A couple of weeks ago, my wife Joni showed me a video clip of a Shepherd with his sheep. He was working hard to pull his sheep out of a crevice. There was a crevice in the land where they were and his sheep was wedged in there so he’s pulling and pulling and finally, he manages to pull him out. The sheep goes hopping away happy as a lark, he takes about 3 jumps, and then boom, right back in the crevice.
I’d like to talk about Jesus the Good Shepherd and share what that has come mean for me.
In our world, our worth is defined by what we can do, or how attractive we are, or how much money we have. The greater our ability, the more attractive, the more wealthy, the more important we are, the greater our worth. At work we have annual, or maybe semi-annual reviews where we are rated on our performance. The better our performance, the more money we get, the more opportunity we have to move to a higher position of greater prestige. I understand this is necessary; but, it’s sending a continuous message that our worth is tied to our ability, what we can do.
It isn’t like that with God, or at least I don’t see that. God loves each of us infinitely. St. Augustine says it is helpful for us to meditate on the reality that Jesus would die for one person as readily as die for all people because His love is infinite. Different people have different gifts, and He gives some people more grace and more ability than others; but that’s all part of his plan to make a beautiful creation. St. Therese compares it to looking at a meadow where there are all kinds of grass and different flowers and some may be more beautiful than others; but the real beauty and wonder is the whole meadow.
But this worldly mindset about our worth can affect our relationship with God. We can think we need to be good in order to earn His love, in order to be worthwhile to Him. That isn’t God. He loves us because He loves us period. It’s not because we can achieve something wonderful for Him.
Now, we have to be careful here. We have to walk a fine line because there could be a temptation to complacency which is not good.
On the one hand, God loves us as we are right now with all our weaknesses and imperfections, and on the other hand that he really wants us to strive to be as good and perfect as we can be. I have struggled and struggled with this for a long time to put these together and I feel like the Lord gave me an answer the other day which I find helpful.
Ideally, what motivates us to strive to be good is that we want to please Him. We just want to please Him. We see how good He is, what He has done for us, how many times He has touched our lives in simple ways to tell us He’s thinking of us and in our gratitude we want to please Him and love Him and that is our striving.
This is different than striving to make ourselves pleasing to Him, to make ourselves good so that He will love us. That’s the world’s mentality. That was the mentality of the Pharisees. They wanted to make themselves pure so they would be entitled to God’s blessing. That’s not what God wants. He wants to bless us, and all He asks of us is that we keep turning to Him, trusting Him, trying our best to love Him like a little child. That’s how I see the good Shepherd, at least up here, I keep trying to make that more real down here.
It’s like St. Therese on her deathbed. She is in agony from tuberculosis and death is imminent. Several of the sisters are with her and one of them said something that annoyed her, and she responded with a little annoyance, and one of the other sisters called her on it. Now, most of us would probably respond in 1 of 2 ways – we’d either be really annoyed – can you give me a break; or we’d be scared knowing we’re about to die and we messed up like that; but not Therese. Her response was: O how wonderful that I will go to God in need of His mercy. Talk about child-like trust.
We have to realize that Jesus wants to pour Himself out for us. He said, I am and the good Shepherd, and I will lay down my life for the sheep. That’s why He came.
A little while ago my son Eric came to me and asked why didn’t God just give all of us a massive infusion of grace like our Blessed Mother so we could all be perfect? He could have done that. And I think the answer is because if we were all perfect, He wouldn’t have had to die for us. Love wants to prove itself.
So, 3 quick take-aways. Things that we can do to grow in this child-like trust.
Practice Praise and Thanksgiving. As St. Therese said, what most draws down graces from our dear Lord is gratitude, for if we thank Him for a gift, he is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank him again with the same sincerity, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this: try it and you will see. My gratitude for all that he gives me is boundless, and I prove this to him in a thousand ways.
Live in Jesus. Speak with Him frequently throughout the day. Do not let yourself be formed by the world; be formed by the Word of God. Soak yourself in scripture.
