Archive for the ‘Discernment’ Category

A Heaven-Sent Hug

July 10, 2022

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Last month, a parishioner told me she looked forward to the great stories I would bring back from vacation. Today, I would like to tell you the best story from my time away. It’s actually a story of Tori, the wife of a former college roommate I visited. It is a God story which all involved are happy to share with others, and this story is entirely true.

Tori worked ten years at a Christian school in Oregon with a much-beloved Bible teacher named Dave. He was like a father figure for her. Tori did not really know his wife, Marcy, but he often spoke of her in glowing terms. When Tori had left her teaching job and moved away, Dave was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer shortly after his retirement. Dave and Marcy helped keep their friends and family in the loop through their joint Facebook account until he passed in 2017.

Amanda Robin Sandberg

Fast-forward to May of 2022. Tori and her family have lived in Northern Idaho for a little more than a year. And it so happens that Marcy, the now remarried widow, has also moved to Idaho and lives less than two miles away from Tori, though they still remain merely acquaintances. One Monday, Tori is scrolling Facebook and sees one of Marcy’s posts: it’s the picture (right) of a smiling 42-year-old woman paired with the caption “My beautiful daughter.” This seems like a rather benign item, but Tori’s thoughts keep returning back to it, over and over. So Tori revisits the post the next day and reads its many replies. From this she learns that Marcy’s daughter Amanda has died, recently and suddenly, in an unmentioned way.

Being a mother herself, Tori’s heart breaks; she weeps, moved with compassion. Seeing far away Facebook friends writing to Marcy saying “I wish we could be there for you,” Tori prays, “I’m right here, I’m close. God, what can I do?” And the idea she receives is, “Go! Go to her house!” Tori thinks, “I don’t know her very well. I should bring her cookies or flowers.” But this was answered with, “No, don’t bring anything. … Bring her a hug. That’s what you’re allowed to bring her and nothing else.”

Now Tori is very kind, but naturally an introvert. This plan to just drop-in on a mourning acquaintance was not her preference. She asked, “Is this really what you want me to do?” And the compelling idea continued urging her like a mantra: “Show up, bring her a hug. Show up, bring her a hug.” Like she had experienced in previous inspired episodes, this thought’s persistence despite Tori’s personal fears and doubts were a sign to her that it was coming from the Lord. Tori reports, “I felt stronger and stronger: ‘This hug is from her daughter. This is what she wants to give her.’

Late Tuesday afternoon, her stomach sick with anxiety, Tori went to Marcy’s home and rang the bell. Marcy soon opened the door with a surprised but friendly expression. Tori said, “I believe I saw something on Facebook.” Marcy’s face fell and she nodded. Extending her arms, Tori said, “I’m here to give you…” and Marcy interrupted, “A Hug!” Tori is ordinarily a light hugger but she gave Marcy strong embraces. Marcy joyfully said to her husband, “She hugs just like Amanda!” The two women smiled, cried, and hugged again and again.

Amanda had died just four days before in a car accident. She was the same age as Tori. Marcy had Christian faith her daughter was in heaven but was asking God for a sign that Amanda was alright. Just hours before Tori’s visit, Marcy had told her husband one of the things she was going to miss most were Amanda’s hugs. Marcy told Tori that Amanda had once hugged her mom so tightly that she broke some of her mother’s ribs. “I never told her,” Marcy said, “but I guess she knows now!” What beautiful things would the Lord do through us if we were more open to his promptings?

This morning, Jesus shares with us one of his greatest Gospel stories. In this famous parable, after evil befalls a traveler on the road at least three people happen by. When the priest, Levite, and Samaritan began their days’ journeys none of their plans had foreseen a detour to help a stranger in need. The priest and the Levite both saw the robbers’ victim but they were too busy or too afraid to help, or they simply assumed God didn’t want them to get involved. The Samaritan, however, was open to the will of the Lord that day in a way the other two were not. The Samaritan was moved with compassion and approached the man; cared for him, lifted him up, provided help for him, and left him better than he found him. Of the three, Jesus presents the Good Samaritan as an example for us to follow, telling us to “go and do likewise.”

