Sunday, April 29, 2018

Eucharistic Fruitfulness

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018. Gospel: John 15:1-8. Topic: Fruit of a Eucharistic Life

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses as a metaphor something that is very familiar to his hearers - and one that is relevant to us as well, who live so close to the wine country - that of a vineyard, of a vine with all of its extending branches. Capture in your mind for a moment a mental picture of those lush vineyards, so green and fruitful that we find throughout Napa and Sonoma.  Now imagine what they would be like if the vineyard owner ignored them, forgot about them, and didn't send any of his workers into the vineyard to tend to them. Or perhaps you, don't need to imagine it, maybe you took a ride through the wine country after the terrible October fires and saw the ruin and devastation? Either way, the image is the same: dry wood, broken branches, not even a hint of juicy grapes.

What a powerful reminder that should be for us of Jesus' words, "without me you can do nothing...apart from me you cannot bear fruit."  These words might sting us a bit when first hearing them, hurting our pride, but we know deep down that it's true. We know that we can do nothing of deep significance, nothing truly worthwhile and noble, without God.
And as for us being unselfish, loving, kind, and merciful like Jesus, we know that it’s impossible to do without Christ and his grace.

So, the all-important question seems to be: how do we stay connected to Jesus? How can we remain in Him and have his life running through us like those branches on a vine?  I think we find an answer within the context of this Gospel passage. Jesus spoke these words at the Last Supper, during which He gave us the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Gift of His Real Presence – body, blood, soul and divinity – hidden under the form of the consecrated bread and wine.   And along with this, at the Last Supper he also gave us the Great Command to love and serve others just as He had done.

And there, I believe, we find our answer. We remain in Jesus and He remains in us by means of Holy Communion. And we bear the fruit of these Holy Communions in our lives by the love we show towards those with whom we live, work, socialize or otherwise encounter in daily life.  This is why the Eucharist is nicknamed the Sacrament of Charity, the Sacrament of Divine Love.

And it is our responsibility as Christians to live what we receive in the Eucharist.  St. John tells us as much in today’s second reading. He warns us to not just say we are Christians who love others, but to show it in our deeds. He says that those who believe in Jesus and keep the commandments remain in God and God remains in them.

Today’s Gospel is a good reminder for us to ponder over our lives in the light of WHO the Eucharist is, WHAT the Eucharist means, and HOW the Eucharist gives us the divine energy to love as Jesus loves. It's an opportunity for us to ask the Holy Spirit for an ever-deeper faith in the Abiding Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and for the grace to remain in Jesus and bear the fruit of a genuinely Christian life to the glory of God our Father.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


From the Catholic Liturgy for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018. Readings: Acts 3:13-19, 1 John 2:1-5, Luke 24:35-48. Theme: 3 Steps to a Risen Life!
There once lived in Egypt a beautiful young Catholic girl named Mary. She came from a very troubled home. By the time she entered her teenage years she had become a prostitute. Mary did extremely well in the world’s oldest profession, she became very rich. She decided to go on a Catholic pilgrimage to shrines of Jerusalem, not out of any religious devotion but for the thrill of seducing the men. But then God, in His mercy, did something absolutely amazing.

One day when all the pilgrims were going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the cross and tomb of Jesus, Mary joined the gang solely out of curiosity. Everyone passed through the church doors…except for Mary. Oh, not that she didn’t try…but every time she DID try an invisible force prevented her from being able to walk through the threshold. She looked up above the doorway and as she saw the picture of the Blessed Mother hanging there she heard a voice inside her say, “Repent of your sins. Ask forgiveness and change your ways. Then you shall enter.” Mary begged a nearby priest to hear her confession, and promised to change her ways. Going back to the entrance of the shrine, she walked right through without a problem and spent the entire day there in prayer and meditation.

Today’s readings all place before us this same message that Mary was given: that through Jesus of Nazareth God is calling us to give up a way of life that leads to spiritual death and to accept the gift of a new risen life; a new life begins for us, as it did for Mary, by experiencing three things: repentance, forgiveness, and conversion.

Repentance means a deep regret or heartfelt sorrow over some attitude or behavior that is holding us back from living as an authentic Christian. True repentance comes from the heart and is born from love. It is our response to an experience of God's love. This love of God changes me. I do not change in order to obtain God's love, rather, the realization that He is passionately in love with me changes me.

