The hope of being transformed or transfigured into the image of God awaits all of God’s children. We walk through this life knowing that our eternal destiny is to be like God and live eternally in his presence. How does this truth about who we can become change the way we live today? Does it even matter to us that we are called to a higher purpose that is often quite different than the one we fabricate for ourselves here on earth? A transformed, eternal life is God’s desire for all of his daughters and sons. Knowing this helps us put suffering in perspective and walk peacefully with hope in our hearts.
When I was first in parish work, I remember the parish priest talking with the schoolchildren about the topic of Lent and prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He asked them if any of them knew what fasting was. After a very long wait, one student raised his hand and said, “It is what I do when my Mom is mad at me. I run really fast!” The adults in the assembly burst into laughter.
Laughter is good. However, the Lenten devotions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are very serious practices for us as we prepare to celebrate the Easter mysteries.
As our catechumens prepare for the Easter sacraments, we are called by the Church to model what it means to be a Catholic Christians. We are called, especially during this Lenten season, to pray, fast, and give from the wealth we have to those who need our assistance.
This season is not merely a season of obligation to act more intently as God calls us to act; it is a season of opportunity to practice the foundation of our faith more attentively: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
“How can I hear God?” One woman asked this with some exasperation at Bible study when we discussed today’s first reading (Sam 3) of Samuel hearing the voice of God. It is a question to which we all want the answer. Every day. St. Teresa of Avila taught that “Jesus is always speaking to us; the question is, are we listening?” If we are men and women who pray daily, read and meditate on Scripture regularly, and come into the Real Presence of the Lord in Adoration, then we are listening. Of course, these are not the only ways to hear God, but they are the best.
To that point, we will increase our hours of Eucharistic Adoration on Wednesdays starting in Lent. I will explain the significance of this for us as a parish in the days ahead. For each of us, it will provide a tremendous opportunity to hear God. The first time in my life that I heard the voice of God was when I started praying in Adoration. I promise you that God will reward whatever time you give to adore Jesus, and it very well might be an experience of hearing Him.
I thought that the words of another priest would help would be more beneficial when it comes to hearing God. So, here is a good reflection by Fr. Killian J. Healy at www.catholicexchange.com. See you at Wednesday Adoration!
May you know the peace of Christ,
God does not have to use external words and signs to attract our attention and convey ideas to us. He enters our minds directly. He speaks secretly, noiselessly, as befits the Divinity. It is only by faith that we know He is working in us. For example, God once spoke in a special, hidden way to St. Peter, who then confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona,” said our Lord. “For flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven.”
St. John tells us that we will know all things from the Holy Spirit: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” St. Paul says that God enters our very thoughts: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”
God also enters our hearts and inspires us to holy desires. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening; and the Lord touched her heart to give heed to what was being said by Paul.”
Thus, the Scriptures and the Church tell us that God speaks to us in the silence of our minds and hearts. He speaks to all men, but all men do not hear Him. God speaks to our mind and heart when we kneel to meditate or to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He enters our mind when the passing things of time excite our thoughts. It is He who gives us holy thoughts to conquer our temptations. It is He who stirs up within us the desire to persevere against all adversaries.
Perhaps we have never realized that God is illuminating our intellect and inspiring our will. Yet He does just that. That is why we are told not to do all the talking in prayer. For, if we continually recite vocal prayers without pausing now and then to think, we will stifle the thoughts and desires that God wishes to excite in us.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells us how she listened to the voice of God. “I know and have experienced that ‘the Kingdom of God is within us,’ that our Master has no need of books or teacher to instruct a soul. The Teacher of teachers instructs without sound of words, and though I have never heard Him speak, yet I know He is within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights, hitherto unseen, break in upon me. As a rule, it is not during prayer that this happens, but in the midst of my daily duties.”
But we are not only to listen; it would be folly to remain in a state of mental blankness, waiting for God to speak. No, prayer is a loving conversation, and, when the Holy Spirit moves us, it is time to begin our part of the colloquy.
One way, then, to practice the exercise of the presence of God is to listen to God, to be aware that He speaks to us, to be ever conscious that God can use all things to communicate with us.
Can you write your story of faith? This was a question I recently asked a friend as we were discussing our journeys with the Lord. She pondered it, and then thought it would be hard mainly because she didn’t know exactly how she came to be a devout Catholic. She kind of laughed at herself while she was saying this, and it might seem humorous to us, too. But, some in our own congregation might have the same thought: how exactly did I come to really believe in and follow the Lord? Today’s feast of the Epiphany might help to pinpoint exactly the struggle for my friend or anyone else. What was our epiphany about the Lord and when did we have it?