You can do likewise by being open and asking, by asking the Lord and being open to his promptings. First, choose to increase your openness to loving “the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then ask the Lord in prayer to use you as his voice, hands, and feet; as his conduit, his vessel, his powerful instrument in your daily life. (“God, please show me your will.”) Finally, as you go throughout your day, be open to his invitations.

What are the Lord’s promptings like? When some innocuous thing seems highlighted in Tori’s attention or when someone comes to her mind during prayer, in a dream, or in the course of her day, she pauses to ask Jesus about it. Maybe she is supposed to reach out to someone with inspired words or some good deed. Tori notices the Lord’s ideas hit her differently than her own, they stick with her rather than fade away, returning to her in quiet moments. And if she were ever to hear an evil suggestion, she would then know it’s not from him. Provided Tori does not give in to busyness or distraction, when she is welcoming heaven’s invitations, “Every time I’m open to God doing something,” she says, “he does stuff.”

This spiritual openness, asking and listening and doing, is a skill to practice. Like when cultivating a new garden or starting to lift weights, it is better to begin small and to grow over time than to never start at all. Be prepared to take some risks for Jesus. It is better to make small mistakes than to miss amazing opportunities. Christ died for us. We must be concerned about more than merely our own comfort and plans. Like the Good Samaritan, be interested in helping to save and bless others. Be open and ask God to use you, ask our loving Lord and be open to his great ideas.

God’s Confirmation Gift to You

September 19, 2020

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

From our first reading from Isaiah we hear from God our lesson for today: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” God is telling us to think above what the world teaches and we will find the Kingdom of God with all its treasures.

As we continue on in Ordinary Time, Jesus continues to educate us about experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now through parables. Remember parables are stories Jesus uses to move a preconceived thought we hold to the flip side so as to move our thoughts and life to a higher level; to the level all experience in the Kingdom of God. The story we are told is about a landowner who needs help harvesting his crops. So he goes out and asks for help and agrees with others the wage that will be paid for their help. He does this in the morning, noon, three o’clock, and at five. When evening comes he directs his foreman to pay the laborers starting with those who came to help last. The wage was the same for all the workers but the ones who came to help first thought they would receive a greater wage and when they received the same they grumbled and complained to the landowner because they had worked more and so they felt they should get more.

In our ordinary way of thinking we are taught that the more we work the more we should get paid, right? That’s the way things work in our world, right? We should be paid according to how much time we spend working for others because that’s only fair, right? Jesus is saying to us that although this is the way of the world it is not the way found in the Kingdom of God. God thinks differently. God rewards those who respond to his call for help when he asks for help. The workers were thinking only about themselves and what is in it for them. They failed to see their call from another for help and the joy that can be found in helping others not to better ourselves but to better the life of another.

This higher level of service is done not for ourselves but rather to elevate and help others who need our help. Our Catechism tells us that we were created to know, love, and serve God. To serve God is to serve others. The body of Christ consists of human bodies who consent to the call from God to help him serve other people by and through our actions. The reward is the same for all who answers God’s request for help it is not governed by the amount of time we spend accomplishing the call, or even if we are successful, but rather it is paid because we consenting to answering God’s call for help.

These last few months we have people who have answered God’s call for help. These people have or will be receiving the last of the three Sacraments of Initiation, that being Confirmation. It is their final great gift of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of Initiation. The first was Baptism; the second is Holy Communion; the third, Confirmation. This is the final Sacrament which makes them full-fledged members of the Church of Jesus. It is the Church’s way of recognizing their importance and having reached the maturity level necessary to become active members of the Body of Christ. It is this maturity that allows them to speak to God and say, “Lord, I am ready and willing to help in any way I can to further the Kingdom of God in ways that I will be personally requested by you to accomplish.

