Posted in Fr. Chris, Fr. Chris Videos

Fr. Chris’ Lenten Retreat, Leaving the World’s Cacophony and Entering the Desert of Silence with Christ

This talk was given to the members of the John Carroll Society of Washington, DC. They were kind to give me permission to post it here.

(The introduction and talk begin at the 3 minute, 14 second mark of the video.) Enjoy!

Leaving the World’s Cacophony and Entering the Desert of Silence with Christ

Posted in Deacon Bob

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect

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.  

God bless you all!

Posted in Deacon Bob

To Be Fearful or Free? That is the Question

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.

God bless you, my friends.

Posted in Joni

Clean Up in Aisle 2021

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.

The Cleaning Process (messy and grueling) The Finished Result (so worth it)

                                                                                       Task completed.

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.

Mirjana Soldo asks us in her book, *My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph by Mirjana Soldo

“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

Listen

Love (wanting the true good for ourselves and others)

What are some of your ideas?

Posted in Deacon Bob

Feast of the Holy Family

Several years ago I was at a party and I was talking with a friend of mine and we were sharing what was going on with our kids, and at one point I said, you know we’re really blessed with our kids, and he said yes, but, it doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work to raise kids that are a blessing.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Families are a tremendous blessing. Our son Logan is up from Texas and to see him and Eric laughing the other day is an incredible joy. Or, Joni was telling me how Fr. Chris came over and the 3 boys were having a great Catholic nerdy conversation. These moments are great blessings and they really give us a tiny foretaste of heaven. Our earthly family prepares us for eternal life where we will live forever with our heavenly family.

There are 3 thoughts that I believe God put on my heart about family life that I’d like to talk about today.

First is the importance of the love between the father and mother.  I remember years ago speaking with the wife of one of Joni’s cousins; they had recently gotten married and she was saying that whenever they go back to Pittsburgh to spend a couple of days with his parents, he sleeps better. When a child sees the love between mom and dad, there’s a security there that is irreplaceable.  

Second is how important it is that we are active in our child’s life. I have to confess that this one is on my heart because it’s where I struggle the most with guilt. We parents have more influence to form our child than anyone else in the world, and we don’t have to do anything to get that influence it’s just there – it’s God-given if you will. I used to tell young couples in baptism prep class that I went through 12 years of CCD and I’m sure there were times when we read Bible stories in class; but, I don’t remember them. But, I do remember occasionally when my mom and dad would get us kids together in the family room and we would read Bible stories. I’m sure the CCD teachers were all great; but there’s a relationship between parents and kids that makes a much great impression. It’s just the way it is.

In the old days, it was almost automatic that parents would be active with their children because they spent lots of time together. If you had a farm, the kids worked the farm with their parents, so the parents were forming them without even thinking about it. Or, in the case of Jesus, as a young boy he would have worked in his father’s shop with his dad. When I was a boy, I had a picture next to my bed of the boy Jesus in the carpenter shop with his dad. I loved that picture. We’ve lost that.

When my kids were younger, take your child to work day was a big deal. So, one year I took Logan to work with me, and then Eric the next year. Let’s just say it didn’t work so well. I was mostly on the computer or on the phone and I tried to give them something to do; but it just didn’t work. The one thing they liked was the free soda. You go to the coke machine and press a button and out dropped a free soda. They loved that.

But today we have to consciously make an effort to be active in our kid’s life and it can be really hard. Many of you are doing a fantastic job with homeschooling or other activities with the kids and it’s great. I admire you, I commend you and encourage you to keep it up; you will be blessed. But, if there’s a little voice in your conscience speaking to you right now, first, go and speak with someone and make sure the voice is from God; but, if it is, I strongly encourage you to find a way.  Find some way to be active with your child. Right now I’m doing my best to make up for some shortfall when my kids were younger. I’m not going to go into details; but we all know it’s way better to do things right and well when the kids are younger than to try to make up for losses later.  

The 3rd point is the importance of fathers in handing on the faith to children. You know how when it comes to things religious, it seems that women have it all over us. I remember many years ago when Joni and I were part of a small group here, the couples would meet twice a month and then for a short period, the guys decided that we needed more so we started meeting the intervening weeks. I remember one time, one of the guys just threw out the question so how many of you think your wife is holier than you? It took us about a tenth of a second before we all had our hands in the air.

And there are many examples I could give. St. Teresa of Avila said that in her experience, deep prayer was far more common in women than in men.

