Friars’ Reflections

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

We human beings are often tempted to create God in our own image—a God that we can manipulate and control.  We are tempted also to confine or limit what God can say or do, and confine or limit how God can say or do it.  The Scripture readings for Mass this Sunday remind us that God, and specifically God the Holy Spirit, cannot be controlled and restricted.  God does not always act or speak in the ways that we expect God to act or speak.

The first reading is from the Old Testament book of Numbers, which is about the wanderings of the Hebrew people in the desert after leaving Egypt.  In this passage Moses has appointed 70 men—elders—to help him in governing the people in the desert.  They share the same “spirit” Moses has, which God gives.  They manifest their prophetic spirit in an extraordinary way—by some temporary trance, frenzy, or rapture.  This was not uncommon in the Old Testament and the early days of the Church.

There are two other men, Eldad and Medad, who are not with the group.  They begin to show the same manifestations.  They have the same manifestations as the others because they have the same good and true Spirit.  So Moses says to leave them alone.

We see that this is closely related to the incident in the Gospel reading.  The passage there presents a man, an exorcist, who is an outsider because he does not belong to the group of the disciples of Jesus.  But he is using the name of Jesus in his exorcisms.  The disciples try to stop him, then they tell Jesus about him.  Jesus tells them to leave him alone.  Why?  This man too has the Spirit.  God can speak and act through him even though he is not a disciple.

The lesson for us is this:  God—the Spirit of God—can choose to speak and act through any human being.  God does not always choose those in authority, the learned, the respectable, or even professed Christians to reveal the divine will, show us the way, or do good for us.

God does not speak only through the Pope or only through bishops or only through bishops and priests.  God also speaks through lay people, especially in matters such as marriage and family life and work in the world and government and politics and economics and finance and education and recreation.  God does not speak just through theologians and religious educators.  God can use non-theologians, non-experts, to speak to us.

God does not always speak through people like ourselves—ordinary, respectable people.  Sometimes God speaks through the disturbing and the disreputable.  And God does not always speak through those who profess to be Christians.  We can discover truth everywhere.  God can come to us in anybody.

So, when Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” he is giving us a marvelous example of divine respect and tolerance.  God can speak to us through any human being.  Jesus can come to us and be present to us in any human being.  What we are to do is be open enough to hear God speaking and see God acting and be discriminating enough to recognize when it is really God who is speaking or acting.  And then we are meant to embrace the divine word and action and live and love according to them.

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

The message of today’s readings (or I should say at least one of the meanings), is that of warning of the ways of the wicked, while also being one of great hope due to God’s power and love.

I believe that is why the opening prayer is one which speaks of God’s being the savior of His chosen ones, and how He always hears them whenever they cry to Him in distress.  This prayer indirectly tells us of the wickedness which is out in the world, for one does not need a savior if one is already saved, nor does one cry out in distress if all are at peace.   The aspect of God’s power and love is shown in one of the possible communion antiphons which is that of the Good Shepherd.

In the first reading, which is from the book of Wisdom, the wicked are plotting against the just one, which is a direct prophecy of Christ’s persecution. Please go over this reading again sometime today, as you will see for yourself how clearly this applies to what Jesus freely underwent out of love for you, and how the blindness of the world did not foresee how there could possibly be any triumph after death.  They did not truly believe in God, and thus thought that they could do whatever they desired no matter whoever would suffer as a result.  Those today who claim to have worldly wisdom and have their agenda, are not any different – while we must have hope in Our Savior Who rose from the dead.

St. James, in the second reading, writes of how evil ways simply bring about evil, while the ways of God only bring about good.  Then he goes on to show how if one follows only his lower passions, there is no other end than that of misery.  But what does this mean, but that if one seeks to be good, he/she will not end with sadness but true peace of soul?  Thus if one turns from goodness there is only evil, while if one turns from evil, there is goodness.  We must simply pray to God with trust, that we may be illumined by the Holy Spirit to recognize the distinction there is between the two (which is not clear without grace).

Finally in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, Our Lord tells His Apostles of His persecution and passion, which will end with His triumph.  This was the fulfilment of the prophecy of the first reading, while His patient endurance was the triumph over the results of fallen nature, which was shown in the second reading.  But these words were not meant for the Apostles to grasp at that time, but to be something they would recall later to give them hope in the early church, showing how Jesus knew from the start of His passion, it being of the plan of salvation.

But what did the Apostles do? Humbly ask about it? No, they instead begin to argue who among them was the greatest!  But can we say that we are any better?  In reality, they have a good excuse as there was not yet any Sacraments or Church, while we have both. When we are among trials and feel abandoned, do we consider how Jesus told the Apostles ahead of time how such trials were to be so as to bring about a greater good?  We will certainly still suffer, but will gain great strength when we know that God is in control of everything that happens to us, and will lovingly grant us the grace needed at the present time.  But so often we are like the Apostles, for instead of pondering upon the ways of God and praying for the light to understand and embrace them, we turn to the things of the world as if that is the answer.  Yes, it is good to do things while suffering, such as to go for a walk, speak to another, etc. but we must be careful not to seek something which directly or indirectly replaces God in our lives, such as spending all our time on the internet as a form of fleeing from the cross and thus God as well (which only is greater suffering in the end, which many do not foresee). The real solution is prayer.

