Archive for the ‘O.T. Figures’ Category

God Calls Unlikely People

March 19, 2023

4th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday, which means “rejoice.” The Church is joyful in anticipation of the Resurrection of our Lord. Today’s readings remind us that it is God who gives us proper vision in the body as well as in the soul. We need to be constantly on guard against spiritual blindness. God has a plan for each of us. He can call any of us to the vocation He has chosen for us. Being a priest, nun, or religious are not the only vocations. God has called some to married life or to be single. Prayer is very important to us in discerning our vocation.

When God called Moses, he was tending the sheep of his father–in–law, Jethro. God called him from the burning bush, but Moses had many excuses. If I say to the sons of Israel, the God of your father sent me, and they ask me what is His name? what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, “I am Who am.” I don’t think they will listen to me, I am not eloquent, I am afraid, I don’t want to go alone. God told him to take his brother Aaron with him and God would also be with him. Because God was with him, Moses was able to fulfill God’s request. He went to Pharaoh and led the Israelites out of Egypt. They were in the desert for forty years, and God provided everything they needed. Moses was able, with God’s help, to deliver His people to the land flowing with milk and honey.

In the New Testament, we have the call of Matthew. When Jesus called him, Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were not upstanding citizens, they worked for the Romans, they kept some of the tax money for themselves, and they went after people to get the tax money from them. They did whatever it took to get the money. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” He followed Jesus leaving his work, money, and everything behind. He was completely changed. He became one of the Apostles and wrote the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. He is the one who wrote the genealogy of Jesus.

In the first reading today, God sent the Prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint a king for Israel. Jesse had seven sons with him and presented each one to the Prophet Samuel. Samuel thought each one would be acceptable, but God said No. Jesse had one other son, David, who was tending the sheep. They sent for him and the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (1 Samuel 15:12) God chose the most unlikely candidate, the shepherd boy to be king of Israel. God told Samuel, Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.

Our Gospel today tells us about the healing of the blind man. After receiving his sight, he believed in Jesus and followed Him. Let us not be blind to Jesus, we need to believe and follow him as this man did. We are all called by God to be faithful to our vocation, whatever it is in life. Moses, Matthew, and David were faithful to God. As a religious, married, or single we also need to be faithful to God.

Those of you who are parents, bring your children to God. You presented them to God for baptism, don’t stop there. Pray with them. Bring them to church, and teach them to love God as you love them. Be a good example to them. Let them see you praying on your knees at home and in church. Teach them to be faithful to God by your example. God is calling us today to follow Him.

Behold the Tree of Life

February 26, 2023

1st Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

God grew many lovely, fruit-bearing trees in the Garden of Eden, but only two trees are mentioned by name. In the middle of the Garden the Lord God placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Tempted by the Devil, Eve ate from the forbidden tree and “gave some to her husband—who was with her—and he ate it.” If only Adam had been willing to confront the dragon-serpent and protect his bride, perhaps even to lay down his life for her! But the first man did not do this and the whole human family fell. (Let men called to lead and protect their families take note.)

Then our Triune God said: “Behold! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! What if he now also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the Tree of Life, and eats of it and lives forever?” For this reason, God banished our first parents from the Garden. This was not from divine jealousy, but from divine concern for us. Imagine everlasting human lives lived in unending sinfulness; that would be a hell on earth. “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men…” But God promised Adam and Eve a redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head and save us from sin and death.

In today’s Gospel, that Savior undergoes the Devil’s temptations not in a paradise but in a desert. The ancient tempter approaches Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from this temple rooftop)… All (the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence) I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus refuses each of these diabolical suggestions.

If the Christ conjures bread for himself when hungry, then how can he refuse to fill every hungry mouth? But what good would our filled stomachs be if we are never delivered from sin and death? And if the Christ demands that God his Father protect him from every harm, then how could he ever offer his life’s blood as our saving sacrifice? And if the Christ submits to our enemy’s rule over this world, then how could we ever be free? Jesus Christ understands his messianic mission and where it will lead him. It will lead him to the Cross.

Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, and St. Paul calls him the second and final Adam. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus Christ the New Adam willingly and courageously lays down his life in battle with the Devil to save us, the Church, his Bride.

“[T]hrough one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.

[T]hrough the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”

One beautiful Mass preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time praises God with these words: “[W]e know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation…

St. Paul’s tells the Galatians, “Christ ransomed us from the curse… by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree…’” In the tree that is his Holy Cross, we now see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life combined.

During this Lent, contemplate the crucifix. Meditate upon the crucifix to know goodness, to behold God’s love for us. And gaze upon the crucifix to know evil, to see our sins at work. And ever-faithfully eat the fruit from this Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ himself given us at Holy Mass. As Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. …Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” God once said in the Garden: ‘You shall not eat of the Tree or even touch it, lest you die.’ But now Jesus invites us, provided we are well-prepared: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… given up for you.”

Zephaniah & the Beatitudes Call to Conversion

January 29, 2023

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Jesus’ Beatitudes are words of consolation and hope but they are also a call to conversion. Our first reading today comes from the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah who proclaimed God’s words in the land of Judah. Zephaniah denounced his people’s unfaithfulness, warning them:

“Near is the great day of the Lord,
near and very swiftly coming…
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation…
A day of trumpet blasts and battle cries
against fortified cities,
against lofty battlements…
Because they have sinned against the Lord.”

Less than one lifetime after Zephaniah preached, Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians and Judah’s earthly kingdom fell.

Zephaniah denounced those rich in material things, who hungered for feasts and comforts, who thirsted for wines and pleasures, who fashionably clothed themselves in unrighteousness. These proud rich would not be satisfied. Zephaniah said, “They will build houses, but not dwell in them. They will plant vineyards, but not drink their wine…. Their wealth shall be given to plunder and their houses to devastation…. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them.

However, Zephaniah’s strongest condemnations denounced the idolatry among his people. Some worshipped idols in pagan temples, while some bowed down on roofs to worship stars, and some bowed down to the one true Lord God but would swear oaths by other gods. Zephaniah notes some said in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” They lacked faith, and hope, and love for him in their divided hearts. But with unclean hearts, they would not see God.

Today we hear Zephaniah say, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth… seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” Then Zephaniah announces that the Lord “will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel. …They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.”

