Take Care to Guard

greed

Today’s Gospel comes from Luke 12:13-21. The words that have been with me all day are “Take care to guard against all greed.” “Greed,” according to Dictionary.com means “intense and selfish desire for something.”

These words, spoken by Jesus so long ago, have come to me at the perfect moment. I needed His gentle counsel with regards to a particular area of my life. I prayed for help with this. Here is His answer: His beautiful Word.

I have not been tempted towards money or material goods, as is the man described in this Gospel passage and parable, but in another way, also another powerful but deadly temptation. Truly, it’s one that surprises me, because I naively thought I would never have this particular temptation, and yet, here it is. I did not try to hide it from the Lord, but entrusted it to Him, and prayed about it, and tried not to become disturbed when my mind has returned to it often. When I become aware of it, I simply bring it back to Jesus in prayer. And then, today, He speaks to me gently about it. Take care to guard your heart. It is precious. Take care.

How do I take care? Through prayer. Through vigilance. Through the Word of God. Through having recourse to our Blessed Mother. Through fasting and self denial. Through avoiding tempting situations as much as possible. Take care. Store up riches that are important to God, which are the virtues.

I noticed the rich man in the parable does not seem to consider God at all. “He asked himself,” Jesus says, “He said to himself,” etc. When did he ask for God’s input? He didn’t. He was totally self centered, i.e., centered on himself, his own desires, his own agenda. This is greed, is it not? We all are tempted towards this. When we become aware of it, we need to mindfully and purposefully re-direct our thoughts, actions, and wills towards God. “Take care.” “Guard.”

We guard something that is precious. Our life with Jesus is precious. Our riches that we store up for God are precious. Let us take care to guard them, with the help of Jesus, our Savior, who does not leave us alone in our temptations.

Jesus, I trust in You!

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“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Magdalene.jpgToday, July 22nd, is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, who is often referred to as the Apostle to the apostles because, as we read in John 20:11-18, she was the first to encounter the risen Christ after His crucifixion and announce it to the apostles.

Mary Magdalene is very often referred to as a reformed prostitute, but there is no Scriptural basis for this. What the Scriptures do say is that Jesus had exorcised her of seven demons. We may gloss over this as we read Scripture, or may not be aware of it, but consider it now.

Many people today do not even believe the devil is real, much less that Satan can influence human events, threaten us, harass, or possess us. For example, Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, who is the superior general of the Jesuits, recently said in interview, “We have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil.” His intent and meaning was clearly that the devil is not a person, and is merely a personification by people of faith to express the reality of our own bad choices, whether individually or as cultures.

However, the Gospels and the Catechism could not be more clear that Satan is real. He is a fallen angel; other angels followed him, and we should not be afraid, but we do need to be prudent and take up our spiritual weapons in battling and defeating these enemies. As angels, they are superior in intellect to humans, and we cannot rely on our own cleverness or resourcefulness. There are so many accounts of Jesus exorcising demons and referring to Satan (the Father of Lies) in the Gospels, that I cannot even fathom how Fr. Abascal can defend his statement or stance. Indeed, it is why Jesus came — “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). I also know from experience that anyone who determines to seriously embark on the path of prayer will very soon encounter this enemy, and do battle with him and his minions.

I have a book, Unbound by Neal Lozano, about deliverance. The title of chapter 2 is, “Satan has a plan for your life.” This is powerful, and it’s a flip of the typical statement of faith, “God has a plan for your life.” Both are true. Whose plan will we live? His book is excellent, and it speaks of how our choices, both conscious and unconscious, knowingly and unknowingly, either open us to God’s plan, or to Satan’s plan. I would argue that most of us have both at work in our lives, but hopefully the believer increasingly is freed from the binds of Satan and living in the freedom of Christ. The world often thinks of God’s laws as restricting, oppressive, and no fun, but it is just the opposite. Be sure — we want God’s plan to unfold in our lives, not the evil one’s. Living in the freedom that Christ offers us — free from the oppression of sin, free to choose the love of God, free to trust in His goodness and providence always — gives us tremendous love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — all the fruits of His Spirit. I would argue that someone who lives these qualities is truly happy and living in great peace and trust in God, rather than someone who is bound by compulsions (such as drinking, drugs), anxieties (excessive worry, lack of trust in God), desire for instant gratification (being impatient), who can’t control their appetites (greed, intemperance, lust), etc.