Be resolved to always follow Him. Be like good sheep who always follow their Shepherd. We may mess up at times but determine that He is your life and you’re going to follow Him.
In being able to express my gift of creativity, I find much “joy which balances my afflictions.” (Ps. 90)
Wanting to share this gift, this joy with you, I have created Joni’s Joy in Creating Youtube Channel. This is where I will post videos of art pieces that I’m working on, as well as videos that share information regarding classes that I will be teaching, in person in my art room, or eventually demonstrations and classes that might help you too, to find some unexpected joy.
His hour has come. Up until now, on several occasions, Jesus has said my hour has not yet come but now the hour of His Passion has come and he is troubled. But, this is what he came for and he gives a little parable to explain it.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
This is His life. This is why he came. He came to die for us. But, It’s not only His life; it’s the model for our life as His disciples. As St. Paul says, If we have died with Him, we know that we shall also live with Him.
How do we die with Him?
Let’s go to our 2nd reading. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
What does this mean that Jesus learned obedience and was made perfect? Isn’t he already perfect? As God yes; but as a man, he grew just like you and me and a key to his growth was suffering. There have basically been 4 responses to suffering: the Greeks saw that life is mostly emptiness and pain and the best we can do with suffering is accept it nobly. The Romans had a little more fight and saw suffering as a challenge to be conquered by stoic indifference. Ancient Judaism saw suffering as a punishment for sin but also as a means of atonement. The Christian view agrees with Judaism but also sees suffering as purifying us of our pride, our hardness, our indifference, in short, it can perfect us in love. That’s what it did for Jesus and ultimately, He was made perfect in his suffering on the cross.
But it wasn’t the physical pain that was His greatest suffering. I heard this recently and it makes sense. It was the realization that even with this sacrifice, there would still be people who would reject Him. It’s like at the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 when many of his followers left Him. They said, this is a hard saying, who can stand it, and they left, and He turned to His apostles and asked if they too were going to leave? That’s what causes His greatest suffering. As He said on the cross “I thirst”. He is consumed with love. He will suffer anything that we might have life, and it was His perfect love, His perfect obedience that broke the power of Satan and redeemed us.
Now, that’s Jesus; but as I said before, Jesus is our model. As His followers, we are called to be like Him. But, how can we possibly love as perfectly as He did?
Well, assuming all the basics like faith and His grace working in us, then we are made perfect the same way He was, through our suffering. Romans 8, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Acts 14 “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” James 1: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Suffering with Him perfects us in love.
I’m thinking of my own dad here. My dad is 85 years old and he obviously has some health issues; but, he’s relatively good. My mom has had a couple of strokes and has some dementia. Her memory has gotten quite bad and she can’t do what she used to do – she can’t prepare meals, clean, etc. My dad has become her caretaker. And he does it with my mom berating him. She doesn’t mean it; but it’s like every time she says something or asks my dad something, it’s like she’s annoyed with him. He might be preparing hamburgers for dinner and she’ll ask in a somewhat angry tone, what are you mixing in the meat? Almost everything she says to him sounds like she’s annoyed. And my dad, is not a docile easy-going guy by nature. He had a temper. But, now he says he’s convinced that this is the job God has given him. That he’s here to take care of mom for however long they live. Suffering is perfecting him in love.
My mom’s mom had full-blown Alzheimer’s for the last several years of her life. At one point they couldn’t care for her any longer and had to move her into a nursing home. My grandpa could have continued living with my parents but he basically voluntarily became a resident in the nursing home so he could be in the same room with my grandma 24/7, even though her mind was basically gone. She was his life.
