Posted in Deacon Bob

Are You Ready?

Deacon Bob’s Homily for the first Sunday of Advent 2022 (Mt 24:37-44)

If you’re like me, when you heard this gospel, you probably thought to yourself, O, that’s the rapture that I’ve heard about, where some are taken, and everyone else is “left behind”. According to Brant Pitre, that’s not what Jesus is describing here. There is no rapture. The key is to look at the context.

Jesus begins by saying, As it was in the days of Noah, everyone is going about engaged in their normal, regular activities and out of the blue, the storm came, and the flood washed them away, everyone except Noah and his family. So too, when the Son of Man comes, people will be engaged in their normal, regular activities, one will be taken, and one will be left. Jesus is describing a separation just like in the days of Noah. Then he concludes with ‘you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’

Last Sunday our small group had a great discussion and it centered around the question – are you ready? If you were to die today, are you ready to stand before Jesus in judgment? We all did some serious soul searching and you might want to do this in your family, just go around and ask, are you ready? It’s a great opportunity to take a serious look in our soul and ask what do I really believe?

In our small group, we all had slightly different perspectives; but as we talked about it, I think all of us had a sense that although we weren’t perfect, we could trust in His mercy. That leads into what I want to reflect on today which is, how can we be confident in our salvation knowing that we sin?

This is a big question. If we get it wrong, we can really go astray. Martin Luther struggled a lot with scrupulosity, and he answered the question with his doctrine of sola fide, that we are justified by faith alone, not by our personal holiness. He said I could commit adultery 100 times a day and it would not affect my justified status before God.

In our day, many people answer the question by saying that no one goes to hell. How could a God who is all love send a soul to hell? I had a discussion with a very nice lady who believed this. So, I asked her, do you believe that God loves everyone, yes; God loves everyone he ever created, yes; then God loves Satan, I never thought about that.

God does love everyone He ever created, including Satan. So, why is he in hell? How is that possible? Because that was his choice. He chose himself over God. And that gets to the heart of my question. Every time we sin, we choose ourselves over God, so, how can we be confident in our salvation?

I’m going to answer with the help of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Doctor of the Church and as one Cardinal said, the Catholic response to Protestantism. She struggled with the same scrupulosity that Martin Luther did, but she responded very differently. Pope Pius XII said, “she rediscovered the Gospel itself, the very heart of the Gospel. “

I will focus especially on her confidence. Her superior Mother Agnes said confidence was the special mark of her soul. Therese said, “My way is one that is full of confidence and love.” Confidence in God’s mercy and love, not in herself. She illustrates this with the story of St. Peter at the Last Supper when he swore that he would die for Jesus. She says this incident showed Peter and all of us, that our confidence cannot be in ourselves. It must be in God and His mercy.

I’m going to start with an objection; because there is a temptation for us to say, well of course St. Therese is confident, she’s a saint. She could say that from the age of 3 she never refused God anything. Our temptation is to say, well if I could say that, then of course I would be confident too.

Over and over St. Therese says that it is not because God has preserved her from grave sin that she is confident; it is all based in Him and His infinite mercy. She said to Mother Agnes “You may truly say that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence; I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water thrown into a flaming furnace.” On another occasion, “even if I had on my conscience all the sins which can be committed, I would go, my heart broken, to repent and throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much he cherishes the prodigal child who returns to Him.”

Finally, shortly before she died, she was impatient with one of the Sisters, and the Sister called her on it. She responded, “How happy I am to see myself imperfect and having so great a need of receiving the mercy of God at the moment of death!” This one perplexed me for a long time. I could understand that she accepted that she was imperfect and would trust in God’s mercy; but how could she possibly be happy about it? The commentaries say it’s not that she is happy about her fall; but she’s happy about what it will lead to. She knows that when she tells Jesus how sorry she is, He will lift her up and love her in her weakness. Here we can see Therese’s greatness.

There are 2 images that have came to me while I was praying about this. The first is that when we love someone, we want to do for them. For example, as you know my wife Joni has health issues, and one of the things she is supposed to avoid is bending down to pick things up; so, when we get ready for dinner and I see her head to the oven to bend down and pick something up, I go over and say hey, let me do that. It’s a little nothing but I want to do it because I can and she can’t, or at least she shouldn’t. Jesus is pure goodness, pure love; we aren’t. We’re weak. Out of the fullness of who He is, He wants to forgive us. St. John Vianney said “God’s greatest pleasure is to pardon us.” And again, “The good Lord is more eager to pardon a repentant sinner than a mother to rescue her child from the fire.” He wants to forgive us, just like we want to do what we can for those we love. For those of us who know our need for mercy, to know that He wants to forgive us is huge.

The second image is teaching our child to walk. We pick up our little one, prop her up against the wall, and then move away and say, okay sweetie, come to me. She immediately stretches out her arms and starts to walk, takes 2 or 3 steps and then down she goes. What is our first instinct? Immediately we reach down and pick her up and love her and encourage her to try again. That’s how Therese saw God with her in her falls.

So, how can we be confident in our salvation even when we sin? We tell Jesus how sorry we are and believe in His love, believe in merciful love!

So, brothers and sisters, as we begin this season of Advent, let us prepare ourselves, let us get ready, go to confession, and tell Jesus how sorry we are knowing that He wants to forgive us. And let us look forward to meeting this God who loves us so much. God bless you.

