking, of course, all lives matter. Every single life matters. But subjectively… do we act like that’s true? I’ve seen Facebook pages with the words “all lives matter.” I’ve also seen nasty comments from the same people, dehumanizing the politicians that they disagree with, dehumanizing undocumented immigrants, insinuating that they are no better than animals, and in some cases, even deserving of death. (To be fair, I’ve seen “the left” and “the right” dehumanize politicians.) Disagree with people, by all means! But try not to lose the sight of their humanity! Or risk losing the credibility of positive statements like “all lives matter.”

Pope Francis often says that were living in a “throwaway culture,” where certain lives are treated as useless, disposable, and without value. We should care for everyone, from the moment of conception to natural death. Because I believe and understand that abortion is the taking of innocent human life, I believe and understand that human beings outside the womb are sacred, and vice versa. What good is it to say that the black baby in the womb is sacred when a former black baby , is a “thug” who “gets what’s coming to him” when the cops roll up. Or, to put it another way: before a baby with a chronic disability was born, they said that she deserved to live. Thankfully, her mother chose life. Many years later, that girl, that woman, encounters somebody who considers themselves to be pro-life. She looks for some kind of acknowledgment and is completely and utterly dissed by that individual. That individual is being inconsistent. That individual is being a pawn of the throwaway culture.

So, life matters. Let’s show the world that this is true indeed. Just paying lip service with a hash tag on Twitter is not enough. St. Peter Claver lived as if life mattered. He’s known to have said that “[w]e must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.”

St. Peter Claver, pray for us.

(If you would like to read more about the Saint who referred to himself as the Slave of the Slaves, here’s a quick biography worth reading: http://www.kofpc.org/st_peter_claver.php)

Muhammed Ali and the Call to Greatness


It may seem strange to think of a man who thought of himself as “the greatest” as being humble. But from what I’ve read, those who were close to him say that he was, in fact, quite humble. What most people saw was just one aspect of Muhammed Ali, his public boasting and colorful trash talking. Maybe his humility was more obvious in his later days, towards the end of his life. Whatever the case may be though,  Ali’s desire for being the greatest boxer was not necessarily at odds with being humble–-it is very possible to be humble and great at the same time.  God is paradoxically both. As a devout Muslim, Muhammed Ali very much believed that God was great and that his pursuit of greatness was a means of reflecting God. I think that the greatest, most powerful lesson that Ali taught was on the necessity of being great.

At age 12, Muhammed Ali took an interest in boxing on the occasion of the theft of his bicycle. He was motivated by a desire to whoop the kid who stole his bike. After all, those who want to be great have to start off somewhere, right?  Apparently he eventually saw that he had a talent for boxing and that this would be the means of achieving greatness. At age 22 he beat the reigning champion Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight title, for the first time. By the time he retired, he fought 61 major fights of which he only lost 5. Total number of knockouts: 37. In the ring, Ali delivered on his claim to be “the greatest.” He wasn’t just talk. He proved what he said, backed it up with action.  When he laced those gloves up, he meant business. Muhammed Ali believed that he was created for greatness to the point where he actually became great. Hits desire was realized because he cooperated with it.  For all his bragging,  he was telling the truth. And for what it’s worth, humility is defined as the acknowledgment of truth about one’s self.

Far from being opposed to humility, wanting to be great is a noble thing. It is a virtue that complements the former, and it’s called magnanimity, which comes from the Latin words for great and soul. Ali Was great soul-ed. he was magnanimous.

I can think of countless places in the New Testament where magnanimity is extolled: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven,” “I have appointed you to bear much fruit that will last,” “run so as to win,” “we exist for the praise of his glory,” etc. Many  Saints taught magnanimity and exemplified it, such as St. Catherine of Siena who said that if we are what we should be, we would set the world on fire. St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. John Bosco. And of course, there is St. Therese who aspired to to greatness and taught that it could be achieved by the faithful and loving fulfillment of what is required at every moment. I am reminded of the words of a Missionary of Charity sister, a member of the religious congregation founded by soon-to-be Saint, Mother Teresa. She looked right at me and demanded me to be a saint, “and not just any saint, you must be a great Saint!”

Now I don’t mean to suggest that Muhammed Ali was free from pride and arrogance. Some of his taunts, while highly entertaining and humorous, came across as being unmistakably arrogant. What I am saying however, is that Ali teaches us that greatness is the only option. We only have one opportunity to get it right, we are to make the best of the life we have been given and achieve the greatest degree of glory possible.

Even when Parkinson’s robbed speech from the man known as the Louisville Lip, he remained strong and was an advocate for those in need.  And if not speaking made him humble, it made him all the more greater.

Rest in peace Muhammed Ali.