Then of course there’s my wife Joni and now my son Eric who have shown me what it looks like to suffer with Jesus. Especially Joni because she’s been at it for many years now. She does everything she can to avoid suffering but sometimes nothing works and when that happens, she prays and unites it to Jesus’s suffering. Jesus makes it possible for suffering to be an act of love. We can unite our suffering with Jesus for somebody. I remember a priest saying that when he goes to a parish one of the first things he does is get in touch with the parishioners who are in chronic pain because they become his prayer warriors. When he needs prayers for someone, he turns to his prayer warriors because suffering willingly accepted and united to the cross of Jesus is powerful; but its also a lifeline for the person suffering. He said one time, he got an email from one of his prayer warriors and all she said was “I need a name”. “I need a name”. I need someone to live for.
So, our suffering with Him, our Cross if you will, makes us perfect, just like it did Him. So, are you suffering? Are you struggling with something? Do you have a cross? If so, thank God.
I’ll never forget many years ago when our kids were young and we were part of a family retreat group down at Camp Maria and Father Stack was our Priest, on one occasion we were talking about the cross and he said, we should be very wary if we don’t have a cross. It was not only what he said, but the way he said it. He was basically saying if we don’t have a cross, that’s not a good thing.
So, if you have a cross, thank God. He is working on you. You belong to Christ – you’re one of His and as Mother Teresa learned from a Priest when she was deep in her suffering, it’s Him kissing you. That was huge for her.
On Day 16 of Fr. Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory”, he has a magnificent letter written by Mother Teresa to her sisters in which she explains her understanding of Jesus’s words “I thirst”. She says “I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you?”
We have 2 more weeks of Lent before the great feast of Easter. Let’s use this time well. Let’s intensify our prayer – really hear Jesus in our hearts and let us embrace our cross. Our cross is our salvation. When we pick up our cross and follow Him, it changes us. We become better. We become like Him.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)
I’d like to make 4 quick points regarding this Gospel passage.
First, this is not an option. Revelation 21:27 tells us that nothing impure will enter heaven. So, perfection, holiness, is not an option. Before we enter heaven, we must become holy.
Second, holiness is not a matter of external practices. The ancient Jewish people took holiness very seriously. Leviticus 19:2 tells us “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” And the Jewish people took that seriously. The problem is they reduced holiness to external practices. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is saying that holiness is in the heart. Holiness is perfection in love. That’s what matters.
We know this even from human relationships. I could be a “good” husband in the sense that I do good things. I’m faithful to my wife, I do my part to provide a home; but my heart could be far away. Likewise, with my kids, I can do the external stuff like provide a home and make sure they’re fed and watered; but my heart can be focused on myself and what I want to do. That’s not love, and we know it, and Jesus is saying the same is true with God.
Third, perfection, in the sense that we never consciously sin, is possible. It is possible to love God so much, and hate sin so much, that we never consciously choose to say no to God. I heard Fr. Ripperger (brilliant exorcist with many talks on the spiritual life on Youtube) say one time that he was working with a woman who was possessed, and she went 6 months without deliberately committing a venial sin. Then, she fell, but, went to confession and got back on track. And she was possessed. So, perfection is possible.
Last point is that Jesus calls us to be perfect, but not a perfectionist. Perfectionism is an unhealthy obsession with perfection in which everything has to be perfect, and if it isn’t, it’s bad. We have to realize and accept that to be imperfect is to be human; that perfection doesn’t happen overnight.
Think of an Olympic gold-medalist in figure skating. Was she always so graceful and perfect on the ice? Of course not. It took years of practice and there were many falls along the way. But she got up and kept striving. The same is true in our spiritual life. We strive for perfection, we strive to be truly loving, and it will take years to get there, and there will be many falls along the way, but we get up and keep going.
So, brothers and sisters, keep striving. No matter what, keep getting up and trying, and remember that we have something the figure skater doesn’t have. We have God who is working in us. He wants us to be great lovers and He helps us with His grace, and as long as we keep striving, He will make it happen.
An article written by Fr. Chris on Live Streaming the Masshas been published in the prestigious journal, Homiletic and Pastoral Review. I’m sure it will get our minds thinking. (Don’t shoot the messenger.)