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The Tax Collector and the Pharisee (A lesson in humility by Deacon Bob)

The gospel this week is a continuation of lessons on prayer. Last week we learned about the need to persevere in prayer. The lesson this week is the importance of humility in our prayer.

I’m going to start with a little background for today’s gospel. First, in Jesus’s day, Pharisees were very highly respected. We look at them as a bunch of hypocrites; but it wasn’t like that in Jesus’s day. The people looked at the Pharisees as holy, good people. The tax collectors of course were despised and hated. They were definitely the “bad” guys. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector go up to the Temple to pray and the commentators suggest they probably went at the time of public prayer at the morning or evening sacrifices. These prayer times and sacrifices are for people to get right with God. It was the way for the Jewish people to be reconciled with God, kind of like a penance service for us. Jesus describes the incredible arrogance of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collect and then makes the shocking statement that the tax collector left the Temple justified, in other words, right with God, but the Pharisee did not. And remember, the parable was addressed to “those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” So, He’s telling them that they may be doing good things, the Pharisee was doing good things, but if they have the attitude of this Pharisee, they are not right with God.

But let’s focus on the tax collector and his prayer. First of all, he stands far away. He knows that he is far from God, that God is holy, and he is not so he stands far off and does not even raise his eyes. Second, while the Pharisee thinks about and judges others, including the tax collector who is in the congregation with him, the tax collector doesn’t worry about others. He knows he is a sinner in need of mercy, so he’s simply not interested in judging anyone else. Finally, he beat his breast and prayed, O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. He prayed. He asked and he trusted and hoped that God would hear his prayer. He knows that on his own he has no hope of being right with God, but he hopes in God’s mercy.

And God heard his prayer. He turns to God in humility. St. Teresa of Avila calls humility an ointment for our soul. It heals, it soothes the pain in our soul. When we fall into the same sins and imperfections even after many confessions and efforts to rid ourselves of some fault, we can turn to humility. When we feel powerless and unable to overcome a temptation when it comes, there is always one option for us – we can humble ourselves with sincerity and confidence and humility will heal our wounds because it will attract divine mercy to them. St. Teresa said it this way, “if we indeed have humility, even though there may be a time of delay, the surgeon who is our Lord, will come to heal us.” He wants us to turn to Him with confidence in His mercy.

For me, the clearest proof of this is Paul’s statement at the end of Romans 11. In Romans 11 he speaks of the disobedience of the gentiles in former times, and the disobedience of the Jews in his current time, and in verse 32 he says, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Repeat. And then it’s like a cry of praise “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! … To him be glory forever. Amen”.

The big problem is not that we fall. The big problem for many of us is that we think we shouldn’t, that we think we’re better than that, or ought to be. Listen to St. Therese the little flower,

O Lord, my misery does not surprise me. Nor does my utter helplessness distress me. I even glory in it, and expect every day to reveal some fresh imperfection. 

What an illusion! We wish never to fall? What difference does it make, O Lord, if I fall at every instant? It will make me realize my weakness and I shall derive great profit from it.

Yes, O my God, I am happy to feel little and weak in Your presence, and my heart remains in peace … I am glad to feel so imperfect and to need Your mercy so much! When we calmly accept the humiliation of being imperfect, Your grace, O Lord, returns at once.

I struggled with this for a while. It almost sounds like she’s happy to sin. Wouldn’t it be better not to sin? On the one hand, yes, we certainly want to avoid sin, but our striving is because we love Him and want to be His good friend. It’s like our spouse, or a good friend, we want to do good for them, not because we want people to look at us and say, hey what a great guy, but, we do it because we love them. So, we do want to be good, but we’re going to fall. Even the great saints say as long as we’re on this earth, we’re going to have our imperfections. If we never fell, we wouldn’t need to reach out to Him for mercy. St. Therese loved her falls because they were occasions for her to reach out to Him and trust Him. She said, “what offends God and wounds His heart most is want of confidence.” It’s not our falls, it’s want of confidence, lack of trust in His mercy. Think of our kids. Our kid disobeys us, or does something wrong, and initially we get angry, but, if he comes to us truly sorry for what he did, our anger falls away. How can we remain angry when we see our child truly sorry for what they did? That’s what God is looking for.

One of the other things St. Teresa encourages us to do is to know ourselves, know our failings and our weakness because that will draw us to God and as we experience His mercy, we will fall more in love with Him. So, a few years ago I asked God to show me, and He answered that prayer right away, and He’s continued to answer it. The falls that bother me the most have been the ones involving my family, especially my wife and kids. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s been so good. I’ve started to notice that there are times, it’s not always, I still have a long way to go, but there have been times when I have a strong desire to make up for the past and really love my wife and my kids. I’ll look for ways to love them. It’s all God’s grace, and as I say, I still feel like I have a long way to go; but that alone gives me real hope.

So, brothers and sisters, as we come up for communion, let us approach Jesus like the tax collector, realizing our need and trusting and thanking Him for His incredible mercy.

