Leaving fear behind


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.

The struggle against selfishness

child1Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

Jesus is always for us the model in all things. He calls us to a complete transformation of heart, mind and body, so that we live only to carry out the will of God in our lives. This is our vocation: to be so identified with Jesus that we live not for ourselves but for God and for those around us. For Jesus, this means, of course, that he will be mistreated, suffer and die for us, so that he will rise again from the dead, and lead us into everlasting life. His disciples “did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him” about it. Perhaps this was because they knew that this plan would involve them in the sufferings he is talking about. We, too, have a hard time understanding the sufferings of Christ, as we know that we have to follow the Master. None of us enjoys suffering! In any case, his Apostles try to change the subject, away from suffering, and onto themselves (who of them was “the greatest”). Isn’t it true that when we try to avoid the sufferings of Christ we also are led to a kind of resting on ourselves, our comfort, our preferences or advantages? It’s hard for us to be abandoned into the divine plans of the Lord in such a way that we forget about ourselves, and yet we—like the Apostles—know that this forgetfulness of self, this self-denial, is what Christianity is all about.

Thankfully, Jesus clearly spells out the proper attitude the Apostles should have: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. Once again in the teaching of Jesus we see the essential importance of humility. Strive to be the last of all, and the servant of all. To focus on the needs of the simple humble people in need around us, in this passage symbolized by care of children, is to know and love Christ himself. It is a constant struggle for us “to get out of ourselves” and to be generous with the others around us. Self-love and selfishness lead to so many problems for us, for the Church, for the world. Of course, this has been the constant struggle for the moment of Original Sin, and it is repeated in our own lives as we strive to overcome the tendency to selfishness. But with the grace of God, and the faith and the hope, and the love that come with that grace, we can begin again. And isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is teaching his Apostles (and us) here? You can begin again. You have been selfish and self-oriented, you have wondered whether you are the greatest, but you can have a new start in humbly reaching out to the others in need around you. Begin here, begin now. May the grace of the Lord always be near and within us so that we can begin again in our struggle against our selfishness, and lead us into the mission of generous service to God and neighbor. Amen.

The Miracle of Friendship



The following is an excerpt from a recent homily at a Mass in honor of St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei. The homily followed the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch of fish as read in Luke, chapter 5: 

1. While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7. they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10. and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Isn’t it amazing that in the midst of all the dramatic happenings of this Gospel scene—the crowd pressing on Jesus, the teaching of the crowds from the boat, and of course, the miraculous catch of fish—Jesus and Peter maintain a personal conversation. In the midst of the noise and confusion, a dialogue persists. As Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master we have worked hard all night, and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets…” In fact, it seems that by the end of the scene of the miraculous catch of fish, a kind of secondary miracle is confirmed: the friendship between Peter and Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Conversation, confidence, friendship.
Now, this particular Gospel story was one of St. Josemaria’s favorites, and thus is proclaimed at this Mass in his honor. Exactly why it was one of his favorites I am not sure, but it was one of the passages he had memorized so that it could be recalled for his personal prayer or—as was the case during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s—he could celebrate Mass without a missal or book of readings (they were illegal during the religious persecution at that time). In any case, the story of the miraculous catch of fish continues to inspire us in our day and time. We marvel at the command of the Lord to let down the nets in the deep water, totally “against the odds” of actually catching anything, and we marvel even more at the actual catch of Peter and the rest of the Zebedee Fishing Company. Jesus’ prophesy that “…from now on you will be catching men is spoken, not only to Peter, but to each and every one of us: with the Lord Jesus we will gather men and women from all corners of the world to love and serve the Lord. And we are moved by the generous response of the Andrew and Peter, James and John: “They left everything and followed him.”
All of these elements of the story of the miraculous catch of fish can be imitated in our lives and in our time, and in our own style. As St. Josemaria used to say, “old as the Gospel, and like the Gospel new…” With the grace of God, we want to be included in this scene, and apply it to our own situation in life. Not many (any) of us are professional fishermen or women, but all of us want to be the instruments of God that we are called to be. We want to be quick to leave all things and follow Him. Say to him today, “I know that I am a sinful person, and I know that I have a long way to go in order to be a saint, but—with your grace—I want to be a saint; and with your grace, I will be a saint!
But it all begins with having a heart-felt relationship with The Master. This cannot be replaced by anything else: not technology; not education; not success; not popularity; not anything. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much we know, but how much we love, what, who, and how we love. Coming back to the initial point of the dialogue between Peter and the Lord; we have to become aware that personal prayer—with the time and concentration necessary to make it happen—is an indispensable requirement for bringing about a true relationship with the Lord Jesus. And Peter’s conversation with Jesus leads us to desire a personal conversation of our own with Jesus. We want to have that same closeness with him that is our joyful right and duty. Ask Jesus now to challenge you in your life to follow him more closely, and to perhaps even hear the words of command that seem impossible in your life, in your workplace, in your family: “put out into the deep water!”
This is the kind of relationship and constant conversation St. Josemaria had with Jesus throughout his life. In fact, above all, St. Josemaria was a contemplative, with a contemplation that was a fruit of his friendship with Jesus. This is the kind of contemplation you and I want to imitate in our own lives. From the time he was a boy and young adult, St. Josemaria spoke with God, he listened to God, he simply enjoyed and sought to be in the presence of God. This is our great desire as well: to be contemplatives in the middle of the world, sanctifying our ordinary lives. From our contemplative life in Ohio—or wherever you might be—we will catch men and women for the Lord and His Kingdom. Let us ask Holy Mary—Queen of All Saints and our Mother—to intercede with us so that we may be the saints God has called us to be. May our friendship with Jesus be our hope, and may it lead us along the ways of holiness in this World. Amen.