Consider someone at the extreme end of this spectrum of being not only bound, but actually possessed by seven demons, which is what the Gospel of Luke says Jesus saved Mary Magdalene from. Possession is occupation of the body by unholy spirit(s), and it cannot happen by accident but the victim must acquiesce knowingly to the unholy in some manner. Manifestations of demonic possession vary but the Gospel of Luke, for example, describes the Gerasene demoniac as living among the tombs and not in a house, not wearing any clothes, not able to be restrained even by shackles or chains, and being driven into deserted places by the demons (Luke 8:27-29). This is a pathetic, lonely, and dangerous state of being, and it said the demoniac had been that way “for a long time.”

We have no information about how Mary Magdalene became possessed or what her life was like during that horrible time, but we do know that Jesus saved her — because that’s what He does, and that she was eternally grateful. She knew what hell on earth was like, and she knew His power, and His alone, to vanquish the evil presences from her body and soul, and she knew that she needed Him to remain free from their influence. Most importantly, we simply see in the Gospels how much Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. That’s what strikes me about her, and this is something we all can model from her. She lived a very close, personal, loving relationship with Jesus. I think this is why stories and modern myths, if you will, such as those from Dan Brown’s novel gain popularity claiming that Jesus was married to her — because unless you have lived and experienced this love for Christ, it’s just not possible to understand other than in the context of a human, intimate, sexual relationship. And, this is really not such a bad comparison, because her love for and relationship with Jesus was and is passionate, loving, deep, extremely personal, and on fire. However, no — it was not sexual. It was so beyond that. This is what’s confusing to our modern sensibilities, so consumed with everything sexual. But, I digress. The good news is that we are all invited to this relationship with Jesus! It’s open to all, and there are many who have lived it (I refer you to the Saints)!

The devil’s first goal is to make us think he doesn’t exist, and to a large extent he has accomplished this in today’s rational mind. However, as Christians, we neither want to be fearful and looking for him behind everything, nor naive and oblivious to his operations and machinations in our world, or his temptations in our lives. We need to be prudent and on guard but also at peace with great trust in our Savior. Our Lady in Medjugorje speaks of five stones to wield as weapons against him. This alludes to the stones that David had in his bag when he defeated Goliath. Therefore, the five stones or spiritual weapons through which we open oursleves to Jesus to overcome not only the devil, but also our own inclinations to selfishness, and worldly temptations are:

  1. Prayer. Way more than you think. Honestly, everyone should have at least an hour each day of prayer time – half hour in the morning and half hour in the evening. Include the rosary because it is prayer with Blessed Mother that crushes the head of the serpent.
  2. Eucharist. We should both receive the Lord (in proper disposition; please see here) as often as possible (daily Mass if possible), and spend time, preferably at least once a week for an hour, in adoration.
  3. Monthly Confession, at least. More if grave sin is committed.
  4. Fasting. This can be corporal or non-corporal, but the best fast is on bread and water, twice a week (Wednesdays and Fridays). This should be modified if you are unable. Don’t be prideful; rather, do something that you can without risking your health. Fast from complaining. Fast from excessive speech. Fast from social media and use the time for prayer instead; ask God what he desires and follow His grace.
  5. Scripture reading/praying with Scripture. Lectio divina or Ignatian methods of praying with Scripture, Bible study, etc.

Obviously these are goals to work up to. One doesn’t begin doing all this in one day! Above all, pray for the gift of God’s love to give to others, and entrust everything to our Blessed Mother, all cares, worries, and problems. She WILL help you! You, worry only about being holy, pleasing Jesus, and loving His people.

In today’s Gospel, we see Mary Magdalene encounter the risen Jesus, and then run to tell his apostles the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” She is so traumatized by the events of the previous days that she almost doesn’t recognize what has happened, but Jesus calls her name, and her heart melts with love, awe, joy, amazement, and devotion. Something too good to even be true has just occurred. The love of her heart, the fulfillment of all desire, is not dead. He is alive! She MUST tell the brothers!

