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Monthly Archives: September 2016

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” This is according to G.K. Chesterton, who found Christians, including himself, did not put their faith into action. But even Chesterton would agree there was a notable exception.

Francis of Assisi, the saint who launched a million birdbaths, hundreds of thousands of statues, and the occasional service of Blessing of the Animals was, for Chesterton, the one Christian who actually lived the Gospel.

Francis was born of a merchant family, and early in life, he was interested only in worldly things. He was addicted to romance and chivalry, but even then he had a good heart. One day he rode out in new clothes and met a poor, ill-clad man. He pitied him and changed clothes with him. Another time, he met a leper whose sores were loathsome. When the leper stuck out his hand, Francis kissed the man. While praying the Church of San Damiano, he seemed to hear a voice, “Francis, go repair my Church.” He first thought that the message was about Church buildings. Eventually, he realized he was to repair the spiritual fabric of the Church. He would do this by becoming like our Lord, even in his poverty. Family and friends thought he was a lunatic for giving up worldly possessions.

By the time of his death, the love of God had compelled Francis to accomplish much toward rebuilding the church. He could look on thousands of lives transformed by his call for repentance and simplicity of life. Yet, Francis of Assisi was simply a man transformed by the love of God and the joy that flowed from a deep understanding of all that God has done for us.
Francis approach to his life of Christian service fits with Jesus words to us in today’s Gospel reading when tells those who follow him that they are to serve with no thought to reward. Jesus said, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’ Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?” Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” It’s a wonder the crowds followed Jesus at all. But what exactly is the work of God? In what way are we to serve him? We have the example of Francis, to add to that of Jesus’ own life and ministry. Yet, how can we in our own time and place attempt to live more fully into the Gospel?

The Bible teaches that all Christians are ministers by virtue of their baptism. Then as ministers, each of us has a wide variety of jobs to do in the kingdom of God based on the gifts God has given us. While congregations benefit from the ministry of priests and deacons, the real work of the church happens when the people in the pews live out their faith in their day to day lives. This includes many thankless tasks, showing love and mercy in even small ways and even if no one notices.

Notice that in this Gospel reading, Jesus tells of the servant who does what he or she is supposed to do in response to the disciples asking for more faith. First he tells them the parable of the mustard seed and how the tiniest amount of faith is enough to accomplish great things for God. Then he goes on to describe the task of serving God his Father. It is in serving God that we find our faith strengthened.

We are not to serve others for the thanks we get. We are to serve others as serving Jesus, because that is the life God calls us to, knowing that we will benefit more than the people we help. We will benefit in increased faith and increased love. Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to trust that he could hug a leper, though he was terribly afraid. In the process, he found the faith to work among lepers. And so, again and again, his steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God more. It is the same for us. Each step of faith strengthens our trust in God to follow even more boldly.

To come back around to G.K. Chesterton, he advised, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” That was Francis, living out a love affair with God. When it is me and you living into the love of God, then Christianity will have been tried and not found wanting, nor will it be a series of thankless tasks. Walking the life of faith then is not done in search of thanks or praise, but is simply an act of love. Then you and I can join Francis in saying that we are merely servants doing what we were called to do. We call ourselves servants knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

We need to use what we have now to get to where we would eventually like to be. That is true in everyday life and it is true in our faith life.

Jesus tells us to put whatever faith we have to work today. Don’t wait for an increase of faith, use what you have!

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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Once again, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, He re-tells a popular story of a rich man and a beggar. The picture Jesus paints is one his audience immediately recognized. They lived in a culture where rich and poor lived in close proximity to each other, where beggars were part of the scenery as were stray dogs. Both beggars and dogs were held in contempt. Beggars were thought to be suffering for the sins of their parents or even great-grandparents. Dogs were regarded as slightly domesticated vermin.

The rich man was clothed in purple clothes. No cloth was more expensive than that dyed purple. Purple dye was only affordable by the very rich or by Roman officials. The rich man had a table, groaning with food, while workers could scarcely prevent their children starving.

Lazarus lay at the entrance to the rich man’s house. He was covered in sores; sores that even the dogs wouldn’t lick, he wanted to “gather up the crumbs under the table.” The rich man swept past this grotesque “scum of the earth” until one day Lazarus was gone; he was dead.

The story now takes as unexpected turn. The rich man in Hades is tormented by flames. At first his thoughts are still of himself. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a sip of water. Lazarus is still an object, perhaps no longer a beggar but still a servant. Abraham replies that a great gap now prevents the rich man from communicating with his people, the Chosen People, and those numbered among the chosen can’t reach towards those in Hades. A new barrier has been erected. No longer is it between the rich and the destitute, but now between those chosen by God and those who have rejected that calling by rejecting someone, who despite his abject poverty, was a fellow Jew.

The story twists again: “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them..” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’

Now an extra layer is added to the story. It’s still about the blindness of the rich to those whose lives depend on the work they provide or the charity they exhibit. The Rich Man suddenly becomes rebellious Israel, a people who have disobeyed God’s laws, refused the vocation to which they have been called, and wouldn’t change their ways even if a prophet rose from the dead. Here Jesus may have meant that they wouldn’t believe even if Abraham or Moses, or Amos or Hosea rose from the dead. In retrospect we identify the resurrection of Jesus with these words.

