Why is there Suffering?

‘And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questions arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.’
Friends in Christ, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared often to his disciples, and it is interesting, that in the first visits to them, he makes it a point to show them his hands and feet. He is showing them the wounds from his crucifixion. The resurrection of Christ is hope for us, because we are supposed to do what Jesus did: rise up on the last day in our own glorified bodies. But there is something else that we must do even before that great day: we must also endure wounds on our hands and feet – or at least, wounds in our life.
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Suffering is part of this life, no one can deny that. There is much suffering in the world, it can even make people question their faith. Young people sometimes ask: ‘How can God allow suffering?’ ‘If God is all good and all powerful, why does he allow this to happen to me, or my brother, or my mother?’ ‘Why does he allow people to be tortured and persecuted?’ ‘Why is there cancer?’ This is one of the great questions. It is called ‘the problem of evil.’
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Now contained in this question are two different types of evil. Physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil is: why does God allow cancer, or earthquakes; why does God allow a person to be attacked by a shark? These are causes of suffering which are due to nature. The other kind of evil is moral evil. Why does God allow a gang member to kill a child in the city, or a person to be treated cruelly in the work place, or a kid to be beaten up by bullies? These are ‘moral evils,’ they are caused directly by sin.
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Atheists often bring up this question: They say: ‘The evil in the world proves there is no God. If God were all powerful and all good, he would not allow suffering.’ So what can we say about this? Well, first let’s say the small things, and then the big thing.
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First, Free-Will:   If God were going to stop the gang member from shooting, if he miraculously stopped the bullet in mid-air; or if, when the bully is going to throw the punch, his arm miraculously would freeze up and in this way, no one would be capable of ever hurting another, well, then we would really be robots controlled by God, there would no longer be free-will. God has given us a great gift: free-will. He wants us to use it to love, but unfortunately we use it sometimes to hate.
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And every parent often feels this same frustration, seeing children use their free-will, not always for good things. They could lock them in a closet for their life, so that they would never get into any problems or get hurt, but that is not freedom. So much suffering and pain and broken hearts come about because we use our free-will to hurt others or ourselves.
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God also allows the devil to exercise his free-will; the devil was the original source of all the moral evil, and the demons create enormous pain in the world by their temptations. So this is one reason that God allows moral evil: free-will. and we must say that he ALLOWS all this, but he does not desire it. It is his permissive will, not his active will. God suffers over the pain of the world, with us – we see that on the cross.
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Another thing for us to consider, is that God can bring good out of evil; he is working on a much larger scale than we are. He can see the long-term effects of things. God is painting a masterpiece that extends over millions of years. If you put your face up close to a painting, you may say: ‘This black smudge is ugly, what a mistake.’ But backing away a distance, one can see that that black spot is an important part of the entire painting.
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For example, a priest friend of mine was visiting a parish and after Mass, he saw a child in a wheel chair, deformed and serverely handicapped; he had a brief thought: ‘Why Lord?!’ Then he met the family after Mass. Great people. The older son was going to be a priest, a sister was going into social work, very kind and wonderful family. He thought: I think I know why – because of that child. We can sometimes see good that comes out of trouble.
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God allows some people to be cruel, irritating, or unkind; but it is just these persons who allow another to be patient, serene, and long-suffering. How can we pray for our enemies unless we have some? For most of us to become a saint, there must be another person in our life – ‘to make us a saint,’ if you know what I mean!!
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God also wants nature to be free. He allows cancer cells to grow in their own way, he allows sharks to do what sharks do and germs to do what germs do. The wind and seas move as they will; the earth’s crust shifts in a freedom all it’s own. For example, earthquakes – under the sea. In the 2004 Sunami, thousands of people died. This tragic event however produced an enormous amount of compassion and aid and generosity on the part of others. ‘But all those people died,’ you say. yes. But that isn’t the end of the story for them, is it? There is a next life. A man and woman were chatting in a barber shop in New York. The TV was on. They saw the devastation from the Sunami. The man shook his head. ‘Life is terrible.’ The woman said, ‘No, life is beautiful, but it’s full of pain.’
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Mother Cabrini always saw suffering and obstacles as evidence that God was going to bring his blessings; when she and her young nuns were to stay their first night in the United States, in an old boarding house, one of the nuns turned down the blanket and screamed, ‘Look at that, they are crawling!’,she said. The sheets and blankets were alive with bedbugs. Mother Cabrini said: ‘My daughters, things like this will happen, but it is a sign that God is going to bless us.’  
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When she visited one of her missions, the sisters there told her: ‘Everything is wonderful here, no problems.’ She wrote in her notes: ‘I became worried about that mission, I wondered if God really was blessing it.’ Suffering, problems, obstacles – the Lord wishes to sanctify us through challenges.
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So what can we say to the atheist about suffering? Let us ask: ‘If there is no God, then what? Then suffering is totally meaningless, then everything is meaningless; that means we are born, we suffer, and we die. that’s it. But that can’t be, we know there is meaning to life. This is why so many young people are in despair today, they don’t see God’s hand in the world. But he is here. St. Paul says: ‘We are heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him – that we may also be glorified with him.’
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God has not totally explained the Mystery of suffering, but it is true that God himself has come into the world and has joined himself to our suffering. He didn’t take it away, but he has chosen to be IN all of our pain along with us, giving it meaning; our patience in suffering means that we are helping Jesus save the world, participating in his redemptive work.
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When I was a seminarian, we had to attend some talks at a hospital. Other faiths were there too. One lady was giving a talk, and at one point she told us about a woman with cancer, who refused pain medicine, because she ‘wanted to offer her pain up for her family.’ She had a scowl on her face. The protestant seminarians and clergy laughed and said ‘it’s foolish, she must be convinced to take the pain medicine.’ But we Catholics did not laugh; that lady who was offering her suffering was probably a saint, another Christ, bringing down graces for her family. She got it. She understood suffering and it’s redeeming value.
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God has not taken away suffering, but he has joined into it, with us. In heaven, when the meaning of all things is revealed, after the pain of this life – we will finally see the end of the story. In the end of the story, we will be resurrected with the Lord, and the sufferings of our life that we patiently endured will be the great glories of our life. May the blessed Virgin assist us in all the trials of life, that we may see her glorious face with Jesus, in heaven. Amen.