This passage shows us the model of the two great missions of the Church: encounter, and evangelization. We ARE the church, that is us! Therefore, we must strive to constantly encounter Jesus, and then tell others, by our lives and our words, the Good News. “I have seen the Lord!

St. Mary Magdalene, Pray for us!

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The Torrent

mega-tsunami

I have been heartbroken to see people become caught up and blown like leafs in the wind by the now very pervasive propaganda that is dominating the current political scene in the USA, resulting in constant and escalating public outrage and vitriol and a refusal to negotiate, cooperate, compromise, and dialogue. It is toxic. And it is literally like a tsunami, an overwhelming, destructive torrent. I keep thinking of Revelations 13:5a – “The beast was given a mouth uttering proud boasts and blasphemies”; Revelation 12:15a – “The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth…”; and Jesus’ words in  Matthew 24:12 – “Because of an increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, be vigilant in prayer. Do not get caught up in all the events and outrages of the day; do not look to the media — social, mainstream, alternative, or otherwise — to tell you how to think about current events. Let your mind be formed in Christ. Let Him give you your first and last thoughts of each day, from Scripture, and have recourse to Him often in between. Do not worry about the things the pagans worry about. They do not know or seek Him. Instead, pray, hope, strive to do good in the opportunities you are presented with each and every moment, and don’t worry. Read Matthew 6:24-34 often. Jesus tells us not to worry. What good does it do? Our lives are in God’s hands. Any idea that we have of control over our lives is an illusion anyway. We are literally one boat ride away from total disaster (see Matthew 8:23-27), so we may as well trust in and abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ, who cares for us, and to whom all power in heaven and earth have been given! (see Matthew 28:18)

Also, I urge you, do not be dismayed as you see the unraveling more and more around you, in politics, in the media, and in social intercourse. Stay close to the Lord; know that you are safe with Him. Know that He made you, and He placed you in these times, in this day, and in this place for a mission. You are not here by accident! Each day, and each moment, seek the Lord and tell him, “Here I am!” First, cleanse your heart; be right with the Lord, and strive to do good. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

As for me in these days, I know that I have to keep speaking strongly but gently and holding to the truth — the full truth; not some truth mixed with lies, and not watered-down truth. The Truth is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ. My, how satan masquerades as an angel of light. That is how the evil one gets those who are blind, slaves to their passions, and/or poorly formed, particularly those with a strong sense of compassion who consider themselves to be social warriors. There are currently evil agendas that claim to have the moral high ground on issues, but at the expense of truth, and they unleash destruction and despair on their victims. All of this is fantastically toxic, and I am strong in faith and knowledge, but I know that I am utterly helpless against this deluge, this tsunami of lies and apostasy that are destroying faith and now even goodwill in Western society.

I am utterly helpless, but I have immense trust in the Lord, and in His saving power. After having a particularly intense conversation with someone I love dearly today, I turned to Jesus in prayer, and prayed the prayer given to St. Faustina by Jesus, “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!” And do you know in that moment, I realized that this divine mercy of Christ — the graces of baptism and the Eucharist — gushes from Jesus’ heart, and therefore we of faith have nothing to fear of the torrent spewed from the mouth of the beast (Revelation 12:15). This torrent of the beast, as overwhelming as it seems to us, is so pathetic compared to the unfathomable mercy of God, gushing from Christ’s pierced heart. “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more) (Romans 5:20b). This gave me great consolation and peace, and I praised the Lord. As much as I desire that all follow the Lord in truth and love and learn to hear His voice and love Him deeply — NOW — He desires it ever more ardently. And it is He who is the Savior of each and every person, not I. I will strive to do all that I can in His service, but let’s also pray that He will send all souls on earth now, particularly our own children, the experiences and people that they need in their lives to bring them to Him (and to teach them gently, please, Lord). Let us never look at anyone as our enemy but only as someone who needs to learn of the Lord’s love. And, Jesus, let us be Your instruments who can teach them. Let us who love you say each day and moment, “Send me, Lord!”

torrent-of-graceSo let’s remember this remedy the Lord gave us for the torrent described in Revelation to try to sweep away the woman (i.e., the Church) — His own torrent, but one of grace and mercy: “Oh blood and water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!”  Learn more about the Divine Mercy devotion as entrusted to St. Faustina by Jesus for the whole world.

