Presentation and Our Vocation

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When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.  Luke 2:39-40

As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord—an ancient feast in the Church, and the one that traditionally marked the close of the Christmas season—we are presented with the good example of the Holy Family. As is the case in all the gospel stories, we learn from the Lord Jesus and all those associated closely with Him (like Holy Mary and St. Joseph). At the end of the Presentation we witness the Holy Family carrying out the “prescriptions of the law of the Lord” in a timely fashion. They have carried out the plans of God regarding the birth of Jesus one step at a time, without hurry, and without delay: The Annunciation; the visitation to Elizabeth; the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; the Epiphany; and now the Presentation in the Temple. Each of these events had their proper moment in the history of salvation, and each is carried out at that proper moment.

The Presentation of the Lord is therefore a good occasion for each of us to consider our own vocation. The Lord has chosen us to carry out specific purposes throughout our lives. Sometimes we can think that our vocation is a kind of “one shot deal”: we receive it, and we just live it out. I like to think of our vocation as a kind of journey, made up of many different stages and moments in which God is asking us to be generous, and to simply carry out the duties of each moment. In fact, our lives comprise a collection of demands and duties, which, when carried out with love, become, in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, a kind of tapestry we will contemplate forever in Heaven. Until then, let’s fulfill those duties of each moment!

 

Good Friday: “It is finished”

1-the-crucifixion-eric-armusikJesus has received the last thing the earth has to offer him, a dirty sponge soaked with cheap wine, to quench in some way, the painful thirst that he experiences. This wine, of course, isn’t sufficient to satisfy his thirst, but it does allow for an important occasion of closure for Our Lord. He can now leave this world, having lived in it for over 30 years, and now he completes the mission he has been sent to accomplish: the salvation of the human race. “It is finished.” The earthly mission of Jesus is finished. He has carried out the divine plans of God the Father. For our sake and our salvation he has come down from Heaven, and he now offers himself completely to the will of his loving Father.

It is surprising how simply Jesus has marked this moment of completion, with a taste of wine and a few words from his suffering lips. It is a great example for us all. We need to realize that God has called us to a specific mission in the life of the Church; one that only you and I can carry out. In fact, our whole purpose of life is to discover God’s plan for us, and do it! Sometimes we might be anxious about our God-given mission. We might think: we are not strong enough to carry it out; we don’t have enough resources, or talents, or help to do it. Maybe our weaknesses and sinfulness lead us to other ways of discouragement. All of these worries are basically false. We have to be convinced that God—by his divine nature—cannot make mistakes. If God has called us to a task we can be sure that—with God’s help—we can do it! We have to hear the words of St. Paul, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus will see our good works to completion. From the Cross he sees us and our struggles, and offers us the strength to persevere. Let us put ourselves in the presence of God; let us simply offer one action after another for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

The saints teach us with their lives that perseverance is essential. It is a special grace to pray for, and a gift to be grateful for. Jesus will grant us this gift of perseverance, through the many gifts of “graces of the moment” which lead us to discover and carry out the will of God at each opportunity of the day. Let us see that to receive this “wine of the moment” is an entry into the holiness of that occasion. Let us cast aside our fears of following Our Lord closely, thinking that we “don’t know where to begin”. We simply need to begin where we are—right where we are; we put ourselves in the presence of God and offer up the task at hand. This is the key to perseverance: to begin with calmness, and carry things out with peace, one step at a time, finishing everything with love. The Holy Triduum this year is an opportunity to persevere in our lives of faith. Good Friday is a good day for us to complete our Lenten prayers and practices. And, as you may know, today is a great day to get to the sacrament of reconciliation. Let us complete well this most holy time of the year; let us call out with Jesus today, “It is finished.”

Jesus, the Good Gardener

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus calling us to repentance from our sins. This is a universal call, to all men and women of his time and ours. Without doubt, Jesus’ preaching sometimes can be hard for us to hear: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3). And during this time of Lent we are made more aware of our sins and defects. But we should never become discouraged, even when we realize how sinful we are. Jesus is, we might say, the Good Gardener, who looks after our growth with patience and attentive care. As we heard in the Gospel, when the owner of the garden did not find fruit on the fig tree, the Good Gardener made this appeal: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8).

May we always be filled with hope during this season of Lent—this holy time of conversion and preparation for the Resurrection of the Lord. Our Lord cares for our changes of heart with his grace, and guides us through authentic repentance and spiritual growth. Let us trust in his cultivating guidance now and always. 