[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Joseph]

 

Only Christ was Predicted

Beloved in the Lord Jesus, 
We are about a week away from the great day of Christmas, when we ponder that singular event – the Word becoming flesh, this God who made all things, enteres into our own world, to be born like us and live with us – in order to save us. – This Jesus, who is still with us, who we pray to, speak to during the day.
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But today there are many people in the world who feel lost; they don’t know what to believe about anything, they are not living such good lives, and they are confused. They see different religions in the world, and atheists, and they are bewildered. Like Pontius Pilate they seem to say, ‘What is truth?’ Who really knows anything? Who is Jesus? How is our religion different from others?
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History is full of famous religious leaders who claim to be prophets or a spokesman for God. Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, LaoZi, Baha u llah, Joseph Smith, and many others – and Jesus. Bishop Fulton Sheen[i] asks a very good question:  Of all these religious leaders he says, is there any objective evidence that we could look at, to judge the truth of the claims of these people? Each has a right to be heard, but what legitimate claims can they make? If one of them came from God, the least God could do as evidence for us, would be to pre-announce his coming. If God sent someone, or came himself, with a vitally important message, it would seem reasonable that he would first let us know that his messenger is coming, where he would be born, and many other things. Otherwise, any impostor could appear in history, and say: I came from God, or an angel told me this or that.  If a man shows up in Washington, DC as a diplomat, claiming to represent another government, he must present his credentials, to prove that he is who he says he is, and those documents cannot have been written AFTER he arrives, they must pre-date his arrival.
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And so then, of the many religious figures of history, we must ask them: ‘What record was there before you were born, that you were coming?[ii] Socrates had no one to foretell his birth. Buddha had no one to pre-announce him and his message, or tell the day when he would sit under the tree. For Confucius, the events of his birth and his mother were not recorded, nor were they written down centuries before his arrival. But with Christ it was different.
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By the many Old Testament prophecies, his coming was expected. How can we not read Isaiah’s predictions of the Virgin Birth of the Messiah, or the prophet Micah’s predictions of his birth in Bethlehem, how can we read these ancient prophecies, and not marvel?   Or the detailed descriptions of the suffering Messiah written down, as if the author himself wrote it at the very foot of the cross! Or the psalms, which describe, even a thousand years before Christ, the holes in the hands of the crucified Messiah, before crucifixion was even invented. There were no predictions about Baha u llah, Joseph Smith, or Mohammed, or anyone else. They just came and said, ‘Here I am, you must believe me.’ They were therefore only ordinary men – and not the Divine Man, come down from heaven.
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Christ alone, came into history, amidst a torrent of prophecy. At the time of Our Lord’s birth, the rabbis had gathered together some 456 predictions about the Messiah to come. And so, when he asked, the scribes could assure King Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Since then, scholars have discovered a total of 1096 prophecies of Christ, every one of them fulfilled. But for other religious figures – nothing. Buddha’s own mother did not know he would amount to anything; nor was Confucius or Mohammed ever pre-announced. But the collection of prophecies of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is simply staggering. Isaiah 35:4: Here is your God, he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing. It was predicted, and Jesus did it: he healed the blind, and the deaf, and the lame, and the mute. Instantly. And perhaps most amazing, is that with the arrival of Christ, all new prophecy came to an abrupt and sudden end.
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The Blessed Virgin was well aware from scripture, that the time foretold by the prophets had arrived; that the 70 weeks of Daniel were completed; that the scepter of Judah had passed to hands of a foreign king (Herod), and that a Virgin was to be the Mother of the Messiah. And these prophecies don’t even consider the thousands of miracles and wonders worked by Christ in the course of his life.
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Friends, we can open any modern history book, open one up, and you will find that they no longer use the terms, BC and AD. They no longer use ‘Before Christ’ and Ad Domino – year of Our Lord’ Now they say BCE and CE – ‘Before Common Era, and Common Era.’ Why? to remove the reference to Christ. The popular children’s dictionary in England, now has had every Christian word and symbol removed from it. Kids in publics schools tell me, they are told to no longer say ‘Christmas break’ – they are to say: holiday break. A 6th grader said me, ‘Father, it isn’t right!’   – and he is correct – it isn’t right.
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The pagan world rejects Jesus, and wants his name expunged from every part of society. Why? Because Christianity is a problem for an immoral world. The world wants this season to be not about Christ, but about snowmen, flying reindeer, and food and parties. They want happiness, but do not want God; but this is a dead-end project. You can’t have happiness without God! there is no point to this “Holiday” – if Jesus Christ is not in the center. People now say: happy holidays. ——   Such words must never pass the lips of Christians. Let us always be guilty, of being a Christian, and saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’
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The final prophetic voice announcing the Savior, was John the Baptist who we read today. As scripture says, ‘He came for testimony, to testify to the Light. And so I ask you, dear Christians. Will you testify to the Light?
Friends, we are not just ‘one religion among many;’ Jesus is not just some other prophet or religious teacher, he is God come down from heaven – foretold by the prophets long ago. No other religious figure has the credentials of Jesus Christ. no one. And so Our Lord is asking: will you will be witnesses to the truth, to the greatest event in the story of mankind: when the Son of God came down from heaven, and split history into two parts: BC and AD.

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[i] This material borrows from ‘The Life of Christ,’ by Fulton Sheen, p. 11-14.