Posted in Deacon Bob

A Few Thoughts on St. Therese from Deacon Bob

In today’s gospel, we see Jesus rejoice at the things revealed to the childlike. This is a prefect opening to share some thoughts on St. Therese of the child Jesus. It’s quite amazing. She wrote 1 book, and 8 of the 11 chapters were about her life growing up in the Martin family. She only wrote 3 chapters that involved the doctrine of her little way, and yet she’s a doctor of the Church. Every time I read her, or writings about her, I get more and more amazed at her insights.

Many people speak of the difficulty of becoming a saint. Therese said it’s easy.  When St. John of the Cross, who is in many ways the spiritual father of the Discalced Carmelites, wrote his books like “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and the others, it was clear that he wanted to run straight up the mountain. He says this – that his way is the short, straight way up the mountain. St. Therese also wanted a short, straight way up the mountain, so she looked for a ski lift.

And she found it in the arms of Jesus. Here is one excerpt on the spiritual climb.

“Practice all the virtues and so always lift up your little foot to mount the ladder of holiness, but do not imagine that you will be able to ascend even the first step. No! the good Lord does not demand more from you than good will. From the top of the stairs, He looks at you with love. Very soon, won over by your useless efforts, He will come down and take you in Him arms. He will carry you up. But if you stop lifting your little foot, He will leave you a long time on the ground.”

I know exactly what she’s talking about. I know what it is to be lifted up by Jesus, and I know what it is to be left on the ground because I gave up lifting my little foot. The message here is never give up. And St. Therese is so encouraging, even with all our failures. Here’s what she wrote to her sister.

I assure you that the good Lord is much kinder than you can imagine. He is satisfied with a glance, with a sigh of love … In regard to myself, I find it easy to practice perfection, because I have learned that the way to Jesus is through His Heart. Consider a small child who has vexed his mother by a display of bad temper or disobedience. If the child hides in a corner through fear of punishment, he feels that his mother will not forgive him. But if instead, he extends his little arms towards her and with a smile crise out: ‘Love, kiss me mamma, I will not do it again,’ will not his mother press the little one to her heart with tenderness, and forget what the child has done? And yet, through she knows very well that her dear little one will misbehave again at the first opportunity, that means nothing if the child appeals to her heart. He will never be punished…” p. 54.

So, never give up. Saints were sinners who didn’t give up. Always turn to Jesus with genuine sorrow for our falls. Appeal to his heart like St. Therese did and He will never forsake us.

Posted in Deacon Bob

Deacon Bob Tackles a Tough One

I have to say that when I read this gospel and started doing some research at one point I got really scared. I’ve since calmed down, but there’s no question that this parable can be challenging for us middle-class Americans. I’m going to share a few comments about the gospel and then talk about how the message applies to us.

First the context. A few verses before this parable is the end of last week’s gospel which ends with ‘you cannot serve both God and mammon.’ The next verse in the Bible, which we didn’t read, says: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.” Then, comes today’s reading which is directed to the Pharisees. So, it’s directed to those who love money.

This parable is the only parable where one of the principal characters is named. In all the other parables, Jesus uses generic names like a rich man had a steward, or a father had two sons, and so on. But here, the poor man is named Lazarus. One thing that is very interesting about this is that in the parable, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers – he says if Lazarus were raised from the dead, they would listen, and Abraham says no, if they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t listen even if someone is raised from the dead. In John’s gospel, a man named Lazarus is raised from the dead and not only do the Pharisees not listen, they want to kill him.

Another point about this parable is what is not said about the rich man. It doesn’t say that he stole, or murdered anyone, or committed adultery, or even broke the sabbath. He might have kept the commandments. Today we might say, well, I didn’t kill anyone. I’m not a Hitler. In other words, I’m basically a good guy. The rich man could say the same thing. He even seems to show some compassion for his brothers when he asks Abraham to warn them. But he still ends up in hell. Why? And this is the point of the parable.

This man was extremely wealthy. He dressed in purple garments which only the extremely wealthy could afford. He dined sumptuously each day. Again, extremely wealthy, and self-indulgent to the extreme. Lazarus is ill, he has sores, and he’s starving. He would have been very happy to eat the scraps that fell off the rich man’s table. The rich man did absolutely nothing for him. He knew him, he calls him by name when he speaks to Abraham, but he didn’t even give him the scraps that fell off his table. He had become so completely self-absorbed that he couldn’t even do that.

That’s the warning – love of money can lead us to become totally focused on ourselves. I was just listening to an interview where Ben Shapiro is interviewing Matt Walsh. Matt Walsh you may know as the guy who did a video titled ‘what is a woman’? Any way they’re discussing religion and Matt Walsh said something that really struck me. Ben asked him about heaven and hell, and Matt responded that it’s hard for us to imagine anyone choosing hell. Right. Look, here’s this place of eternal torment. Ooh, ooh, sign me up.  But what we can imagine is a person choosing himself or herself over God.  Love of money can take us there. That’s the warning.

And we all have to deal with this to some extent. Our 2nd reading begins “But you, man of God, … do this”. The word “but” indicates a reversal of thought because immediately preceding this, St. Paul warns Timothy about love of money, and he calls the love of money the root of all evil. So, it affects us all. For some it could be just an occasional temptation but for others it could be a real issue.

