Trust in Jesus

Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27).” Jesus speaks these comforting words to the disciples who were overwhelmed while riding in the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee.

When one goes out on the Sea of Galilee during the day it seems like a large lake that could not possibly be intimidating for one to sail across in a small boat. However, at night it gets really dark and the winds often blow fiercely down the mountains toward the sea causing dangerous conditions.

The disciples were returning from the feeding of the thousands to the town of Capernaum by boat and got overconfident on sailing a familiar route but at an unfamiliar timenight. All of a sudden rather than navigating familiar waters they found themselves a few miles off shore and in a situation, that was out of their control.

Jesus enters into the out of control situation by demonstrating His Lordship and mastery over creation as He walks upon the troubled waters. From His path upon the churning and tumultuous sea, Jesus speaks into the fears of the disciples by encouraging them to set their fears aside and trust. Placing his faith in Jesus Peter states, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water (Matthew 14:28).” Jesus beckons for Peter to walk toward Him across the agitated waters, as Peter’s faith is strong he walks towards the Lord, as he focuses on himself Peter begins to sink, leading him to cry out, “Lord save me!” Jesus then says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt (Matthew 14:31).”

This Gospel account is describing our life in Christ. Many people who believe in Christ have storms or difficulties in life. It can be our intention before the storm to act on our own when life is going great and all the blessings are coming our way. Even thinking to ourselves during the good times in life that down the road we will give back to the Church or Community as a sign of gratitude. But how quickly can our fortune change and we find our health failing or money running short or even people we love getting sick and dying.

During the storms of life do we cower in fear on the ship of our own making and forget that Jesus is in our midst? Or do we establish a relationship of trust through daily prayer and regular service of God’s people that helps form us to call upon Jesus when we are getting rocked by life’s challenges and difficulties?

Jesus Himself identifies that area that is weak in this whole situation and that is faith. If we follow Jesus in what He says and does then we must be willing to trust in Him when life challenges us. We cannot afford to be “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose what they want to hear and believe in. Our souls are in real jeopardy if we ignore Jesus in the feel-good parts of our life and then curse Him or whine for Him in the storms of our life.

Rather than seeking Jesus when it is convenient for us, we need to be honest and look at the gift of faith we have received and say yes, I am living my life with complete trust in the Lord or no I only relate to Jesus when life gets crazy. If you find yourself lacking in trust in Jesus, take time this week to examine your life and identify the places where faith needs some encouragement and also where priorities need to be shifted so that Jesus is first in life.

 

God Is Love

“I love you” is a phrase that we hear from another that makes us feel loved and cherished. When we love God and other people in our lives we say, “I love you.” As Christians, we learn about how to receive the special love of God and share this love with others around us.

Love is a person for as we hear in 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” God chose to reveal His presence of love by the following truth, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).”

From the example of the Father’s love for each of us in sending His Son, Jesus, Christians, as they mature in their faith, should understand that love is a choice. God chooses to share His love with us and reveals His great love to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. We in turn learn from God’s example how to choose to love those around us.

This weekend, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is another powerful way that the Father reveals His great choice to send love into our midst. “Transfigure” literally means “changing thoroughly” (trans) and “a person’s body” (figure). In this week’s Gospel account, Jesus goes up Mount Tabor with His three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, and changes His bodily appearance before them.

The action of Jesus’ Transfiguration is not a normal, everyday occurrence and most of us, without a whole lot Divine encounters, could not handle the sight. In the changing thoroughly of His Body, the face of Jesus becomes like the sun and His clothes become white as light. Jesus on Mount Tabor literally becomes Glory before the disciples.

As we pray in the Nicene Creed in stating our belief in Jesus Christ, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” faith compels us to believe that the Glory of Heaven is revealed to us through the Lord. Bathed in this glorious and heavenly light, Jesus offers a glimpse of the ever-present reality of eternal life and His authority over the known things of the earth.

Jesus as the Lord of History fulfills or completes the Torah (Jewish Law) as revealed by Moses and fulfills the messages given through the prophet’s voice that prepares people for the coming of the Messiah embodied in Elijah. In the midst of this intense encounter, Peter offers to build three tents in order to remain in the present, but as the Lord of the past, present, and future, Jesus is revealed as always present love by the Father, “From the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him (Matthew 17:5).'” The Father’s great love for Jesus proclaims and reveals the motivation for salvation, namely, God’s great love for us.

As eyes struggle to see anything after looking up at the sun, so too it is impossible for us to fully grasp the greatness of the love of God for us found in Christ Jesus. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “After the Resurrection, Jesus’ divine sonship becomes manifest in the power of His glorified humanity (CCC 445).”