[ii] Even the pagans had a prophetic sense. Tacitus, a Roman historian writes: ‘people were generally persuaded that from Judea was to come the Master and Ruler of the world.’ Even in China, the sages looked for the appearance of the great Saint of the West. The Greeks expected him, for Aeschylus in his Prometheus, 600 years before Christ wrote: ‘look not for any end, to this curse, until God appears to accept upon his head the pains of your own sins.’ How did the magi of the East know Christ’s coming? By prophecy. The ancient oracles and the Sibyls of the Greeks spoke of ‘a coming King whom we must recognize, in order to be saved.’ Virgil himself spoke of a ‘chaste woman, smiling on her infant boy, with whom the iron age would pass away.’ Plato and Socrates also spoke of a great Logos and of the Universal Wise man yet to come.

The Temperament God gave you

3rd Sunday of Lent (Latin Mass)
Beloved in the Lord,
In 1935, when St. Josemaria Escriva was starting what would be a new movement in the church: Opus Dei, he invited a young man to join in the cause whose name was Alvaro del Portillo; Alvaro would become an essential advisor and confidant. History shows that the movement might never had come to fruition, if both had not been together.
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Josemaria had a firey Basque temperament, which, when tempered with charity, had the power to spread to the whole world, the message of sanctifying our daily life. Alvaro however, was a quiet and unassuming person who was able to deal deftly with many problems behind the scenes, and insire some powerful people by his kind manner to be faithful and influential Catholics; he would later become the Prelate of Opus Dei, with great effect. Of these two men, one would be canonized a saint, the other beatified. Two holy men – but two completely different temperaments.
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Friends in Christ, all the way back to the ancient Greeks it has been known that there are 4 basic temperaments among people, and everyone’s temperament is raw material for them to become a saint, for as Thomas Aquinas says, ‘grace builds on nature.’
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The 4 traditional temperaments are: the Choleric, the Sanguine, the Phlegmatic, and the Melancholic. A person’s personality is the result of environment – how one grows up, experiences – plus one’s temperament. The temperament is what we are born with, it’s in our genes. We may have already noticed our own, personal temperament. If we reflect on our life regularly, especially in prayer, we can hardly fail to consider why or how we have acted on a given day or situation, and perhaps we’ve recognized the patterns that come from our temperament.
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Spiritual masters have long had the slogan: ‘Know thyself.’ To grow in holiness, we need to know the truth of ourself, and the truth is, that there is usually an internal war going on inside of us; the good aspects of our temperament help us be good, the dark side of our temperament pull us toward the bad.
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In the Gospel today, Our Lord says: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and house shall fall upon house.’ He tells how a person can have their house clean and swept and in good order – that is, a pure soul, a state of grace – and the next thing, the Enemy returns with 7 evil spirits. As St. Paul says, I end up doing the very thing I did not want to do. If we are trying to follow Christ, then we each have an interior war going on, the type of war usually depends on our temperament.
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The Choleric person has a strong will, a type ‘A’ personality, he has to be in charge, likes to be in charge, gets things done, reacts quickly, decisively, self-confident, independent. These are good attributes for a leader. St. Ignatius Loyola was surely a choleric. Certainly St. Paul.
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But such a person has a dark side that must be resisted: easily angered. quick to judge; stubborn; imprudent, denies their mistakes, hides insecurity by blaming others, impatient, can use people to get the job done. It is said, the choleric person would rather die than humble himself.’ So there is an interior war – and this is the battle of the spiritual life.
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The Sanguine person is friendly, outgoing, communicative; fun-loving, creative, looks on the bright side, emotional, notices details, has many friends, seeks adventure. St. Philip Neri probably was sanguine, who was a practical joker. Sanguine people are usually happy people, but they have an interior war also. They can desire to be the center of attention, or are tempted to vanity, or ready to give up morals or faith in order to be liked; they can act rashly or be frivolous or superficial or follow the crowd. St. Peter was probably Sanguine – he was impulsive, one moment ready to die for Christ, the next a coward – he spoke first and thought later; So the Sanguine has their own struggle.
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Now the Phlegmatic person is prudent, reserved, sensible, and dependable. He is attuned to his own feelings and those of others, he is not easily provoked to anger, he is easy going, very loyal; the phlegmatic is punctual, thrives on routine, good with detailed work, he has good judgment, is objective; he is agreeable and tolerant, but with a strong underlying backbone. A dry sense of humor. The monks that painstakingly copied manuscripts were probably Phlegmatics, St Thomas Aquinas was.
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But the Phlegmatic has an interior war too. Temptations to avoid manual labor, laziness, sensuality; not persevering in prayer, unmotivated; and the phlegmatic might give in to peer pressure to avoid conflict, which he hates.
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Finally, the Melancholic temperament. The Melancholic values the ideal, seeks perfection in everything. He is skeptical about overly simplistic labels, tends to be quiet and reserved, holds thoughts to himself. He is studious and orderly, attentive to detail; can be thoughtful and pious and compassionate, and is upset when he sees injustice. He prefers solitude and reflection and is very faithful in relationships and is good at planning things, and in detail. St. Edith Stein was surely a Melancholic.
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But Melancholics have a war going on also. The Melancholic can be prone to brooding or sadness, or dark critical thoughts. He can suppress anger for a long time, and then – blows up!’ Everyone wonders why. He was stewing and ruminating on something a long time. The melancholic can presume motives in others that do not exist and fume silently over perceived slights, and be unforgiving. His pride is not about wanting recognition like the choleric, it’s about fearing failure; wanting to be perfect, his pride fears disgrace. For him, caution can lead to a lack of courage and action. A melancholic’s idealism can lead him to be impractical and indecisive, and not always a team player. So – they have spiritual combat going on inside too.
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But this is the adventure of the Christian life – a war! It is not new. St. Paul says the exact same thing: ‘I see a law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin. Unhappy man that I am, who will deliver me?’ And then he answers it: Who will deliver me? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
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We each have an interior war, usually between the best of our temperament and the worst; but we cannot fight our war without God’s help. And also, let’s ask Mary to aid us; O Virgin most powerful, O Virgin most faithful, help us by your prayers, to win our daily, interior battles for Jesus Christ.