Okay, so how do we know. My first suggestion is – ask your spouse, or someone who is close to you. I did this, sort of. I asked my wife Joni what was my predominant fault – we both learned about this from Dan Burke so I asked her. And she said what are the 3 options again. I said it’s pride, vanity, and sensuality. She said, well, it’s hard to say, you have all 3. ☹

Your spouse will tell you. So, ask your spouse, or someone who knows you well, because we can easily deceive ourselves, and often times what’s obvious to others, we don’t see.

Here’s a few indicators that we might need to work on this:

  • Are we tight-fisted?
  • Do we use fraud or falsehood in order to acquire more money?
  • Have we run up a large credit card debt for unnecessary stuff?
  • Do we spend an inordinate amount of time playing the markets or shopping online?  

If we think we do need to work on this, the key to change is to choose the opposite; choose love, choose generosity, choose service, choose Jesus. We can’t just deny ourselves. That won’t work. We’re attracted to the comfort, the pleasure, the security, that money gives us. We need to be attracted to the opposing virtue – generosity, liberality. And in my experience, what will generally attract us to make a change is when we see something in somebody else that we like.

For example, several years ago, I was taking a class and the instructor was a Teaching Assistant who was working on his doctorate. He was married and I think his wife was working for some apostolate. He shared with us one time that they tithed, they gave 10% of their net income away. And it just really hit me – this guy’s making squat, and his wife can’t be doing much better, and they’re tithing! So, I spoke with Joni, and it took a little while, but we started tithing.

Another example. One time Joni and I went on a short trip to Miami to visit our pseudo-adopted daughter Tierney. And a friend that Joni had met, who was also very close to Tierney, went with us. I was very much struck by how careful and responsible she was with money. She found a good discount for the hotel room, she was careful about where we got our food, she was really a model to me of being a good steward. And again, it just made a big impact on me. Here’s a person who has more money than me and yet was more careful than I was in her spending. So, I’ve tried to change and become more like her.  

The bottom line is we want to choose Jesus, and His way. I remember when I was in college taking an Economics class and the professor was talking about all different kinds of investments, and he said all these things are good, but when it comes to feeling secure and a peaceful night’s sleep, there’s nothing like having a big fat pile of cash. And I get that. I think we all understand that. But Jesus is better. There’s more security in Him. No matter what the world throws at us: the economy crashing, another pandemic, Putin threatening to go nuclear – no matter what, Jesus is bigger, and He can’t be taken away. Money can be taken away, not Jesus.

So, brother and sisters, let us choose Jesus, let us choose generosity. And let us give cheerfully, no matter the amount, for in so doing, we are living as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

God Bless you, Deacon Bob

Posted in Deacon Bob

Take a Back Seat

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:1, 4:14)

On the surface, Jesus’s parable sounds like a lesson in good etiquette. It’s good advice to win the esteem of others. But the commentators point out there’s more to it than that. This is really about the banquet in heaven. It’s God’s way. We see this throughout scripture and the lives of the saints.

For example, Moses was the one prophet who God spoke with face-to-face because he was the meekest of all the men on the face of the earth.

Our Lady was a handmaid (the lowest of servants who respond to hand motions). She was the handmaid of the Lord, yet all generations to come would call her blessed. 

St. Joseph stayed in the background and was so quiet, we know almost nothing about him. Yet, he is the greatest of saints after Our Lady.

Philippians 2 includes an early church hymn about the humility of Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at (as did Eve).

Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.

He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.

Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name.

St. Therese, the little flower, illustrates this principle beautifully. She looked at the great saints who did many great things and she said, I want to be a great saint, but I’m just a little girl, I can’t climb the mountain like they did. So, she looked for a little way and Jesus showed her the way of spiritual childhood. She said anyone can follow this way provided they are willing to remain very small, unnoticed, not important, a child in the hands of Jesus. That’s what she did. She humbled herself and God exalted her.

She died in 1897, her autobiography, The Story of a Soul was published 1 year later in 1898. Between 1899 and 1902, letters started coming to the Carmel reporting miracles and prayers answered. By 1914, the convent was receiving 200 letters a day either telling of favors or asking for prayer. She was beatified in 1923 and by that time, the convent was receiving between 800 and 1,000 letter a day.

One thing that can block us from humbling ourselves like this is envy. Envy is sadness at another’s blessing and it’s precisely what we may feel when we see someone else being honored because there can be a little something inside us that says, why can’t that be me?

I’m going to give 3 practical reflections on envy.

First, is how beautiful is the opposite. The opposite of envy is to rejoice at another’s blessing, and there was 1 time in particular when I experienced this in a big way. I was at a conference on Unbound prayer. There were 200 to 300 people at the conference and during the conference, some people were able to go through a prayer session. At the end of the conference, the emcee asked if anyone wanted to share their experience. One young man, I think he was a college student, got up and shared how he was struggling with fear. He said at the end of his prayer session, a lady who was part of the prayer team said she saw a vision of him fighting with a Star Wars light saber, slaying a dragon. Well, when he was a boy, he and his brother used to play fight with Star Wars light sabers and the fact that she had that vision made him feel like he could slay his fear, and the whole place just jumped up to their feet clapping their hands and rejoicing over his experience. I was blown away. They didn’t know this guy from Adam and yet they were totally excited for him and the blessing he received. It was tremendously inspirational. It was just so good and so beautiful to witness.  