But let us see how Jesus led the Apostles back onto the right track, placing a child before them.  And notice how it says specifically that He put His arms around it, showing the love He has for each and every soul, being ready to care for those who allow Him to do so.  This is what it means to be as a little child: to allow our Lord to take you into His arms, concentrating on Him no matter what else is going on.  But sad to say, many wiggle loose from the embrace as they are distracted by the things of this world.  There is no reason to explain the analogy, as it is quite clear. Jesus then instructs them to have a desire for the salvation of other souls; and what is one of the best ways to embrace a cross, than to show charity towards another out of love of God?  This charity is often simply a matter of prayer and offering.

So let us take seriously this message which Our Lord has given to us. Let us allow Him to love us, to guide us in this life by the light and love of the Holy Spirit.  When souls are open to this, then as they grow in love of God they develop a love for other souls, desiring only that all may come to love and thus give praise to God for all eternity.  This is not felt early on, and perhaps not for many years, but in the end, the result is a peace which is deep within (even amidst sufferings), truly being in love with God. But do not fear, as the Lord will care for those who come to Him with the trust of a child.

May it be for all of us.  Amen.

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

There is a pattern in today’s gospel reading (Mark 8:27-35).  Perhaps you recognize it.

The pattern occurs frequently in our Christian lives.  It is the pattern of:  question, then answer, then teaching, then misunderstanding.  If we move past this last, then we come to insight and wisdom.

The gospel begins with a question.  Actually there are two questions, but only one—the second—is really important.  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

They report what people are saying.  Then Jesus asks, “And you—who do you say that I am?”  This is the question.

The answer follows.  Peter says, “You are the Christ.”  In other words, “You are the Messiah, the liberator we have been waiting and hoping for.”

Then comes the teaching.  Jesus tells Peter and the others what kind of Messiah he is, how he is going to do his liberating work, and tries to give them an inkling of what lies ahead of him—he is going to suffer a lot, be killed, etc.

Finally, there is the misunderstanding.  Peter takes Jesus aside, objects, and tries to show Jesus that he is wrong.  Peter does not understand what Jesus has said.  In fact, he did not understand when he said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.”  He took this to mean, “You are the political liberator of our nation.”  He does not understand the teaching now, but later he will.

This is the pattern, and it is one that is regularly happening in our own lives as followers of Jesus.  This is the event basic to Christianity in its simple essentials—question and answer, call and response.  In our encounter with Jesus he questions us:  “Who do you say that I am?”  He asks us directly and personally.  Our answer is, “You are the Messiah.”

Messiah:  what does that mean?  It says everything, and it says nothing.  I mean that we have to unpack it.  Jesus, you are the one who rescues us from the evil in and around us.  Jesus, you are the one who confirms and completes and secures forever the goodness in us and our world.  Jesus, you are the one who offers us ultimate meaning.  Jesus, you are the one who is in control, despite any experiences or appearances that may seem to suggest otherwise.  There are as many ways of expressing it as there are individual believers.  Some ways are better than others, but none is perfect.

As for the teaching, the way Jesus went is the way we have to go; and what Jesus is now, that is what we are meant to be someday.  The teaching about himself is also the teaching about ourselves.  It comes to us in different and sometimes difficult ways. Difficult or easy, it comes to us in the lessons that the people, events, and circumstances of our lives offer us.

As for the misunderstanding, perhaps the word is too strong.  What this means is simply that so often we do not understand what is happening or why.  We are like Peter because what we understand by the words expressing our faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior is always imperfect and sometimes just plain wrong.  We need help to know better.  We are not to rest with what we understand, whether accurate or not.  Rather, we are to move forward to ever better insight, to deeper and higher and broader wisdom.  The Spirit of Jesus is at work among us to make it so.

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by Bro. Mark Charlesworth, OCD

The message of today’s readings appears to be straight forward.  St. Isaiah tells us not to be frightened, and that God will come to open the eyes of the blind, etc. Next St. James states that God shows no partiality, which means He is ready to help all of us. Finally in the Gospel of St. Mark Our Lord heals a man who is was deaf and dumb.  So the message is that God is ready to come and heal us of our physical ailments and grant us lower consolations, right?

Obviously that is not the case, or else none of us would have any health issues or trials in this life.  Besides, there are gifts which are so much higher than any such healings – to the extent that they enable souls to embrace such trials, should it be for their good that they bear them.  

Let us look at the opening prayer.  It states that we are redeemed by Christ, and even more, adopted as beloved sons and daughters!  What more could we ask?  Just consider what it means to be adopted by God… what it means to have the Holy Spirit within us, having us act by grace and loving with divine love!

Now looking again at the book of Isaiah, he states before mentioning the physical healing that God comes to save us.  That is the primary message.  Nothing else is important in comparison to souls being saved – their being brought to God by God Himself.  In fact, all the gifts that are mentioned after this, the good health, water in the desert, etc. represent not so much comfort and healings in this life, but joy and peace in life everlasting.  

Next, St. James shows that we must treat all others with respect which is due to the simple fact that we are all children of God, i.e. souls whom God loves.  (And if others openly support evident evils, we must show charity by praying for their conversion.) The more one is filled with God’s divine love, the more love such a soul has for those who are around him, desiring their salvation.

Finally in the Gospel, our Lord showed great charity towards the man who was in need of physical healing, not simply waving His hand, but personally taking him aside, touching what needed healing, and using words which would help his soul as well as his body (for by saying “be opened” He was also opening his soul to grace). Yes, with every physical healing, there is a much greater gift which is being bestowed upon the soul.  Just recall how before healing the paralytic (in another account) Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven”.  We should keep this in mind, for if we ask for healing and yet remain ill, it simply means that such a cross will lead us to receiving the higher and more important gift, which is love of God.  In fact, when one has faith, he/she recognizes that such crosses are gifts in themselves: the means of salvation and thus loving relation with God.