 

Materialism, Modernism, and Egoism

Each month, on the 25th, Our Blessed Mother reportedly gives a message to the world through one of the seers in Medjugorje, Marija.  gospaThe message from 25 January 2017 is, Dear children! Today I am calling you to pray for peace: peace in human hearts, peace in the families and peace in the world. Satan is strong and wants to turn all of you against God, and to return you to everything that is human, and to destroy in the heart all feelings towards God and the things of God. You, little children, pray and fight against materialism, modernism and egoism, which the world offers to you. Little children, you decide for holiness and I, with my Son Jesus, intercede for you. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Whether or not one believes in the supernatural happenings in Medjugorje (I do), it’s not hard to accept that these three -isms are currently causing deep divisions, bitterness, and lack of peace in our world.

Each is defined as follows:

  • materialism: a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values; the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications
  • modernism: a movement toward modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas
  • egoism: an ethical theory that treats self-interest as the foundation of morality

All these -isms are very evident in our culture, contain empty promises and unleash destruction in the wake of their false claims. Our Mother calls us, instead, to simply decide for holiness, pray, and fight against these evils.  She is praying for us to her Son, Jesus!

Come, and You Will See

“What are you looking for?” This is the question Jesus asks the 2 disciples that began to follow Him when John the Baptist tells them He is the Lamb of God (see John 1:35-42).  Another translation I read said that Jesus asked them, “What do you want?” No doubt, to our modern minds, when we read this, we believe Jesus was being snarky, or annoyed, when He turned, saw these 2 guys following Him, and said something like, “What do you want??!” Right?  Honestly, when you first read this, is this how you approached it? Most likely, because this is the way of our world. And because we don’t know Christ. But let’s sit, be still, and know, that this is our God who loves us more than we can fathom asking us this question. I can assure you (and myself), who have been beaten down by this modern world, our modern cynicism, our modern coldness where everything is a joke, a bother, something to discount, or a reason for sarcasm — Jesus was not saying this to them in that manner. This is our God of infinite love and tenderness, asking them, and asking you and me – What are you looking for? What do you desire? What do you long for? What is your deepest wish in life and for eternity? If you could drop all your defenses, your pretenses, your coolness, your distractions, your busyness, and search deep into your heart, what, our God is asking, will fulfill all of your desires?

He asks this, and He already knows the answer. The answer is that He will. He alone will. He IS the fulfillment of all desire. What do the disciples say? Do they recognize this? Perhaps, in some manner, but certainly not yet fully. They just say, “Teacher, where are you staying?” To which Jesus gladly replies, “Come! And you will see!” I picture Jesus breaking into a happy grin when he says that, and picking up His pace, as he is glad to give this invitation. They have indicated their interest in getting to know Him, and He is more than happy to oblige. God respects our freedom and our choices.

Better is one day in your dwelling place, Lord, than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).

Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).

…we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord (2 Cor 5:8b).

Jesus IS the alpha and the omega. Here we see Him beginning to be manifested as He is – the beginning and the end. Here is the beginning of His relationship with His disciples. It is the beginning of their awakening. He is always and already thinking of their eternal salvation, of their end, for which He longs – their coming home to the Father’s house, His house, in the heavenly kingdom. He is delighted when they express interest, and He can invite them, and lead them to it, and they spend time in it together.

Let’s remember that it is still Christmas! This is why the Church invites us to again ponder these Scriptures, to come and see, to embark on the journey to the dwelling place of Christ. The shepherds and magi did, and they were forever changed — they left by a different way than they came, full of peace, and good will, praising and glorifying God. Do you want this year to be different? Do you want to dwell in the house of God? Then, ask the Lord, “Where are you staying?” and respond to His reply in the depths of your heart, and not only in your heart but in concrete ways with your life, with your time, with your deeds, and with your mind, “Come, and you will see!” God always fulfills His promises!