When we talk about the Epiphany, we are referring to the outward manifestation of the Lord to the Magi and to the world. He is revealed to them as the Christ, and they “come to do him homage”. Their epiphany occurred through a star which led them to the baby Jesus. They were “overjoyed” during this experience, and gave treasures to the Lord of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When we hear that they “departed for their country by another way” , we can interpret it as this event changed their lives. This would be the starting point in their stories of faith.
I have described to you my journey of faith in homilies, but I don’t think I’ve written it here in any great detail. Please forgive me if I have! My epiphany happened with the Eucharist. My “star” was Msgr. Thomas Wells. And, it happened when I was 21 years old. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools through the first half of college. Even though I was taught Catholic doctrine at home and in school, not much sunk in the first 21 years of life. I was a clueless Catholic.
But, then, one day, Msgr. Wells and I were talking about the Eucharist. He said, “Greg, ‘this is my body’ means this is my body”. Epiphany! That was the first time I had really heard the teaching on the Real Presence. And, it blew me away. I had heard those words (“this is my body”) hundreds of times before at Sunday Mass, but they never really registered in my mind or heart. And then, after the one-sentence epiphany (or revelation), I saw everything differently: God, Mass, the Cross, the Church, Confession, and life. I began to “do him homage” at daily Mass and Adoration, and was having the same experience of being “overjoyed” as the Magi. Of course, this all changed my life as it did theirs.
In talking to many people for the past 25 years, I realize that not many can point to one moment – and certainly not one sentence – as their epiphany of who Jesus really is. For many, it has been engrained in them since childhood. They have always just believed. But, they have had a multitude of personal epiphanies about the Lord as Savior, Master, brother, friend, Good Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Healer, Divine Physician, etc. For others, the epiphany came as adults, and often in a way that Christ appeared to them in a personal way. That is really the underlying point to our epiphanies: an encounter with the living God in a person, Jesus Christ. Yes, the Magi were overjoyed at “seeing the star”, but only because it “stopped over the place where the child was”. They were so happy because they were encountering the Son of God. As much as I liked Msgr. Wells for 5 years before my epiphany, I didn’t find true joy until he led me to encounter the Son of God in the Eucharist. That’s when the Lord and faith became personal. That’s when an epiphany had taken place, thanks be to God.
So, here is the epiphany formula for the Magi and hopefully all of us:
- God will show you a star – something or someone that will lead you to where He is.
- God will reveal Himself to you in a personal and profound way.
- Do Him homage.
- You will be overjoyed in your encounter with Him.
- Offer Him gifts (e.g., your life as gold)
- Go home a different way (i.e., change your life)
Christ is born!
What is a blog site? This will hopefully become a frequent question at our parish because I want to start such a site here. Blog sites are all over the internet. They are websites where people become authors on different topics, and oftentimes others can leave comments in response. I have run two blog sites in the past, and they garnered a fair amount of traffic and commentary about church teachings, spiritual reflections, and world events. In some cases, the blog sites helped bring people back to the Church and sacraments. In all other cases, it was just good to engage people in an online community involving faith.
The way it will work is that we will establish a blogsite online and publicize the address for the site. I will post my thoughts, questions, and reflections; it will be similar material to what I write here. You and anyone else will be able to make comments or ask questions in relation to what I post, and even respond to other “bloggers” on the site. This is part of our family evangelization, so the big hope is that your family members will visit the site and even ask me questions. I will have them in mind when I post on prayer, forgiveness, sacraments, serving the poor, etc.
Here is an example of an actual exchange from years ago between two people who left comments on my post on Confession:
I kind of need a step before Confession. I am not ready to go to Confession and say that I have decided to ‘return’ and will try to go to Mass every Sunday.
Hey Kiwi, Confession is no big deal if I can do it anyone can. No one is going to judge you and you really feel like you are getting a load off of your shoulders. If you don’t want the priest to see you just go to the window side.
As you can see, people don’t need to leave their names. They can comment “anonymously”, but hopefully they grow out of that in time. Here are more examples of anonymous bloggers with some powerful comments:
Why does God have to be so elusive about communicating our callings? His silence can really be deafening. Why do we have to search and search and wait and wait? Please don’t tell me that God speaks to some people and not others.
Great news! My dad does not have cancer! It was a mix-up! I am so thankful to God!! What are the different ways we can show God our gratefulness?