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{Entrusted to the prayers of St. Camillus]

No one left Behind

3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Beloved in Christ, on Nov. 13, 2004, Chris Marquez was on standby, part of a Marine quick-reaction force. He was getting ready to take a nap when the call came for help.
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Members of a platoon had been ambushed and were pinned down inside a house; Sergeant Bradley Kasal joined the squad that went to rescue. Entering the house, and as he moved toward the wounded in the next room, he and another Marine were raked in the legs by rifle fire. Then the grenades rained down.
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The men formed a plan: two would shed their gear, including rifles, then run in and out of the kill zone, extracting casualties one by one as other Marines provided cover. It was crazy, but maybe a way to get the wounded home. Bullets rained down, everybody was shot up pretty bad. “He had lost so much blood,” Marquez said, he looked like he was going to pass out.” But Kasal refused to leave until everyone else was out.
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Friends in Christ, one of the watch phrases of the military, is ‘No Man Left Behind. It is the confidence that every effort will be made to get you out, if you are hurt or in trouble or captured. Why is this so important? Because of the effect it has on morale.
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One of the most dangerous missions of the Vietnam War was the attempt to rescue 65 American POWs held at the notorious Son Tay prison. A 116-plane armada flew hundreds of miles over mountainous territory at treetop level to the prison camp. As it turned out, the prisoners had been moved. They had to return empty handed. Yet, when the POWS learned of the attempt, “morale soared.” They no longer felt abandoned or forgotten.”
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Friends this is very noble and heroic, but these efforts are focused on the value of our earthly, physical life. Of much greater consequence is the salvation of souls, and the rescue of others from Eternal damnation. The Centurion in the gospel today is very noble; he is seeking help from Jesus for his slave. A slave was nothing. A thing. A tool, in those days. No one would have such compassion for a slave, and so Jesus can perceive the goodness in this Centurion.
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Yes, Christ heals that slave, he healed the leprous man, and so many others. But what he is really interested in, is saving souls. We ourselves admire a Marine who gives everything to rescue his buddy. No man left behind. But the question we can pose to ourself can be: Is this my attitude toward others? That no one will be left behind? We hope to save our souls; we work for that, we pray for that. But what about the others? Can we say in our heart, we wish that no one will be left behind? Do our prayers and actions and words reflect this? It is said, you can’t get to heaven if you don’t bring someone with you.
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Our Lord will say in the gospel, Two will be working in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two will be grinding meal; one will be taken and the other left. two will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left. Our own motto must be, no one will be left behind. Not one of our family members, not one of our neighbors.
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It’s true, the Enemy is raining down bullets and grenades on people today – many people we work with or know, are pinned down by the Devil’s hellfire. But we want to save them, we want to rescue them. St. Francis de Sales so passionately wanted to save a group of heretics, that he crawled on a frozen log over a chasm every day to preach to them.
‘Lord, give us this passion for the salvation of souls.’
‘Lord, make our hearts the hearts of apostles.’
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Now we are not faced with a frozen log, nor with bullets or grenades. The task for us is more subtle, and as the Lord will say, we must be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves. What we need, is a powerful attractive force, to bring wayward souls to God. And that attractive force is two-fold: prayer, and human virtue. Under the influence of prayer, it is usually human virtue by which we attract a wayward soul.
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Jesus did this. We see how he shows compassion, healed bodily ills: the leper, the Centurion’s slave. His person was attractive, people wanted to be near him – He did the human things that people would respond to, so that they would come to him to be healed in their souls. We must use human virtue to attract souls.
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When we are known in the office as responsible, hard-working, amicable – people see that. The wayward soul sees that; the atheist notices this. And they notice our sincerity, our fairness, and good humor. Our wayward adult son or daughter – they see our love, our faithfulness, our kindness; yes, sometimes they hear us speak about faith, but what penetrates over time is our human virtue.
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With this kind of soil, we can plant a seed – it may not be we who see the harvest, in this life; but with prayer, the harvest will come.
May the Blessed Virgin intercede for us; Mary, pray for us, that we will seek lost souls for Christ, so that no one will be left behind.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