In fulfillment of God’s word, in response to a Jewish revolt, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C. They tore down the city’s walls, systematically burned its palaces and houses, and destroyed the Jewish temple. Those Jews who had made war were either killed or deported far away to Babylon, along with everyone else their conquerors saw as a threat. Yet “they left in the land of Judah some of the poor who had nothing and at the same time gave them vineyards and farms.” Blessed were the meek, for they inherited the land.

Yet even before Judah was conquered and thousands of Jews were carried off to Babylonian exile, God promised them a future return to Jerusalem. The Lord foretells through the Prophet Zephaniah: “At that time I will bring you home, and at that time I will gather you.” Blessed would be those people who remembered to mourn the loss of God’s temple and holy city, for they would be consoled. Less than one lifetime after their departure, once that Babylonian empire had been conquered by a Persian empire, the Jews were allowed to return home.

The words of Jesus and Zephaniah and the stories of their people should give us pause today, for “near is the great day of the Lord” always. How are we using our great riches? Which desires do we feed? Do we mourn the evils that we see in the world? Unless we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will never be satisfied. We might not worship golden idols or swear by pagan gods, but idolatry still exists today. If our priorities (as reflected by our finances, Sunday sports or vacations, worldly desires or addictions, or any other things) usurp our Lord from his rightful throne in our hearts, then our hearts are not yet so pure as he wills them to be.

Seek the Lord… seek justice, seek humility… do no wrong and speak no lies.” Practice mercy and pursue peace. Christ offers you his strengthening grace. Blessed are they who heed what Jesus tells us gains his Kingdom.

The Openness, Obedience, & One Word of St. Joseph

December 18, 2022

4th Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Our Gospel this final Sunday of Advent centers on St. Joseph. It recounts how St. Joseph received the stunning revelation of Mary’s pregnancy. We can learn from the great saint’s response — from his openness, his obedience, and his one word.

Mary was already Joseph’s wife when she conceived her child. In their Jewish culture, a newlywed couple would live apart for the first year of marriage. Thereafter, the husband would bring his betrothed into his home to live with him. When Mary conceived a child (whom Joseph knew was not his) why did he decide to divorce her? Was Joseph heartbroken because he believed she had betrayed him? Or was Joseph frightened, because he believed her story of the Annunciation and thought himself unworthy of this holy woman and her holy child? Whatever the case, Joseph was a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to shame, so he intended to divorce her quietly.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home because it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Once Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary into his home.

I used to fret very much about precisely discerning God’s will. “What if the Lord wants me to do a specific thing but I can’t figure it out?” During my college and seminary years, I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood but how could I be sure? I worried, “What if I get this discernment terribly, terribly wrong?” Then a holy friend gave me peace of mind by pointing to St. Joseph. When Joseph was about to make a terrible mistake by separating himself from Mary and Jesus, it only took one night’s dream to get him back on the right track because Joseph desired to do whatever God willed. God can easily redirect a willing heart.

People sometimes complain, “I wish God would just tell me what to do!” But unless we are open to doing God’s will, what good would his directions do us? Imitate St. Joseph in his openness. Like with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph’s openness allowed God to do great things through him. So resolve your will and pray for the grace to always be open to God’s will like St. Joseph. Another St. Joseph trait of we can imitate and profit from is his simple obedience.

St. Matthew’s Gospel records, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home… and he named [the boy] Jesus.” On this occasion, like later when told to flee to Egypt or told to return to Israel, Joseph does point-by-point what God commands. Like Moses in the Old Testament, whenever God instructs Joseph to do (A) and (B) and (C), the author notes how Joseph then does (A) and (B) and (C).

Moses and Joseph’s duties were different from ours today. We will not construct an Ark of the Covenant, nor protect and provide for the Holy Family, but each of us has persons and tasks entrusted to us by God; people to care for and works to be done. You already know a great deal of what God has commanded you to do; your own (A) and (B) and (C) according to your state in life. You will not fulfill your missions perfectly—and that’s OK—but imitate St. Joseph in his simple obedience because your basic, God-given duties are more important than you realize.

A third and final feature of St. Joseph reflected in today’s Gospel is his single word. Did you ever hear that in all of Scripture there are no recorded quotes from St. Joseph? It’s true: Jesus has many, Mary has several, but Joseph has none. Now there is no evidence that St. Joseph lacked the ability to speak or ever took a vow of silence.  Joseph probably said many things that were simply not written down. Yet today’s Gospel contains the strongest evidence of his having said any one particular word. What was that word?

The angel in Joseph’s dream said of the unborn child: “You are to name him Jesus.” And when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him. Joseph named him Jesus. The name of Jesus was St. Joseph’s greatest and most important word. Ever after, the name of Jesus defined his life.

Learn from St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus. Imitate his openness to doing God’s will whatever it may be. Benefit from practicing his obedience in your daily duties. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” like St. Joseph did.

Minutes from a Demonic Meeting

November 13, 2022

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Once upon a time, an unknown number of years ago, there was an important meeting of demons. Amidst hell’s fires and shadows, with putrid smoke hanging in the air, the demonic hierarchy plotted their next strategy for how to mislead humanity. Since the rebel angels cannot hurt God directly, they tempt and attack those he loves, hoping to corrupt and dominate us. When the Lord Jesus comes again to rule the earth with justice, the demons do not want us to experience his healing rays; they want us to burn and suffer like themselves.

As the demons met and brainstormed schemes, one of them suggested, “What if we try deceiving them that there’s no such thing as evil?” The chairman, after pouring out a stream of insults, said, “The humans will never believe that! Do you think that we can pit person against person, nation against nation, souls against our Enemy above, without them noticing the sadness, sufferings, envies, jealousies, impurities, rivalries, hatreds, resentments, injustices, murders, and cruelties which follow? Humans see proof of evil in nearly every headline! They are reminded something is wrong with their world whenever their alarm clocks ring, their toes get stubbed, or their weather is less than perfect! You’ll have to do better than that!

Then another demon dared to suggest, “What if we deceive them that there is no such thing as goodness?” The chairman spewed abuse at that one and said, “The humans will never believe that either! Our Enemy above has littered their world with too many beauties and blessings to count! They have this inherent desire for happiness that our Enemy has built into them! Everything they do is in pursuit of something they perceive as somehow good! Is anyone here not a useless fool?