But you may ask, “But how will I know what God wants me to do?” The answer is that God has given each and every one of His chosen people what I will call a personal pager powered by the Holy Spirit. That pager will go off and you will hear the call in your mind, when God desires your help. It will only go off when God has picked you personally to help. I will give you an example. A few years ago, I received a call from my best friend who told me that his dad was dying. I told him I was sorry to hear this and that I would pray for him and his family. In my mind I wondered whether I needed to do anything other than pray. One part of me said the family is going to want to be alone with their dad during this trying time. This made good sense to me and besides I felt uncomfortable experiencing death. And then the pager went off. And a voice screamed out to me and said, “Deacon, your friend was calling for support, if you can’t go to the aid of your best friend how will you ever go and help someone on my behalf that you might not even know?

Boy, how could I ever respond in a negative way to that kind of call? I grabbed my prayer book and took off for the hospital. When I entered the room and began praying with the family I witnessed the peace that came and I knew that I was indeed the Agent of Jesus to this family. I was to them the physical body of Christ present during this time of suffering.

Jesus tells us that the pay for helping him will be the same whether he calls once a month for help or once a year. The pay is not based on the number of calls he makes but the number of times we willingly agree to respond to the landowners request for help. The Kingdom of God exists now and forever for those who are willing to answer God’s call for assistance to those he loves. May you receive the peace of Christ today and every day and never refuse to answer His page to you for help!

Beware of False Dilemmas

March 24, 2020

Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Jesus asks the infirm man lying near the pool, “Do you want to be well?” He answers, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” The best early Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel do not contain the verse (John 5:4) and many modern Bibles omit it, but this ancient passage explains what the surrounding verses imply: “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.

The afflicted man perceives only two possibilities, a dilemma; either be healed by being the fastest into the water or continue in his infirmity. The first path is impossible and the second leaves him miserable. The man is tempted toward despair yet he remains patiently near the pool. And there he encounters Jesus who reveals a new, third way he had not imagined, a better option he had not seen. Jesus says to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk,” and immediately the man arises cured.

Beware of accepting false dilemmas in life. They can take many forms. Should I keep on being late into the water or give up on ever being cured? Should I ignore the Church’s teaching or be unhappy for the rest of my life? Should I keep on sinning and confessing or give up on my fight against habitual temptation? Should we allow this pandemic to totally destroy our economy or just let everybody die? Realize that the Lord can deliver us through ways we are not perceiving. When facing a painful “either-or”, an intolerable Trolley Problem, ask Jesus to reveal a third track. What if Jesus can heal my legs? What if following the Church’s teaching will lead to both my holiness and my joyful peace? What if my necessary resolutions and humble appeals for Christ’s saving grace can lift me up from my struggle? What if, in the near future, more treatments, testing, and technologies will allow us to save both lives and livelihoods?

Do not despair of your deliverance. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. … Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 3:20)

Loving & Serving Jesus Foremost — 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2019

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That teaching certainly demands one’s attention. But how does it mesh with our Lord saying: “I give you a new commandment: love one another”? This teaching, like Jesus’ parables, invites us to question and wrestle a little for our Lord’s meaning, so that, through the struggle, we will understand him more deeply and his words will go more deeply in us.

Loving our family members is not the problem that Jesus is warning us against—the problem comes from loving someone or something more than him. We are called to universal Christian love. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and therefore, by extension, commanded to love ourselves as well. (Because if I did not love myself, then what good would it be to love my neighbor as myself?) We should love our neighbors and love ourselves. However, if I am seeking to always please myself or seeking to please everyone around me, that will not lead me to Heaven.

Whatever Jesus asks of me, ultimately will, sooner or later, yield happiness for me. Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these (good) things will be given you besides,” and “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Doing what Jesus asks us leads to happiness, but that doesn’t mean that I, or the people around me, will always be thrilled about what we’re called to do.