Don’t Resist God

2nd Sunday of Advent
Beloved in Jesus Christ,
It is said, that in heaven there will be two types of people there: the innocent, and the repentant. The St. Theresa’s and St. Agneses, who seem to have led a pure life from birth; and the sinners, even great sinners who repented and finally gave their heart to God. These two groups will praise God together, with no hint of difference between them, because God’s greatness is seen in both.
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Something else that these two groups share, is that ultimately in their lives, they no longer resisted God, no matter how hard that was. Today we encounter John the Baptist in the Gospel. From his birth, John did not resist God, but followed the WAY marked out for him. It was not easy. We find him in the desert living on the land – – and not much to live on in the desert.
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St. Neilos says, John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair and survived on locusts and wild honey. Yet all the people, even dressed in silk, and from luxurious homes went out to see him. He says, ‘there were many rich and famous people in those days, proud of their glory, and yet today they are all forgotten. It is John the Baptist who is remembered.
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John the Baptist did not resist God; he followed the Lord’s call wherever it took him, even to the desert, to prison, even to death. But that is how he came to be a saint in heaven. He did not resist God. I am reading a book called ‘Resisting Happiness.’ It speaks very well, about how we try to do so many things our own way, the wrong way – knowing that we are supposed to do it ‘the right way,’ and in this, we not only resist God, but end up unhappy or less happy.
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We resist doing things we know are good for us; we resist the things we know are right; we wish to cut corners. But it never ends well. We have an inclination to do the things that are not good for us, and to delay the things we ought to do. When the alarm goes off in the morning, if we resist, and delay, and put off getting up – it affects the whole day. We set goals and then don’t go after them. We procrastinate, and end up doing things in a hurry, or poorly.
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Advent is a time to prepare for the holy day of Christmas; it is a time to seek peace in our soul, and to change our bad habits into good habits. But the devil prevents improvements in our character by means of resistance. Resistance wears a thousand masks. Laziness, procrastination, fear, doubt, instant gratification, self-loathing, escapism, pride, lukewarmness – Sometimes we are about to do something, some task that we know needs to be done, but we pause – ‘I think I’ll get a soda before I start this’ – or this chair is really not good, I need another one -. And the task is delayed for comfort-seeking. A man told me, ‘I’m going to read the whole bible, from start to finish.’ ‘How’s that coming?, I asked. Well, I’m trying to find just the right bible before I start, I want a leather one with a nice font, I don’t want to start until I get the perfect bible.’
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In the end however, when we give in to resistance, and put off things, or do what we feel like, instead of what God wants, we end up less happy. St. Augustine delayed and delayed doing what he knew God wanted. He writes extensively about it in his book. He was utterly, entirely, miserable. And his life was spiraling into a bad place. We encounter people in our lives – ‘if only they would not have done that!’, we think, their life would not have such problems. They did it – almost always for short-term, selfish-seeking reasons.
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Giving into resistance in big decisions can hurt us, but the real battle is with small decisions, the hundred decisions every day: will I get to bed on time – this affects the whole next day. will I get going to start dinner, or give in to mindless television? will I start my homework right after supper, or go on texting my friend, and then find myself scrambling to get it done in the morning. Happiness is daily destroyed for us by giving in, instead of fighting. We continue with a bad relationship because it’s the easy path – but the less happy one. We give in to comparing ourselves with others; we buy things we don’t need and can’t afford. We want to be happy. But giving in to resistance blocks it.
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When we are children, we think we’ll be happy if we just can get that toy – When we are older, we say, if she’ll be my friend, I’ll finally be happy. In adolescence we are chasing pleasures of all sorts, but none make us happy. Some ruin us. Adults wish to accomplish something great, or put their entire hope in a romance. But in the end, as Matthew Kelly says, we have a ‘God-sized’ hole, that can’t be filled by this world. So when will we stop resisting God?
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As we start into Advent, John the Baptist who has followed the Lord, even when it was difficult – he is pointing us to Jesus Christ. Following Jesus especially in the small decisions of daily life, leads to more happiness and more peace. Advent is a time to adjust our course and find this happiness that only Christ can give. And this means saying ‘yes’ to him in daily life-decisions, even if we feel resistance.
May the Holy Virgin Mary touch us with her love in these days, and help us to always say ‘yes’ to God despite resistance.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

Our Trinitarian Prayer Life

Friends in Christ,
Today Our Lord tells us that we must build our ‘house,’ on a firm foundation, otherwise it will be swept away by storms.
We can consider, in our spiritual life, or we might speak about our prayer life – is it built on a firm foundation? We are not speaking today about our norms of piety, which are part of the needed foundation – of a morning offering, examination of conscience before bed, meal prayers, time for mental prayer or meditation, spiritual reading, bible reading – we are not today speaking of this foundation, which is very important – But we can ask, is my prayer life Trinitarian?
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We should have a relationship with each of the 3 Divine Persons. This is the foundation that we want: Prayers or aspirations each day to God our Father. Speaking daily to God the Son, to Jesus, as our Savior, our brother, our intercessor, our friend. And – speaking to the Holy Spirit, asking his help, his power. A solid foundation for our spiritual life means relating to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
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Of course we gravitate to, or feel closer to, one of the Divine Persons. We may speak more often with Jesus during the course of the day, or meditate on his life in the Holy Gospels, and this would be very appropriate. Some call often on the Holy Spirit for his guidance and help, for outpourings of his Gifts. And as children of God, with a true sense of ourself as a son or daughter of God, we may often speak to our heavenly Father, and praise him, with an awareness of his watchful eye during our work.
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Earlier in my own life, I was not paying attention to this, but a good priest reminded me, to have a Trinitarian prayer life. This always strikes me very close to my heart when we recite the prayers for people who are near death. One is reminded of each of the Divine Persons: as the person is dying, the prayer is: ‘Go forth, Christian soul, from this world in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for you; in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you. Go forth, faithful Christian!
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God the Father, Jesus, God the Holy Spirit – however we pray and speak with God, each day should find us relating to each of these dear, Divine Persons. And Mary should be with us too.
In this way, we will have built our spiritual life on a solid foundation, that will help us withstand the storms of life.