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And You Yourself a Sword Will Pierce

Today is the Fifth Day of Christmas, and we are presented with the Gospel of Luke 2:22-35. We read about the Holy Family–Joseph, Mary and Jesus–going to the temple to consecrate Jesus to the Lord, for every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, according to the law. Simeon is “driven by the Spirit” into the temple, where he recognizes the Messiah, receives Him with joy, and prophesies. He tells the young mother, Mary, “…and you yourself a sword will pierce.” The Gospel includes this as a parenthetical note, an interruption of Simeon’s statement about Jesus being a sign that will be contradicted.

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Here we have Mary –the mother of the Messiah, who we recently learned is greatly favored, who all generations will call blessed, who should fear not because the Lord is with her–being told that her future will not be all ease, comfort and glory. Right from the beginning of Jesus’ life, the Father was preparing Mary for her extraordinary role and making her aware that it was to involve pain. How just hearing these words must have hurt Mary.

The Lord knows how my own faith has been tested in times of trial. Yet, the way of the Christian–indeed, the way of life, is joyful but is also touched by sorrow and difficulty. The book of Sirach advises, “Child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials…” Jesus Himself told us to “count the cost” of discipleship, to “take up your cross” daily, and to build your foundation on rock for when the floods come, not if they come.

So, how did Mary react to Simeon’s words that her heart would be pierced by a sword? All the Gospel of Luke says is that Jesus’ parents were amazed by what was spoken about Him, and that after they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law, they returned to Nazareth, Jesus became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon Him. To me, this says that Mary simply continued loving Jesus, nurturing Him, caring for Him, praying with Him, teaching Him, and mothering Him, all while praying and pondering the Scriptures and the words of Simeon as well as the events of their lives while asking for God’s guidance, protection and light. She had to live a life of faith, just as you and I do. She had to go about the duty of the day and the moment, just as you and I do. She had an irreplaceable role to fulfill, just as you and I do. She would not be held back by fear or dread, but would press on with trust in the Father.

Holy Mother, pray for us–we know that you are no stranger to pain and confusion. Show us how to be at peace and to live abandoned to God’s providence in all situations, nurturing the life of Christ within us day by day, as you did. Help us to remember these words by Simeon to you, “…you yourself a sword will pierce.”

 

Neither do I Condemn You

“I can’t stop thinking about it.” These words from a woman who had an abortion almost 25 years ago and who is living with almost unbearable regret and guilt have been haunting me. This is my advice to you, dear daughter of God.

I pondered this and prayed about it for several days. I suggest a simple practice to hopefully begin the healing from the wounds left by the scourge of abortion. My counsel for you, and for anyone who carries this regret and burden, is as often as you catch yourself thinking of it, to let that be a call to prayer. I recommend that this prayer go to Our Blessed Mother. Ask her, who also knows the pain of losing a child due to the consequences of sin, to take your hand, and lead you to the healing that you could hardly even hope for, so burdened are you with guilt. Ask her to show you the way to forgiveness and healing – God’s forgiveness, and for you to be able to forgive yourself. Tell her that you entrust it to her, and to help you to simply be open to her and to follow her guidance; she will provide it. This is all – just begin with prayer; develop a short line to pray if the thoughts are coming at you during the day during your work and activities. Perhaps a line from Scripture, or just a simple phrase, such as “Mother, I entrust this to you.” Pray about it in the morning and evening with your prayers, and then follow what she advises you.

When the evil one sees that his accusations are only serving to cause you to draw closer in trust to the Lord and His mother, he will flee. This will also serve to train your response; instead of throwing yourself into the pit of dark thoughts and despair, you will immediately have recourse to prayer and this will stop those thoughts in their tracks, will help you to realize your need for the Lord, and to understand that with Him you can be fully restored – not only fully restored but beyond that, someone who knows of the Lord’s great mercy, forgiveness, and healing and you will be able to pass this knowledge onto others for His glory.

Sacramental confession is a vital step, and I recommend it as soon as you have the strength. This is the Year of Mercy, and you will be forgiven.

Off the top of my head, some Scripture readings/passages that come to mind for reflection are the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Woman caught in Adultery, John 21:17 Simon Peter’s restoration after denying Jesus.

Don’t fear. God brings great good out of evil. It is good to know of our need for a Savior.