The Transfiguration for Christians stands as a powerful example of God saying, “I love you,” and should be taken as a gift that reveals the Father’s plan of salvation. Jesus Christ is our Messiah and He reveals the glory of heaven that awaits those who believe in Him. May we receive the gift of faith anew this day so as to have nothing else before our eyes but Jesus alone and hear the voice of the Father saying to Jesus and us, “You are my beloved.”

All Things Work for Good

“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”

St. Paul this week gives us an encouraging word for those who are trying to listen to the voice of God and do what is asked of them. This past week I was reminded of this Scripture verse as I stopped to visit Lake of the Woods Bible Camp by Baudette, MN. This verse from St. Paul was our theme for the youth coming to the camp and became a conversation starter for them to reflect on what they want to do in life and what God wants them to do in life.

As I walked through the camp I prayed in thanksgiving for my summers at that camp on the Rainy River, and I prayed for the young people who now as adults are hopefully living God’s will and serving the purpose intended for them. At times in life we should stop and pause in prayer and reflect upon our past. As we do so hopefully we can see the hand of Our Heavenly Father guiding us through major events and small alike. I know in my own life that God has saved me from my foolishness and led me into places of abiding love and joy with Him.

Our life is a gift from God and we are created with an intentional mission to know, praise and serve Him. If you are feeling that your life is a waste or that you feel out of place in your job or life situation turn to the Lord in prayer, reflect upon the blessed times in life, see the hand of God at work and know that His love is everlasting.

 

Discernment of Spirits

The discernment of spirits is important in each Christian’s day-to-day walk with God. It is important for each follower of Jesus to pray every day and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in all our decision making. St. Paul says “[t]he Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings (Romans 8:26).” The discernment of spirits is part of the expression of our relationship to God.

If I go to Mass once a month and never pray or think about God it will be nearly impossible to understand the world around me in a spiritual way. However, for the Christian who spends time each day in prayer, there comes an openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit and an increased awareness of Good and Evil in the world around us. Taking time to pray and reflect upon Sacred Scripture allows a person to notice God’s action in the world and in our lives.

In our quiet time with God we can notice our thoughts, feelings, and desires. Taking prayerful time to notice what is happening inside of ourselves leads to opportunities to acknowledge what is happening in our lives to Jesus, relate the truth of our thoughts, feelings, and desires to Jesus, receive the words of blessing or guidance from Jesus, and to respond with love and honesty for the truth He invites us to embrace.

When we pray in this transparent way each day, our eyes and hearts begin to see the work of the Holy Spirit and the Evil Spirit in our lives and in the world around us. This increased awareness helps us to become more aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit and our need for daily prayer and reflection. Over time, as the discerning Christian understands the ways that Holy Spirit guides, counsels, and corrects, they also begin to understand the ways that the Evil Spirit confuses, lies, and promotes sinful behaviors. Through the help of the Holy Spirit a person can then practically discern the realities around them through the discernment of spirits by accepting the movements of the Holy Spirit and rejecting the enticements of the Evil Spirit.

Taking time daily to slow down and be still before the Lord opens our hearts and minds to the truth of the discernment of spirits. Making prayer a priority in our life can assist us in our journey to eternity. Are you taking time this summer to pray and be still before the Lord? If not, why not? If so, go, go, go to the Lord!

Fertile Soil

“Thus says the Lord, Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and the bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

In all of our scriptures this weekend we hear an agricultural theme. The seed that is placed in the good ground and is watered and cared for from above will produce abundant fruit. Any farmer knows that there are many aspects to growing crops that are out of his control. Just last week when a storm came through Blooming Prairie with the strong winds, heavy rain, and scattered pockets of hail, all that could be done was say a prayer for God to spare the fields and flocks of our area families.

We cannot control the weather or the amount of sun or anything in the seed-to-crop process, really. We need God and are invited to a posture of total trust and dependence on Him. It is the seed of God’s word that is to be planted in our hearts and nurtured by daily prayer and sacrifice that will grow into something beautiful to be harvested as the first fruits of the Spirit. The human heart that is still and available is a fertile place of discernment where the movement of the Holy Spirit can be noticed and followed.

In the midst of these summer days, spend some time in quiet reflection either praying a rosary or reflecting upon a passage of scripture. Allow God to tend to the seeds of faith that have been planted in your heart and with Him watch them grow. Maturity in the spiritual life does not happen immediately, but like crops in the field God watches over our souls and brings about a rich harvest of faithfulness.

God’s Peace

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light (Matthew 11:29-30).”