Finally, one of the chairman’s most cunning underlings proposed another strategy, an idea which was immediately welcomed with cruel smiles by the malevolent assembly. This dangerous demon said, “Let us deceive the humans that there is no need to hurry.

In every generation, there has been Christians who believed that their generation would be the last. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul admonishes some idlers, freeloaders, and busybodies living there who have quit their labors because they assumed the Lord was returning very soon. Personally, I do not expect the second coming of Christ to happen in the very near future since it remains legal to be a Christian throughout so many regions of the world. There are grave evils on this earth, including in our country, but the final attack of hell against Christ’s Church in the final days should be far worse than this. Yet whether or not Christ’s return is imminent, we must always ready to go to him. We do not know when he will return, nor do we know when any of us will die. But the certainty of our coming encounter with Christ should not make us afraid but motivate us to prepare.

Rather than being idlers and busybodies, neglecting our spiritual growth and enthralled by our distractions, let us get busy treating the most important things as the most important things. If you knew with certainty that you would die three months from today, how would you begin living differently? Would you pray more every day? Would you go to confession and Mass more often? Would you crush your lingering vices? Would you work harder to do good works? Would you forgive your enemies? Would you show more love toward God and the people around you? Thinking seriously about what you should you do differently knowing you are going to die is a good place to start in living more intentionally for Christ, with your eternal goal in mind. Do not believe the demonic deception that there is no need to hurry, for your last day is closer than it was yesterday, and it may be much closer than you think.

He is not God of the Dead, but of the Living

November 5, 2022

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

My first funeral as a priest was for a baby who was two weeks out of the womb. How does one talk to the family? They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, why is God allowing this? I listened to them and cried with them. I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why I look at a crucifix. Why did God allow His own son to die? Our salvation and redemption come from the cross. Through the death of that baby, God wants to say something to us; resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death.

When God revealed Himself to Moses in preparation for bringing His people out of Egypt, He called Himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6) When God told this to Moses, centuries had passed after these forefathers had died. However, God acknowledged their existence even after their death. Though the verse did not specify the resurrection of the dead, it implied their survival after death.

Today’s first reading describes a Jewish family, consisting of a mother and her seven sons, who refuse their king’s command to eat pork, forbidden as “unclean” by Jewish Law. Because of their obedient Faith in God, they endure suffering and accept martyrdom. During their torture, three of the brothers speak, and each of them finds strength in the belief that he will eventually be raised and rewarded by God.

The second reading encourages the Thessalonians, who were waiting for the second coming of Christ, to trust in the fidelity of God who would strengthen their hearts in every good work and word.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenged by a group of Sadducees concerning the resurrection of the dead. Just before this, Jesus had been challenged by Pharisees and Scribes, whether to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus had dealt effectively with them and reduced them to silence. Again they raised a question this time about the imaginary story of seven brothers marrying one woman, and their relationship with each other in the next life. Their question in the Gospel is certainly an insincere and impossible example, they want to ridicule a belief in the resurrection.

Hands Lifted up to Heaven

October 16, 2022

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

After God’s people, the descendants of Israel, crossed the Red Sea in the Exodus, an army of Amalekites came to battle them in the Sinai desert. So Moses instructed his servant Joshua: “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” The next day, while Joshua led Israel’s soldiers in fighting the foe on the battlefield, Moses stood upon an adjacent hill along with Aaron and Hur.

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” Moses wielding this staff at God’s command triggered the plagues in Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and now brought Israel’s victory on the battlefield. But this raises a reasonable question: why would God condition his people’s success in combat upon an old man holding a piece of wood above his head? Moses lifting up this staff of God was a sign for God’s people which preserved them from a spiritual disaster.

God knew that if Israel had won apart from this sign they would have ascribed the victory to themselves. “We won this battle because we’re so smart, and strong, and brave! Maybe we don’t need God’s help after all.” Such pride in their success could be their downfall, in this life and the next. So instead, through the sign of an up-lifted staff, the Lord showed Israel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains [with] me and I [with] him will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Similarly today, our Lord desires us to pray without ceasing for the good things we want or need. Otherwise, if and when his blessings come, we shall attribute these things to mere luck, coincidence, or to our own personal abilities, with no growth in our relationship with God. He is the source from whom all good things come. By asking and then receiving, we come to see and know the Lord is near and cares for us. And in the end, that is the most valuable gift of all.

God not only wants us to know and to love him, he desires us to glorify us as well. God is all-powerful, omnipotent, he could do everything without us. But by God accomplishing his will through us, as he did with Moses, the Lord makes us more like himself and causes us to share in his glory.

Holding the staff of God in his hands throughout the day made Moses’ hands and arms grow tired. (If you cannot understand why, try holding an object above your head for just ten minutes sometime.) When Moses’ body grew tired, his friends came to his aide. “They put a rock in place for him to sit on. … Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, [one on his right and the other on his left,] so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” With this help from his friends, Moses kept his arms raised-up and God’s people prevailed against their foe. All of this was a foreshadowing of greater things to come.

On Good Friday, when Jesus was condemned to death, he took the cross into his hands and carried it to the top of a hill. There his hands were nailed to the wood above his head. And Jesus was not there alone. All four Gospels note he was crucified between two others, “one on his right and the other on his left.”

Our Lord was mocked as he hung for hours upon the Cross: “Are you not the Messiah? … If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had said, “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled…?” Christ had the power to come down from the Cross, but if he had done that—if Jesus had released his hands from the wood—if he had refused to die for us, how would we have been saved from our enemies, sin and death?

Love kept Jesus on his Cross: love for his friends gathered nearby. love for the criminals on his right and left, and love for you and me. Consider what a precious consolation it was for Jesus in his suffering to have his Mother Mary, John the Beloved, and Mary Magdalene there supporting him. “But,” Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes [again], will he find faith on earth?” Will Jesus return to a world where everyone imagines they can get along just fine without him?

Let us continue being God’s humble people, recognizing our dependence on him. Let us ask of him our wants and needs so that we can know and experience his blessings. Then we shall share his deeper friendship and share in his great works, increasing in his likeness and increasing in his glory. By relying on God and the holy friends and loved ones his providence places near to help us, we shall share in our Lord’s great victory.