We can therefore say that the message of today’s Mass is that we should go to God with loving, childlike confidence – not seeking lower consolation, but interior healing so that we may come to love Him as He deserves to be loved.  Yes, one may indeed ask for physical healing, but it is important that at the same time such a soul says with pure childlike love “but not my will but Thine be done, as I want only to love Thee, O Lord”. So may it be for all of us. Amen.   

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

We and God:  Externals, Security, and Trust

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

The way we usually think of the Pharisees is a bit unfair to them.  They were actually some of the best people in the Holy Land in the time of Jesus.  Most of them were genuinely devout Jews.  Some of their practices and preoccupations seem excessive to us, but they took their religion seriously.

Nevertheless, the Pharisees were frequently the object of the condemnations of Jesus.  We are so familiar with his words that we don’t feel the sting of them.  It was quite a shock when Jesus compared the Pharisees—upright, law-abiding people—with tax collectors and sinners and said the Pharisees come out second best.  Why?  Where did they fall short?

One reason we find in today’s gospel reading:  they too frequently reduced God’s will to a set of external details.  And once they had taken care of the details, then they could be sure of their good standing with God.  They were excessively concerned with externals because they wanted to be sure; in other words, they were after security.

The real situation of human beings is always one of ambiguity and growth.  We can never be certain enough, and there is always room for growing, for becoming better.  In this life on this earth we don’t have it made.  We are not yet finished.  This is the truth!

The quest for security was underneath the preoccupation with externals.  There was something deeper, beneath the search for security.  It had to do with the attitude of the Pharisees toward God.  That attitude was lack of trust.  According to this attitude, God is someone we bargain with; if we play the game by God’s rules, then we receive certain benefits.  This attitude asks, “How much do I have to do in order to be sure I am safe with you?”  Jesus offered the new heart of the child who trusts that they are loved and says, “I want to express my gratitude.”  

There is this Pharisee inside each one of us.  All of us have a tendency to reduce God’s will to externals, making them more important than they are.  Externals are important, and it has to be this way because we are not angels but flesh and spirit.  The danger with externals is that we can observe and measure them and be certain about them; in other words, they can give us security.  We can become certain and secure enough that insecurity and growth that are part of being human and of being Christian begin to fade away and perhaps one day vanish.

The real security we have comes from God, not ourselves; and it comes because we trust, not because we bargain or play the game by the rules and reap the benefits.  We don’t do something in order to be sure we are safe with God.  Rather, we trust, we know we are loved, we express our gratitude, like children.  That is the way we are to go.

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD
We have an appropriate theme for this Sunday. In the opening prayer (which is the prayer for all of the hours of the office on that day) it is stated clearly that we are amid the “uncertainties of this world”, asking God that He “unite (us) in a single purpose”, that by His grace we may “love what You command” and “desire what You promise”. And what is the end for all of this? That “our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found”. But what is the source of that gladness, but the simple fact that we were created to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Let us consider how this is reflected in the readings. (Notice that the above words and phrases will be repeated.)
In the first reading, Joshua is speaking to the Israelites as they are about to move to the various parts of the promised land. As we know, there were still enemies who lived around them, so the future was not necessarily, on the natural level, one of peace and consolation, but rather one which contained many uncertainties. But God had this be so (as He stated to His prophets) to see if they would remain faithful to Him. This did not just mean that they not follow the pagan ways, but more importantly, that they put their trust in God Who had brought them there. If they had trusted entirely in God, thus remaining united, loving His commandments and desiring to accomplish His will, then they and their future generations would have experienced true gladness. But as we know, such was not the case, which God used to show how much a savior was needed. This does not just apply to the Jews at that time, but to Christians as well, who up to the current time have had periods both of great faith, as well as secularism and indifferentism.  
St. Paul in his letter, speaks of the union of a married couple, which can apply to anyone in any state. It is the same idea as the above, for in any way of life (married, religious, etc.) there is no guarantee that everything is going to work out “just fine” on a lower level. It is simply another example of the uncertainties in life, showing how important it is that we remain united in our faith, and thus come love of God. This is because the final end is not just to have a nice family (which certainly is good and should be a goal), not to be a religious just so as to be able to help others (which again is a good goal, but not an end in itself), and not to accomplish anything in this life in general, seeing it as a final end. No, what one should have as an ultimate goal, no matter what state of life he/she is in as well as what good works may be accomplished, is simply to do all for God. And what is this but simply striving to love God with all that we do? This is what makes any way of life fruitful. And even though we cannot always see positive results in this life, which is full of trials, by faith we know that we are accomplishing a great good (God’s will) if we simply offer all to Him with love.  
Finally in the Gospel we see how when our Lord spoke the truth concerning His being in the Blessed Sacrament (Which was not in the Gospel today, but is what caused the reaction which was given today), many ceased following Him. They preferred to grasp onto the “facts” of this life, which in reality are mere uncertainties compared to the truths of our faith. If only those in this age of science and computers saw that we know with more certainty the truths of the faith more than anything we can perceive with our senses or understand completely in our minds! Yes, such lower things can be used for good, but is nothing compared to knowing and experiencing God, which in this life has to be with great faith (in union with reason, but much higher). 
So in today’s Gospel had those to Whom our Lord spoke humbled themselves, as did the apostles, they would have discovered what it meant to be united in obtaining what Jesus was then promising to them. And as the apostles and faithful followers fixed their hearts upon this truth, changing what was uncertain to being certain by embracing the gift of faith, they, in the end, discovered what true gladness is.  
So let us embrace the gift of faith which God is offering to us: striving to be united in loving whatever He desires for and promises to us, even while surrounded by the uncertainties of this world, and thus coming to having our hearts fixed upon loving Him forever. Amen!