Suppose someone is called to be more healthy (which is a good goal) and begins to eat better, exercise more, drink less, and/or quit smoking. This person is loving their body by acting in healthy ways, but at the same time their flesh may, at first, hate these changes. In time, these healthy habits will bear happy fruits, but at the beginning you may have to love your body while displeasing your flesh. Healthy choices can face resistance from other people as well. Family members might object when there’s less junk food snacks in the kitchen cabinets, or when you don’t go out so often for fast food. Drinking or smoking-break buddies may complain that you’re never around, or somehow no fun, anymore. Ultimately, you have to decide whom you are going to serve, listen to, and follow. Jesus Christ insists that we serve him first.

My dad told me that when he was a kid he thought bad people did bad things because they wanted to be bad, like dastardly villains in cartoons and comic books. But in reality, nobody does evil solely for evil’s sake. Every single person, every angel and demon, acts in pursuit some real or perceived good. Sinners are simply pursuing happiness in wrong ways. The unrepentant usually feel justified in what sins they commit; and human beings can create justifications for anything they want.

In the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel, the people said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky…” They sought, in other words, to build a city and a tower into Heaven. But they attempted to do this without God, and they never got close. Genesis says ‘the Lord had to come down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.’ They fell far short. Today Jesus asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

Who, of themselves, has the knowledge or resources to construct paradise, to build an earthly tower into Heaven? No one. We see many people try to build their own foundations for their lives and fail in every sort of sinful way. ‘For human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ If we follow Jesus he leads us into the City of God and his Heavenly Kingdom, the Church, the Church here below and above in glory. Following Jesus means being his disciple, and to be a good disciple is to listen, to learn, and to apply the teachings you are taught.

On earth, Jesus never penned a book, but he did establish a Church, a Church with a Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations”. Make disciples how? Through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, and by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In this, the inspired, Sacred Scriptures of the Church play an important part. “And behold,” Jesus says “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus is present in our Church today. Jesus still teaches through his Holy Catholic Church throughout the world.

Is there a part of your life where you’re not listening to Jesus? Perhaps you’re not listening as he speaks in your conscience, in your prayer, or through his Bride, our Mother, the Church? It could be about money, or sexuality, or your life’s vocation, about something you’re doing, or something you’re refusing or afraid to do. Whatever it is, the Lord knows what it is, and you probably do, too.

I’d like to share with you a technique or approach I’ve used to help me take the next step when the Lord was calling me somewhere I wasn’t eager to go; like when I was in middle school and the Lord was calling me to take my faith more seriously, when it would have been easier to ignore him. Or later, when I was called to be more generous with my wealth, but I was frightened of risk. Or when he started calling me to become a priest, and that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do with my life. Picture yourself on your death bed someday, having not taken the Lord’s path now. Imagine looking back and having to wonder, “What would my life have looked like if I had trusted and dared more for the Gospel? How much better, how much more fruitful, would my life have been?” Or think of yourself standing before God’s judgment seat and him asking you, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it? I desired so much more for you.” Avoid having to look back someday with regret, at the end of this life or in the next. Bravely take the path that God is calling you to choose. Jesus desires abundant life for you, so carry your cross and follow him.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1888

Temptation Traps

July 16, 2016
The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

We human beings are creatures of habit. For better or worse, we find it easier to think and act in the ways that we are accustomed to. Without self-awareness, it can feel natural to follow established modes of thinking into sinful action. However, once we examine and challenge these temptations we can recognize them as the distortions of truth and reality that they are. Then, with God’s ever-present grace, we can choose and act to reject them.

We experience temptations as the thoughts, feelings, and desires that, if not resisted, would lead us away from God’s will and our greatest human fulfillment. And from where do our temptations flow? They come, as the classic saying goes, from “the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” The World, our culture and the people around us, can suggest sinful paths. Likewise our Flesh, our passions and psychological wounds, can give rise to temptation. Finally, the Devil, with the fallen angels allied with him, can prompt ideas and moods within us in order to lead us towards sin. If we are to resist temptations we must first detect them amidst our thoughts, feelings, and desires.