The World’s Greatest Force

October 1, 2022

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

On this Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, we gather around God’s presence, praying for him to accept our thanksgiving, pardon our lack of faith, and increase our faith so that we may stand firm even when destruction and violence surrounds us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus our Lord prayed to the Father that, if it be possible, the chalice or cup of suffering be taken away from Him. What did the Father say? In the first reading from the Prophet Habakkuk, the lamentations seem to suggest the God who does not listen nor care about the cry of the poor person who calls upon Him. When God is silent, what could it mean? The silence of God is often the silence unto our own good the silence of God is a call to deep faith. The Gospel reading calls us to an authentic faith in God. We need the faith as little as a mustard seed to keep our heads high. The second reading encourages us to be courageous in our faith journey.

In the Bible, Abraham is mentioned several times for some of the great things he accomplished, God gave Abraham the promise that the Redeemer would come through his family. Abraham and wife Sarah were past child–bearing age when God gave them a child named Isaac. Even though God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would one day be a great nation, He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (in Genesis 22). God told Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain to sacrifice him to the Lord. God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. This was merely a test to show to us the type of faith Abraham had. As we read the story of Abraham and Isaac we are reminded that God is faithful and that we can place our trust in Him

Again we have the wonderful example of David. We learn about a forty-day war between the Israelites and the Philistines, who were led by the giant Goliath. One day, Goliath challenged them to bring forth a soldier who could come up against him, but no one in the Israelite army was brave enough to challenge him. Hearing all Goliath’s bosting, hear came a little Shepherd boy David who told kind Saul that God had given him victory over all the animals who had threatened his sheep and he had faith in God that he would help him defeat this giant too. So going out to face the Philistines, Goliath saw this boy David who had nothing but a slingshot, and he laughed and mocked him. Then David replied to him saying, “Well, you come with your sword, spear, and all your armor but I come against you in the name of the Lord, God Almighty.” And with great strength, David drew his sling and sent it flying straight towards this giant’s forehead Goliath was defeated. David’s faith in God proved to be bigger than any giant.

According to William Barclay, “Faith is the greatest force in the world,” it moves us towards directions completely unknown and guides us towards belief in one God. Today’s Gospel tell us that all the followers of Jesus must have faith in Him, and we are to pray Christ to increase our faith. Faith is not for the good times only. Faith is that which sustains us in bad times. According to St. Augustine, “Faith is to believe what you do not see, the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” It is not easy to live a righteous life when things are not going smoothly in your life, but do not forget that faith is patience. Trust that God will never leave you forsaken. Never give up on God.

Our Many Friends in Heaven

August 14, 2022

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews celebrates the faith and actions of Old Testament heroes: beginning with Abel, Enoch, and Noah; Abraham and Sarah; Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Moses and Rahab; Israel’s judges Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah; David, Samuel, and all the prophets. Then comes the passages of today’s second reading:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

These witnesses surrounding us who can help us follow Jesus are not far away. As The Letter to the Hebrews tells us later in the same chapter:

You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

St. Paul once wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” But can the holy dead help us in more ways than merely being a good examples? Indeed. First we must understand that the holy dead are still alive.

The Sadducees who questioned Jesus about the resurrection of the dead did not believe in life after death and only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament. So using only those five books (known as the Torah), Jesus proves that the dead still live. Jesus asks them: “Have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the [burning] bush, how God told him, ‘I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

But have the holy dead ever been of any help to the living? “Behold,” at Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, “two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Even before he opened the gates of heaven, they are aware of the nature of Jesus’ salvific mission and encourage him before he undergoes his Passion. By the will of God, Jesus was aided by the saints and they would help us too. The Book of Revelation shows saints in heaven now, before the end of the world. They express concern about events down here on earth and offer their prayers to God.

Offering prayers to the saints above goes back to the Early Church. The first centuries saw huge theological fights over things like deciding on which date to celebrate Easter or choosing the very best word in Greek to articulate a tenet about the Trinity, but the Early Church never blinked at prayers asking the intercession of the saints. If this practice had been some novel innovation alien to the Faith passed down by the apostles, it would have raised major upheaval. The presence of such prayers in the historical record and the simultaneous absence of major controversy tells us something.

Now when some non-Catholic Christians hear about us praying to saints, they assume this means we worship saints. We love and honor saints, but we worship God alone. The objectors misunderstand by equating all prayer with worship. The word “pray” is an old English word which means “to ask, or request.” This word is commonly seen in Shakespeare plays, as in “I pray thee, hold thy peace.” Praying to saints is asking them to ask God to help us.

At this point some critics counter, “Then why not simply go to Jesus? Why not just pray directly to him?” We can and we do, but I would ask these persons if they ever ask their family members or friends to pray for them and whether they consider this a good and worthwhile thing to do. Scripture indeed teaches us to “pray for one another,” noting that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” If you’re going to ask anyone to pray for you, who better than a holy saint in Heaven?

In preparing for this homily, it occurred to me to look up the saint for today to use as an illustration of what we can learn from them and how they can help us. I typed into my search engine: “August 13 feast day” and information about St. Anthony of Padua popped up. This was both a outstanding and peculiar result; outstanding because he’s a great and fascinating saint, peculiar because his feast day is not August 13th but June 13th. I took this as a sign that acquaintance with St. Anthony is meant to be more widely shared today.

St. Anthony of Padua was born in Portugal in 1095. Though from a prominent family, he entered religious order at the age of fifteen. He sought to become a martyr by preaching Christ in Muslim lands, and eventually received his superiors’ permission to do so, but illness prevented his journey. He then tried to live quiet life of prayer and penance as a hermit, but God again had other plans for him. When asked to give a short sermon during a meal held for Dominicans and Franciscans following an ordination Mass, Anthony’s previously unknown brilliance shined through.

Anthony was reportedly “gifted with a prodigious memory, so that he retained all he read, and could have it ready at hand whenever needed.” St. Thomas Aquinas is also said to have had a memory like that, having written his book “The Golden Chain” (a collection of the Church Fathers’ commentary on each chapter of the Gospels) from memory. These anecdotes are plausible to me because I personally know a cardinal who could have met you once years before and at your next meeting would remember your face, your name, where you had met, and what you talked about. Though you and I lack this incredible gift, there is an encouragement for us in it. If natural human brains in this fallen world can sometimes possess this amazing ability, then our minds in glorified bodies will be capable of the same and more one day.