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Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

by Fr. Ramiro Casale, OCD

On November 1st, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. He declared that “when the course of her earthly life was finished, [she] was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” This is an important affirmation because when we die our bodies are separated from our souls until the day of the second coming of Christ. This is not the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, by an extraordinary grace from God, is in the totality of her being in His presence.

We call Mary “the honor of our race” and rightly so. We should always remember that she is one of us, a human being just like every man and woman who has ever existed and will exist on this planet. Yes, a human being but with the extraordinary vocation to be the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Today’s first reading, from the book of Revelation, talks to us of a woman who throughout the centuries has been identified by the Catholic Church as the Blessed Virgin Mary. The book of Revelation mentions that two signs appeared in the sky:

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems” (Rev 12, 1-3). 

There is a battle going on. The book of Revelation makes clear the vocation and mission this woman has in the history of salvation. She is called to be the mother of the Son of God: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne” (Rev 12:5). The red dragon represents Satan who wants to prevent the coming of salvation into the world. In the end the woman and her child are victorious. 

The Blessed Virgin Mary wins the battle over Satan and now she becomes safe haven for all of us when we ask her to defend us against evil. She is a great inspiration for us because where she is right now, i.e., in heaven, we all want to be. One day we hope to be body and soul in heaven next to her and all our brothers and sisters in the presence of God. She is a witness to all of us that when we are close to God and try to serve and honor Him, we also can be victorious over sin and evil. 

In the Gospel, Mary recognizes that everything in her comes from God. If she is victorious and full of grace, it is not because of her own merit. In her humility she acknowledges: “The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). We can imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary in her humility and trust in God’s divine providence and help throughout our lives, because indeed God wants to do wonderful things in our life as well. Blessed Mother of God, pray for us!

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

The theme for today’s Mass is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, and our being nourished by the Blessed Sacrament: the two ways we become saints.

The opening prayer shows how it is by the Holy Spirit that we call God our Father, and speaks of us being His adopted children. This is something to consider, for while the Father planned our salvation and Jesus Christ merited it for us by His incarnation and passion, still, it is only by the Holy Spirit that we actually obtain and retain this union with God, His dwelling within us by grace. The degree of this union with the Holy Spirit is increased each time one receives Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

In the first reading we have our patron the prophet Elijah journeying in the desert, fleeing for his life as the queen swore to have him put to death. Falling asleep out of exhaustion, God sent an angel to awaken him and have him eat of the heavenly food which was there. Eating this twice he was given the strength to travel for forty days to the mountain of God.

What does this show but that we who are so weak on our own, at times feeling quite frustrated and abandoned, are being led by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by the heavenly food of the Blessed Sacrament (which we are to continue to receive, which is why it says he received twice). With these we come to love God, and are even invited to “climb the mountain” i.e. even have a share of God’s divine love within the Trinity. This can be so, for the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son, and thus what it brings us to partake in, while it is the Blessed Sacrament which prepares us for such an indwelling.

Next, St. Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, by lowering ourselves to the ways of the world (basically lacking charity). He tells us to “live in love” which is simply living by the light of the Holy Spirit. This shows the result of receiving the Blessed Sacrament, as one thus has the Spirit to lead and guide: living a life of loving God, and showing it is so by being charitable to others.

Finally in the Gospel Jesus speaks of His coming down in the Blessed Sacrament, the Bread of Life. Let us now consider how exactly God comes to us. We know by faith that Our Lord Jesus Christ is received by us this way at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, what happens when He is no longer within us – after ~20 minutes? He sends us the Holy Spirit. This is the close relation there is between the Two Persons concerning our coming to love God. And this love can increase as long as we are alive, for God’s love either increases within us or decreases, which is why we need to nourish it by prayer (especially to the Holy Spirit) and the Sacraments.

So let us turn to God in the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Spirit, asking that not only we, but everyone in the world may come to love Him to our fullest extent. Amen.

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

Let us consider this Sunday’s first reading for Mass, from the Old Testament book of Exodus (16:2-4, 12-15).  It is easy to describe the situation.  The Israelites have left Egypt.  Their goal is a new life in a new land.  Their leader is Moses.  He has led them out of Egypt to the edge of the great Sinai desert.

The Israelites are in the desert, and they are complaining.  This happens again and again and again.  They are griping because there is not enough food.  They are worried and scared.  They are discouraged.

They have a real problem.  It is hunger, with the threat of starvation.  They need food if they are to survive.  They have an even bigger problem:   they are discouraged.  Notice how they respond.  They look back to the past, to the way things used to be for them.  However dreary and oppressive it was, it was also familiar, safe, secure, known.  They had plenty to eat, and they say it would have been better if they had stayed in Egypt instead of leaving and coming out to face the unknown, the unfamiliar, the dangerous, no matter the opportunities also present.

And they play the blame game.  They take out their anger and fear on Moses and Aaron.  They challenge Moses, questioning his intentions and abilities.  They say something awful:  “You brought us out here so that we would starve to death.”  But as a matter of fact they followed him of their own accord.  They are at least as much responsible for their predicament as Moses is.  Besides, he has shown himself to be trustworthy; now things seem to have taken a turn for the worse, and just for that they do not trust him.  We know how the situation is resolved:  God provides unexpected resources–manna and quail.  God takes care of them in the crisis, but the people’s faith in God has been tested.