But, there’s at least one area that it seems God has ordained for fathers, and that is handing on the faith to the children. There was a large Swiss study in the year 2000 and I’m just going to cite a few numbers to highlight the role of fathers.

  • On the one extreme, if the mother is a regular churchgoer and the father is non-practicing, 2% of the children grow up to become regular churchgoers, and 60% stop practicing. 
  • Moving up, both mother and father are regular churchgoers, 33% of the children become regular churchgoers and only 25% stop practicing; the rest are in between.
  • Moving up still further, the father is a regular churchgoer and the mother is non-practicing, 44% of the children become regular churchgoers and something less than 25% stop practicing.

In other words, if dads take faith in God seriously, then the children will take faith in God seriously. This is not to discourage moms, but to encourage dads.

So dads, you don’t have to be theologians; you don’t have to have all the answers to the questions your kids have about religion. You don’t even have to be active at church, you just need to take God seriously. If He’s important to you, He’ll be important to your kids; if He’s not important to you, He will not be important to your kids. It’s just that simple. When I see this I can’t help but think of a hymn in the Breviary – Rise up O Men of God, Have Done with Lesser Things!

Lastly, I want to speak a word to all of you whose kids are grown and like me you feel like you’ve fallen short and are dealing with guilt. First of all, it’s not always on us. Joni takes great comfort thinking about God. He had Adam and Eve and look what happened to them. But if we have fallen short, the great thing about our faith is that we have such a good reason for hope, so I’m going to end with a story of hope.

There was a 19th century Italian guy named Bartolo Longo. He was not a good guy. He was a very smart atheist, became a Satanic Priest and his mission in the Satanic church was to go to the universities and get as many of the young people to renounce the faith as possible, and he was good at it. But, he had a mother who prayed lots of rosaries for him and one day, the Blessed Mother appeared to Bartolo, and said you don’t deserve any help but because your mother has prayed a lot for you, I give to you the grace of conversion. With that he had a complete change, began working for God’s kingdom, even set up a town dedicated to Our Blessed Mother. He is now Blessed Bartolo Longo. There is always great hope with God.

As we prepare to receive Jesus in communion, let us rejoice and thank Him for the blessing of family, and even with falling short, let us thank Him for His love and mercy which is always a source of great hope for us. God bless you all.

Posted in Deacon Bob

Advent – A Time To Watch, Wait, and Welcome The Lord of Mercy and Love!

This is a homily Deacon Bob gave for the first week of Advent. Unfortunately, I forgot to post it in a timely manner. Shocker!!! It is a wonderful reflection on preparing oneself during this Advent Season, even if it is a couple of weeks late. Please don’t let my delay interfere with you receiving this gift of Deacon Bob’s inspired words…

The theme from our gospel today is pretty obvious – Be watchful. Be alert.

I checked the commentaries to see what we are watching for and there’s at least 2 meanings – the first Christians in Jerusalem were to watch for the signs of the destruction of the Temple that Jesus warned about, and when they saw them, they were to flee, which they did. It also points to our meeting Jesus either at the end of our life, or the end of the world. Either way, it points to our judgment, when we come face-to-face with Jesus.

So, I want to share some of my own personal thoughts on the judgment because on the one hand, scripture speaks very positively about it. For example, 1 Jn 5:13 says this, “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” Wow, you may know that you have eternal life. And in Lk 21:28, after speaking about his 2nd coming, Jesus says “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, there’s no fear, no worry, I’m coming to save you, so lift your head. But, then there are also many others that make it clear that our salvation is conditional and that we must be victorious. For example, we’ve been reading from the book of Revelation at Mass the last couple of weeks and Revelation begins with 7 letters to the 7 churches in Asia Minor and every letter is a warning to stand firm and ends with a statement like “he who conquers”, or “the victor” will be saved. Or, in Lk 20:35 Jesus speaks of “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead “. I don’t know about you, but when I hear words that speak of being victorious, or deemed worthy, I get very nervous, because I know I’m not worthy. So, I’m just going to share what helps me and hopefully you will find it helpful as well.

First, I take the warnings of Jesus very seriously and so I’m trying, trying to respond to His love, trying to be obedient, trying to love my neighbor; but I have come to the point where I have no hope the my efforts alone will make me worthy; but, here’s the good news, I have come to believe totally in the mercy of Jesus Christ.Here’s why.

The good thief. The good thief was a thief. He didn’t have a lot of good works. Yet, at the end of his life, he repented and turned to Jesus, and that was enough. Jesus said today you will be with me in paradise.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus said “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Lk 17:3-4.