In today’s first reading, we read that the great city of Nineveh is about to come to an end; but the whole city repented and so were saved. In the 2nd reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians ‘time is running out… for the world in its present form is passing away.’ Then in the gospel, Jesus announces
This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.
In all these readings, there is a theme that a major change is about to take place. They’re at a turning point. God is going to do something big.
A couple of weeks ago, I went through several days of much stress. I was just beginning to feel overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because of all that is happening in our world and because I believe there’s a real possibility that we are at another major turning point in history, and all of these thoughts were really doing a number on me.
So, I want to talk today about fear. Now some fear is good, rational fear is good; but, most of us who struggle with fear are dealing with irrational fear, fear that is excessive, fear of the unknown, fear of what might happen, fear that comes from being bombarded over and over again with frightening news. And we all know that as Christians we shouldn’t be living in fear, that Jesus came to set us free from fear.
But, how do we do it? It’s very easy to say, but how do we make it real? So, I’m going to share what has helped me.
A few years ago, I went to an Unbound prayer session. Unbound is a prayer model that is designed to help a Christian find freedom in Christ, and Joni and I are going to do a talk on Unbound this Wednesday. Very briefly, the prayer model relies on 5 keys (or 5 steps), the first could come straight from today’s gospel, repent and believe (turn away from sin and evil, turn to Jesus), the 2nd is forgiveness, the 3rd is renunciation, where, in the name of Jesus we renounce what I like to call our personal demons, the 4th is authority and the 5th is the Father’s blessing, and the whole thing is done in the name of Jesus. Again, we’ll go through all that on Wednesday; but, for now, I’m just going to share a little of my experience.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have always struggled with fear. To me, to be free of fear would be a blessing beyond imagination. So, I went to my first Unbound session hoping to be free of fear. During the session, other things came up as well; but here’s the part that sold me on Unbound. You have to understand that whenever I speak in front of people, there is anxiety. It used to be really bad, but it’s always there. I went to the Unbound session on a Saturday, the following day I served as deacon at Mass. This was when I was at St. Pius. When I went to proclaim the gospel, I felt absolutely no anxiety – there wasn’t a trace. I remember actually looking around and wondering where is that old friend of mine. It was completely gone. That complete freedom hasn’t lasted, and since then, I’ve learned more about how to stay free; but that experience was huge for me. For me, it made the gospel real.
So, last weekend, after feeling really stressed, I asked Joni if she would do an Unbound prayer session with me and of course, she agreed. Now, I already had an idea of things that I would need to renounce. Of course, fear and anxiety; but I also realized that part of my problem was because of my desire for self-sufficiency, to be in control. All my life I have been self-reliant. If I needed to do something, I figured out how to do it or asked someone; but, then did it myself. That’s how I’ve lived most of my life. And I was getting overwhelmed with the reality that the things going on in the world were way beyond my ability to control.
So, I go into the Unbound prayer session with these things as a starting point, and then we just began talking and Joni began asking me questions. You see in Unbound; the prayer leader is trying to help the person name those things that are blocking the life of Christ in the person. It could be lies about ourselves or God that we’ve accepted, it could be a habitual sin or unforgiveness or these spirits, like fear or self-sufficiency or pride – things that have taken a certain hold on us that in the name of Jesus we want to get rid of.
So, as we’re talking other things came out, and the whole time Joni’s writing them down. Then after it felt like I was done, she led me through the renunciations. In the name of Jesus, I renounce the spirit of fear, in the name of Jesus, I renounce the spirit of self-reliance, in the name of Jesus, I renounce the spirit of pride and on and on through the list. At the end, since we all have authority over ourselves, in the name of Jesus I command all the lies and the spirits I’ve renounced to leave and go to the foot of the cross. Then Joni said a prayer of blessing over me.