Second, it’s humility that enables us to receive blessings and do good with them. Many of you have heard of Scott Hahn. He’s an outstanding Catholic Scripture Scholar. I heard him once describe how when he was very young and new to Christianity, a group of friends told him about a prayer group that would pray over people and many of them were receiving the gift of tongues, and would he like to come. He said sure, he would like that gift. He went, was prayed over; but did not get the gift of tongues. But a little after he noticed he had an insatiable desire to understand scripture. He went on to become possibly the most influential Catholic Bible scholar, at least with protestants, in our time. His talk on his conversion story is the #1 selling Catholic CD ever with millions of copies sold. Imagine if instead of going with the gift he was given, he was upset that he didn’t receive the gift of tongues like his friends did and which he wanted. Humility enables us to receive the gifts we’ve been given and not envy the gifts of others.

Humility also enables us to acknowledge the gifts we do have and use them for good. I heard a priest tell this story about Mickey Mantle who was a superstar baseball player for the NY Yankees in the 1950’s and 60’s. One time when he was at the ballpark warming up for a game, a reporter asked him how was it that he was able to get pumped up for every game. He said because somewhere out there is a 10-year-old kid who has come here for the first time to watch me play. Now, we might think, what a cocky, conceited guy, but the truth is, he’s right. He had a tremendous gift. It inspired him; he did his best for a kid that he knew was out there, but he didn’t know. That’s humility – recognizing and acknowledging our gifts and using them for others.

Third, we all have been given gifts. Every person here has gifts, and the gifts vary, not only different kinds but different degrees as well. And I think there is a temptation for us to think we have to be the best; we have to be #1. If we’re not number 1, we’re no good. I remember listening to a presentation at work on the need to be #1 and the guy used the image of a dog race and he said, if you’re not #1, the view’s the same. So that can be our mindset. We have to be #1. First of all, that’s not possible; we can’t all be #1. More importantly, it’s not God’s way. All He wants is for us to use the gifts we’ve been given as best we can for others. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether we have tremendous abilities and can influence millions of people, or have more limited abilities and our circle is small. All that matters is what we do with what we have. Going back to St. Therese; she saw herself as a little girl, a little flower, and she had her limits. Even after being in the convent for several years, almost every single time the community would pray the rosary, she fell asleep. But she didn’t beat herself up like we would. She loved Jesus as best she could.

So, brothers and sisters let us walk humbly with our God recognizing that ultimately all gifts are from Him. Let us accept the gifts that we’ve been given, great or small, and use them to the best of our ability for others. God bless you!

Posted in Deacon Bob

Deacon Bob on Prayer

I remember Fr. Groeschel once described petitionary prayer as ‘how do I get God to do what I want’. So, I’m going to do a little catechesis on prayer of petition, and I have 3 points. 

First, God wants us to pray for ourselves. Some people never pray for themselves because they think it’s selfish. Granted we need a good balance, but God does want us to pray for ourselves because it reinforces our dependence on Him. In the middle of the Our Father we pray, give us this day our daily bread, our sustenance, what we need for life which means not only physical bread but also spiritual, the Word of God, the Eucharist. All of that is included in this 1 petition. As St. Augustine said, “God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give us.” There are good things God wants to give us and He wants us to ask for them.

One example from our life was when Joni and I went to Rome in 1998 w/ Fr. Stack. It started when Joni heard him mention the trip and she heard a little voice in her head say, ‘that’s the trip’, and she shared that with me and I said, well, okay, but we can’t afford it. But I told her I’d pray. So, what often works for me is to open the Bible and randomly look and more often than not, God gives me an answer. So, I went to the chapel at Ascension, said okay Lord, speak, and opened the Bible and I saw the words “to Rome”. And I thought well that could be a fluke, so I did it again, and I saw the words “at Rome”. Okay. It wasn’t a fluke, so we signed up, but money was still an issue. About 4 days before we had to come up with $2,200 Joni is freaking out. She’s been praying and we still don’t have the money. She called her friend Jeanne Danko who asked when we needed the money. Joni said 4 days, and she said okay, plenty of time, just keep praying. Sometime during that 4 days our tax guy called us and said we had a refund of $2,500. Joni’s first thought was, how great, He covered the trip and gave us $300 spending money. The point here is that there are times when God wants to give us good things, but He wants us to ask and to trust. 

Second point is that God always gives us what is truly good for us. At the end of the gospel Jesus says, ‘what father would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish, or scorpion when he asks for an egg’. I’ve always been puzzled about this gospel, because whenever I hear it, I think, what in the world would possess a father to even consider handing his son a snake when he asks for a fish. Then, I heard an interpretation from Fr. Apostoli which was corroborated by a footnote I saw in my NAB in Matthew’s version of this text. Matthew’s version is essentially the same, but it says stone and bread instead of scorpion and egg. The interpretation is this – to a child, a stone can look like a Middle Eastern loaf of bread, and a snake can look like a fish called a barbut, so imagine a child pointing to a stone or a snake and asking to have it. The father knows that the child really wants bread or a fish and so he gives the child what he really wants, not what he mistakenly thinks he wants. Then Jesus says, if you understand this and give your child what is good, how much more will my heavenly Father give you what is truly good. 