The State of Grace

1st Sunday of Advent
Beloved in the Lord Jesus.
The planet Venus is called the ‘sister planet’ of earth. This is because like earth, it is a rocky, solid body; its diameter is nearly the same as our planet, and it has the same gravity and Mass as earth. Now if engineers were to build a spaceship designed to make the journey to the planet Venus, so that ordinary citizens could go to live there, well – I don’t think there would be any takers. You see, the surface temperature of Venus is 860 degrees F, the atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of earth; its clouds are made of sulfuric acid, and instead of oxygen, you would have to breathe carbon dioxide. We would no doubt refuse this invitation, because our body and our lungs are designed for this world. In our atmosphere, they work, but there, they would not work.
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Now in the same way, our human nature, while adequate for the ordinary life of this world, is not adequate for the life of the world to come: the New Creation that we call heaven. If we were to enter heaven with only our human nature as is, we would be no more able to survive there, than on the planet Venus. Just as we would need some extra power of breathing to survive on another planet, so we need an extra power in our soul, in order to live in heaven. What is this power, and how do we get it?
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The power that we will need, so that we can live in heaven, is a power ‘above and beyond our nature’ – ‘super- nature’, it is ‘supernatural,’ and so we call it the Supernatural Life. Now this is true not only of human beings, but of angels as well; no created being by its own nature, is able to have a relationship or union with God without a supernatural elevation of nature; somehow, we have to be made ‘like God,’ so that we can relate to him, and this is the supernatural life, which is in us as Sanctifying Grace. This is what we mean when we say that we wish to be in the ‘State of Grace.”I hope that I am in the State of Grace.’
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This supernatural life, is first of all, a gift of God; it comes first to us in baptism. And this is why Jesus Christ came into the world, to impart to us, supernatural life – to give us a share in his divine life. St. Paul encourages us today: Cast off deeds of darkness, he says, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.
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This ‘armor of light’ of which he speaks, is grace. ‘Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ is to walk in this life of God. But we must protect and nurture this Divine Life, as a soldier uses armor for protection. In our baptism we receive the seed of this supernatural life – we become ‘in the State of Grace.’ The Christian life then, is about protecting and growing this grace in us. Our life will be a success, if at the moment of death we have in our soul, this Supernatural life, if we are in the State of Grace; this will make union with God not only possible, but beautiful. On the other hand, our life will be a failure if we die without the supernatural life. Everyone who is in hell is there because they were not in the State of Grace when they died.
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Our Lord reminds us today of the End Times, the final and the 2nd Coming. Jesus is speaking about the Elect – the Redeemed – when he says, on that day, lift up your head and rejoice, for your redemption is at hand. The Elect are those to be found in the State of Grace. If we commit a mortal sin, a serious sin, then we lose this necessary supernatural life in our soul; but we can recover it, by being sorry – turning back to God, going to confession. We must never remain long without the State of Grace, but return to God, and begin again, immediately.
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The State of Grace is lost by grave sins such as skipping Sunday Mass, serious theft or lies; sins against purity, cruelty, lack of charity, and other things. Losing God’s grace causes us to be empty. It is told in the Gospel of St. Luke, that when Jesus was a child and his parents were traveling from Jerusalem, he became lost. There can be no sadness like that experienced by Mary and Joseph, the feeling of losing Jesus. St. Alphonsus tells us to learn two lessons from this event: one is, that we should never be among those who through our own fault of sin, lose Jesus from our soul. The other lesson is: that if we have lost the Lord due to sin, we should know that God easily makes himself found by those who seek him.
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Whether it is to be restored to the State of Grace after serious sin, or to receive more grace by confessing venial sins, which are a daily struggle – which we all struggle with – well, as we begin Advent today, this can be a beautiful time of grace for our parish and our families.
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What present does Jesus want for his birthday? He wants us to prepare our soul for him, for his Nativity. God’s Divinity stoops down to us in the form of a baby, so that our humanity might acquire the supernatural life, and live forever with Him in heaven.
May the Blessed Virgin be near us, and dear to us, in these holy days leading up, to the birth of Christ our Savior.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of dear Audrey Santo]

The King was a Servant

Feast of Christ the King
Beloved in the Lord Jesus.
One of the newest saints in the Church is St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, of Mexico. How did this young boy become a saint? Well, in the early 1900’s, the government was trying to suppress the Catholic Church; a group of Catholics called the Cristeros, took to arms to defend the right of Catholics to practice their faith.
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At that time, a young boy named José Sánchez del Río asked his mother permission to join the Cristeros, but she said, ‘you are too young.’ ‘Mama, he replied, “do not let me lose the opportunity to gain heaven so easily.” Eventually, the general of the Cristeros agreed to let the boy carry the flag for the troops, which he did.
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On February 5, 1928, the boy was captured and imprisoned. In order to terrorize him, they made him watch the hanging of one of the other captured Cristeros. But José encouraged the man, saying, “You will be in heaven before me. Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon.” In prison, he prayed the Rosary and wrote a beautiful letter to his mother, telling her that he wanted to do God’s will.
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On February 10, they cut the soles of his feet and made him walk on salt. Then he was marched through the town to the cemetery where they would shoot him. The soldiers said, deny Christ, and you will live. But he answered: “Long live Christ the King! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!”
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Friends in Christ, today is the Feast of Christ the King; this feast comes just before we begin Advent. Jesus Christ is the King of the Entire Universe, he created it, As scripture says, ‘All things were made through him.’ Yet during the coming Advent, we will reflect on the mystery, that this King of the Universe lowered himself to become a Child, to become a servant to all, in order to save all. This Lord, who with a glance could annihilate all that is, who by his will alone, has brought into existence not only the beautiful world, but you and I – this great and good God, has became a servant of the world. That’s the kind of king he is.
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The Son of God was obedient to his Father even to death on the cross. This King of heaven, was also obedient to his earthly parents, for it says in the gospel of St. Luke, that ‘he was subject to them.’ Jesus even made himself obedient to Pontius Pilate, who condemned him to death – and to the executioners who whipped him; he humbly obeyed them all, and gave every drop of his blood and his life for we sinners.
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Christ is King, but in his humility, he shows us that he is a king who came into this world to help us and serve us. While in the agony of the cross, he was ready to forgive – a servant to sinners: The good thief said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said unto him, ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise.’
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You know, it is told the story of St. Alexis, who was the son of an important Roman family. Because he desired to only serve God, he left home and lived as an ascetic for many years in the desert. Eventually he returned to Rome as a beggar; not recognizing him as their own son, his parents took him into their home where he worked as a servant and lived under the stairs for 17 years!
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But if Alexis, of an important family, could become their servant, how much greater a thing is it that God himself has lowered himself to be the servant of we creatures. If the King of heaven has done all of this for us, what must be our response to him? We must ourselves live our life serving Jesus Christ, serving the Good King.
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St. Alphonsus says, ‘Instead of being servants of this dear King of heaven, we often prefer to be servants of the devil. But the devil does not love his servants; he hates them and makes them unhappy in this world and in the next.’
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Since we have been delivered by Jesus Christ from the slavery of hell, let us then be true servants of he who died for us. And may the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for us, that we will become worthy of the promises of Christ. 