Chapel organ transplant


Recently, due to the generosity of some musically-minded donors, the chapel of Warwick House (where I often celebrate Mass) acquired a vintage Hammond A-100 organ. It was previously owned by an organist who moved from her home, and could not take the instrument with her. It fits perfectly (as much as human perfection allows) next to the chapel altar, and under the motherly gaze of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I don’t play the organ myself, but I really enjoy hearing it played by others. (My mother was a church organist for many years, and some of my earliest memories are sitting on the organ bench with her, marveling at all the tones that came out of the instrument).

Being a musical instrument history buff of sorts, I decided to briefly research our ‘new’ organ, and so far I’ve dated it between 1960-62. I won’t bore you with details (serial numbers, speaker dating, websites, and maintenance records, etc.) but the Hammond organs of this era (about 1950-1970) are true gems of American musical instrument history. Engineering genius Laurens Hammond (1895-1973) invented the ‘Tonewheel Generator’ electric organ to imitate the many beautiful sounds of pipe organs at a fraction of their cost, and designed them to be used in tight sacred spaces. Jazz organists, however, soon heard (or heard about) the electric organ, and also wanted to play them. Another genius Don Leslie (1911-2004) invented a rotating speaker system, popularly known as the ‘Leslie Cabinet’ (a product Hammond really didn’t like), and the rest is church, baseball stadium, and jazz club history! It’s hard to believe that one instrument could be so versatile in its expression. (Yes, computers have tried to imitate the original electric organ sounds, but they don’t quite do the trick).

Although I hope the Warwick House chapel organ will last many more years as a reverent and proper liturgical aid, it is still tempting to imagine that (with a vintage Leslie speaker cabinet) it could sound like the Hammond organ below… It’s probably a good thing that Our Lady keeps a close watch on our organ to keep that from happening in the chapel!

Into your hands, I commend my Spirit


We have reached the literal last word of Jesus, which leaves his Body with his final breath: “Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” He cries it out in a loud voice, in a voice that all can hear; in a voice that leads us to contemplation. Our Lord has left us with a crying voice, but not with sadness. Jesus’ cry is a cry of triumph, as the plans of God are perfectly carried to completion. His last breath has left him, but his Spirit goes to God the Father. Jesus’ final words are a new beginning for the whole human race to realize. Jesus, the Son of God, calls out to his Father so that we, united with Jesus, also affirm our newborn condition as children of God. Now God is truly Our Father as Jesus promised, as he taught us, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come…” (Lk 11:2), and now Jesus brings this prayer to fulfillment.

Yes, this fulfillment is a new beginning for each of us. Jesus’ death lets us discover who we really are: children of God, called to be sons and daughters in the Son. As St. Paul tells us: “…if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). And as the Catechism affirms: “By his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by His Resurrection, He opens for us the way to a new life. [Justification] brings about filial adoption…” (CCC 654). Every moment of every day needs to be marked with the awareness of what the saints have called our divine filiation. As St. Josemaria advises: “Child, when you really are one, you will be all-powerful” (Way 863).

Yet, to live our lives as a child of God is not trouble-free. Jesus’ last breath reminds us of that: like Jesus we encounter suffering if we are faithful to our vocation and mission. We must live out practical consequences that really reflect our dignity as God’s children. These practical consequences include: a sincere piety and commitment to prayer; a love for the Church, and in particular a participation in the Church’s liturgy and acceptance of all her teachings; a constant spirit of service to God as Our Father and to all persons as brothers and sisters; and finally, a firm and humble desire for conversion, to turn toward God and away from sin. But with to God’s grace we can lovingly carry out our Christian duties as children. And so, today is a perfect day for us to tell God Our Father: “into your hands I commend my spirit; to you, Father, I dedicate my life!”

(From a homily given on Good Friday, at St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Painting detail: Crucifixion, by Eric Armusik. It is found at parish of St. Sebastian, Akron, OH).