Mother Angelica’s Influence on my Life

On the evening of Easter Sunday, I tuned into EWTN to watch the Pope’s message. Shortly after it was over, it was announced that Mother Angelica had died. I was stunned to hear the news. Mother Angelica played a crucial role in my life. I am deeply indebted to her for teaching me to love Jesus Christ and his Church. Everything I am today, spiritually speaking, is in some way or another, a result of Mother’s cooperation with the grace of God.

Back in the early 1990s my family got cable, in large part because Mother Angelica’s network was on it. As an adolescent, I wasn’t all that interested in watching EWTN. My mother would always leave it on until it became like background noise, which caused me to complain that the electricity was being wasted. At the same time however, I took in bits and pieces of teachings, more than I would have cared to admit. Once, I heard Mother Angelica speak about the dangers of the occult and playing with Ouija boards. That Christmas, someone gave a Ouija board to my sister and me as a present. Due to my insistence, we threw it out that very evening—I remembered what Mother said.

Now that I that I reflect on it, my having muscular dystrophy and being in a wheelchair led to quite a bit of involuntary exposure to EWTN. During World Youth Day 1993, I watched and followed the Pope’s visit to Denver. I was impressed by Mother’s commentary highlighting obedience to the Vicar of Christ, and I remember the time she announced that her sisters would be going back to wearing traditional habits. She had guts for sure.

About a year before that, when I needed surgery on my spine and had to be hospitalized for the 1st time in my life, my parents wrote to Mother Angelica. She sent a letter along with a package of her mini books and assured us of her prayers. I never forgot her kindness to me.

In my teenage years, I became depressed because I didn’t really know how to deal with my physical disability. After school, I would watch my own shows and music videos, hogging up the TV in the living room in addition to the one in my bedroom. But suddenly, before 2000 I decided to watch EWTN and nothing else, as a Lenten penance! That literally changed my life. I learned much more than I had ever known. It was like I discovered the treasure in the field, and the pearl of great price that Jesus mentions in his parables. Pretty soon, my Catholic faith came alive and I was hooked on watching the network because I actually wanted to. From that point on, I looked forward to watching Mother Angelica Live every week.

Mother Angelica taught me so much about Jesus Christ, his Mother, and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. From listening to her, I learned that I could offer my suffering in union with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross on behalf and for the good of others. This teaching (which I’m sure Mother practiced til the end of her life) was reinforced when my family I went to Lourdes, where I received the grace of acceptance.

I really enjoyed watching Mother Angelica and I always looked forward to seeing her every week. She was so entertaining and engaging. I especially loved the humor with which she read the Gospels and added her own colorful dialogue. Her down-to-earth spontaneity and comedic timing made her a delight to listen to.

Before her stroke, my family and I had the tremendous blessing of meeting Mother in person. That was in the Great Jubilee Year 2000, the year we had gone to Lourdes. And it so happened, according to Divine Providence, to be on my birthday. It was one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. She gave a talk at the Basilica of the National Shrine here in Washington DC. Just as my family and I arrived, Mother Angelica and one of her sisters were making their way from the parking lot! We got to take a picture with her, which I still have. After her talk, which was a lot more fun than a standup comic’s routine, she redirected the applause to Jesus by pointing to him in the monstrance on the altar.

In 2001, Mother Angelica appeared on her show one night with her mouth contorted and wearing an eye patch. I was in awe over the fact that she had a stroke but decided to make at television appearance nevertheless.When she could no longer host her live program, I missed her greatly.

Her words touched me; they are indelibly etched on my heart and soul. Whenever I find myself worrying about the future, Mother Angelica’s quotes about trusting in Divine Providence and living in the present moment give me a sense of peace and hope. Sometimes I think about how God always came through for her, how she founded a television network with hardly any skill, knowledge, or money. She trusted in God, like Abraham (who Mother enjoyed teasing) or Our Lady, always willing to take another leap of faith. I love her definition of faith: “one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach.”

After reading Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica, I got a new appreciation of everything that Mother went through. If a movie is ever produced on her life, I hope and pray they stick to the script. I also bought Raymond’s other books on Mother’s prayer life––I bought one for one of my home health nurses, a Pentecostal who was fascinated by Mother Angelica.

There is a lot more that I could say about Mother, but for the sake of brevity I will conclude by saying that I will never forget Mother’s practical, childlike approach to holiness. As she reminds us, “We’re all called to be great saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” A wise Franciscan priest once told me, “[Listen to Mother Angelica,] she will take you to heaven.”

Fittingly, Mother left this earth in the Jubilee Year of Mercy: EWTN personality, Father Charles Connor pointed out that just as Mother Teresa will be remembered for the corporal works of mercy, Mother Angelica will be remembered for the spiritual works of mercy. Thank you for everything Mother Angelica, especially for constantly reminding us that God loves us and you do too.