True Confessions: a short history of the sacrament of reconciliation in the Church

absolution2On the evening of March 13, I gave a brief presentation on the sacrament of confession to young adults of the Akron, Ohio, Theology on Tap group. We looked at how the Catholic Church has practiced the sacrament of reconciliation since the earliest days of its history. While the early Church focused on the reconciling sinners in a more public way (ie, through public penance) yet personal confession was also practiced. In the Middle Ages, and in a big way, through the monastic communities, the practice of personal confession to a priest became the norm, and is the current practice today. May we all approach God’s divine mercy during this time of Lent, and help one another get to the sacrament of confession as a proper preparation for Easter. Here is the PDF version of the collection of notes used in my  presentation: TrueConfessionNotes

Leaving fear behind

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Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10-11)

The miracle of the great catch of fish occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is the first recorded episode of the friendship between Simon-Peter and the Lord, and it is moving each time it is read. At Jesus’ command Peter casts his nets into the deep, and catches an immense number of fish, so many that the nets rip, and the boats begin to sink. Peter then expresses his desire that Jesus go away from him because “I am a sinful man,” and he falls on his knees to emphasize this. Jesus, however, interprets Simon-Peter’s intentions and thoughts more correctly: he is afraid. Of what? Of the future, now that Jesus has entered into his life? Of the possible new responsibilities that are going to be placed on him? Of putting his trust completely in someone else? We don’t know exactly what Peter fears, but we can empathize with him. When we are confronted with God’s power in our lives, we too can become afraid.

Jesus’ encouraging “Do not be afraid” is exactly the next command that Simon-Peter (and we) need to hear at that moment. Jesus is with us, and the responsibilities we take on as a result of discipleship will not be assumed solely by ourselves, but with the help of the Lord. We need, however, to hear this divine encouragement in our prayer. We sift our fears and doubts through our conversations with Jesus. Like the Apostles, our response will be in the form of practical resolutions. As “they left everything and followed him,” so we make a determined response to follow the Lord in our daily lives. While we perhaps cannot leave everything behind like they did, we can at least begin by leaving behind our fears!

The Pressing Crowd

jesus-sower-e-long-rtJesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make him known. (Mark 3: 7-12)

In the Gospel we see the Lord “needing to get away” from the all the people coming around him, trying to touch him. Of course, this is because Jesus had healed so many, and his fame had spread far and wide. Jesus opts for a boat to provide a place of refuge so that he is not crushed. Of course, being true God, Jesus could escape injury from the crowd through divine intervention (he had done this on another occasion) but because he is also true man, Jesus calls for the boat that will carry him and the Apostles to safety. Nonetheless, I like to think that Jesus invites, and perhaps even enjoys, the pressing of the crowds upon him. After all, that is why Our Lord came to the earth, to “…draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

Because we are all called to be faithful disciples, we need to consider how effective we are at getting people closer to Jesus. Is Jesus’ fame extended farther and wider because of our witness?  Recently in Mass, at the moment of distributing Holy Communion, I thought of the crowds pressing upon Jesus. May our sacramental life, especially our Eucharistic life, be a starting place where we begin to invite everyone to personally encounter the Lord!

Come, Lord Jesus. Advent Aspirations

Guest contributor, Rev. Rene Schatteman, offers a series of aspiration prayers for the season of Advent. The whole series can be used, one each day leading up to Christmas Eve. 

  1. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our souls with your grace.
  2. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love.
  3. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our minds with your light.
  4. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our limbs with your strength.
  5. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our world with your peace.
  6. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the capacity to prepare well for your coming at Christmas.
  7. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the grace to serve you faithfully each moment of each day.
  8. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love Mary, your mother and our mother.
  9. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love St. Joseph, the man you chose to be your father.
  10. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to sanctify our daily work.
  11. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to delight in serving others.
  12. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to spend our energies joyfully in serving our family.
  13. Come, Lord Jesus, lead us to appreciate the joy to be found in doing all to please our Father God.
  14. Come, Lord Jesus, inspire us to follow you in making a gift of our life to others.
  15. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to be thankful for the example you have given us.
  16. Come, Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the flood of your graces.
  17. Come, Lord Jesus, O Wisdom from on high, and govern all creation with your strong and tender care.
  18. Come, Lord Jesus, O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
  19. Come, Lord Jesus, O Flower of Jesse’s stem, rule over all nations and all peoples.
  20. Come, Lord Jesus, O Key of David, open the gate of heaven and lead us on the way to eternal life.
  21. Come, Lord Jesus, O Radiant Dawn, bring light to those who dwell in darkness and doubt.
  22. Come, Lord Jesus, O King of all the nations, and bring joy and peace to every heart.
  23. Come, Lord Jesus, O Emmanuel, King, Lawgiver and Judge, make your kingdom a reality.