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. John Vianney]

 

The End of the World

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved in Jesus Christ,
In the Gospel today, we encounter this striking scene; Our Lord had just spent the whole day in the Temple[i] debating with the Scribes and Pharisees, but it was impossible to penetrate their stone hearts. As he was leaving there, he overheard some people speaking of the great beauty of the temple, and going on and on about it – But he said to them, ‘Do you see all these things? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ – This place will be destroyed. And every single stone will be turned over.-
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The disciples were breathless with fear of what his words might mean. For them, those were shocking prophecies: the total destruction of the great Temple of Jerusalem, and the future destruction of the world. In the Holy Scriptures, we find that the earth – creation itself – is really seen as one giant temple. The Garden of Eden was described using some temple-imagery, the psalmist uses imagery to depict creation as a temple, with human beings as the priests, offering Creation to God.
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Now scholars tell us that the Temple of Jerusalem was really supposed to be a microcosm of this world, it was an image, if you will, of this world: The huge ‘sea’ of water, walls carved with flowers, a giant grape vine over the entrance; the blue veil in front of the Holy of Holies symbolized the sky, and beyond the sky, the Holy of Holies represented heaven. If the Temple was therefore a sign of this universe, what does it mean if would be destroyed? A sign of the coming end of this world; and so, in one breath Our Lord speaks of both. ‘I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ ‘This generation shall not pass away, until all these things have been accomplished.’
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And so it was true – the shocking destruction of the temple took place in those people’s generation, just 37 years after Jesus’ prophecy. After it was burned to the ground, the greedy soldiers searching for the gold that melted from the fire, turned over every single stone to get it. But not just the end of the temple was prophesied; the world as well: ‘the day nor the hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,’ says the Lord. ‘People will be eating and drinking – partying away – as in the days of Noah. ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against nation; there will be pestilence and famines and earthquakes. They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And there will be a great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world. So Our Lord is speaking at once about the end of the Temple, and also the coming end of the world.
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I was at an airport a few years ago, about to finally read this book I had with me, when a young Jewish man came over to talk. He was studying to be a Rabbi and he recognized me as a Catholic priest. ‘This is a sad time for us, he said, ‘it is the ‘Three Weeks;’ the Bein ha-Metzarim.[ii] This is when we remember the destruction of the Temple. I said to him, Yes, the destruction of the temple in 70AD. But you know, we Christians have another understanding of this, not so sad. The temple was great and glorious, for sure, and it was the site of the sacrifices by the priests. But the temple was a sign, a pre-figurement, pointing to a new priesthood of Jesus, the Messiah – a new Sacrifice – and a New Temple. Ezekiel prophesied an entirely new, glorious temple. And this glorious temple is in heaven, which the Jewish temple was preparing for. Destroyed? Only in the sense that it was a sign, preparing the way. That temple offered sheep and goats in sacrifice, but those pre-figured the True Sacrifice of the Messiah, which we renew on our altars today. The priesthood continues, the priesthood of Jesus – and at the Catholic Mass, we are participating in the praise of God in the Eternal Temple of heaven.
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We spoke some more, especially about the Jewish roots of our Faith. The Mass as fulfillment of Passover. Then he said, ‘Father, almost no one knows, even few Jewish people know, that it was also at this time of the Three Weeks, that we believe Moses threw down and broke the 10 commandments because of sin.[iii] So we are mourning this too. ‘That’s VERY interesting,’ I told him. And I thanked him for the discussion, time to get on the plane, he was on a different flight.
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So I’m on the plane, sitting down, just opening my book finally, and the woman next to me says, ‘You’re a priest.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. I’m Jewish!, she said. ‘Oh.’ In fact, I have been doing research on my religion in Israel. Father, did you know that this is a very sad time for us? It is when the Temple was destroyed. ‘I said, yes. And you know, it is very interesting, that it was also during this time, long before, that Moses broke the 10 commandments.’ ‘How did you know that?!!!!!!’, she asked me!
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Friends, people today live as if the world will never end, as if THEY will never end. When I cover the subject of the End Times with the kids in school, one question I always ask is very simple: ‘True or false: This world will one day come to an end.’ True. Strangely, we have to be reminded of this.
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At the end of the Liturgical Year, Mother Church presents to us this subject, to be pondered: the End Times. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, which happened in the exact detail as he described it. So when he tells us that this world will end, it will. This world, this life – is temporary. And so this week, we remember our mortality; we know not when the world will end, nor when our life will end; So?
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So we live today as a faithful child of God, come what may. What we have done in our past is not so important; what we choose to be today is what matters, so that we will end well. As St. John Vianney used to say, ‘All the saints did not start out so well, but they ended well.’ May the Blessed Virgin help us all, that when the end will come, we may end very well.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

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[i] A Parochial Course in Doctrinal Instructions, p. 540

[ii] The day the destruction of the Temple is remembered is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av at the end of the Three Weeks.

[iii] The breaking of the 10 Commandments was on the first day of the Three Weeks, Tammuz 17.