He never tires of forgiving

Divina Misericordia (Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, 1934).jpg
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8921429

A few days ago, it was Palm Sunday and Jesus entered Jerusalem to the joyful cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” he is recognized and hailed as the rightful heir to the throne of King David. At the time of the Babylonian Exile that saw the destruction of the Temple and the collapse of the Davidic kingdom, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the Shekinah Glory of God leaving the Temple because of the corruption of the Israelites. The people out right rejected God, so he let them have their way—They rejected him so he just up and left. However, Ezekiel also prophesied that the presence of God would return. The people lamented the loss of the Glory Cloud of God and waited for the restoration, for the return of the presence of God and the return of the King. Palm Sunday is when both occurred. It’s when Jesus, God AND King is royally welcomed to his city. Jesus, the New Temple enters the old one. But things take a turn for the worse and the tragic words of St. John’s Gospel come to pass, “He came to his own people but his own people didn’t recognize him.”

Just after entering the gates of the city though, Jesus weeps over it. He knows that in a few days, just as quickly as the shouts of joy could be heard, cries of “We have no king but Caesar,” and “Crucify him” will take their place.  And Jesus weeps because a few years later, the Temple will be destroyed by the Romans. Jerusalem failed to recognize “the time of her visitation.” It’s hard to believe that such a devastating reversal could happen so fast. People can be like that though… we are up one moment and down the next. It’s a pretty sobering thought. In the Gospel Reading, again from St. John, yesterday, Jesus announces to the Apostles that one of them will betray him. They are stunned by this possibility, and yet maybe they’re not so surprised at the same time–because they ask “Is it I?” They don’t put betrayal past themselves. And yet, paradoxically, they do: St. Peter says that even if all the rest betray Jesus, he will never do so. The fact is, Peter does end up denying him. Scarier still, we al betrayed him.

Judas betrays Jesus and is remorseful about it. But instead of really repenting like St. Peter, he gives into the fatalistic sin of despair. Ultimately, he takes his own life instead of seeking the mercy of God— and that’s why Jesus had prophesied that it was better for him if he had not even been born. This was a guy  who spent 3 years of his life with Jesus. It’s unbelievably sad that Judas forgot how merciful Jesus was. He saw Jesus forgive so many notorious public sinners: tax collectors, prostitutes, and the woman caught in adultery just to name a few. He heard Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go in search of the lost sheep. Judas heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son for crying out loud! Judas didn’t really know Jesus Christ. Jesus’ whole mission was––is––about mercy. He is the face of mercy, he is Mercy, as Pope Francis reminds us. This is the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, because we need mercy so badly. Even if our sins are as scarlet, even if we have rejected God and knowingly expelled him from the Temple of our hearts, we can be made white as snow and he will take us back (provided we repent). If terrorists, abortion doctors, the worst of sinners can be forgiven— even, if Judas could have been forgiven, anyone can be forgiven. On the cross, the floodgates of mercy were opened. God goes to extreme measures to administer life, to give us the cure to death.

I write this as a reminder to myself. May I and all those read these words never tire of running to the Merciful Savior, for he never tires of forgiving.

The Quiet Strength of St. Joseph

Every year during Lent I usually watch parts of The Passion of the Christ to facilitate my meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus in order to more consciously enter into Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I began watching it again the other day and was reminded how much I appreciate that flashback to the home at Nazareth. You know, the scene in which Jesus in the carpentry shop finishing up a wooden table for one of his clients, probably a foreigner as the lighthearted son and mother dialogue suggests. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is a skilled craftsman and knows how to work hard. This was a natural human talent that he acquired––his foster father St. Joseph taught it to him. That scene the from the movie can be seen as a credit to St. Joseph even though he’s not in it. Even though he is silent in the pages of the Gospels, the role that he played in the life of Jesus and Mary, in the Holy Family, is definitely recorded and provides material to fill in blanks.

Bartolome murillo-huida egipto

Evidently, St. Joseph was the kind of person who listened more than he spoke. He listened and obeyed. Because he was “a righteous man,” he wanted to follow the law of God even though it meant the silent separation from his betrothed. And because he was a good man, he didn’t want to put the Blessed Virgin to shame even though she was unexplainably pregnant. When the angel tells him to take Mary as his wife, he gets up and does right away. After Jesus was born, circumcised, and redeemed with the sacrifice of turtledoves as it was prescribed, St. Joseph took his family into Egypt after listening to the angel again in his dream. I think that no words of his are recorded in order to show how faithful he was, that he listened and acted, doing what God wanted him to do, right away. Another movie with a good depiction of St. Joseph is the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth. I like the scene where he’s got the Christ Child and tells him about God, pointing up at the stars.