You see there is a world of difference between those who are obstinate in their sin, and those who sin from weakness and ask forgiveness. Jesus always forgives the latter, always.

I’ll share one little story in our family of how this can play out. Several years ago, Joni went to her cousin Janet’s house to be with her Aunt Selma. Selma is Janet’s mother and she was dying. Now Joni went up because she loved her Aunt Selma; but, also because her family is Jewish so she was a little concerned. After she was up there for a little while, Selma started talking with her about death, and Joni shared a piece of advise she heard from Fr. Groschel. He said, if you die and you see 2 doors, and 1 says “Mercy”, and the other says “Saved”, go through the Mercy door. So, Selma nodded her Okay. Then, later that evening she asked, what’s that door again? Mercy, take the Mercy door. Oh yeah. The following day was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar where Jewish people do a total fast for 24 hours and Selma didn’t want to eat; but, Janet said that doesn’t apply to people who are sick, to which Selma responded, “but I have so much to atone for”, and when Joni heard that, she was at peace. She gave her a big hug and said “You’re going to be okay Aunt Selma”. The following day, Joni came home and 2 days later Selma passed; but we have great hope. She went to God repentant and seeking mercy.

And we see this in the saints as well.

In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena shares what God told her about the judgment. He said that eveyone upon death knows where they belong and goes there straight away. He said “the righteous, who have lived in charity and died in love, if they have lived perfectly in virtue, illuminated with the light of faith, with perfect hope in the Blood of the Lamb, when the extremity of death comes, see the good which I have prepared for them, and embrace it with the arms of love… Others who have passed their lives, and have arrived at the last extremity of death with an ordinary charity… embrace My mercy with the same light of faith and hope that had those perfect ones, but in them, it is imperfect, for because they were imperfect, they drew My mercy, counting My mercy greater than their sins.” And so arrive at purgatory. “The wicked sinners do the contrary, for seeing with desperation, their destination, they embrace it with hatred…” Notice the imperfect; they draw down God’s mercy, counting His mercy greather than their sins.

Many of you are probably familiar with the story of St. Therese of Lisieux of how when she was still a young girl, she saw an article in the newspaper about a man who was going to be executed because of murder and that he was unrepentant. She felt called to pray and sacrifice for him and a few days later read that just before he was executed, he turned and kissed the crucifix that a priest was holding up for him. She rejoiced! She prayed that he would receive the grace for repentance and at the last minute he responded. That’s enough.

According to Fr. Andrew Apostoli, St. Teresa of Avila had a younger brother who committed suicide, and of course in the 1500’s, it was just accepted that a person who kills himself will go to hell. St. Teresa prayed to Jesus that out of His (that is Jesus’s) love for her, to please have mercy on her brother. How beautiful. The heart of a saint pleads for mercy, and God loves that because it’s his heart also.

This is our hope and like I said for me personally, this is the hill I will die on.

There’s a 2nd part to the good news that I will close with and that is the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope enables us to believe that God will bring to completion the good work that He has begun in us. So, even though I know that right now I am absolutely not worthy, hope allows me to believe that eventually He will make me worthy, either in this life or the next, and the better I cooperate with Him, the sooner it will happen.

So, brothers and sisters, here we are in Advent, a great season of grace preparing us to meet Jesus. Ask Him what is the best thing you can do this Advent to grow in intimacy with Him. I hemmed and hawed a bit before asking Him but as soon as I started to ask, I felt like He gave me an answer. I spend far too much time worrying and thinking about myself and the problems I have to deal with; instead I need to spend more time in friendly conversation with Jesus. I need to develop a real friendship with Him. So, that’s what I’ll be working on and I encourage all of you, ask. Don’t let this season pass by. God bless you.

Posted in Joni

Thanksgiving

A reflection on this year’s Thanksgiving Gospel reading by Joni…

In Luke 17:11-19, we are told of Jesus healing the ten lepers and that only one of the ten returned to Jesus to thank Him for his healing. Jesus then says to the healed man, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

The man went back and made himself present to Jesus. Not only did the cured leper humbly thank Him for the gift of healing but when doing so God gave the man an even greater gift than he probably even realized he needed – the gift of salvation. “Your faith has saved you” (Lk. 17:19). That one man was the only one who received the greatest gift Jesus has for us, not physical health, but spiritual health – salvation. Because that man made himself present to God in faith and humility this man afforded himself an occasion in which God could bless him with the gift of eternal life. Something so simple as a mere “thank you” can provide this gift.