Third point is that we are to be persistent in prayer. I want to explain this by way of contrast. On the one hand, He wants us to persevere – keep asking if we don’t get an answer right away. On the other hand, he condemns the babbling of the pagans who think they will be heard by their many words. What’s the difference? The key is relationship. The pagan has no relationship with his God. His prayer is more like a magic formula – say these words so many times and poof, his “god” answers his prayers. Christian prayer is all about relationship. 

Think of your father, or someone who is like a father to you, and imagine you want something from him. How would you ask him? What would you say? Now suppose he seems reluctant to give you what you requested. Would you give up, or keep asking? How would you persist? Joni says sometimes she just says please, please, please … What would you do? Whatever you would do with the father in your life, do that with God. He wants us to be totally natural and come to him as our father. 

There is a further element to persistence. The commentaries says that the word that is translated as persistence is closer to shamelessness. The NIV translates it as shameless audacity. We see examples of this all over the Bible. In our first reading, Abraham negotiated with God with shameless audacity. Think of the 2 blind men on the side of the road where Jesus was passing by who were asking Jesus for mercy and the crowd is trying to hush them up and they respond by crying out all the louder. Think of the woman who worked her way through a crowd to get close to Jesus because she was convinced if she just touched His garment she would be healed. Think of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof right in front of Jesus while he was preaching. Over and over, we see stories of shameless audacity, holy boldness, and Jesus loves it. 

Here’s a story about Joni who has much more shameless audacity than me. My daughter Kaitlyn and her husband Chris needed to sell their house. They were in a little condo in Crofton with 2 children and #3 on the way, they had a contract on a bigger house in Bowie (actually Joni’s childhood home but that’s another story) and they needed to sell their house, and nothing was happening. So, Joni started praying boldly. She basically went to God with total confidence and said, okay, you gotta make this happen. She got up one morning and she prayed the novena to the Infant of Prague. After praying she was convinced the house would sell. She called Kaitlyn and said you’re going to get a contract today. Kaitlyn said well that would be a total miracle because we don’t even have someone looking. An hour later Kaitlyn called and asked to bring the kids over at noon because someone was going to look at the house. Joni just laughed. Kaitlyn and Chris got the contract the following morning so you could say that Joni was a little off. But what’s going on here? Is Joni a saint that gets whatever she prays for? No, although I think she’s on her way; but she’s a very trusting daughter. She has a very deep relationship with Him from years of suffering and prayer and in this case, she had the sense that God would provide. On another occasion, our son Logan who is a percussionist and trying to win an audition at a symphony had an audition here with the Marine Corp band and we were all excited, so we turned to Joni to do her thing. She prayed hard as we all did, but she never got the same sense with God on this one. He made it to the final round but didn’t win. So, in the end it’s up to God. We do our part by asking, and if the answer is No, we trust.  

So, 1) God wants us to ask, 2) He will only give us what is good, and 3) He wants us to pray with persistence. All of this forms a relationship. That’s really what it’s about. We pray with persistence, not because God needs to be told what we need, but so that we may realize our total dependence on Him for everything. In the Our Father, we pray for our daily bread which means every day we ask for our needs. I worked with a guy who struggled because he was a little slow. Every day he began work on his knees. Prayer is the one thing God told us to do always. He didn’t tell us to do good works or to fast constantly, but we are to pray without ceasing. St. Therese says praying is to the soul as breathing is to the body. 

So, brothers and sisters, let us pray. Let us pray because we need it. Let us pray because it pleases Him. Let us pray with shameless audacity because He loves that. Let us pray with child-like confidence because He is our Father who wants to give us good things. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Servants of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate

Pray for our Church. Pray for our world!

In 1989, while surfing the Internet (is that still a thing?), I happened upon an article about Our Lady of Akita Japan that changed my life. As Sister Agnes prayed the Servant of the Eucharist Prayer, Our Lady had her insert the word “truly” between the words, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus”, and the words, “present in the Holy Eucharist.” While I prayed through the prayer, a strong feeling and non-audible voice said in my heart, “This is your prayer. Pray it.” It was like the words and meaning of this prayer jumped off the screen and embedded themselves deeply in my heart. From that moment on I’ve prayed the Servant of the Eucharist Prayer every time I’ve received Our Lord in the Eucharist. It is then that I feel closest to Him. After thousands of recitations of this beautiful prayer, from the depth of my soul, I know that God, through His grace has transformed my heart, my mind, and body into this prayer. This prayer is transformative!!!

Through the many years, I have shared this prayer occasionally, one-on-one with others. But now, I feel called to share it on a greater scale for the Church. Jesus told us that when two or more are gathered in his name (and I believe this means in prayer as well as in proximity to each other) then He is with us. (Matt. 18:20). It has been said that “As goes the Church, so goes the world.” As members of the Body of Christ we need to pray, at this difficult time, in petition and in penance for the healing and purification of our beloved Church and all the members of the Body of Christ. Therefore, I ask you to consider joining your prayers, with mine and others, as part of The Servant of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate. I know that said in love of Our Lord truly present in the Holy Eucharist, this prayer will not only transform those praying, but also can and will transform the Church.

Servant of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate – (Under the patronage of Mary, Mother of the Church, St. Joseph, Father of the Church, St. Lydwine, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Bernadette and St. Andre Bessette)

The Servants of the Eucharist Prayer

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Truly present in the Holy Eucharist. I consecrate my body and soul to be entirely one with Your Most Sacred Heart, offered in perpetual sacrifice on all the altars of the world, giving praise to the Father and imploring constantly for the coming of His Kingdom. Please accept and receive this humble offering of myself and use me according to Your Will, for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls. Amen

(To be prayed daily after receiving Communion or as a Spiritual Communion.)