The distorted thinking of our temptations comes to us in many forms. Do you fall for any of these common temptation traps? Study these and enter your next battle prepared, forewarned and forearmed!


Overgeneralization reaches a general conclusion based upon a single incident or piece of evidence:

I just got dumped. I’ll never find love!

God didn’t grant my prayer. He doesn’t care.”

I never hire those people, one stole from me once.


All-or-Nothing Thinking has no tolerance or mercy for imperfection in ourselves or others:

I broke my Lenten penance, so I’ve given it up.”

I sinned, so my hours of resisting mean nothing.

I’ve never spoken to him since he was rude to me.”


Mental Filtering focuses on a situation’s negative details while dismissing all of the positive aspects:

Yes, Son, but what about this B- in Science?

When I look back on my day, all I see are sins.

They said they liked it, but what she said irks me.”


Labeling generalizes from a couple of traits or events to declare a universal negative judgment:

I need to lose some weight. I’m ugly.

I never do anything right; I’m worthless.

I’m taking more naps as I get older. I’m so lazy.”


Mind Reading presumes to know (without asking) how others feel or why they act as they do:

I know I promised, but the kids won’t mind.”

He’s late. He must not care about this team.”

Her eyes are closed. She’s not listening to me.”


Magnifying exaggerates the significance of problems or events:

I’ll never finish this paper by next week!

I did bad things in a dream. I’m so ashamed.

I prayed an hour, but I kept getting distracted!


Minimizing downplays serious concerns to insignificance:

A little peek at this website is no big deal.

This habit is a venial sin, so it’s OK if I do it.

Why are you complaining? My drinking is fine.”


Catastrophizing assumes the worst about the present and the future:

What if I lose my job, get sick, and die?

I’ll never conquer this sin—why even try?

He’s moody tonight. Is our marriage in trouble?


Personalization believes everything that happens is caused by, or is a reaction to, oneself:

I jinxed the team, I didn’t wear my hat.”

This happened because God is punishing me.”

I saw my two friends; why didn’t they invite me?”


False Shoulds condemn us for weaknesses or choices that are not actually sins:

I should always keep my family happy.”

I sinned by missing Mass when I had the flu.”

It still hurts, so I must not be forgiving them.”


Emotional Reasoning concludes that how we presently feel must be the true reflection of reality:

I feel so sad, I must be failing.”

This feels so good, how could it be wrong?”

I feel guilty; God must be unhappy with me.”


If this topic interests you, check out Cognitive Behavior Therapy and “cognitive distortions.” CBT is the most widely-used technique for the treatment of many psychological issues (such as depression and anxiety) and is proven to be often effective.

Seek As To Find — Monday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 18, 2011

When I was a kid, I was neither hot nor cold. I was a cradle-Catholic and wouldn’t renounce Christ, but I wasn’t much of a disciple of Christ either. I would have pseudo-philosophical religious conversations with friends, asking questions like, “How do we know that God is real? How do we know the Bible is really true? Couldn’t the Apostles have been hallucinating on Easter? Doesn’t science contradict religion?” And other objections of that type.

One day, when I was about 12-13 years old, I imagined myself  standing before the judgement seat of God after my death. He looked disappointed and annoyed like I had promised to meet Him somewhere and never showed up. He asked, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?” (At the time I thought, “Whether this idea is coming by God or just from my own imagination, I have to honestly address this question. What would I say in this situation?”) “God,” I said, “I wasn’t even sure that you were really real. How could I commit my one life to you while I was still uncertain? Who would stand out on a cliff-ledge unless they knew that it could bear their weight?”  He promptly replied, “Well, did you ever really try to find out [if I was real?] I mean, did you even read my book?” When I heard this, I had two reactions. I laughed (because it was funny) and I said, “Oh crud,” (though I didn’t say “crud.”) God had called me out. If I had really been searching for the truth, I would’ve been searching differently. Instead of just asking questions I’d be looking for answers. After that, I began praying more, reading the Bible, and exploring my Catholicism more deeply. Because of this, I stand here today.

Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign because they weren’t really looking for the truth but excuses.  If you meet someone who doubts God and says they would believe in Him if He gave them a sign, perhaps ask them if they are really searching for the truth or just raising doubts about God in order to be free from the demands of the Gospel. Whoever truly seeks, finds. As a corrolary for our own lives, for we who believe in God, don’t expect the Lord to explicitly reveal His will for you, unless you are willing to accept His will.

Rules of Spiritual Discernment

July 17, 2011

In just a few pages, St. Ignatius’ famous Rules for Discernment can teach us about:

  • Spiritual consolation, spiritual desolation, and how to act in the midst of them.
  • How the enemy of our souls attacks us and how we are to defend ourselves.
  • How to recognize the activity of the good spirit or the bad spirit within us.

Pushing Boulders — 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 1, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a hermit who lived in a cabin in the woods.  Each day, he would spend a good deal of time in prayer. One day at prayer he quieted himself, opened himself receptively to God, and heard Jesus speak to him. It’s wasn’t that he heard Jesus externally, speaking from across the room, but within his own thoughts. The hermit knew from experience that the Lord sometimes sends us an image, a memory, a song, or words in times of prayer to communicate with us.

The Lord said, “Go outside to the large boulder in your yard.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for at least 30 minutes every day.” The man went about pushing the boulder every day, exerting his body in every way, but even months later he could not discern having moved the stone a single inch.

The man thought to himself, “Am I doing something wrong? Am I failing because of my sins or my lack of faith? The Gospels say that if I had faith the size of a mustard seed I could move mountains, but I can’t even move this stupid boulder.  Am I failing because this isn’t really God’s will? Did the Lord really tell me to do this, or did I just imagine it myself? No I heard Him, as surely as the other times when I heard Him speak. But why does He give me a task that He knows I can’t do? Does He want me to fail?” At this the man became very angry and (wisely) took his frustration to God. 

The man heard the Lord speak to Him, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never told you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs, you have become strong because of your faithfulness and now you are ready for my next mission for you. You thought you were failing, but you succeeded in doing my will.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus turns resolutely toward His final journey to Jerusalem. He sends out advance teams to visit the towns ahead of Him and prepare His way. One of these villages is a Samaritan town and when they learn that Jesus’ destination is Jerusalem they refuse to welcome Him. James and John see this and ask, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them, like Elijah did back in the day?” Jesus turns and rebukes them; the fire of the Holy Spirit is meant for the salvation of people, not their destruction.

Why did Jesus send His disciples to that Samaritan town, instead of just instructing them to pass it by? Jesus knew what was going to happen when they went to that village–He knew by His divine insight that they wouldn’t accept Him. Remember when Jesus needed a donkey to ride on into Jerusalem? He sends two disciples to find and untie a donkey who had never been ridden before and He tells them what to say if anyone asks what they are doing. They go into the city and find everything as Jesus had described. Remember when Jesus needed a place to celebrate the Last Supper? He tells Peter and John to go into the city and to follow a man they will see carrying a jar of water, when they come to the house he leads them to, they are to ask if there is a place for the master to celebrate the Passover. They go and find everything a Jesus described, including an upper room already prepared for a Passover. Jesus knew that the Samaritan town would not welcome Him, so why did He send disciples there?

The mission may have seemed like a failure, but Jesus’ plan succeeded. Jesus knew that His Apostles would soon be preaching the Gospel to the whole world and He knew that not everyone would welcome them or their message. Jesus wanted to give them some experience in rejection to teach them how to respond; not with anger and violence, but with patience and peace. James and John learn a lesson about divine mercy. They may have thought their mission to the Samaritan town was a total failure, but the Lord was successfully achieving His goals in them.

So what does all this have to do with us? In our lives we often experience weakness, setbacks and apparent failures. In response, we often blame ourselves, even when we are innocent, or we conclude that we must not have been doing God’s will, or we get angry with God for frustrating or not helping our efforts. Yet, as long as we are faithfully following Christ, nothing we attempt is ever truly a failure.