St. Anthony met and befriended St. Francis of Assisi, who sent him forth to be a traveling preacher. His preaching drew crowds so large that the churches could not hold all of the people. One of the things I love about saints’ stories is learning about how they handled difficulties, be they personal, interpersonal, or practical problems. For instance, how does one preach to a crowd of 30,000 gathered in an open field in the time before electricity? St. Anthony would stand and speak from a raised platform in the center, then brothers posted at increasing distances around him would repeat his message, phrase by phrase, to the crowd.

Like many other saints, we can read St. Anthony’s wisdom online for free. Some quotes from St. Anthony include: “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.” He said, “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.” And, “Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.”

St. Anthony was once a victim of theft. One of the monks ran away from his monastery and took with him one of Anthony’s books. In those days before the printing press, books could be very pricey and might be resold for fast cash. This particular book was dear to St. Anthony so he prayed it might return. His prayer was answered when the runaway brother had a change of heart, returned to the community, and repentantly gave back the book. This story is the reason why St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items.

His intercession in finding lost items is powerful. I encourage small children be taught to say this delightful prayer while spinning: “Tony, Tony, come around, help what’s lost to soon be found.” (Of course, adults may choose different words and omit the action entirely if they prefer). This February, during the process of selling St. Jude’s Church, I realized that the key to the church I needed for a meeting in New Auburn that same hour was missing. I checked all over my rectory’s floors, tables, and countertops. It occurred to me I might have lost it amongst the dirty laundry, so I took my hamper down to the laundry room. Before searching my fresh, clean clothes I began checking my dirty clothes’ pockets. Then I thought, ‘I should pray for St. Anthony of Padua’s help.’ At the very moment I began to speak to him, my hand touched the key in a pants pocket. It was surreal and I felt very, very grateful.

Like the story I told at yesterday’s funeral, as Anthony lay dying (at the age of 35 from an illness) he had a vision of a heavenly visitor. One of the friars asked Anthony what he was staring at so intently. He replied, “I see my Lord!” Saints’ stories also contain weird and wonderful miracles, which show that there is more to reality than the world we see. When Anthony’s tomb was opened thirteen years after his passing, his body had naturally decayed to dusty bones, but his motionless tongue—which had proclaimed Jesus Christ so well—appeared healthy, moistened, and alive.

Are you called to be a European religious brother, priest, and Doctor of the Church like St. Anthony of Padua? Almost certainly not. Nor are you called to be an celibate Middle Eastern carpenter like Jesus Christ. But the saints show us powerful and beautiful reflections of Christ, different ways of being like our Lord, in every age and walk of life.

I hope that you will get closer to St. Anthony and the many friends we have in heaven. Ask God to introduce you, learn about them and befriend them. By the time you discover a new saint, he or she knows and loves you already, for the knowledge and love possessed by the saints in glory partakes of the wisdom and love of God.

Abraham, Martha, and Our Lord

July 16, 2022

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

In this Sunday’s readings, Abraham and Martha play host and hostess to our Lord. The Book of Genesis tells how “the Lord appeared to Abraham… as he sat in the entrance of his tent,” and that Abraham ran to offer his three visitors hospitality. Today’s gospel from Luke recounts how “Jesus entered a village where… Martha welcomed him.” Both Abraham and Martha served the Lord but Martha, unlike Abraham, receives a gentle correction from him. So in what ways did Martha and Abraham’s actions differ?

The pair share similarities. Both of them wanted to put other people to work. Abraham tasked his wife Sarah to make bread rolls and his servant to prepare a tender, choice steer, while Martha sought for her sister Mary to help her. Both Abraham and Martha were a flurry of activity. After running to set Sarah and his servant to work, Abraham fetched curds and milk and the meat that had been prepared and served these to his guests in the tree shade. And Martha was famously “burdened with much serving.” So what are the key differences between them? I would like to highlight three.

First, Martha gives the Lord an command, while Abraham politely invites. She says, “Tell [my sister] to help me.” Abraham also asks things of the Lord but in a different spirit: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.” Abraham is respectful and open to whatever the Lord thinks best. When the Blessed Mother brings Jesus the news that the wedding feast of Cana has run out of wine, she does not order him what to do; instead she instructs the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” We are free and invited to ask the Lord Jesus for anything, large or small, but ask him with reverence and trusting that whatever he decides will be best.

A second difference between Martha and Abraham is that Martha gets noticeably stressed out while Abraham, though vigorously active, appears to maintain his peace. “Martha, burdened with much serving,” complains and criticizes. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” But Jesus says to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Martha has placed expectations on herself for how she needs to show hospitality, she’s failing to meet these self-imposed standards and it is depriving her of peace. Martha has fallen into an anxiety trap. Anytime we feel like, “I have to do this, but I can’t. I have to, but I can’t,” it’s not true. Jesus does not demand the impossible from us. So either you do not really have to do that thing, or (if God is calling you to do it) with the help of God you can accomplish it. When the yoke you carry on your shoulders feels heavy and grinding, consider whether it may be a yoke of your own making. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Some reevaluation may be necessary to exchange your yoke for his.

A third and final difference between Martha and Abraham, is that Martha allows her work to get in the way of her relationship with the Lord. Abraham labors too, but he enjoys the company of his heavenly guests even as he serves and waits on them under the tree. He and his guests converse together, leading to Abraham’s great blessing. One of his guests declares to him, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Jesus said Martha’s sister Mary, sharing the Lord’s company listening at his feet, had “chosen the better part and it [would] not be taken from her.” Abraham did not exclude this better portion from his labors. We too should spiritually commune with the Lord throughout our day’s tasks, for he is always near.

Whatever good works we do for Jesus are not nearly as important as who we are for each other. Jesus says that at the Judgment, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” Do not merely serve and obey Jesus, on the level of a slave. Love him as your dearest friend, for he is already the greatest friend towards you. The one thing needed is Jesus Christ.