Since then, what I’ve noticed is a strong desire and determination to live in Jesus and in Mary. Instead of living “in the world”, in other words thinking about what’s going on in the world and how it might affect me, worrying about my health and the health of my family, what might happen with my job, should I take the vaccine; I’m much more, living in Jesus – what does Jesus want me to do, how can I live for Jesus in this situation at work, how can I love Joni or Eric more; Jesus, is the vaccine right for me, a thought of someone comes into my head – Jesus, do you want me to pray for the person, or call? You see Unbound prayer can really help set us free; but we need to follow it up with living in Christ, and especially when it comes to being free of fear, we need to choose our thoughts. Don’t let in thoughts that are harmful. As St. Paul says in 2 Cor 10, “we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” So, instead of my thoughts being centered on myself, they are centered on Jesus Christ and pleasing Him. The more we do that, the more we will experience freedom, peace, joy, and all the promises of the gospel.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. Fear doesn’t give us life. Fear robs us of life. We may be surviving; but we’re not living. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full. In a way, this pandemic has been a blessing for me because it’s practically forcing me to trust more in Jesus, to live more in Him.
I’m going to close with a prayer for living in Jesus that I just found a couple of days ago, and I think it’s really beautiful. It’s from a Servant of God, Luisa Piccarreta, and we can pray it to the Father, or to Our Lady.
The Prayer of Mystical Unity
Enclose in my mind Jesus’ thoughts, so that no other thought may enter into me; enclose in my eyes Jesus’ eyes, so that He may never escape my gaze; enclose in my ears Jesus’ ears, so that I may always listen to him and do His Most Holy Will in all things; enclose my face in Jesus’ face, so that in looking at him so disfigured for love of me, I may love him, unite myself to his Passion and offer him reparation; enclose my tongue in Jesus’ tongue, so that I may speak, pray and teach with Jesus’ tongue; enclose my hands in Jesus’ hands, so that each movement I make and each work I perform may derive their [merit and] life from Jesus’ own works and acts. Enclose my feet in Jesus’ feet, so that each one of my steps may infuse in other souls strength and zeal and dispose them for the life of salvation.
This new year, which many hoped would make an end to the infamous 2020, year from hell, has begun disappointingly, to say the least. Not to be a Debby Downer, but come on – tearing off a calendar page doesn’t have the power to fix the many problems at hand. NOTHING is that easy, nor should it be. Our slow steady abandonment of natural law, rejection of common sense, and willfully desiring to put our own needs and desires before others, and especially over God’s will, has always been man’s downfall. History shows that without God, we WILL crash and burn, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I am a big believer in Behavior Modification which basically means, if we do bad things then we suffer the consequences. If we do good things, we reap rewards. That’s how we learn to accept and do good and reject and not do bad. That’s how parents, out of love, teach their children right from wrong. What we are seeing in our world is the result of decades of us running a mock like children in need of a whole lot of time-out. Any good parent would desire to take control of the recalcitrant, super-speed train that his children are on to save them from the train wreck awaiting them. And God is a good parent. He’s the best parent. God’s chastisements are not a bad thing. They are painful, but they really are both just and merciful. Consequences for our actions make us learn. They cause us to change, to go from vice to virtue. And we need to change because we can’t go on like this. We’ve lost our understanding of what it is to be truly human. God respects our free will. We want to do things our way, and He lets us. Now we can see the consequences of our choices. We reject His laws, and we become lawless. We reject His love, and we are loveless. We’ve recreated the image of the human person into our distorted understanding of who we are and what we are. We act, not like the human beings created in His image and likeness, but rather resemble something from the animal kingdom which fights for its own desires and survival above all, and not for the good of ourselves and our neighbors. This is what we wanted, and this is what we got, along with the consequences.
I think it is only through the grace of God, and most likely, only through direct and Divine Intervention, that we will get through this to the other side – a more peaceful, beautiful, and Godly world. I want that so badly my heart jumps at the thought!!!