The only true failure in the Christian life is sin, but if we repent of our past sins even these can be used to benefit God’s great plan. Scripture says, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” this even includes our repented sins. We are obsessed with success, but as Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us, “God does not ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful.”

Sometimes you will feel like you are failing, or that your efforts have been useless, but by your faithfulness you will be succeeding in doing God’s will. Let us remember that at the center of our faith is a man nailed to a cross; an appearent failure who was actually succeeding in saving the world. Jesus rolls away stones in ways we wouldn’t expect.

Hearing Him — Friday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 23, 2010

Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood,” as we are about to do in at this Mass, “remains in me and I in him.” After we receive Him, He remains with us and we with Him.  And He stays with us, provided we do not cast Him out through committing serious sin, until we receive Him again.

Jesus remains close to us throughout our day. Wouldn’t it make sense, that time to time, He would occasionally have something to tell us? Maybe we don’t hear Him because He knows we would refuse to listen. Perhaps He knows we would dismiss hearing Him speak to us out of hand, or maybe He knows we don’t trust Him enough to go out on a limb. For example, if you got the feeling that the Lord wanted you to relay to a message, a message you didn’t really understand, to particular person what would you do?

In the first reading, the Lord speaks to Ananias and Ananias answers, “Here I am.” Then the Lord gives Him an entirely wholesome, but very counter-intuitive task: lay your hands on Saul and heal him. Ananias hesitates a little. Ananias might be wondering if this is really coming from the Lord, or maybe he’s not sure he wants to risk this much for the Lord. But in the end, Ananias listens, and because of it, Saul became St. Paul.

If we would like the Lord to do such things with us let us be faithful in little things, faithful to the commands of our consciences and to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout our daily lives. If we are willing to trust Him, Jesus will ask us to be His chosen instrument in greater matters too. So let’s listen, let’s be docile, and see what He does with us.

A Weird Passage — Wednesday, 3rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

January 28, 2010

“Focus on the weird.”  That’s advice I heard that a homiletics professor once gave. “Focusing on the weird part of the readings in preparing one’s homily leads to the unlocking of mysteries. Besides, it’s what the people are most likely to be distracted thinking about during your homily anyways.” (This is a good rule of thumb for one’s personal Bible studies too.) So what’s the weird part about today’s readings? It comes in Jesus’ private answer to the disciples about His parables:

“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Does Jesus really teach in parables so that the crowd will not understand?  Why teach them if you don’t want them to learn? And why would Jesus want to be misunderstood by people “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven”? Doesn’t He want all to be saved?

Jesus spoke in parables because it allowed those with open minds and hearts to understand Him, while serving as a defense against his hostile critics (who had appeared in Mark’s Gospel just before this scene.) Those who were open to the truth would patiently ponder His imagery and come to understand.  Those who chose to be closed off to Jesus would dismissively discard His stories without comprehending. Jesus did not want to be too clear too soon with His enemies, for if He had spoken to them plainly about Himself and His mission they might have moved to kill Him too early for God’s plan to unfold fully.

Did Jesus speak in parables with His enemies “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” Surely not, for Jesus wills the salvation of all. The choice not to be converted and forgiven lays at their own feet. They themselves choose not to be open, not to understand, “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Are we open to Jesus’ message and will for us? We sometimes say that we wish that Jesus would be more clear about His will for our lives. Could it be that the reason Jesus doesn’t lay out His will for us plainly is that He knows we would simply answer “No” to His wishes? If we want to understand and respond to Jesus’ will for us in big things, we need to practice responding to His will for us in small, everyday things.

We need to turn off the TV or internet when He tells us we’re wasting our time. We need to respond to His invitations to prayer. We need to show patience and kindness with all the people He has placed in our day-to-day lives. If we are faithful in small matters then He will trust us to be faithful in big ones; we will hear His words, receive them with joy, and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.