There is a lesson here for us.  The problem of the Israelites is ours, their experience is ours.  That is the way Scripture works; that is why we read it and study it and discuss it and meditate on it and pray over it.  The problems and experiences we find in the Bible are our problems and experiences.

We know discouragement.  Like the Israelites, whether we are hungry and need food or it is something else, the more obvious problem leads to another and bigger problem—we become discouraged, and worried and afraid and even depressed.  We do not seem to have the resources to deal with the situation of crisis or danger.

How do we react in this kind of situation?  Too often we respond like the Israelites and look back to the way things used to be.  This happens especially when we have left the known for the unknown, the safe and secure for the risky, the proven for the unproven.  It might be a new home, school, job, friend, whatever.  Opportunities and promise are there, yes—but so are dangers and even crises.  These get to us and we can become discouraged and wish we had not changed our course of life.

And, like the Israelites in the desert, often we play the blame game, we pass the buck, we cop out.  We push things off onto our leaders, friends, spouses, parents, employers, teachers, institutions, even God.  We are not so keen on taking responsibility for what we are responsible for, or we are slow to trust the people who are worthy of our trust.  Instead we are just angry and upset.

The real lesson to learn and remember is this.  We have resources to deal with the situation.  God provides them.  They may not be the resources we want or expect, but God provides them and we have them.  God provides for us just as God provided for the Israelites.  New circumstances always mean new dangers, yes.  God gives the opportunity and also gives the resources—the help and support—to deal with the dangers and the crises.  We trust God and God’s providence.  We believe in our own resources and abilities.  With God we move forward.

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

Once a variation of this gospel story (John 6:1-15) was in the air at a certain house of Discalced Carmelite friars.  Jesus and his disciples and a big crowd of people were together near a mountain.  Jesus asked, “How are we going to feed all these people?”  A young fellow named Mark was there.  He was close to Jesus because he had just made a spiritual retreat.  He said to Jesus, “There is a man here from the country of the Basques.  His name is Roger.  He has two zucchini cakes and a jar of vegetable soup.  Maybe you can use them?”  Jesus told his disciples to get the people ready to eat.  He said a blessing over the food.  The disciples passed out the food.  It was so delicious and so nutritious that the people devoured it.  There was nothing left, but everyone had enough and everyone was satisfied and content.

We can find the feeding of the multitude in all four gospels.  Two of the gospels have two accounts of Jesus feeding a multitude of people.  So, this story of the feeding of the multitude is important.  Why?  Certainly one reason is that the story suggests the Eucharist, in which Jesus feeds a countless multitude of people with his Body and Blood under the signs of ordinary food and drink.

The story is important also because it is a “sign.”  It is a sign of God’s power.  It is a sign of God’s power meeting human needs and doing this mysteriously.

The bread and fish in the gospel story stand for the many things we need:  food, water, housing, education, employment, truth, love, justice, freedom, life, peace, knowledge, laughter, understanding, compassion, Jesus, God.  We need these things and many others.  We also desire them.  And we act to obtain them.

One big reason we gather for Sunday Mass, daily Mass, the celebration of the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours is together and individually to present our needs to God.  Another reason is to recognize God has helped us in the past and helps us now in the present.  Yet another reason is to express the hope and confidence that God will take care of us in the future.  We believe that God’s power is at work in Jesus to meet our needs and to satisfy our desires.

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

Probably this has happened to each of us.  We are planning, and hoping for, a normal night’s sleep, a free day, a fun weekend, a vacation of a week or two, a sabbatical of three months or even twelve.  Then something happens that prevents us from doing what we were planning to do.

In last Sunday’s gospel (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus called together the Twelve and gave them instructions and sent them off two by two to do his work.  We heard that “they went off and preached repentance.  The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34), they come back.  They have worked hard.  They are tired.  Jesus suggests a little R & R.  “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while,” he says to them.  What happens?  They can’t quite pull it off.  They meet people who need them.  Jesus is filled with compassion for these people, and so the work goes on.

There is a lesson here for us, especially during the summer.  Compassion has no schedule.  Vacation or not, people bring their needs to us in countless ways.  Some want conversation—a word of encouragement or appreciation, a sign of companionship.  Others need physical help—lifting, lugging, moving, cleaning, clearing.  Many seek advice—assistance in figuring out or simply coping with a painful experience or a puzzling situation.  Many can use a smile, a laugh, a little something to lighten the sometimes heavy burdens of life.  Always and everywhere everyone needs the witness of faith, hope, and love that we have to give.  People bring their needs to us; Jesus shows us how to respond.

Jesus is our leader in compassion.  He leads by example.  When he “saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.”  The Greek for “was moved with pity for them” signifies profound inner emotion, deep feeling.

The message for us is that we are to keep our eyes open to the needs of others and reach out to them with compassion when we can.  There is no vacation from this kind of thing.  Sometimes when we have a real choice, we have to insist first on taking care of ourselves or our loved ones.  May the Spirit of Jesus guide us always.

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

I would say the theme for this Sunday is God’s mercy, under the aspect that He continually calls souls, offering them the necessary grace (either for conversion or perseverance).

The opening prayer shows this in that it states how God shows the light of His truth to those who go astray, just so that they may return to Him (conversion).  It then goes on to profess how God also gives grace for those with the faith to reject whatever is contrary to God (perseverance).  