Forgiveness, is the transforming mercy that comes from God and it means so much more than simply being pardoned.  Pardon is just one aspect of forgiveness but it still allows the sins to exist, at least in the history of our lives.  I am sure you have heard the expression, "I can forgive but not forget." That’s the level on which we selfish humans forgive. But God’s forgiveness in Christ is immense, unlimited and unconditional just like his love. When God forgives, He does, indeed, forget.

When we come repentant before the Lord, especially in Confession, His forgiveness isn’t simply pardon but it is called absolution. It is total and obliterates our sins. It is all-powerful and annihilates our sins.  When we leave the sacrament we literally leave our past behind, as far as God is concerned.  It no longer exists, the history of our lives is wiped clean! It is as if we had never committed those sins in the first place!  

Repentance and forgiveness lead to conversion. Once we have encountered the passionate love of God and have been deeply touched by His unconditional mercy, we are changed from the inside out, like St. Mary of Egypt. We come to see a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at life and others, a new way of living. So, we see in our Scriptures today and in the real-life experience of St. Mary of Egypt, that a life-changing relationship is possible between each one of us and Jesus of Nazareth, crucified for MY sins and risen to give ME new life.  This relationship is at the heart of the message of the Gospel. It is planted in us by our repentance, grows within us through forgiveness, and blossoms in our lives as something beautiful for God and for the world.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy: Jesus, I Trust in You!

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY – From the Catholic Liturgy for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 8, 2018. 1 John 5:1-6 & John 20:19-31. Theme: Jesus. I Trust in You.

Today, we Catholics throughout the world celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We have so many special Sundays and feast days during the year but this one is most unique because it was asked for by Jesus Himself, in the 1930’s, during a series of Church-approved visions and messages to a Polish nun whom we now honor as St. Faustina. Pope St. John Paul II was one of the biggest promoters of this Divine Mercy devotion and believed so strongly in it that he intentionally canonized St. Faustina as the very first saint of the Third Millennium.

In addition to observing this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus asked that a special picture be made showing Him as He was when He appeared to St. Faustina. He wanted this image displayed in parish churches as well as in our homes. He called this image a vessel of mercy and promised that many graces and blessings would come to those who honor it and live what it represents.  Since Jesus himself asked that this image be spread and honored, let’s take a closer look at it and see what He wishes of us through it.

The first interesting fact is that this image is a totally Easter-picture of Jesus. It is an image of our Risen Savior as He appeared to the apostles on the first Easter night. His right hand is raised in blessing and his left hand directs us to his heart. He looks out at us with compassion in his eyes and invites us to come to Him, just as He did for Thomas. So, through this image Jesus is asking us to deepen our faith in Him and blesses those who believe.

Secondly, from the region of His heart we see two bright rays shining forth…a reddish one and a bluish white one. These rays of light coming from Jesus’ chest are symbols of the blood and water that gushed forth from His heart through His pierced side on that first Good Friday. We heard about this blood and water in today’s second reading. There are the signs of the Precious Blood Jesus shed for us in his Passion and the graces bestowed upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism. So, through this image Jesus invites us to live this new life more passionately and to grow more deeply in our relationship with Him.

Finally, we cannot overlook the words that Our Lord wanted printed on every copy of this image: “Jesus, I trust in You.”  Just as an artist signs his painting, so Jesus called these words His signature. This simple little prayer which we all can easily memorize sums up the entire reason and purpose of this devotion, as well as the whole theme of the Gospels: to enter into and live a deep personal intimate relationship with Jesus and to not allow our sins and weaknesses to interfere with this relationship.

But I think the fundamental lesson to learn from Divine Mercy Sunday is this: how do we live in such a way as to merit all the graces and blessings that Jesus wants to pour out upon us through this devotion?  A famous priest who is a worldwide promote of Divine Mercy has given us an easy way to sum up, to remember and to live the answer. All we have to do is recall the first three letters of the alphabet: ABC.

A – Ask for mercy. Jesus desires that we pray, The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a great way to do this. It takes only a few minutes and is an extremely powerful prayer for mercy.

B – Be merciful like Jesus. God wants us to not just receive mercy for ourselves, but to become instruments of His mercy to others.

C – Completely trust in Jesus. The bottom line to this devotion, which is also the bottom line of Christianity itself, is our relationship with Jesus. It is all about love and love is rooted in trust.  It’s important for us to always remember that nothing we can do can make God love us more or make Him love us less…His love is unconditional and therefore we would be so foolish as to have any other attitude towards Jesus other than one of trust,