He didn’t need to teach Jesus anything, because he is God after all, but he chose to be able to learn––which is pretty incredible to think about. I think some early church writers marvel about how St. Joseph taught the Word how to speak, held the one who created the universe in his arms, saved the Redeemer, Life itself, from death. Pretty crucial stuff. Jesus needed a human father just like all kids do. Because he was such a loving dad, the devil was in the dark about the Infant Jesus’ Divine origins according to some… that’s probably why some prayers like the Litany of St. Joseph refer to him as, “Terror of Demons!”

Well I can’t say that I really cared about it as a whole, the movie “Nativity Story” also had a good depiction of St. Joseph. I like how it took the time to imagine the Holy Family’s journey into Egypt and what they must have had to endure––something that can’t be overlooked. St. Joseph did indeed have much to suffer, physically, and mentally as well, traveling to an unknown country to flee for your life, along other difficult situations before and after that. The movie didn’t gloss over the hardships and the sacrifices that St. Joseph made to keep his family safe. I think it caused audiences to really think about someone who was indisputably one of the closest people to Jesus. “Nativity Story” is commendable because of the way the movie filled in the blanks as far as the human father of Jesus Christ goes. Other than that, the movie pretty much stunk I have to say.

Jesus and Mary would have talked about him and the time that this, that, or the other thing happened. It goes without saying that they would have missed him a lot. St. Joseph was blessed to have them present in his life, especially at the moment of his death, which occurred before Jesus’ public ministry. If he were still alive, he would have certainly been at the foot of the cross too. Maybe, in a way, that’s why his Feast Day almost always occurs during Lent.


A share in the Rock


Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I would like to share today, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter– a  day celebrating the teaching authority that Christ conferred on St. Peter and his successors.

GOD is referred to often as the Rock in Sacred Scripture. In Deuteronomy, for example, we read:

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut.32:4)

Also many times in the Psalms, the Lord is invoked as rock. Jesus is the type of the rock in Exodus from which water flowed (1 Cor. 10:4). He is indeed our Rock of Refuge!

When we read the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 we see Jesus call Simon Bar-Jona rock! Peter (Greek: Petros) means rock. What are we to make of this? Let’s look:

[17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not r evealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Simon had just declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v16) in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (v15). Notice how Jesus responds! Jesus tells him who he is (v18)! Jesus says to him, “you are Rock (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.” One might ask—why are 2 different Greek words used? The Greek word petra is feminine and thus, is not used in the first instance. Instead, the masculine word petros is used—both words meaning the same thing. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, the word for rock is kepha. Had we been there when Jesus spoke verse 18 we would have heard kepha twice. The Aramaic word for Peter is actually preserved in John’s Gospel and elsewhere as “Cephas” (a transliteration of kepha). Jesus has renamed Simon as “Rock” and on him (this rock) will Jesus build His church!

Does that take anything away from Jesus? On the contrary, it illustrates perfectly Jesus’ words “apart from me you can do nothing”. Jesus imparts His “Rock-ness” on Peter! Because of Jesus and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, can Peter, a weak sinner, be a sure strong Rock. Remember, it was not Peter by himself who confessed Christ the Son of the living God. The Father revealed this to him. After Pentecost, the place of Peter takes on a more visible prominence above the other Apostles.

By giving him the “keys of the kingdom” Jesus is bestowing His own authority (Rev. 3:7) onto Peter. In the Old Testament, kings would appoint a chief steward or prime minister to govern his people. Isaiah 22:18-23 speaks of a prime minister given authority—a father to the people, with the “key of the House of David” (v22) and “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” This is what Jesus is alluding to in Matthew 16:18-19. Jesus, the King of Kings, has appointed a Prime Minister! And the prime minister’s office was successive—the keys are handed down through the ages.

Jesus confirms the man renamed “Rock”, before His Passion and death, at the Last Supper:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

When Jesus says, “Satan demanded to have you” you is plural. This is evident in the Greek text, which some Bibles render as “you all”, or “all of you”. But when Jesus says, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again” both times the “you” is singular. Jesus is saying, “Satan wants to sift all of you [Apostles] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [you, Simon] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus prayed for Simon to be Rock! To strengthen his brethren!

Yet again, after Jesus’ Resurrection, we see the following:

[15] When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
[16] A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
[17] He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus entrusts Peter with the mission of feeding and tending His flock—His church. He asks three times as a reversal of the three times Peter denied Him.

From all of this we see undoubtedly that Jesus– the Living Stone —-has chosen to build His Church on Peter. Not that Peter was anything—it was Jesus the King who imparted His “Rock-ness”, His Strength and Authority upon a sinful man. Thus, Peter, is the visible representative head of Christ’s Kingdom—the Church on earth. This office of Peter is successive. The current Pope of Rome (as evident in secular history ) is His successor. God provides for His sheep by ensuring protection (from the powers of death) through the ministry of the Pope to feed and tend, bind and loose.

The Rock in Heaven is represented by the Rock on earth. And that rocks!