Encountering God, we Cannot Remain the Same

April 3, 2022

5th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran 

We are just one week away from the Holy Week and away from our celebration of God’s love shown in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For us, this season of Lent is a time of special grace in which we experience the presence of a God who cares and loves us. Our response is to transform ourselves and to live according to his will. Before him, we acknowledge our weakness and we know that he is the one who supports us and builds with us new relationships we ought to change our lives during Lent and come closer to him.

In today’s First Reading, we heard the prophetic Words of the Lord God speaking to the prophet Isaiah. Yahweh begins by identifying Himself. He says that it was He who created Israel. It was He who led the Exodus of His people under the leadership of Moses. It was He who divided the Red Sea and who destroyed the great army of the Pharaoh of Egypt. It was He who quenched the life out of the enemies of His people. God tells them to look ahead and not to look back into the past. The past always closes our minds and does not allow us to see things in the present moment as they are. The Lord promises to the people, “I am about to do a new thing for I am about to create new heavens and a new earth, and former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

In the second reading of today, St. Paul tells the church of Philippi to break away from its past. St. Paul presents his reflections on how much God loves him, He says I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look at everything so much as rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. In his search for perfection, he observed all the rules and norms as a Pharisee, but ultimately he found the meaning in Christ. He accepted the loss of all things that he might gain Christ.

The Gospel of today places before us an episode that emphasizes the need to examine ourselves and avoid passing any judgment on others. Generally, there is a tendency within us to find fault in others and to condemn them. As we approach the end of the Lenten season, we are reminded of the great opportunity to cooperate with God’s special graces. The Gospel presents to us a sharp contrast between the cruelty and wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees and the compassion of Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees had no regard for the woman caught in adultery and brought her to Jesus the master. They were only interested in using her to try to trap Jesus. Jesus places a bigger challenge before the accusers. He asks them to consider their actions and their shortcomings. He tells them to look into themselves before passing any judgment on others.

Jesus has forgiven the woman’s sin and expects her to live from now on in a life of grace and union with God by not sinning anymore. He gives her a chance to change her life completely. The Pharisees and the Scribes were proud and arrogant and preferred to judge. They had no idea how to love, how to forgive but only how to observe the Law externally. They did not love God’s people.

Once a person is touched by God and has received His divine command, he cannot remain the same person. That was the experience of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and several others who came into close contact with him and remained united to Him. In the Word of God today, we heard the divine message that God makes all things new. Jesus gives us a basic command that helps us to identify that we are on our way to reaching union with Him. We must persevere in our living faith. As Jesus said to the woman so he tells us Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

Our God of Second Chances

March 19, 2022

3rd Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran 

On this third Sunday of Lent, the Church provides us with another moment of grace to straighten us on our journey. Today, we celebrate the Lord who frees us from our slavery to sin, if only we listen to His warning to repent. Repentance is, feeling sorry for the sin we committed and a firm resolve not to deliberately commit it again. Sincere repentance provokes God’s compassion, mercy, and love.

The first reading taken from the Book of Exodus, tells us about the deep concern of God towards his people suffering in Egypt. He sees the hardships experienced by his chosen people and observes their misery. God had heard their cries of misery and takes initiative to liberate them from the Egyptian masters. God shows His mercy to His chosen people by giving them Moses as their leader and liberator. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reveals Himself to Moses from the burning bush and assures Moses of His Divine presence with His people and of His awareness of their sufferings in Egypt. He declares His intention to choose Moses as the leader who will rescue His enslaved people. Then God reveals to Moses His name as Yahweh (“I AM Who AM”) and renews the promise He made to the patriarchs to give them a “land flowing with milk and honey.

In the second reading, St. Paul warns us that our merciful God is also a disciplining God. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that they must learn from the sad experience of the Israelites who were punished for their sins by a merciful but just God. The merciful and gracious God is also just and demanding.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus informs us that those who do not repent will perish. On the other hand, Jesus tells us a parable about the patience of God. As the fig tree is given one last chance to produce fruit before it is cut down, so Jesus is giving His people one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of its repentance. Through this parable, we are reminded of the patience of a God who is willing to give sinners a chance to reform their lives and to seek reconciliation. Just as the farmer tended the barren fig tree with special care, so God affords sinners whatever graces they need to leave their sinful ways behind and return to God’s love and embrace.

Divine grace is expressed as justice with compassion and judgment with mercy. However, we cannot draw strength and sustenance from God without producing fruit. Our fruit should consist of repentance, confession, and firm commitment to change our lives. Let us produce good fruit when we can, Let us repent while we have the chance. Let us turn to Christ, acknowledge our faults and failings, and receive from his mercy, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life. There is no better way to take these words of Jesus to heart than to go to sacramental confession. There is no better time to go to confession than during Lent. Repentance helps us in life and in death. It helps us to live as forgiven people and helps us to face death without fear.

Our merciful Father always gives us a second chance. The prodigal sons returning to the father was welcomed as a son, not treated as a slave. The repentant Peter was made the head of the Church. The persecutor Saul was made Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. During Lent, we, too, are given another chance to repent and return to our Heavenly Father’s love.

His Glorious Light Overcomes the Darkness

March 13, 2022

2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Victor Feltes

Once upon a time, little Billy’s grade school teacher was teaching her class about outer space. She said, “In 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon.” Little Billy raised his hand and asked, “Teacher, has anyone ever walked on the Sun?” “Oh, no,” she said, “the Sun is far too hot for that.” But Billy replied with confidence, “I know how I can be the first.” Curious and bemused, she asked him how. “Easy. I’ll go at night!

The Sun, of course, does not turn off at night like a lamp on a switch. The Sun still blazes and shines with incredible heat and light even when the Earth obscures it from our sight. And even on the darkest, stormiest day the Sun remains in the heavens above us even though clouds prevent us from perceiving it clearly.

In this Sunday’s first reading from Genesis, Abram (before God changed his name to Abraham) seems discouraged. He’s lamenting to the Lord: “Look, you have given me no offspring.” Though God has promised him descendants, he and his wife have become very old without having any children together. The Lord God guides him outside and says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be.” We can easily picture this as a nighttime scene: Abram exits his dwelling and sees a billion stars in the Milky Way. Indeed, more than that number of people today recognize him as our spiritual ancestor, “our Father in Faith.” But this episode strikes as even more profound if, instead of during nighttime, it happened during the day.

