His Healing Touch

A little boy scrapes his knee on the playground and runs to his mother for comfort.  She holds him close while he cries and gently cleans the scratch.  An old woman sits by her husband’s hospital bed as he lays ill.  She places a cool cloth on his forehead and murmurs her love for him.  A priest stops at a crosswalk and bends to talk to a man sitting on the sidewalk holding a sign and a cup.  He touches the man on the shoulder and the man looks up for the first time. 
We all know the healing power of touch.  Without words, the touch of someone we love can comfort and affirm us, can shield and protect, can forgive and heal.  On nearly every page of the Gospels we read of Jesus’ healing touch.  The sick were drawn to Christ for His touch.  They are all hoping for physical healing, seeming to know intuitively that Christ can heal them if He chooses to.  And He does choose to heal them, one after the other.  But He gives them all a “bonus” in the process, something they didn’t expect and weren’t thinking about:  spiritual healing.  In fact, He often withholds their hopes for physical health until He’s addressed the state of their souls and the depths of their faith.  Their spiritual sicknesses are Christ’s primary concern.  And yet He always wants them to be physically whole.  He loves us—body AND soul.  When a leper came to Him for healing, Jesus didn’t rely on parables or preaching or prophecy, but on the simple human gesture of touch.  In the culture of His day, which placed so much value on words alone to convey meaning, thought and emotion, Jesus goes against Jewish norms and touches an “unclean” person.  By reaching out to the leper, Jesus made him entirely whole again.  He healed his body by removing the skin disease.  He healed his dignity by touching his body in the face of social ostracism.  Once excluded, the leper left Jesus accepted, an outcast no longer.
Our mission as His Church is to do what Jesus did.  In anointing the sick, we continue the healing Sacrament established by Christ (Mark 6:7-13;James 5:14-15).  Through the power of touch, infused by the graces of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s healing gifts continue today.  We are also called to minister to the “untouchables” in our own communities:  the homeless, the displaced, the immigrant, the imprisoned, and the forgotten among us.  To fail to love the less lovable and touch the less touchable is to fail in our imitation of Christ.  As He healed the lame, the blind, the deaf and the sick of all kinds, His sacred hands freed them from their spiritual illnesses as well.  Those same hands broke the bread that fed the five thousand, and broke His own Body as the Bread of Heaven at the Last Supper.  And on the next day, His healing hands were pierced through for you and me by Roman nails.  As His Church, we are His hands now, called to heal one another in His love.
“One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” 
                                                                       —Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Bite of Sin

You can hear him barking way before you can see him.  Loud, persistent and ferocious, he’s making his presence known.  He’s kept on a long heavy chain by his owner and around his neck is a thick sturdy collar.  As you get closer to the big dog you hope the chain and the collar are both strong enough to hold him back.  When you get within sight of him, his barking gets so loud it hurts your ears.  The hackles on his back stand up as he stares you down.  Your heart pounds.  He leaps up as you keep walking toward him and you wonder:  just how long is that chain?
Wait a minute.  Who would be stupid enough to keep walking towards a big barking dog like that?  Anybody with sense is gonna get as far away from those snapping jaws as possible.  Nothing good can happen from getting closer to that sort of danger.  One step too close and you could end up seriously wounded, or even dead.  Just like a chained dog is dangerous if you get to close to him, so is the killing power of sin in our lives.  Getting too close to sin is what Catholics call “the near occasion of sin.”  It means putting yourself in a situation or around certain people or things that can tempt us to sin.  There’s a beautiful Catholic prayer that we pray after we’ve confessed our sins called the “Act of Contrition.”  In it, we tell God how sorry we are for offending Him with our sins and we ask Him to forgive us and to give us the grace “to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin.”  Getting too close to situations that tempt us is just as dangerous as getting too close to that big chained dog.  That’s why it’s so important to examine your life closely to identify your sins and what or who draws you close to sin.
To begin with, sin is willful.  That is, you can’t sin by accident or without meaning to.  You have to know that the action is sinful and you have to consciously choose to do it anyway.  So if sin is a choice, you can also choose NOT to sin. We know that we need the help of God’s grace to avoid sin.  Without grace, we’re weak and easily tempted.  We keep committing the same sins and can’t seem to break the pattern.  Grace is our only hope.  Christ is our only hope.  We received the gift of His grace at our baptism when we were drawn into the very life of God.  Baptismal grace brings us out of darkness and into Light.  Baptism makes us a child of God and opens the door of heaven for us.  God’s grace fills us again in every Eucharist.  In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit once more infuses us with God’s grace and love.  He gives us so many opportunities for the strength we need to avoid sin. 
What’s your near occasion of sin?  Are you as fearful of sin as you are of that dangerous dog?  You should be.  You should be even more afraid of sinning against God than of that big barking dog.  The dog can wound your body but sin wounds your immortal soul.  Sin can kill your soul if you allow yourself.  St. Pio of Pietrelcina, known better as Padre Pio (1887-1968) was a 20th century saint who described how dangerous this can be:  “The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone.  And you — keep at a distance.  If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught.”  So the question is:  just how long is that chain?  Do you keep yourself far enough from the things and people and situations in your life that tempt you to sin?  Are you aware of whom and what you must avoid so that grace can help you to avoid sin?  Pray that God will reveal your sins to you.  This is one of His great gifts to us.  When we know sin for what it is, we can begin to overcome it with His help.  You will see your sins for the horrible and deadly things that they are. As Christians, we seek to do the will of Christ and we pray that His grace will help us to closely follow Him.  Stay close to Christ in prayer.  Open your heart to Him.  Stay close to Christ in His Church and in the sacraments Jesus made for us.  Begin each day by offering it to the Lord and every evening, examine the day and ask God to forgive you for the sins you’ve committed that day.  Soon God will help you to recognize those near occasions of sin in your life.  You’ll hear the barking dog from a long distance away and God’s grace will keep you far from his dangerous bite.
Sin isn’t the worst thing in the world.  The worst thing is the denial of sin.”
                                             —Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)