The Resurrection of our Body

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved in the Lord,
The various parts of Holy Mass have symbolic meaning; for example at the Consecration, and when the priest raises the Host and the Chalice, we see ourselves at the Cross – reminded by the one that hangs here – And if the Consecration signifies the death of Jesus, Holy Communion is linked to his Resurrection from the dead. When the priest breaks the Host over the chalice and we might think of the tomb breaking open – a piece of the Sacred Host is broken and mixed into the Precious Blood. If at the Consecration, separation of Body and Blood signifies death, then this re-joining of Body and Blood signifies Christ’s glorious resurrection.
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And as for us – the fathers of the Church from the beginning called Holy Communion the ‘Secret of the Resurrection.’ Holy Communion is the antidote to death. Jesus said, ‘He who eats this bread will live forever.’
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Now in the gospel today, we see this encounter with Jesus and the Sadducees. The Sadducees only believed the first 5 books of the bible, nothing else. They also did not believe in the next life. When you die, they said, that’s it, you’re dead. So they did not believe in life after death, or the resurrection, because they did not find it mentioned in the first 5 books of the bible, so they thought.
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To make their point, they come to Jesus and propose a scenario to him, where a woman has had in her life, 7 husbands who have each died. And they ask, if there is really a resurrection Jesus, – ah, then – which one will be her husband in the life to come? But Jesus says, you are wrong because you do not know the scriptures. for in the resurrection, people do not get married. We will rise, in our glorified bodies; but in that day, we will not be married in an earthly way. We will be married to God, and also we will be in union with all the members of the Church, with our spouse or spouses from our earthly life yes – if they are in heaven – but this union will not have exclusivity, this ‘Communion of the Saints’ will be a whole new way of being together in perfect charity.[i]
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The Sadducees did not believe in life after death. But now we see how amazing a teacher Jesus is: Our Lord proceeds to quote from the Book of Exodus – which the Sadducees accept! Christ replies, ‘have you not read – where God says, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Notice, it doesn’t say: I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he says, I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – aren’t dead. They are alive. So it’s brilliant – Our Lord shows them that even way back in the Book of Exodus, the resurrection is indicated. It says, ‘When the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching!
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So how many people these days are still Sadducees, who do not really believe that on that Great Day, we will be resurrected, alive, in our glorious bodies? No wonder people only live for transitory pleasures. The great secret for us Christians, is the resurrection. Not only Jesus rose from the dead, but we will too. This is why its called, the Good News! It’s why Jesus came.
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Jesus was born, he grew up, he worked; he died – and he rose in his glorified body, and ascended to Paradise. We are his followers. We are born, we grow up, we work and suffer and die.  And we will rise, in glorified bodies and enter paradise. This is why Jesus is called the First-born from the dead – because he went first; he conquered death and we will follow.
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Where do we get this power, to rise from the dead? The power comes to us from Jesus, mediated through the sacraments, beginning in Baptism, but so much in Holy Communion. As I said, the early Christians called the Eucharist the ‘antidote’ to death. They risked their life to get to Holy Mass, because our eternal life is at stake. This is why the martyrs were not afraid of death. Its why that mother we read about in the book of Macabbees, urged her sons to give their life for the Faith. They believed that God will raise them up. It’s why we are not afraid to die.
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St. Paul says, ‘Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall all rise, in the twinkling of an eye. At the last trumpet, the dead will rise, and we shall be changed. At the little cemetery up at Mundelein, there is a very cool statue of an angel blowing a trumpet. This signifies the end of the world and the resurrection of the body.
 
There seems to be one main reason people are unhappy today. They don’t really believe in the resurrection of their body. They seem unsure of what the next life will bring. Friends, if a Catholic does not believe in the resurrection of their body, they are rejecting a central teaching of our Faith. Every Sunday we say in the Creed: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’ this changes everything about our life. As St. Paul says, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then our faith is worthless. But Christ has indeed been raised, he is the first, we follow him. As scripture says, ‘since death came through one man, Adam, so the resurrection of the dead comes also through one Man, Jesus.

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A few years ago we were burying a woman at Rosehill cemetery – it’s a big cemetery. After the prayers, as the people dispersed, a mother and her children walked over to chat with me, it turns out that the deceased was a very dear aunt to the children, Aunt Anne. They looked at me with their sad little hearts, so I said to them: ‘Do you kids want to hear a secret? ‘Look out at this vast cemetery. You see all those thousands of graves and tombs there? Their eyes scanned the rolling hills, the myriad of tombstones. ‘Those graves are all people who are waiting. And at the end of the world Jesus is going to wake everyone up and have them go to paradise with him, and it will be the happiest day in the world. ‘They will be alive,’ they asked? ‘Yes, I said, very alive.’ ‘Even Aunt Anne? Even Aunt Anne. And they were very happy, because they had faith in the power of God.
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You know, the word ‘death’ was rarely used by early Christians.[ii] They said, the person has ‘fallen asleep.’ We still say that in the Eucharistic Prayers. In fact, the word ‘cemetery,’ comes from the Greek word[iii] which means ‘sleeping place’ – The cemetery is a sleeping place, until the resurrection.[iv]
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If someone said to us, at a certain hour a dead person will be raised to life, we would run very quickly to see it.[v] Well, if you are a faithful Christian, you will one day not only see ‘some’ person raised, you will be raised.
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Let us then ask Mary to help us in our faith – Mary, help us to live and believe as true Christians, and one day be worthy of the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. +

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Peter]

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[i] Jesus says, just as angels don’t get married in heaven, we also won’t be married, in an earthly way, in heaven. – note that this is a dig, since the Sadducees do not believe in angels.

[ii] ‘The Histor of the Mass and its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church’ – John O’Brien, p. 344.

[iii] (dormitory(κοιμητήριον)).

[iv] And also, in Germany of old, people saw the body placed in the ground

to be like the seed sown by a farmer awaiting growth.

Even grave stones were compared to those little signs

that a farmer places, to show what type of flower or plant is planted there.

In those days, words for burying a person in the grave

conveyed the idea of hiding a treasure until the future.

[v] Little Catechism, p. 38.

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