Why do some people suffer so much and others only encounter minimal suffering? Life does seem “unfair!” Why do some people lose a child-the worst grief possible? I don’t think we will ever know the why on this side of heaven. When I am suffering, I stopped asking “why” and started asking “what.” What do you want me to do Lord? What is your will for me in this situation? The why question leaves me stuck in neutral because it is a mystery for now. The what question will help you to pick up your cross and walk with it.
There is some pretty good stuff here. I know and have experienced that there is some nasty stuff online, so please be assured that all comments are moderated. It will be a site of respect and class. And, hopefully, it will be one that will help to bring back the lost sheep of Assumption. Keep praying for that, please!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Parishioners- singing, forgetfulness, driving
Teasing with woman
Persistence / perseverance in prayer
“Lord, help me”
Last week, I focused on “growing and sowing” with the parable of the sower and the seed. This week, our Lord speaks of a seed in another parable: the mustard seed. Once again, each of us can individually reflect on how our journey of faith has grown like a mustard seed. Our faith was so small at our Baptisms; but with the nourishment and watering of God’s grace – especially in the Eucharist – it has grown to be good sized. We can also look back on our parish history to see how it has been like a mustard seed growing over the past 100 years.
But, we can also reflect on our sowing. Our evangelization attempts are like planting mustard seeds around us in our neighborhood and in our families. No matter how small the sowing might seem to us, God can make it grow into something huge! Bishop Robert Barron provides some examples from the history of our Church to show how Christ has grown the mustard seed of faith in spectacular ways in a brief commentary on chicagopriest.com. May this happen in our parish and in our families!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants…so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Matthew 13:31).
The first Christians understood Jesus to be speaking of his Church, the mystical body that began in the smallest way, but has come in time to be home to the nations of the world. The mustard seed of the Church began with a thirty-year-old man, dying on an instrument of torture, his disciples having fled, and his enemies mocking him. But it grew into the Body of Christ composed of billions of people in every country on the planet, and many more in heaven.
Watch this pattern repeated up and down the centuries. Francis of Assisi was something of a drifter, a young man who had repudiated the way of his father and was following the prompting of the Lord. Most people saw him as crazy, dangerous, and deranged. Soon, he attracted followers, and their number grew into the hundreds. The first
Franciscan missionaries were stoned, chased away, or killed. But within a hundred years of Francis’s death, they were a world-wide organization—a mustard seed, indeed.
Mother Teresa left the relative comfort of her convent behind high walls in Calcutta and walked out into the streets of the worst slum in the world. Anyone seeing her with ordinary eyes would have written her off. But soon enough, she attracted followers who established her order in Calcutta, then around India, then in Venezuela, Rome, New
York, London, and around the world. Another mustard seed.
(At this time) what mustard seed can you plant that might grow into a great tree where the birds of the air make their nests?
As we commemorate our nation’s independence this Tuesday, two thoughts come to my mind. The first is a reminder of my recent trip to Ghana which is celebrating their 60th year of independence from Great Britain in 1957. They have done so much to be a developed and stable country in such a short amount of time! The second thought is about the spiritual and moral state of the USA. I was going to lay out some of my own reflections, but found similar (and much more profound) thoughts from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. The following are excerpts from an interview he did in March 2017 with cruxnow.com.
We know that our country is not perfect, but the main thing that we honor and celebrate on July 4th is the freedom as individuals and as a nation to pursue perfection, to be who we really want to be, and who God wants us to be. On Tuesday, thank God for our freedom, and pray for all Americans!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Lots of bishops publish books, but often they’re pretty churchy. (Your new) book is really an exercise in cultural criticism.
“I’m very pleased, of course, by other things and cultural developments…we certainly live in a world where people can be healthier and happier than in the past. One thing in my mind is that I have many friends who have children with disabilities, and it’s obvious over the course of these last many decades that our country, our society’s care for people with disabilities has gotten much better. People are much more included in the life of our communities.
But at the same time, it’s a culture that kills people with disabilities in the womb in ways that never happened before. Very few children today who were born with Down Syndrome because people can detect that early on and children are aborted.
So the same society, with the same kind of technology, can use it in ways that serve us more radically generously or ways that are more radically selfish and sad. So that’s the kind of confusion that I write about in the book…
In terms of Church practice the numbers of people attending Christian services on Sunday whether they’re Protestants or Catholics is much less than it was in the past. The Gospel principles in terms of family life are not as embraced as they were in the past. I think that we live in a much more diverse society in the United States than before in terms of people accessing other forms of religious faith. It used to be that we defined our country as a Judeo-Christian country in terms of our heritage, but there’s a resistance to even talk that way among some of the elites of today…”
You write that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was a watershed moment for America, the advent of a new way of conceiving American society no longer based on a shared set of values rooted in Biblical faith.