A Prayer Beginning

“Ten minutes a day.”  No, it isn’t a sure-fire fitness regimen for your resolution to lose weight.  And it’s not a reminder to limit your time on Facebook.  And you’ll never become a piano virtuoso if you just practice ten minutes a day.  But there is something you can do that will change your life in a much deeper and more profound way if you begin with just ten minutes a day:  Spend ten minutes each day in prayer.
You say you don’t have ten minutes a day to spare?  Find it!  You say you don’t know how to pray?  Learn how!  You say you’ve tried to pray before but you’ve given up on it?  Try again!  Maybe you’re thinking to yourself that praying isn’t something you need to do.  You’re happy and content, fulfilled and confident in every decision you make.  You know your life’s purpose and mission and you have no doubt that you’re exactly the person you were meant to be.  But…if you’re like the rest of us…you need to pray.  Do it.  There’s no great secret to prayer.  You just begin.  And this is what you do.
For ten minutes each day, enter into the presence of God by being silent.  For most of us, this is difficult.  In a quiet place, quieten your heart.  Quieten your mind.  You can’t hear God speaking to you if your mind and heart are full of the noise of everyday life.  This is very often the hardest part of prayer.  Ask God to help you hear Him:  “Dear Lord, teach me how to pray.”  He will lead you by the hand and draw you close to His heart.  Let Him.  Be with Him for ten minutes.  If your mind wanders, bring it back to Him.  This inattention is part of our human nature, so ask Him to help you remain in His presence.  As the days go by, you’ll enter prayerful silence more easily and remain with Him more comfortably and attentively. 
The actual “doing” of prayer is getting to know Christ by allowing Him into the details of your life.  The good stuff you’re thankful for, the bad stuff you need help with and the ugly stuff you’re afraid to tell anyone else.  Here’s the thing about God:  He already knows all your stuff anyway, but He LOVES that you want to tell Him about it.  He wants to be included in your life.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Sometimes it’s just thinking about Him.  Sometimes it’s talking to Him.  Sometimes it’s listening to Him.  Prayer isn’t magic:  it’s a relationship.  And like any of our relationships, we have to give it time, give it our honesty and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Getting started is the hardest part.  And God knows that, too.  He’ll help.
And here’s something else you can do:  pray in church.  Spend your prayer time in a church.  What?  Why would I want to do that?  Can’t I pray at home just like I would pray in church?  Well, sure you can.  But if you’re new to prayer or if you want to deepen your prayer life, spend ten minutes a day praying in church.  It can be hard to find a quiet place, but church is a quiet place.  It can be hard to find a sacred space, but church is a sacred space.  What better place to feel the closeness of God than in His house?  If you have this intimate and quiet place available for you, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?  Here’s an even more outrageous suggestion:  pray in a Catholic church, even if you’re not Catholic.  We believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist so praying in a Catholic church is praying in the real presence of God.  Even if you don’t have this faith in the Eucharist, just try it.  Most Catholic churches are open for prayer every day and anyone is welcome to come in and pray.  I would invite you to explore this experience for yourself.  Sit quietly and allow Jesus to be with you.  Allow Him to surround you with His presence.  Open your heart to Him.  And listen.  Listen with your heart.  Let it be filled with Him.  Let Him fill it with Himself.  One of my favorite prayers is:  “Lord, take away everything in me that isn’t You.”  This is our hope as Christians, to become more like our Savior.  Our journey is a daily walk with Him.  Ten minutes a day is a good place to start.