Intentions of the Servants of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate:

Out of love for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His Church, we pray, consecrate and offer ourselves to the Most Sacred Heart truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  Our Lord said that when two or more are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst (Matt. 18:20). Therefore, we offer the gift of ourselves in union with Christ’s gift of self and join our prayers with others in this apostolate praying in reparation of sins committed by the members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  In the Most Holy name of Jesus, we pray this Servants of the Eucharist Prayer for the Church and for ourselves, that we will live in accord with God’s most Holy Will. Throughout our life as Servants of the Eucharist we will seek to perpetuate the light of Christ throughout the darkness of our world, desiring always to be engulfed in the Most loving and Sacred Heart of Jesus in this life and the next. We strive, through the grace of God, to not only pray the words of the Servants of the Eucharist prayer, but also live as servants of the Eucharist through prayer, sacrifice, and service.

PRAYER

*Pray the Servants of the Eucharist Prayer daily for the Universal Catholic Church: Pope, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and Laity

*As members of the Body of Christ we will strive to devote ourselves to and receive the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus found in the Most Holy Eucharist, and offer ourselves in a spirit of love and in reparation for the sins committed by the members of the Catholic Church.

*Devotion and/or consecration to Our Lady, Mother of the Church and to St. Joseph, Father of the Church

*Daily Rosary for personal growth in holiness, as well as for growth in holiness of the entire Body of Christ and the Universal Catholic Church, and for the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. (This intention can be added to those of your daily rosary.)

SACRIFICE:

*Offering our bodies, minds and souls to God in union with His Most Sacred Heart offered in perpetual Sacrifice on all the Altars of the world.

Corporeal Sacrifices – We unite our pains, illnesses, disabilities, handicaps, discomforts and inconveniences with Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, offered first on Calvary and also, as a perpetual sacrifice on all the altars of the world, out of love.

Spiritual Sacrifices – We unite our doubts, spiritual dryness, confusion, disappointments, spiritual crosses, sorrows, and joys with Christ’s offering of His Most Sacred Heart, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, offered first on Calvary, and also as a perpetual sacrifice on all the altars of the world, out of love.

Mental/Psychological Sacrifices – We unite our mental turmoil, annoyances, trials, frustrations, difficulties, pain, anxiety, fear, and mental anguish, with Christ’s offering of His Most Sacred Heart, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, offered first on Calvary and also as a perpetual sacrifice on all the altars of the world, out of love.

SERVICE– We will strive to use the gifts God has given us to help others through corporeal and spiritual works of mercy, all out of love for God and neighbor, in union with His Most Sacred Heart, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and in reparation of sins committed by the Church.

Mary, Mother of the Church, St. Joseph, Father of the Church, St. Lydwine, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Bernadette and St. Andre Bessette, pray for us!

If you choose to participate in the Servants of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate, please feel free to email me at jonijseith@gmail.com and let me know if you have any questions. If you’d kindly share with me, the state and/or country in which you reside, that information would be appreciated but not required. Your email address will not be given or sold to anyone and there will never be solicitations of monies for, and of, this Apostolate.

Optional prayers, and recommended practices:

*Pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the prayer of the Church for the Church, all its members, and the entire world. (Morning Prayer is available at http://www.ibreviary.com/m/breviario.php ibreviary or through Zoom every day at 8:30am EST – us02web.zoom.us/j/6365569614  Email jonijseith@gmail.com for password)

           * Make a Holy Hour once a month before the Blessed Sacrament for the intentions of the Apostolate. (Sacred Heart Church Bowie, MD offers a Holy Hour for priests on the first Saturday of the month at 8:00amEST)

**Members of the Servants of the Eucharist Prayer Apostolate should be aware that none of these requirements binds under pain of sin.

Posted in Deacon Bob

Deacon Bob’s Divine Mercy Sunday Homily

Today we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy. We owe this feast day first to Jesus who wanted it, then to Saint Faustina who was the one He chose to make His desire known, and finally to Pope St. John Paul II who promoted this feast. In fact, he said from the beginning of his pontificate, it was his special task to proclaim this message of Divine Mercy. He said he has a burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.

So, today is big. Last weekend of course was the top; but today is right up there. It is the greatest day of mercy in the whole year which I’ll explain at the end.

So, first of all, what is divine mercy? It is the heart of the gospel. It is the central message of the gospel. It is love in the face of poverty, weakness, brokenness, sin. It is love in the face of suffering. It’s the good news that God doesn’t love us because we’re so good, but because He’s so good. It’s the good news that His love is like water that rushes to the lowest place. It’s the good news that Jesus will leave the 99 to go in search of the one. It’s the good news of His unconditional love.

Consider this. For many of us, from very early childhood, have been conditioned to believe that love has to be earned, we have to be deserving. As very small children, we learn that if we want to be loved we have to be a good boy or a good girl. As we get older, we learn that if we want to be loved we have to be somebody. We have to be smart, or good-looking, or athletic, or musical, or something; we have to have something that makes us appealing and attractive to others. This is the world’s way of love and for many of us, it’s what we know. It is reality. Even devout people in the Church can unwittingly relate to God in this worldly way.  