What are we to learn from Jesus’s story? Beware of gulfs. Beware of being so impressed with your own views, your own possessions, you own intelligence, that you can’t be reached by love and in particular, God’s love. Be careful about that sort of self-justification that thoroughly separates us from God and each other, so that another or others become invisible and in your eyes, die. Note, we may think we have good reason for separating ourselves.

The Rich Man may have told himself that Lazarus was undeserving. We may think we have good reason for creating space between ourselves and those who would take advantage of us, or whose views are abhorrent to us, as well as the more obvious candidates, those people who don’t look like me, sound like me, vote like me, and perhaps worship like me.

Soon after his election in 2013 Francis visited the island of Lampedusa, the first landfall of many desperate African migrants who undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. In his homily on that day, Francis asked these powerful questions: “’Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?’ Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep—to experience compassion— ‘suffering with’ others. The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep” (1) We don’t weep because we don’t see.

However, are we capable of creating “great gulfs” or walls because we resist believing the one who rose from the dead. Perhaps we deploy that ancient sentence, “Well, that’s all right in theory but it doesn’t work in practice: it’s all wonderfully lovely. I only wish it worked.”

Maybe through this parable, God is trying to remind us that no matter where we live, no matter who we are, no matter how much money we make, unlike the rich man, we still have time, Lazarus is waiting for us at the gate. And somehow, through him, Christ is there waiting for us, too.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Memorial of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

 

1-7The Saints are the masterpieces of God’s grace. Many Saints are hidden from view and remain unknown, but some saints are placed in the world to capture the attention of a society that has forgotten about God.

Padre Pio, like Mother Teresa, like St. Francis allows people to glimpse the beauty of holiness, which is a reflection of God’s beauty. People look for happiness in passing beauty, in wealth, in power and in pleasure and are always disappointed. The Saints give us hope in the possibility of happiness, the power of love, the eternal beauty of God. I am struck by how quickly the chaplet of the Divine Mercy and the devotion to Padre Pio have spread all over the world. There is such a hunger for God’s mercy in this broken world. Padre Pio, our Saint, is a Saint of God’s mercy in the confessional. We are told that Padre Pio heard over 1,200,000 confessions, including the confession of the young Father Karol Woytyla. How powerful a spiritual experience to say in Christ’s name “I absolve you of your sins” and to raise a wounded hand to bless and console the sinner. Padre Pio’s whole life announces to the world that God loves sinners and rejoices over the one lost sheep that is found.

Padre Pio was the great physician of peoples’ souls, like the Cure of Ars, St. Leopold and other great confessors of the Church. He was a living witness of God’s unfailing mercy, of the power the Risen Lord gave to His Church when on Easter Sunday He breathed on His Apostles and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them.”

No cures are as dramatic as the ones Padre Pio performed in the sacristy and confessional in the sacrament of God’s mercy. How much hope, how much grace, how much joy filled the hearts of those thousands of penitents, cured of the snake bite of sin like the Israelites in the desert who gazed on the bronze serpent Moses raised up. Padre Pio helped people to look at the crucified Christ with faith and love and experience the healing power of the cross.

St. Pio’s compassion for sinners finds another expression in compassion for the sick and suffering. The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza is a monument to Padre Pio’s concern for the sick and suffering. He reminds us how one of the signs of the Kingdom of God is that the blind, sick, captives are cared for and the poor have the Good News preached to them. The sick and the sinners who are the protagonists of the Gospel, and the special objects of Jesus’ pastoral love are the reason for this shrine. The ministry of Padre Pio is to manifest God’s unfailing love and mercy for His People, especially for the little ones, the sick and suffering and for poor sinners.

Padre Pio was a man of prayer, a teacher of prayer and a witness of prayer. The three thousand prayer groups throughout the world show us how his prayer life has been an inspiration for so many. If today we could ask for one grace from this pilgrimage let it be the grace of prayer in our lives.

The Saint’s Mass was witnessed by over ten million people who came to assist at the Eucharist celebrated by this holy priest. One of my favorite quotes of Padre Pio is what he tells us about the Mass: “Every holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we ourselves do not know…It is easier for the earth to exist without sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

St. Gregory the Great says: “The present life is but a road by which we advance to our homeland. Because of this, by a secret judgment we are subjected to frequent disturbance so that we do not have more love for the journey than for the destination. The suffering St. Pio experienced in his ill health, in the persecution by the very Church he loved, the trials and set backs in establishing the hospital, the pain of the stigmata — all kept before his eyes the pilgrim nature of his vocation. What allowed St. Pio to persevere was the intense prayer life that he lived faithfully. He prayed more in a week than most people pray in a year. The test of authentic prayer is growth in goodness, growth in humanity, greater serenity in living and in facing hardship. Above all genuine contact with God effects a real displacement of self as the center of our existence.