“You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.” 
                                                                       —St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975)

Love Knows You Best

In our relationships with one another we treasure those people who know us and love us.  Lifelong friends and family who know all our strengths and failings and love us anyway are trusted and beloved gifts.  Without this core of love and support, we can easily lose our way.  We rely on them to keep us grounded, to encourage us, to call us out when we go off course, to listen to us and to stand with us in good times and in bad times.  To be truly known by someone else, we have to make ourselves vulnerable to them.  We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings if we seek intimacy.  Those we allow inside our hearts are the ones whose words and actions can most hurt us, too.  I love reading about the friendship between Jesus and Peter in the gospels.  Of all the relationships in Christ’s human life, the one He shares with St. Peter intrigues me the most.  Peter has such a big heart—a God-sized heart—and he loves deeply and fiercely.  His heart also leads him to poor judgments at times, and deep, painful regrets.  Jesus knew his friend’s heart perfectly because He created it.  I think it was his big heart that Christ loved so much and it was that same bigness of heart that allowed Peter to hear the Holy Spirit and know that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.
Jesus had been living in Capernaum, Peter’s hometown on the sea of Galilee, when He began His public ministry.  You have to wonder how well the two men knew each other before Christ called Peter and his brother Andrew to be His first disciples.  I love that Peter heard Jesus’ call to follow and “at once” he and his brother followed Him (Matthew 5:20).  Friends that don’t hesitate to come to us when we need them are the very best kind.  All of us have that short list of true friends and family that we call on in bad times to help us and in good times to celebrate with us.  Christ called Peter and Peter left everything behind—family, home and business—to come with Him and enter into the deepest and most transformational relationship he’d ever know.  Peter was there by Christ’s side throughout His ministry.  It was Peter’s faith that Christ loved so much that He made him the “rock” upon whom He’d build His Church (Matthew 16:18).  Peter was there with Christ at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36).  Peter’s faith allowed him to step out of the boat and walk on the water towards Christ—at least for a few steps (Mark 6:45-52).  Yet Peter had his weaknesses as well.  Oftentimes he got Christ’s teachings a bit wrong, but our Lord was patient and forgiving with Peter, just as He is with each one of us.
On the night before His Passion, Peter and Jesus experience a turning point in their friendship.  At supper, Christ foretells the betrayal that will lead to His arrest.  Peter is adamant that his faith in the Lord would never be shaken.  Jesus pointedly tells Peter that is about to deny Him not once, but three times.  Peter contradicts and says “Even though I should have to die with You, I will not deny You (Matthew 26:35). Of course we know that Peter does deny Christ three times that morning, just as the Lord had said he would. Peter’s heart is broken when he realizes what he’s done to his Savior.  We read in St. Luke’s gospel of an intimate, tender moment in their friendship.  Just as Peter has denied Christ for the third time and the guards are leading Jesus away in chains, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61).  Think about that look for a moment.  The cruel words have just left Peter’s mouth, the cock has crowed and now he’s looking into Jesus’ eyes, with the full impact of his denial hanging in the air between them.  Peter knows what he’s done. Christ knows what he’s done.  But in His look is no accusation or judgment.  His look is full of love for Peter.  And seeing Love looking back at him, Peter breaks down into tears, his heart overflowing with sorrow for what he’s done.  Christ returns love and mercy for denial.  We can even imagine that there is hope in Christ’s eyes, the hope of Peter’s redemption.  What Jesus does for Peter in that moment is what He does for each one of us in the Sacrament of Confession.  He meets our sins with His overwhelming forgiveness.  He embraces our weaknesses with His great mercy.  Like Peter, we may expect condemnation, but Christ surprises us with acceptance and with love.  No sin is beyond His forgiveness.  Nothing we could ever do will make Him turn His face from us.  This is what Peter saw when He looked at Jesus.  And Jesus saw His best friend whom He loved with all His heart and for whom He was about to give His life.  This is a moment that He offers to each one of us in Confession.  Love. Mercy. Forgiveness.  No matter your sins or how long you’ve been away from the Sacrament.  He is waiting for you there.  Christ is the One Who knows you best and loves you most.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