It isn’t like this with God. Maybe it’s the actuary in me, but to me, it’s kinda like the Catholic view of healthcare. You remember when universal healthcare was a big topic. Well, the Catholic view of healthcare is that ideally, it is given based on need, not on ability to pay. That’s God’s mercy. He gives mercy based on need, not on ability to pay. In the diary of Saint Faustina Jesus said, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy”, P723. Likewise, Saint Faustina speaking to Jesus says: “You are a bottomless sea of mercy for us sinners; and the greater the misery, the more right we have to your mercy”. P793. That’s generally not how we think. Our inclination is to say our best friend has the greatest right to our mercy; Jesus says it’s the greatest sinner, the one most in need.

There’s another issue of rights that I’ve struggled with for years and I just learned something while preparing for this homily that is affecting me very deeply. In the chaplet, we offer Jesus to the Father. For years I’ve wondered how is that possible? I can offer myself, but I can’t offer you; how is it that I can offer Jesus? There have even been times when I refused to pray the chaplet because I said to myself – I can’t do that.

What I never noticed before is that the chaplet is a eucharistic prayer. Eternal Father, I offer you the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ… That’s the eucharist and I never noticed that before.  

Now, in the Mass, the priest, along with all of us, offers Jesus to the Father. Listen to these words from Eucharistic Prayer 1,

Therefore, O Lord, …

We, your servants and your holy people,

Offer to your glorious majesty

From the gifts that you have given us,

This pure victim,

This holy victim,

This spotless victim,

The holy Bread of eternal life

And the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

The priest, along with all of us, offers the Eucharistic Lord to the Father. Now, hear again the words of the chaplet,

Eternal Father, I offer you the body, blood, soul, and divinity

Of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ…

It’s the same thing. As my son Fr. Chris said so beautifully, the chaplet is an extension of the Mass.  

But the question still remains – by what right can I offer Jesus to the Father? So, I went back to the diary to the place where Faustina first says this prayer. The context is a vision that she has where she sees an Angel of divine wrath and justice about to strike a certain place that she doesn’t name, but she begins to implore the angel to hold off, penance would be done; but she felt like her plea was useless in the face of divine anger. Nothing is happening, and What could she say? Then she saw the Holy Trinity and even more she felt like she could say nothing in the face of divine justice. But then she felt the power of Jesus in her soul, and He gave her the prayer of the chaplet. So, she prayed that prayer, pleading with God for the world, and the angel became helpless.

It was Jesus Himself who gave her that prayer. He gave Faustina, and us, the right to offer Him to the Father to plead for mercy. As the author of one of my textbooks on the Mass put it, “we are given the privilege of ourselves offering what Jesus once offered…” (What Happens at Mass, p.96).   To me, this is beyond words – that Jesus would give someone so undeserving the right to offer Him to the Father to plead for mercy for us, is beyond words.

One more very important thing about the chaplet before getting back to today’s feast. Many of us have family members and friends that we’re worried about in terms of their salvation. Jesus said this “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the pardon is the same.” P811. Faustina then goes on to recount many occasions where she felt called to pray for a person who was dying and was not in good shape, and when she prayed the chaplet, the person was flooded with God’s mercy and died in peace.  

I began by saying that today is the greatest day of mercy in the year. Jesus said, on this day, the divine floodgates are open. He said, “the soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” P699. And it really is that simple. The Marian Fathers summarize the promise as:   

  • Today, go to confession, and receive Him worthily in communion. Or, if we’ve gone to confession recently, that suffices, provided we’re still in a state of grace when we receive communion. That’s it.

(https://www.thedivinemercy.org/celebrate/greatgrace/graces)

A friend of mine said that she heard from a priest that the grace we receive today is like the grace of baptism. Our soul is wiped totally clean.

When we come forward to receive Him in communion, let us come filled with trust and confidence. Remember that mercy is His passion. We all have passions – things we’re passionate about. Jesus’s passion is mercy. So let us come trusting totally in Jesus, that He will do what He has promised.

God bless you all!!!

Posted in Deacon Bob

First Saturday Devotion and Russia

The five First Saturdays Devotion requested by Our Lady of Fatima is connected to the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

July 1917 apparition. At this apparition, Our Lady showed hell to the children. Afterward, she said “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” *

Mary went on to say a worse war would break out if people don’t stop offending God. And then she said “To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.”

On March 19,1939, Sister Lucia said “Whether the world has war or peace depends on the practice of this devotion, along with the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Our Lady made the request to Lucia on Dec. 10, 1925. The request is:

With the intention of making reparation for the offenses against the Immaculate Heart, we are asked to do the following on 5 consecutive first Saturdays (source: https://www.bluearmy.com/first-saturday-devotion/):

  • Go to Confession (may be 8 days before or after, if you are in a state of grace)
  • Receive Holy Communion (can be received at a Saturday evening anticipatory Mass).
  • Pray five decades of the Rosary
  • Keep Our Lady company for 15 minutes while meditating on one or more of the mysteries of the Rosary.

In addition to peace, Our Lady has promised “final perseverance” at the hour of death to those who fulfill the Five First Saturday’s devotion.

* quotations from “Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words”.