In the first reading, the people (here specifically, one of their priests) tell the prophet Amos to leave, rejecting his message of conversion.  This is but another reminder of how God offered to His people time and time again the opportunity to repent and believe, even while they openly rejected (as a whole) this grace.  Did God then just give up at one point?  No, He came down Himself to be rejected and killed so that all of mankind may thus be offered this salvific grace.

In the Gospel we see a continuation of this – the offering of grace and mercy.  Here Jesus sends out the apostles with His power and spirit for the sake of converting souls.  He knew well that many would reject His message, although not all immediately, eventually yelling “crucify Him!”. Still, He sent His apostles out, just as earlier He sent His prophets, offering souls the opportunity to convert.  And many did, once He merited the grace for them by His passion, His supreme offering.  

So how does this apply to us today?  How do we respond to Jesus’ offering to us His grace?  When we are inspired to pray and study the faith, do we respond generously with our time and thoughts, or do we say “go away”?  When we are moved by a good sermon or by being in our Lord’s presence in the local church, do we consider how we can have prayer and the faith be more in our lives, or do we just say “that’s nice” and then simply go on with life? 

St. Paul shows us how to properly respond, to convert, that we may persevere growing in our love for and faith in God.  It is not a number of things which we have to do, but simply to be open to God’s love and grace, which he lavishes upon us.  This is all by our following Christ Who merited this all for us.  

In the end, it is simply a matter of our turning to God with our free will, asking Him to bring us closer to Himself.  If we do so with sincerity, God the Father will show us the way, moving us by the Holy Spirit Who comes to us as we receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  May we thus follow the light of grace which brings us to loving the One Who loves us more than we can possibly grasp.  Amen.

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

The general theme of today’s Mass is the mercy of God, but under the particular aspect that we have to want to receive it.  Who can possibly say that our Lord is asking too much of us, if all we have to do is to desire?

We would love to read a Gospel which portrays souls seeking His mercy with great belief and trust, such as when the blind man stated his gift of faith in Jesus to the Pharisees after he was healed; or when the father sought the healing of his son saying “I believe Lord, help my unbelief!” and thus was granted both healing and an increase in faith; or in last week’s Gospel where the woman with faith reached out and touched His garments, thus causing Jesus to say to her “Your faith has healed you, go in peace”. But alas, today’s Gospel has a sad immediate ending, as the people in Nazareth would not believe in Him, stating “Do we not know Him and His family?”

It is interesting how the Holy Spirit had it noted particularly “So He (Jesus) was not able to perform any mighty deed there”.  Yes it is true that it is stated that He did perform a few miracles, but the reason for both is clearly stated, saying how He was “amazed at their lack of faith” (i.e. those few who were cured had faith, while the majority did not).  Does this mean the Jesus was unable to do any miracles because His power was restricted by man? No, for if He had so desired, He could have cured them all.  But God respects our free will, and thus if we do not trust or believe in Him, He will not force Himself upon us.  

Let us now apply this to the “here and now”.  If someone is ill and prays to God for a cure, and still is not healed but dies (or suffers for many years), is that because the person did not have enough faith and hope in God’s mercy?  Certainly not! If such a soul has such gifts fixed deeply within his/her soul, he/she with love will understand that it is simply God’s will that his/her life is to end at that time and in that manner.  This can be hard to embrace at first, but if one truly trusts in the Lord, peace of soul with greater love of God will be granted.  This gift is much greater than simply being healed physically.  This can apply to any person in any case. And while it is true that we cannot understand every situation and event, still, we are called to have a much deeper relation with God than what we can grasp with our own intellect.  That is why it is with steadfast faith, firm hope and divine love (having a share of God’s love) that one can embrace whatever should happen to him/her.  This does not, however, mean that one will be consoled concerning the lower feelings, while it is important to know that God will not try anyone more that he/she can bear.  The end is always the same: that we come to love God entirely beginning in this life.

Looking at the Gospel again, our Lord was simply asking those in Nazareth at that time simply to be humble and ask for faith.  It is as simple as that.  This has not changed throughout the ages up to our current time.  God is just asking that we turn to Him and say “Lord, I long to love Thee! I believe in Thy power, I trust in Thy mercy!  All I ask is that I and all souls may give ourselves to Thee so that we may all come to love Thee!”  And who should we do this with and through but Mary, our Loving Mother?  So may it be for each and every soul. Amen.

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Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

by Fr. Ramiro Casale, OCD

The first reading today reminds us of our eternal destiny and our dignity as human beings. The book of Wisdom states: “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (2:23). We are created for eternity and union with God. We are created in His image, and because of this, there is something divine in us that gives us a value and dignity that nothing or no one can take away from us. 

God himself became one of us. Our Lord Jesus Christ assumed our own human nature to remind us that our eternal home is in heaven, that every human being has an infinite value, and that we are loved with an eternal love. Jesus goes into the world to encounter every human being, especially those who suffer the most, he brings them healing and hope in the midst of their difficulties and challenges.

Jesus was never tired to proclaim the Good News and meeting those in need. When he was at the Sea of Galilee and had finished His work in one place, he would tell His disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side” (Mark 4:35). For Jesus crossing to the other side meant to go and help persons according to their needs. 

Today’s Gospel tells us: “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him” (Mark 5:21). People went to Him because they knew He could help them. That is why Jairus goes to Jesus and asks him to heal his daughter who was dying. He knew he could help him. Same thing did the woman afflicted with hemorrhages; she knew that Jesus could heal her. Both of them had faith in Jesus. 

Saint Paul give a beautiful definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Jairus and the woman believed in the power of Jesus even before He did anything for them. 