It is no coincidence that the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”. When we make ourselves present at the table of the Holy Eucharist in thanksgiving to God Almighty and consume the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, we too are promised the gift of eternal life. It is written, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6: 51).

That one man, putting everything else in its proper place, put God before all else. This one healed man went back to thank Jesus. I can only imagine if I were one of those healed lepers, how excited I’d be to show my priest, my family, and my friends. I’d be running around like a madwoman telling everyone in my path whether I knew them or not, that I was finally healed. But would I have first done what was needed to be done? Would I put God before all else and return to thank Him? I hope I would.

Right now, the entire world is being told to put our health first, “Stay healthy! Stay safe! Protect yourself at all costs!” The world’s gospel preaches that the most important thing is to stay physically healthy. Yes, we can and should take measures to keep our bodies healthy. But what measures are we taking to keep our souls healthy? What good is it to have a healthy body but a sick soul (Matt. 16:26)? We readily accept that we all need physical healing when we are sick. Why can’t we accept that we need spiritual healing even more? We all recognize that there is something seriously unhealthy going on in our world. But a physical healing or vaccine will do little to cure what truly ails us. We need Jesus to heal our soul.

On this Thanksgiving weekend can we be like the one healed man in the gospel who runs to Jesus in faith, love, and appreciation, for all the gifts he’s been given. You might be thinking, “But this year has sucked! I don’t feel that I’ve received any blessings.” Let me suggest that if you are reading this, then you have received a wonderful blessing amid all the heartache and chaos that this year has brought. You are alive! And God has sustained you in this miraculous gift of life for one reason – to know Him better, and to grow in love of Him as He is head over heels in love with you. Run back to Him and thank Him for this marvelous gift of life. Be in joyful anticipation of what your humble, thankful presence before God will bring. I can’t tell you that you’ll receive the blessings you desire. But I can promise you, like that one man, God will give you the blessing you need, His gift of salvation.

Now, I want to tell you a little personal story that accentuates what I’m trying to say here.

One day on our way to Physical Therapy, my son, Eric and I found ourselves with an extra 30 minutes to kill before our appointment. I suggested to Eric that we pull into the parking lot at St. Michael’s Church in Silver Spring and direct our prayers to God quietly in the direction of the Tabernacle where Our Lord waits in the Holy Eucharist. (We weren’t allowed in the church because of the early and stringent Covid restrictions.) As we prayed silently in the Whole Foods parking lot next to the church, a homeless woman knocked on our window. After trying to help her out, something very strange happened that will be with both Eric and me forever. She looked at Eric and told him things that were impossible for her to know. She also told him things that I believe, were known to God Himself and that answered questions Eric had in the secret of his heart. Her words gave him such consolation after a grueling year of three hospitalizations and intense pain and anguish.

Then she turned to me. She told me that I’ve had many operations although there was NO way for her to know that. I didn’t have my brace on, nor was my wheelchair in the car. She was a complete stranger who couldn’t possibly have known that I’ve had 5 serious surgeries in the past 3 years. Then she told me other remarkable things, many of which came to pass within the next few weeks, and of which I had no previous knowledge. This woman’s words filled my heart too, with unspeakable consolation. Then she walked away, and Eric and I drove to physical therapy in awe of what just happened.

To say I was speechless would be an understatement. I’ve had amazing experiences, blessings, and gifts from the Lord amid my life and connected to my illnesses, but THIS WAS A FIRST!!! I spoke with quite a few priests about this experience and ALL assured me that this was the Holy Spirit allowing this woman to give God’s gift of prophecy. This homeless woman spoke the Lord’s words to us in the parking lot of St. Michael’s Church and Whole Foods. Who could have ever imagined such a thing?!

So how this all ties together with my original thought above and why I feel so strongly about sharing the above message with others is this…

If Eric and I hadn’t responded affirmatively to God’s invitation to rest with Him in prayer, we would’ve missed the truly marvelous gift that God wanted to share with us. Like that one man who went back to the Lord to thank Him, God wanted to bless us too. God was there waiting for us, His children to just show up in humility, praying in thanksgiving before Him so that He could pour out His gifts on us. Jesus and this homeless woman would’ve been there whether or not we were. But we would’ve missed His blessing if we hadn’t shown. Go show yourself to Jesus. Receive the blessings that God has for you that will sustain you forever, His gift of eternal life.

May God bless you all.