On a February night, some years ago, I remember getting a call from the nursing home that a woman was actively dying. Driving to the nursing home at about 9pm, I remember praying for God to bring her peace. As I got to the room, I was joined by a nurse in praying for the woman. She was given the Sacrament of the Sick (or Extreme Unction) and the Litany of Saints was sung. The nurse and I each took a hand of the woman and then began praying the rosary. As we prayed the fourth Sorrowful Mystery – The Carrying of the Cross – the woman passed away. We paused in our praying of the rosary and called the head nurse to take the woman’s vitals to see if she indeed passed on. The nurse confirmed that the woman had passed away and the rosary was finished and the prayers for the dead were begun.

That night was a powerful night for me as a priest. As I reflect on that sacred time I recall that during the prayers for the sick the Gospel from Matthew that the Church offers to us for reflection this weekend was read to the woman. As I pray through this Gospel this week I am reminded of the truth that Jesus wants to take our burdens and make our lives peaceful.

So often at the hour of death I encounter people who are restless or seemingly working through something before they are able to pass from this world. As a priest when I am with them and see them in this condition I usually pray with them and at the end of the prayer give them permission to take the hand of Jesus and go with Him and Mary into the next life. There are many times where the person almost seems to stop fighting and a relaxed look comes over them and one can see a transformation to a peaceful state and shortly after that they breathe their last.

I see this also with people in our parish area who are struggling with financial burdens or relationship issues or stress from work or school. When we find ourselves tired or agitated from having to do everything on our own power, we need to let go, surrender, and place our burdens into the hands of Jesus. He wants to lighten our loads in life, not just at the hour of death, but every day.

At times, I struggle with the sin of pride which leads to self-reliance expressed as, “I can do it on my own.” And when I try to do things on my own power I usually get frustrated and filled with anger or bitterness. As Christians, we are meant to practice Christ-reliance, which is placing our total trust in Jesus and surrender the burdens of our worries and fears into His care.

What are the burdens you carry? Are you surrendering them into the hands of Christ? How does Jesus speak to you as He shares in your burdens?

Be Not Afraid

Fear and anxiety are very real struggles for people in everyday life. There are times when we can get overwhelmed with the amount of responsibilities that we have and the number of demands that are placed upon us.

Recently I was visiting with one of the women in our area who was under a huge amount of stress. She had an adult child struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, personal health issues, money problems, and a narcissistic husband. At her wits end, she stated emotionally that she was alone in the world and it seemed that no one cared about her. She expressed her fear for her child’s life, the anxiety that she felt about her poor health, the helplessness of carrying so much credit card debt and not being able to work as much as she would like because of her health to pay her bills, and the disappointment she had in her marriage with the lack of support and love she was receiving from her spouse.

We prayed and cried together and the sense in the heart was of how much the Father cared for this woman. The Father is very interested in our situations. The lie of Satan is that we are alone and that no one cares for us. The tactic of the enemy is to isolate us and back us into the corner of helplessness and despair.

True, life can become very challenging at times with many hardships coming all at once. However, we have a Father in heaven who is interested in us in all of our circumstances and He desires to assist us in our time of need. Jesus points out the care offered to us by the Father when He says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet no one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all of the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).”

God the Father has great care for each of us as His children. We need to tell the Father everything that is happening to us so that He can alleviate us of our fear and anxiety. The Father is very interested in our situation and there is nothing that He cannot take care of for us. When we feel overwhelmed or maxed out in life, turn to the Lord in prayer rather than to the things of the world. There is nothing too great for our God to help us with. Trust in the Lord, turn to Him with all your heart and let your fears and anxieties be taken away.

Corpus Christi

“Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day (John 6:45).”

Last Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi which is Latin for the Body of Christ. We express our thanks to God at every Holy Mass when we have the opportunity to receive Jesus who is actually present in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood.

St. John Paul II, in his 2003 Papal Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, praised the hymns and poems of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi saying, “Let us make our own the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an eminent theologian and an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist, and turn in hope to the contemplation of that goal to which our hearts aspire in their thirst for joy and peace (33).” Each of the hymns and poems written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ, is anointed and draws the one who prays with them into deeper places of encounter with Jesus who is present in the Blessed Sacrament.

St. Thomas Aquinas, saint and doctor of the Catholic Church, is perhaps best known for his theological writings, such as the two Summas (Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles), which are bulwarks of Catholic theology. Popes from St. Pius V to Benedict XVI have praised his works and even Canon Law recommends that his works be studied by seminary students in their preparation for priesthood. Beyond those works, however, and the foundation they provide for Catholic Theology, St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymns for the great Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are also influential works for us today, as they give us the language of worship and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for Corpus Christi when Pope Urban IV added the Solemnity to the universal Church’s liturgical calendar in 1264. At the request of Pope Urban, St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar, began to spend more time than usual in prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament. From his time in prayer he wrote the sequence, Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Sion, Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing), for Corpus Christi, as well as the hymn for evening prayer known as the Pange Lingua (Sing, Tongue, the Mystery of the Glorious Body), from which we sung this weekend at Benediction the last two verses that make the Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling).