We also have challenges to face and difficulties in our lives. We need also Jesus’ help and healing in so many ways. What he said to Jairus, Jesus tells each one of us: “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36). In other words, I’m with you, you are not alone, I will take care of you. Let’s us ask for the grace to have a great faith like that of Jairus and the woman in the Gospel, knowing by faith that God never abandons us in our needs.

What Jesus said to Jairus’ little girl, “‘Talitha koum,’ which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41), He says to all of us, “Arise!” keep on walking, never give up, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), courage! 

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith, Terror, and Jesus

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

Where the Catechism of the Catholic Church treats of faith, it lists “The Implications of Faith in One God” (Nos. 222-227).  Believing in God and loving God with all our being “has enormous consequences for our whole life.”

The Catechism offers these consequences:

1. Coming to know God’s greatness and majesty

2. Living in thanksgiving

3. Knowing the unity and true dignity of all human beings

4. Making good use of created things

5. Trusting God in every circumstance, even in adversity

The Catechism quotes a well-known “prayer” (really an exhortation) of St. Teresa of Jesus to illustrate and support this last consequence of trust in God always and everywhere.

Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you
Everything passes / God never changes
Patience / Obtains all
Whoever has God / Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.

Many of us know this prayer or exhortation as the Bookmark of St. Teresa.

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday’s Mass (Mark 4:35-41), Jesus quiets the strong wind and calms the stormy sea.  A moment before, the disciples in the boat with him (he is in the back of the boat asleep) are terrified.  When Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea and the wind stops and the sea becomes calm, the disciples are awestruck.  They wonder who Jesus is that wind and sea do his bidding.  And Jesus asks them, “Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?”

Sometimes in our lives we are terrified.  For example, if we are hit by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, a wildfire, a hurricane, a tornado, a landslide, we may become terrified.  More often in our lives we are afraid or anxious or worried.  There are countless possible reasons:  we lose our job, we lose our house, our doctor tells us we have a terminal illness, our parent or spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s, our child is keeping very bad company.  Give any one of us a few minutes and we could come up with a list of real world reasons for being fearful or anxious or worried.

When we experience terror or fear or worry, always God in Jesus is calling us to trust in the Lord—to trust God, to trust Jesus.  This trust comes from faith.  We believe in God.  We trust Jesus to protect us and to provide for us.  In the words of the Responsorial Psalm, 

The Lord hushed the storm to a gentle breeze,
    And the billows of the sea were stilled.
They rejoiced that they were calmed, 
    And the Lord brought them to their desired haven.
                                     (Psalm 107:29-30)

This is the disciples in the boat with Jesus.  This is we ourselves in our lives, and Jesus is with us, even when he is asleep or seems to be.

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cultivating God’s Seeds in Our Souls

by Fr. Robert Barcelos, OCD

Amidst the parched soil of the Palestinian desert stands a beautiful mountain range facing the cool mist of the Mediterranean Sea.  In the Holy Land, this privileged landscape is the epitome of the beauty of nature.  In the Hebrew Scriptures it serves as a spiritual symbol of the glory of God flourishing in a soul.  The name of this place, just 20 miles outside Nazareth is Karem-El, the Hebrew for CARMEL (El Carmelo in Spanish), which means the GARDEN OF GOD.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus relating the Kingdom of God to the mysterious ways in which seeds grow from one stage to the next. He also illustrates how even the smallest of seeds can become among the greatest of trees.  Jesus desires to cultivate in our souls a glorious garden of grace and mercy.  The seeds for this garden are whatever can strengthen our faith, hope, and love in living a life of intimate friendship with God. The seeds I would like to invite you to focus your attention on are our personal life of prayer.

At times, when we pray our souls may feel like a rugged and parched soil, far from being conducive for cultivating God’s seeds for our spiritual growth.  Yet, St. Paul exhorts us twice in the second reading about being courageous!  No matter how insignificant our efforts may seem, they are all useful seeds that are pleasing to Him. Seeds that bear a potential to bring about a new reality far better than anything we could have foreseen. St. Paul reminds us today that “we walk by faith not by sight.”  

God promises a harvest for the seeds we plant, but He does not say anything about receiving immediate results.  We must be patient before we can notice the transformative difference our efforts have made.  Most importantly, we are invited to simply contribute what we can and to leave the rest up to God.  It is He who is doing the most important part of the work in using everything that happens in our lives to draw us closer to Him.  He uses everything to bring about our growth in union with His presence in our souls.

A significant part of prayer is simply cultivating the awareness that God is with us, in us, and all around us, here and now.  We dispose ourselves for this encounter of communion with God by desire and attention: reverently attentive and present to the other, available, and ultimately willing to offer our whole self to the one whom we know loves us. 

Sr. Ruth Burrows in her book The Essence of Prayer points out that the emphasis is on “being there, exposed to God, lovingly eager to receive God and certain that we do so, regardless of how we feel….”  She continues saying, prayer is always “what God does for us, in us, through us and that our part is simply to be there,” believing “in the enfolding, nurturing, transforming Love of God” (178).  May the Holy Spirit enable us to be courageous in cultivating quiet times to be alone with God in the garden of our souls.  Sacred moments spent in intimate friendship with God are seeds which promise a beautiful harvest of grace and mercy within our hearts, capable of bearing fruit that can bring life to others. 

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Corpus Christi (Year B)

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

This is a wonderful Solemnity in that it causes us to be grateful for the highest of gifts which we can possibly receive.  There is so much to ponder upon concerning it, but in the end, it is simply our being able to receive our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the simple form of bread and wine.