So, what can we do to not just ride the wave to a better tomorrow, but also flourish in these times of turmoil? How can we find rest in the unrest of our times? I’ve always been drawn to Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If. It is something that resonated with me and my fondness of behavior modification techniques. When I first read IF in high school, I thought that Kipling’s words held valuable lessons on how to deal with difficult days.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…”
Kipling goes on to say, if you can do all these things, then
“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And which is more, you will be a man, my son!”
What!? That’s our motivation?! That’s flourishing?! I don’t know about you, but that’s not going to cut it for me anymore. I don’t want the Earth and everything in it. It’s a mess! I don’t want to be a son or daughter of the earth. I want to be a child of God. I want heaven! Or at least until then while I’m still alive, I want His will done on Earth as it is in Heaven. That’s not too much to ask for, right? Actually, that’s what we ask for every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” That’s what God wants for us too.
Now, THE GOOD NEWS, which at first might not look or feel too good…
I believe we are in a time when our most patient and merciful God is saying, ‘Enough is enough! I can’t watch my children suffer in their muck any longer, lest I lose them all to their destructive desires and ways. They need to see and feel the results of their actions. They need to want better. They need to want to clean up their acts.’
Our Lord knows that His children are better at making messes than cleaning them up, so He has sent in His cleaning crew, headed by – His mother, and assisted by the angels and saints. Because, well, that’s their job – to pray for us, to inspire us, and to help us live in His Divine Will. Who could do a better job than this Heavenly company, led by their boss, Mother Mary? All moms know how to clean out every crack and crevice. Not one dust-bunny or dirt-demon can remain when mom’s in charge! Our entire world needs this power-washing more than ever! This job has always been assigned to Mary. This is the task for which God has prepared her Immaculate Heart. Our mess began with Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Gen. 3:6). But Mary’s whispered Fiat, her “Yes, let it be done unto me according to Thy Will.” (Luke 1:38) is our help. She not only played a vital role in bringing Our Savior into the world, but she will also crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) at the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, promised at Fatima.
I believe that what we are seeing, in our country and our Church, shows that Our Lady has started the cleaning process. When Mama has had enough of telling her kids to clean up and they don’t, then it’s time for her to take charge, and things start flying. Mirjana Soldo says it best*.
“I can compare it to spring cleaning. If I want my home to be spotless, I know that I have to first turn everything upside down. I move the sofa, I stack the chairs on the table, I open all the cupboards—nothing remains in its place. My home is thrown into chaos and disorder. It’s unrecognizable to my children and the peace is gone. But then I clean under everything. I wipe away all the grime. I put every piece of furniture back to its rightful place. In the end, my home is more immaculate than ever. This is how I see all the confusion in the world today. This is how I see Our Lady’s apparitions and God’s plan. A truly clean house starts with a big mess.
We know we need this major cleaning! It’s obvious. The image of God has been hidden under the debris of sin for too long now, and His Mama, filled with His grace (Luke 1:28) is kicking up the filth, to expose and remove it.
We will be part of the process either by helping or hindering Mama’s efforts.
“Will you be like most children who stand back while Mom cleans, or will you not be afraid to get your hands dirty and help her? Like Our Lady said in one of her messages, “I desire that, through love, our hearts may triumph together.”
May the triumph of her heart begin with you.”*
Some ways to join the clean-up team:
Develop a willingness to grow in love and appreciation for God
Love the truth, and speak it in love
Pray the Rosary Daily
Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet in reparation for the sins committed by our country
Lead a Sacramental life
Stay away from all serious sins and try to avoid venial sins
Go to Confession monthly
Establish a relationship of trust and appreciation with your guardian angel
Get to know and love St. Joseph
Consecrate yourself to Mary
Offer up not only your hardships, frustrations, and pain to be one with Christ’s sacrifice, but unite your joys and hopes with His Most Sacred Heart
Stop seeing your life through the eyes of the media
Strengthen your relationships with others both on earth and in heaven
Forgive and accept forgiveness
Treat others how we want to be treated
Love (wanting the true good for ourselves and others)