‘Look up at the blue sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be. You know the stars are up there, Abram. You know they don’t stop being real each morning, it’s just that you can’t see them. Your many descendants will exist, though you cannot see them now, though you do not yet know how. I assure, you my promises to you will be kept.’ And “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

Then God reaffirms his promises to Abram in a strange and mysterious way. The Lord directs him to sacrifice five animals. Abram slays them and lays them out, and then.. nothing happens. Birds of prey, scavengers, swoop down upon the carcasses to pick them over. Yet Abram does not give up; he patiently remains there. As the sun is about to set, a deep, terrifying darkness envelops Abram. And when the sun has set and it is dark, Abram sees a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot appear and pass between the sacrifices. This is a sign from God against any discouragement, doubt, and fear; it is the Lord’s light overcoming the darkness.

Christ’s Church pairs this reading from Genesis today with Jesus’ Transfiguration. After telling the disciples of his coming death, Jesus manifests to them his glory; a divine glory which is always present but which they cannot always see. This event seems to take place in the dark of night since Peter, John, and James were overcome by sleep while Jesus prayed. But upon becoming fully awake, their eyes are opened: they see Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothing now dazzling white, as he speaks with Moses and Elijah. These two, great prophets after their trials share in Christ’s radiant glory and speak of the exodus he will accomplish in Jerusalem (that is, they speak of his approaching paschal sacrifice which will set God’s people free).

In his Transfiguration, Jesus reveals his glory to the disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross. He wants to prepare them to accept, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. Christ’s glory shines forth from a body like our own, to show that we, his Church, the body of Christ, can likewise share his glory.

The stories of little Billy, Father Abraham, and Christ’s Transfiguration teach important truths believers will be blessed to remember and hold on to. Even more so than the Sun or stars, our good God endures unchanging. Though this world obscures the light of heaven, heaven’s light remains undimmed. Birds of prey may swoop down and impiously scavenge as enemies of Christ, but we are not forgotten. The innocent one may suffer like Christ, but he is not abandoned. Our times may be dark and frightening, but we need not be afraid: God’s promises will be kept. This is our faith: that despite doubt, discouragement, and distress, the glory of our Lord will overcome the darkness.

Timeless Temptation Tactics & Traps

March 6, 2022

1st Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The Book of Revelation identifies “the ancient serpent” who “deceived the whole world” as the one called the Devil and Satan. In the Garden and the desert, his tactics against human beings were similar.

For instance, Satan points out a desirable, material good and encourages grasping for it against God’s will. In the Garden, the serpent told Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and she saw the tree was “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” But God had commanded, “You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.” Jesus in the desert had eaten nothing for forty days and he was hungry, so the Devil encouraged him to break his fast by conjuring a stone into bread. This was apparently against God the Father’s will, for Jesus responded, “One does not live by bread alone, (but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.)

Another thing Satan does is promise power and happiness separate from God. The serpent told Eve in the Garden, “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” And the Devil told Jesus in the desert, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

And a third tactic Satan tries is to say that sinful decisions will have no painful consequences. The serpent said to Eve before her Fall: “You surely will not die!” And the Devil told Jesus atop the temple, “throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’

Our Father knows how to give good gifts to his children. He wills to glorify us through and with and in himself. And he commands us not to sin because he knows it’s bad for us. The Devil, however, urges us to grasp after forbidden things, promises power and happiness apart from God, and lies to us that our sins will cause no harm or pain. Satan tries the same tricks on us today as he did in ancient times.

What if the Devil and all his demons were to suddenly cease existing? Would all our sinning end and disappear tomorrow? Sadly, no. Ever since the Fall, we human beings experience concupiscence; we feel unwieldy passions and misdirected desires. So, even absent demonic temptations, some sinning would still occur on earth. When we sin, how much is due to our wounded human brokenness and how much is instigated by demonic activity? Whatever the mix or mixture of the two, regardless of whether a particular temptation is coming from inside us or outside us — from inner wounds or external enemies, Jesus’ temptations in the desert reflect the ways we are tempted.

For example, in today’s gospel when does Jesus’ first temptation come? When Jesus is very hungry from extreme fasting. Temptation often attacks us in our weakness. Alcoholics Anonymous has an acronym called “HALT.” They observe that someone is more likely to fall off the wagon of sobriety when they are “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.” I’ve noted this in the confessional as well. For instance, when parents confess to having lost patience with their children I commonly ask them if they’re tired. The answer is almost always “yes.” Now this doesn’t mean we should never make loving sacrifices which might leave us hungry or fatigued, but it does mean that we need to be aware of our vulnerability at such times and be extra careful in our actions.

Do you find that the sins you bring to the Sacrament of Confession are often much the same? This is common and can discourage some people, but thank goodness it’s not something totally different each time (gossip one day and arson the next)! As creatures of habit, the times and places and ways in which we will be tempted should not be total mysteries to us. Be conscious that you are most likely to be tempted again when and where and how you were before. Realizing this, make any necessary changes in your life, and live with your eyes wide open on the lookout for your known stumbling blocks.

In his second temptation today, Jesus is shown “all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant,” to tempt him toward idolatry. This seems to describe a vision, perhaps within Jesus’ imaginative faculty – a very real experience perceived within his mind. Our temptations often play upon our imaginations. Jesus responds to this temptation abruptly: “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Like a snowball beginning to roll at the top of a mountain, Jesus shows us that it is best to resist temptation early and firmly, before the snowball becomes an avalanche which brings disaster. Though we should not give our imaginations free rein to present us sinful shortcuts falsely-promising happiness, examining our daydreams can be revelatory. Consider: “I could fantasize about absolutely anything, so why am I fantasizing about this?” What is the good desire behind it which God wishes to ultimately fulfill for you somehow? Allow me to share a story about what I mean.

I once met a seminarian who felt strongly called to be a Roman Catholic priest but also felt drawn to marriage. Obviously, these two vocations were incompatible and this tension greatly vexed him. When he shared this internal conflict with his spiritual director, that priest asked him, “Could it be that what you are longing for isn’t actually marriage, or sex, but intimacy?” The young man then realized that he had simply always associated and identified deep intimacy – knowing and being known, loving and being loved – with marriage. He came to realize God was calling him to greater intimacy with himself. Through seriously examining his desire he discerned the deeper, holy desire behind it. Notice, too, how this seminarian gained a helpful perspective by sharing what he was experiencing with a wise and spiritual person. If he hadn’t, he might have made a grave mistake and missed out on his life’s calling.