Posted in Joni

Joni’s Rant Regarding the 2020 Presidential Race from Hell

My dear family, friends, Liberals, Conservatives, Americans, on November 3rd, or shortly there afterward (God willing) we will know who the President of the United States will be for the next four years. Some of us will be happy ecstatic, while many of our fellow Americans will be disappointed crushed to the core. It’s wonderful that we all have strong feelings about who should govern our country. It means that we still carry an American pride somewhere in us. Some will have a president they are happy with while others will have four years of a president that will, at best need to be tolerated. Our preferred presidential candidate might be the winner, or he might be the loser. That’s how democratic elections work. Even as children we were taught (or used to be taught) how to be good sports when winning or when losing a competition. We’ve lost that. The anger and hatred that has sprung up and taken hold of so many Americans is a disaster waiting to happen that is happening. In many ways, we’ve become a country of angry people resembling childish brats when they don’t get their way. Many of us need to be put in time-out!

Here’s a suggestion… How about, no matter who wins, let’s accept that he IS our president because the people of America have elected him to be the President of ALL the people of the United States. This, “Not my president!” thing has to stop. If the seat is won by the candidate you preferred, and I disliked, then congratulations to you. I don’t have to like him or agree with him. But I do need to acknowledge that he will be my president, albeit a terrible one, for the next four years. That’s how a functioning democracy works. If my preferred candidate wins, then “Yay for me.” It’s ok to be happy if we win, and disappointed if we lose. I’m just asking that we be civil human beings and not a bunch of rabid animals ruled by hate, fear, and anger.

Whatever happened to all that talk of tolerance? Tolerating others who disagree with us isn’t easy, but that’s exactly what tolerance is.

Tolerance [ˈtäl(ə)rəns] NOUN – the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

It’s easy to accept and be kind to those who think as we do, but that’s not tolerance, that’s camaraderie. Where’s virtue in that?

Someone told me after one of the elections, “Well you couldn’t have possibly been this upset when so and so won the presidency.” That person was shocked, seriously SHOCKED when I said, “Absolutely! But I just picked up my big-girl pants and moved on”, hoping, praying, and doing everything I could do to help my candidate of choice win next time.

And there will be a “next-time” IF we Americans get our act together. If we continue down this path of hate and intolerance that has been exploding for the past few years, WE WILL FALL! That motto “United we stand, divided we fall” is true people!!! And we Americans are falling hard and fast. We, as a democratic country are supposed to be “for the people, and by the people.” But we are not! Many have become “for ourselves”, not “for others”. Democracy fails if we can’t be people for others, those most vulnerable, and those who appear strong. It’s not just the “other side’s” fault, those people over there. It is all of our faults. None of us are perfect, so let’s stop acting and posting like we are. We need to unite in the purpose of healing. The UNITED States of America is anything but united and if we continue in this downward spiral of hate and division, we won’t see another election in four years. We will self-destruct and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. I love this country and the American people too much to let this happen. I love my children and grandchildren too much to leave a ruined country as my legacy to them.

Of course, I think my way is better, and you think your way is better. That’s how it goes. Let’s get down from our high horses and tie our name-calling tongues in a knot. NOTHING good has ever come from these tactics, yet we continue spewing hate and allowing it to grow to the point that we fear for our future. Enough! Stop it! Just STOP IT! We are grown-ups! Let’s stop acting like spoiled children and commit to respect and peace, for the sake of ourselves, our children, and our country!!! Let’s give our children a better example to follow than what we’ve been giving them. Let’s be Americans we can be proud of – those who have differing opinions but can still sit and talk about differences over a cup of coffee, or those who can vote for opposing views and still choose to love one another.

2020 has been hard enough. Let’s not make it worse by destroying our country, our families, and relationships from the inside out. The motto, “United we stand. Divided we fall” has never been tested like it has been these past few years. There is that old song that says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Don’t blame others for not doing what we ourselves won’t do. Let the healing begin with me. Let peace begin with me. I might not agree with you, but I can still choose to love you.

I want a country where we can be civil to one another. I want a country where everyone, Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, and Liberals see the humanity in each other. I want us to know and respect that we’ve all been created by God and that we share in His image. That is our dignity and it can’t be taken from us. I want to once again discuss our differences and listen to each other. I want us to work together with others to find a solution to the grave problems of our world, through love. Love meaning, I want the other’s good. Not love, I want what feels good to me. And good as in, that which leads us to be the people we have been created to be – children of a completely sacrificial and loving God. I know everyone has heard or should have heard His words “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  If we start there, then there is hope. Can we please start there?

May God bless you all and keep you safe and sane in this crazy world! With a little effort from all, and through an abundance of grace from our Creator, the States of America can be united once more. Let’s pray for each other and especially for those who are difficult to tolerate. God help us!!!