Here it is good to consider that this is our Lord’s glorified body, which is why if one receives the host alone, he/she has received our Lord entirely, while if one receives from the chalice alone, he/she has received our Lord entirely.  St. Thomas taught that if the Mass was offered on the first Holy Saturday (i.e. before Jesus rose) then the bread would be His body alone, and the wine His blood.  But as it is now His risen body, it is as I stated above.

Now just think of what a gift this is, to have our Lord’s glorified body within us!  But what does this mean in the end?  Consider how physically, Jesus remains in us for only ~ 15 minutes, for once the body digests the traits (accidentals) of bread, He is no longer there materially.  Then what exactly does it mean that one is a temple of God?  It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Who is sent to (or is increased within) us after we receive Jesus Christ.

So each time we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we should not only think of our receiving Jesus Christ for a short period of time, but as well His remaining in us perpetually in the form of the Holy Spirit.  This is what brings one to becoming a saint, one who loves God with all his/her heart, soul, mind and strength; one who is guided within concerning what to do, say and even think.  This is what causes us to truly be images of God, not just by being made in His image and likeness, but by having the Holy Trinity within by grace.

Practically, what should we do in regard to this awesome truth?  First, it is important that we read and meditate upon such a truth, following the Church Fathers and saints.  Secondly, we must spend time pondering upon it, ideally in our Lord’s presence.  Then such a truth becomes a reality within us, for the more we appreciate such a gift, the more we are open to receiving it (as we can always grow in grace).  Finally, we must live accordingly.  Do we show reverence whenever we are in our Lord’s presence at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or in a Church with a tabernacle?  Do we make acts of love and gratitude to our Lord throughout the day for such a gift?  Do we spend time before and after the Mass in preparation and in thanksgiving for receiving this God of love?

Mary, mother of God, help us obtain this love and gratitude to Thy Son our Lord, that we may be able to return to Him in some way what He has so lovingly given to us. Amen. 

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Trinity Sunday

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

A preacher might begin and end the homily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity in this way:  “The Trinity is a great mystery.  I don’t know anything about it, and so I’m not going to say anything about it.”  End of homily.  Mass continues with the Profession of Faith.  

The preacher would be partly joking, partly speaking concise and precise truth.  God is ultimately, fundamentally, essentially inexpressible and incomprehensible.  And yet, to be human is to strive to express and to understand.  Ceasing to be who and what we are is the only way to put a stop to trying to express and understand Mystery we most often name “God.”

Muslims, Jews, and Christians all believe in one God.  Only Christians believe in a Triune God—one in three, three in one.  Usually we name this Triune God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).  If we think this shows gender bias, we might name the Triune God . . . Parent, Child, and Spirit.  Traditionally we also name the Triune God . . .  Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  There is an interplay and overlapping of each of these three “titles.”

How might we find the Triune God in our ordinary, common human experience?  We might locate the Trinity in our experience on the one hand of diversity and individuality and on the other of unity and union.  

If we each consider ourselves we find how we are different “parts,” such as body and soul, head and heart, foot and hand, memory and imagination; but we find also how we are one only self, a unity that we signify by saying “I” and “me” and “myself.”  If we consider ourselves as human beings, one among many and even among all, we discover how we can be related to each other and connected with each other:  we experience the union we can form with one another in a group as small as a couple or as large as the Church or even all humankind.  Finally, if we consider ourselves within the universe—plants, animals, rocks, soil, insects, wind, planets, stars, galaxies, and so on—we notice an infinite variety and at the same time a boundless unity.

The Trinity is the source, sustenance, and destiny of blessed diversity and individuality and also of blessed unity and union.  Our human experience does not prove the Triune God, but it does support our Christian faith in God the Most Holy Trinity.

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Pentecost Sunday

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

Praise be to God, the Holy Spirit.  Do you pray to the Holy Spirit?  What is the role of the Holy Spirit?  Let us consider what Jesus Himself said concerning the Third Person of the Trinity.

Saint John the evangelist concentrated specifically on what Jesus taught at the Last Supper, filling in what the other evangelists did not include (the latter centering on the words of the Mass instead).  Here Jesus teaches us of the Holy Spirit, beginning with “if you love me…” which is vitally important, as it is precisely by the Holy Spirit that we come to love God.  Then He shows that it is the fulfillment of the Father’s will as He continues saying, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always,” which also reveals that it is possible due to the merits of Christ (thus being able to intercede for us).  These few words alone show how the Holy Spirit’s coming is by the love of the Trinity, which makes perfect sense, as the Church has traditionally taught that the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son.  To make this point clear, Jesus repeated Himself, saying “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything…” And what is this teaching, but how to come about loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength?

Further on, Jesus continues, saying, “When the Advocate comes Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, He will testify to me.” Here again Jesus shows that the Holy Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son.  And Jesus goes on to say “The Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth”, as God is Truth and thus the Holy Spirit guides us to God (Himself).

Considering this, what exactly then is our receiving the Holy Spirit?   It is simply our receiving the grace of loving God, leading us to coming to love God with the love of the Trinity itself!  The Holy Spirit is the passageway, the means of our coming to love the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, again in accordance with the Father’s will and by the merits of Jesus Christ.  Such love cannot possibly be grasped until it is experienced, although we know enough of it so that we can honestly pray for it.

So let us pray that we and all souls may come to receive the Holy Spirit that we may all become saints.  We must truly believe that this is the will of God, and thus long for it more than anything else.