A translation of those verses draws us in prayer:

Down in adoration falling!
This great Sacrament we hail!
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son Who made us free,
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday

“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him and then, through him, the minds of others as well. As light strikes the eye of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, De Spiritu Sancto 16.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we recall the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives of those gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is the real love that is found in the relationship of the Persons in the Trinity, namely, the Father and the Son. The Holy Trinity is a communion of persons with a shared love as the bond between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Third Person of the Trinity, or the Holy Spirit, is the one promised by Jesus Who will lead us into all truth. The Holy Spirit offers us the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, piety, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and counsel. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a faithful Christian is evidenced by the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, chastity, and self-control.

To live in the ways of the Holy Spirit should be normal for Christians. We should seek to live according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and be led into the ways of a holy life. Pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life!

The Solemnity of the Ascension

The Church celebrates this week the Solemnity of the Ascension. “God mounts His throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord (Psalm 47:6).” Traditionally known as Ascension Thursday in the Catholic Church, this solemn feast recalls the 40th day after Easter Sunday when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father in heaven.

Before this action by Jesus, He promises His followers that, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” It is after the promise of the Holy Spirit is made that Jesus ascends or goes to the Father’s right hand.

It is in the person of Jesus that we see true justice. The just judge Jesus Christ will encounter each of us one day upon death or the end of the world and render a merciful and just judgment for our lives. For those who have lived well and embraced the love of God – Heaven; for those who have sinned but desire life with God – Purgatory; and for those who have chosen to cut themselves off from God – Hell.

Jesus exacts justice from His people with honesty and truth and does not force us to receive the free gift of divine love. Rather, human beings living with free choice of the human will have the opportunity to choose the love of God over all things of the earth. Jesus does not force us to love, but through His example and teaching we who claim the name Christian are to follow Him and pattern our lives on His.

The Ascension is a great Solemnity in the Church for us to ponder and reflect upon the goodness of God and the truth of our mortality that we are only given this life for a few years in comparison to eternal life. Am I living today in such a way that I will be with Jesus one day in eternal life? Or are my choices in life leading me toward a different eternal end?

The Reason for Our Hope

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).”

The reason for our hope as Christians is Christ. Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed on the lips of Christians and honored in our speech and conduct every day. There is no way a Christian can communicate their hope in Christ if they never pray daily or go to church on the weekend. If a baptized Christian would simply pray, worship, and love those around them for Christ’s sake, their hope in Him would radiate.

With our hope of salvation found in the risen Christ, each Christian should be able to share their confidence in Christ’s love for them and the truth of His victory over sin and death.

The Good Shepherd

“Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pastured (John 10:7-9).”

Jesus explains in this week’s Gospel that He is the Gate and the Good Shepherd. Our Lord explains to the Pharisees that to be a good shepherd in general is to know the sheep and that they in turn know the voice of the shepherd and they respond accordingly. The Pharisees who were convinced of their own righteousness could not see that they were out of touch with the people they served and therefore were not doing the work of God, but in the name of God were imposing burdens and hardships on the people.

The key points that Jesus makes about His leadership is that as a Good Shepherd He knows His sheep and they know Him. The relationship is important for Jesus and should be consoling for our hearts that He wants to be in relationship with each of us in our prayerful way each day of our lives. Sheep need to be fed, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd feeds us with the Word and with the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. Jesus came to nourish our souls on this journey of faith that we might not die of spiritual famine, but rather find our strength and vigor renewed in His divine nourishment.

The Good Shepherd defends His sheep and protects them from the wolves or worldly evils and selfishness. Jesus through His example of defending the lives of His chosen ones reveals that He will fight for His flock even unto death, death on the cross. In His teaching on the Good Shepherd, Jesus offers to each Christian the formula for following His example in all aspects of our Christian life. We are not called to live for ourselves, rather, we are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ and develop relationships with others in faith through prayer and sacrifice as well as to lead others to the nourishment of Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments and to defend the truths of the Catholic faith even to the point of shedding blood.

During this Good Shepherd Sunday, take some time to give thanks to God the Father for sending His only begotten Son to seek out and save the lost. Pray for the grace also to become like the Good Shepherd in our own lives in taking care of those around us spiritually through prayer, kind words, and sacrifice.