                                                  —The Confession of St. Peter, Matthew 16:16

Model of Fathers

We’re about to celebrate Father’s Day and we honor all the men in our lives who have been our fathers.  Whether they are related to us by biology or marriage or by the fatherhood of ordination, our lives are blessed and enriched by the men we know and love. Just a few months ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth at Christmas.  As we recall the events surrounding the birth of Christ, it is the Baby Who is the “star of the show.”  It’s that way at every birth, isn’t it?  All eyes are on the child.  The “co-star” of the blessed event is the mom, whose love and labor helped bring the new life into the world.  In the case of Jesus’ mother Mary, it was also her great faith and cooperation with God’s will that brought Christ to save us.  And in the Christmas drama, there was also a “supporting actor” who played a most important role.  Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father, but he was His father in every other sense of the word.
God certainly carefully selected the woman who would be the mother of His Son.  He must have been just as careful finding the perfect foster-father.  The prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be of King David’s royal line and at that time, a child’s lineage was determined by that of his father.  Joseph legally bound Jesus to the house of David and because of these ties, it was required that Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem for the census which would fulfill prophecy.  Joseph protected Mary and the Child Jesus by taking them to Egypt when Herod sought them out.  He gave Jesus a stable, loving, and prayerful home where He could “grow in wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:52).  Joseph was the man in Jesus’ life, His role model.  From him, Jesus learned a trade, but He also learned how to be a man.
Joseph was a just man, an honest man, a courageous man of integrity.  For a few moments, consider this remarkable life.  His fiancee Mary had become pregnant before their marriage, but not by him.  Try to imagine his shame, hurt and anger as he struggled to come to terms with her news.  Joseph believed in Mary’s virginal purity.  He didn’t understand how she could have become pregnant, but he did not doubt her purity.  At the same time, he loved her and didn’t want to leave her vulnerable to the shame and punishment he fully expected would be her lot. He had to make a decision and make it quickly.  So, as difficult as it must have been for him, he decided to quietly divorce Mary.  That is, until an angel of the Lord appeared to him and affirmed that Mary’s Child was the Son of God. 
Just as Mary is for us, so too is Joseph a model of incredible faith.  From the moment of his angelic dream, Joseph’s life was consumed by his overwhelming faith in God’s plan for his family.  Jesus came into the world within a specific family at a precise moment in history.  The marriage of Joseph and Mary provided the unique home to fulfill all the prophecies surrounding the Messiah.  Their relationship of joyful celibacy and self-giving can be seen as mirroring the marriage feast of the Lamb in Heaven.  And in living out God’s will for our salvation, remember that Joseph just didn’t “go along with” God’s plan because of Mary’s special role in it.  He was a vital and active participant in the formation of the Holy Family.  As St. Luke describes him:  “Here is the wise and faithful servant, whom the Lord has put in charge of his household” (12:42).  St. Joseph is the model of guardians and protectors of our precious faith.  This gentle and caring man, who held his own Salvation in his arms, never failed in his duties as husband and father.  From his humble home in Nazareth, his unquestioning faith in God allowed Love to grow and mature and ultimately, to conquer the world.  We celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph each March 19. And we celebrate the fathers in our own lives every day.  Pray for these men and ask St. Joseph to protect, to guide and to watch over them always.
“St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things.  He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that made up his life.”  
                                —St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975)