In the gospel’s third and final temptation, we witness the Devil challenge Jesus’ identity and attempt to confuse him: “If you are the Son of God, [observe this is the third time the tempter says this phrase] throw yourself down from here.” The Devil then quotes two passages from Scripture to argue that Jesus should do something which would be wrong. When someone is going from good to better, our demonic foes often seek to confuse and confound us. Where the demons cannot make us wicked, they will seek to discourage and impede us.

For example, for a couple weeks in college, I continued going to Mass but refrained from receiving the Holy Eucharist. I worried that I lacked sufficient faith to receive our Lord worthily. But then I was enlightened in prayer with an (in retrospect) obvious insight: people who don’t believe in God don’t worry about whether they believe enough in God – that’s something believers do. My anxiety was relieved and my regular Communion was restored when the misleading illusion was dissolved.

When I started learning more about our Catholic Faith as a teenager, I would come across some seeming contradiction in the Bible or a Church teaching I didn’t understand and become greatly troubled, for if the Bible or the Church were wrong about this then how could they be trusted? But then I would learn how the bible passages were not actually in conflict, or that there were actually good reasons for the Catholic teaching. I experienced this cycle enough times that I learned to handle it with confident, trusting patience. I reflected, “There are good answers to my questions, but I don’t have to find them immediately, right this second. It’s going to be fine.” Don’t fall for the temptations to doubt and self-doubt which would rob you of your peace.

Challenges to our identity are another common temptation trap. The Devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,” implying, “If you don’t jump, then you don’t believe your Father’s word can be trusted, or you don’t really believe that you are his Son.” The Devil is attacking Christ’s identity and Jesus’ relationship with his Father. Temptation tells us, “You’re a fake, you’re a phony, you’re a hypocrite, you’re a failure, you’re an embarrassment, you’re worthless, you’re shameful, you’re rejected, you’re unlovable, you’re unloved.” Don’t fall for that garbage. Instead, ask our Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to show you who you are to them and live in that beautiful truth.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Through knowing these timeless temptation tactics and traps, may you prevail in the spiritual battles ahead of you this Lent.

How Far is East From West?

February 20, 2022

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we praise the Lord with Psalm 103, a psalm written by King David: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he (repay) us according to our crimes. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” David rejoices that the Lord is merciful and slow to anger, not punishing our sins in the measure we deserve. God forgives our sins and removes them from us, “as far as the east is from the west.

Let’s look more closely at that last line: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions (our sins) from us.” How far away is the east, the place of sunrise, from the west, the place of sunset? Depending upon where you’re standing, your horizons may not be far away. But when ancient peoples walked beyond the next range of hills which blocked their view they did not imagine they had reached the ultimate place of the sun’s rising or setting. They knew that both east and west went on and on, farther still. What they likely did not know when King David wrote his psalms 3,000 years ago is that our Earth is spherical.

We know a number of facts that they didn’t back then, but ancient peoples were not less intelligent thinkers than us today. Could you, without using modern technology, prove that the world is round? Well, in the 3rd century B.C., Greek astronomers did and calculated the Earth’s circumference without using telescopes, photographs, airplanes, or satellites. So, given what we know now, how far is the east from the west?

Because the world is a globe, east and west eventually come together. If you were to travel from here due east while I journeyed due west, if we both kept going on making equal progress, we would meet once more near a border of China and Mongolia. If east and west actually meet together how are sins taken far from us “as far as the east is from the west” like this God-inspired psalm says?

Now some may say I’m taking biblical poetry too literally. A figure of speech doesn’t need to be painfully accurate to be true. We may know that each new morning comes from our perspective upon this spinning planet, but in ordinary conversation it’s not wrong to say the Sun rises. Or, in romantic poetry, a woman’s skin need not be made of real porcelain nor a man’s chin actually be chiseled for such metaphors to convey truths about their beauty. Saying the Lord removes our sins far away from us like the east is distant from the west is a straight-forward enough image on first impression. But humanity’s later discovery that these two opposites unite suggests an additional interpretation for this scripture passage about how our Lord takes our sins away.

Here is the puzzle God faced in regards to our redemption: how could the all-holy Trinity ever forgive humanity’s sins? If the Lord were to forgive us by merely ignoring our crimes, then what of cosmic justice and divine righteousness? There was a price to be paid which we sinners could not pay, but God found a way. As was foretold in the 85th Psalm: ‘Kindness and truth met; justice and peace kissed. Truth sprung out of the earth and justice looked down from heaven.’ Just as east and west were distant contraries which surprisingly converged, so sinless divinity and estranged humanity were amazingly joined through the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus separates us from sin by uniting himself to us.

What our Lord Jesus has done to save us is reflected in all of this Sunday’s readings. In our first reading, Jesus’ great ancestor David took King Saul’s spear and water jug and then returned them, thereby proving his goodness to his persecutors. Later on the Cross, Jesus takes the soldiers’ spear into his side and water pours out with Christ’s blood, proving his love for us. In our second reading, St. Paul notes the first man, sinful Adam, is saved by the new God-man, Christ. “The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.” And in our Gospel, Jesus observes that if you love those who love you and do good to those who do good to you, what is so remarkable about that? Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do good to them.” St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “God proves his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We struck him on one check and he offered the other one as well. We took his cloak and he let us strip him of his tunic. We could not purchase our own redemption but Jesus paid the cost knowing we could not pay him back. “Indeed,” as St. Paul writes, “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…”

Jesus Christ, the first of the Most High’s children, is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, and merciful, just as his Father is merciful. He has loved his enemies, done good to those who hate him, blessed those who curse him, and prayed for those who mistreat him. He calls us to follow his own Christian example that we may share in his resurrected glory and heavenly rewards, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,” poured into our laps. Praised be Jesus Christ! Let us always praise and thank him – for who he is and what he’s done. “From the rising of the Sun to its setting, may the name of the Lord be praised.”