“… (Leading our country to a different direction vis-a-vis legalized gay marriage, imposing contraceptive practice on insurance programs, and the focus on transgenderism) demonstrate a watershed that is going in the direction that is contrary to traditional Christian moral principles…”
You’ve been sharply critical of some early moves by the Trump administration, for example on refugees and immigrants.
“I certainly will continue to do that…”
If we live in a culture that’s in some ways post-Christian, what’s the Church supposed to do?
“Well, first of all we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us. Many people of my generation are somewhat anxious about what’s going on, but they haven’t really analyzed in a serious way how we got from where we were to where we are today, and in the book I try to point out some of the factors that were active in our culture that led to where we are today. We have to be aware of it, but then we also have to have hope that we can live in this culture in a way that we can be full-throated, committed Christians and pass that on to our children…”
“The answer is, you have to be personally converted into the faith. You can’t pass it on if you don’t have it. Parents are going to be more important in the life, the faith life of their children than they have been in the past, because in the past the culture supported that faith life. The schools basically supported that faith life. The Christian communities were strong. People would go to church and that would support that faith life.
It’s really going to be the family that’s going to be the primary tool that God will use to evangelize, beginning with their children of course. But then families associating
together in smaller groups, support groups of one another will be very important in the future as well. As parishes are supposed to be, but they’re institutions now rather than support groups.”
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‟Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9). Why does Jesus command them not to tell anyone about the incredible event they just witnessed in the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection? We hear this a few times in the Gospels, but usually it’s related to a healing or miracle. This one is different because he invokes the Resurrection. First, how hard must it have been for Peter, James, and John to keep the Transfiguration to themselves! Second, were they asking themselves, “what is he talking about being raised from the dead?‟
Setting Up Their Faith
The main reason that Jesus commands them to keep this glorious vision of the Transfiguration a secret until after the Resurrection was so that people would believe in Jesus for the long haul. If people believed in Jesus prior to His passion and death, then their faith might have been destroyed. In other words, they would have been so distraught with the Crucifixion that they would not have been around for the Resurrection. The Cross would have been too much for them to remain as a believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have appeared too weak to be the Son of God. The mockery from others as a follower of His would have been too overwhelming to endure. Just witnessing the brutality of His passion and death would have been a visual from which they couldn’t come back.
The Greatest Sign of His Divinity
This happened to the Apostles. They were there for the events that revealed his divinity – the Transfiguration, miracles, healings, exorcisms, etc. They spent three intimate years with Him, and believed firmly that He is the Son of God. And yet, where were they during His passion and death? All of them except for one (John) were gone. They couldn’t endure it. We see women at the foot of the Cross….where were all the men? Even Jesus’s closest followers were so blown away by His suffering that they left Him. Three days later when the greatest sign of His divinity occurs which is the Resurrection, again it’s the women who are there and the men are not (if that was a “day without women” we’d all be in real trouble!). The women even have to convince the Apostles that He is risen! So, the Lord knew that human nature being what it is, it was better to keep his divinity as much a secret as possible until it was fully revealed.
The reality of this “secret” still plays out today in at least two ways. First, people are still bothered by the Cross…overwhelmed by it, really. Some are bothered by the Cross of Christ to the point that they don’t believe. Many are so turned off by their own cross that they stop believing. How many people have we known that went through a tragic death or bitter divorce or abuse and stopped coming to Church? I think it’s because of events like these that people have insulated themselves from as much suffering as possible. People avoid the Cross at all costs.
Not Everyone is Ready to Hear
The second part of this “secret” is helpful today. Sometimes the virtue of prudence calls for silence or a secret, as it did at the Transfiguration. “Not everyone is ready to hear the truth all the time” was a line from one of my seminary professors. Parents use this technique with their little kids who are too young to hear certain things. I often advise parents of older kids (who are adults) who have stopped attending Mass to go silent about it for a while. If you have given them the teaching that they need to keep holy the Sabbath and receive the Eucharist at Mass, then they know where you stand. It might be better to stop harping on it. It might be more fruitful long-term in terms of their relationship with you and their faith. This takes us back to the reason that Jesus ordered the secret. God sees long-term with us, and calls us to have the same “spiritual maturity.”
May you know the peace of Christ,
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Fr. Greg Shaffer
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