Love’s Disguise

Some things are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.  Like a person’s heart.  I thought of this at the grocery store today.  You see I’m blessed to live in a small town with a great old-fashioned grocery store that still has “bag boys” who will take your groceries out to your car for you.  Many of these guys might be well-past the “boy” stage but all of them are consistently courteous and helpful.  Two of the baggers are among my favorites.  I try to always get in one of their checkout lines if I can.  Both these guys have Down Syndrome.  And they both do an outstanding job.  One is a little older and a lot quieter and more shy.  The younger one has a quick smile and likes to inspect each item before bagging it.  Without trying to, their presence in my life has a powerful testimony.
I imagine their mothers and fathers.  Did they know the genetics of their sons before the babies were born?  Or did they discover the uniqueness of their children only at birth?  In either case, these parents said “yes” to God’s gift of life.  Their love for their boys is a testimony of our Lord’s love for each one of us.  Christ accepts and embraces each of us just as we are, with all our gifts and weaknesses.  He loves us completely, embracing our incompleteness with His gifts of love and mercy.  I imagine their teachers who saw the struggles and the triumphs as each one made their way through school.  Did they make friends easily?  Did other kids accept their weaknesses as well as their strengths?  Growing up different is something we all do, each in our own way.  Yet these men wear their differences more publicly than most of us do.  Their families and friends and teachers were the first to see them learn and grow, to stumble and fall, and get up again.  That circle of support reveals how God created us for relationships.  He never meant for us to make the journey of life alone.  He chose 12 men to change the world.  He gave us His Church so that we could lean on and learn from one another and grow in holiness together. We are at our best when we’re surrounded by the love of other people.
Helping these men continue to grow and learn is their employer and their coworkers, too.  The opportunity to work, to contribute to society and to earn an income recognizes the value and dignity of each human life.  Through work, we earn our way economically and we use our time in honest labor to provide for ourselves and our families.  Our work can be a pleasing offering to the Lord if we dedicate our labor to Him.  Many of the saints saw work as a kind of prayer.  “Work is prayer expressed in action,” wrote St. Josemaria Escriva.  Supporting these men in their work gives them a chance to continue to grow and learn.  Their employer confirms their work to our community and society.
Lastly, these two men themselves reveal the love and mercy of God.  In them, I see myself and my own failings and triumphs.  I know they struggle with things, like I do.  In ways that are different and yet much the same, all three of us are broken and wounded children of God.  We all need the love and acceptance of our family and friends.  We need the support of other people to make our way in the world.  We need to be contributing citizens in society.  We need work that we can transform into prayer and be transformed by it into the best version of ourselves.  God blesses each one of us differently.  Some are obvious, like Down Syndrome.  Others are hidden, except to the Lord.  When we give our hearts to Him, He enters into them and draws us to Himself.  Christ seeks our hearts to be His dwelling place.  That’s how a human heart is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Just as the small communion host becomes Jesus, the Christ.  And a tiny stable in Bethlehem contained God Himself.  Appearances don’t reveal the whole story.  When I see my two friends at the grocery store, I know I’m only seeing a bit of their larger and more beautiful stories.  Things are bigger on the inside.
“A soul enkindled with love is a gentle, meek, humble, and patient soul.”

                                                                          –St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

The Power of Words

Words are powerful things.  Words have the power to encourage someone who is feeling sad or to offer advice or counsel to someone seeking wisdom.  Words can heal, but words can wound as well.  We’ve all felt the sting of harsh words spoken to us by someone we love.  Words explain, describe, invent, illuminate and they also can obscure, deceive, distort and muddle.  In a very real way, your words define who you are, what you value and what you believe is true.
We speak to one another in order to communicate these values and beliefs.  Every Sunday at Mass, Catholics profess the Nicene Creed which was accepted at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and is the summary of our Christian beliefs.  These words we speak are powerful and creative.  Powerful, because they express our most profound and personal truths and creative because they engender a community of shared belief in our professing them.
God used words to create the universe.  He spoke light into being and named the light “day” (Genesis 1:1-5).  God created the earth and the heavens and the seas.  He made everything that exists using the creative power of His words.  God’s word is all-powerful, perfectly life-giving and life-sustaining.  In the sense, God continues to sustain all of creation by “thinking” of it.  From the furthest galaxy to the tiniest grain of sand on a beach, God’s creative “word” holds everything in existence.  To our human minds, this creative power is unimaginable.  God’s words are so different from our own that we are left to ponder Him from what seems like a very great distance.  This is the feeling each of us has had as we stare up into the night sky, shot full of stars, and feel very small and insignificant in comparison.  It’s the feeling the Psalmist has when he writes:  “What is man that You are mindful of him?”(Psalm 8:4)
God answers this question in the Incarnation.  In Jesus, we no longer have to imagine the power of God’s words, because Jesus IS the Word of God.  As we affirm in our Creed:  “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.”  St. John begins his Gospel by telling us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”(John 1:14).  Jesus is the Word of God.  The word God spoke to create the universe is Jesus Himself.  Unlike our human speech, the Word of God isn’t a thing—it is a Person.  His Word is creative, powerful, and life-giving.  His Word brought the world into being, and gave sight to the blind.  The Word separated the day from the night, and fed the multitudes with a few fishes and loaves of bread.  The Word, which hung the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky, wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus.
Unlike our words, God’s Word is perfect.  His Word is Truth.  When God spoke, there was Jesus.  As His children, we have to ask ourselves:  what does my speech bring into being?  If my word were to become incarnate, what would it look like?  Do my words heal and renew, or do they wound and belittle?  We are all called to become like Christ, the Logos.  Our words, like His, have the power to create.  What we create is our gift back to God, in thanksgiving for His Eternal Word of Salvation.
“My heart has poured forth my finest Word.” 
                                                  (Psalm 45:1-2)

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