Prayer is not withdrawing from the rest of humanity. It is more like a wedding feast to which we welcome all who cross our path. A strange thing takes place in prayer. There is a mysterious coupling of our own life with the lives of others – an embrace that includes the whole of humanity. At first prayer stems from a sense of personal neediness. Prayer progressively becomes less a self-centered plea for personal deliverance than a universal cry for help and for the coming of God’s kingdom.

Prayer and suffering transformed the life of Padre Pio and made him a living icon of God’s unfailing mercy and love. Too often we try to follow Jesus at a safe distance, like Peter after he fled from Gethsemani. Padre Pio’s life and teaching encourages us to climb Calvary to join Jesus in the moments of greatest pain and greatest love.

For Padre Pio, as for St. Francis, the cross was his book, the book where he read the greatest love story in history. Padre Pio lived his life planted at the foot of the cross in the company of Mary. Mary full of grace, the costly grace of discipleship, the grace that allowed Mary to renew her fiat, her yes to the Lord even in the face of the cross. There by the cross is our Mother, Our Lady of Grace.

Here we have a host of witnesses. We stand before the beloved Cross of Our Blessed Savior, we stand with Our Mother, Our Lady of Grace, and Padre Pio. We are not alone. Share with your families and neighbors the message of our beloved Padre Pio: Prayer, Charity and the Joy of Forgiveness

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Jesus had been travelling up to Jerusalem, preaching God’s kingdom, healing the sick, curing the infirm, raising the dead, and generally stepping on the toes of the good religious leaders around Jerusalem. The Scribes and Pharisees grumbled about him but instead of answering their criticism Jesus told a series of Parables:

Last Sunday a man had one hundred sheep. One wondered off, got itself lost and the man, leaving the ninety-nine. When he finds the sheep, he gathers his friends and rejoices. God is not safe, but is always good and seeks us even when we wander.

A woman had ten silver coins. One mysteriously disappears, so she turns her house upside down until she finds it. When she finds the coin she throws a party with all her friends, costing more than the coin’s worth. God is not safe, but is always good and finds a reason to celebrate.

A father had two sons. One demands his inheritance, runs off to the city and squanders his money. Realising the error in his ways, he heads home. His father welcomes him home and throws a party. But his older brother, wanted none of it. “This son of mine that was dead is now alive, the one who was lost is now found,” says the father. God is not safe, but is always good and forgives even when we cannot.

This Sunday, a dishonest manager is about to be fired for misappropriation of company funds. Because he doesn’t want to do manual labour and is too proud to ask for charity, he goes around to all the vendors who owe his employer money and reduces his portion of their commission and cuts their interest rates. He does this so that they would be hospitable to him when he loses his job. He transforms a terrible situation into one that benefits him and others. In doing this, he actually builds relationships with the vendors instead of simply collecting bills and commissions. Surprisingly the employer commends the manager for his shrewdness, his initiative and his wisdom in business. God is not safe, but is always good, full of surprises and turns our world upside-down.

This is not what many of the religious people of Jesus’ day signed up for and neither did we. We want a God who is just and fair. We want a God who is predictable and follows the rule of law. But instead, what Jesus points to is the realm of a God who seeks the wanderer, celebrates the lost, forgives the proud and repairs broken relationships. This is a God who is certainly not safe but is always good.

Throughout the Bible, and particularly in today’s Gospel about the shrewd steward, we are confronted with a God who takes our expectations, our perceptions and our preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. Jesus praises the manager’s insanely irresponsible behaviour and exhorts us to act more like the manager!

Can you imagine if we, as a church, followed that advice? Can you imagine if we imitated God’s goodness instead of being safe?

What if, as a community of faith, we chose to offer forgiveness, love, and welcome to anyone without conditions or requirements? What if we became agents of love and mercy in our community? What if we lived as people of resurrection in a Good Friday world? What if we stopped worrying about what is safe and started doing what is good?
How would our church be different? How would our worship be different? How would our relationships be different?

Jesus invited his hearers to step out in faith and to see an outrageously generous God squander that generosity on each and every one of us. Are we not called to do the same? It will certainly not be safe, but is good and God is good!

As followers of Jesus this is the God we proclaim.

We proclaim a God who is always ready to overturn our understandings and widen our circles. Our society often prizes safety over welcome, fear over compassion, division over unity. We are sometimes too often willing to sacrifice love, compassion, and caring on the altar of safety. But God insistently and consistently points towards the good, and good is not always safe.

Jesus in his life and ministry chose always to do the good at the risk of being safe.
Safe says, “Stick to what you know.” Good replies, “Put out into deep waters.” Safe says, “Follow the rule of law.” Good replies, “Seek compassion and mercy.” Safe says, “Keep score. Hold grudges.” Good replies, “Love your neighbour. Forgive.” Safe says, “Take care of our own.” Good replies, “Just as you do to the least of these you do to me.”

The Good News for us is that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus the good-doer. Those footsteps may lead us to places we may never dream or imagine we would go, but we go risking and knowing that God always walks with us, always forgives us, always love us.

God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good!

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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If the gospel means “good news,” then chapter 15 in Luke with its three parables-the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son-takes us to the very heart of the gospel The specific occasion that gives great unity to this grouping as a whole is that Jesus is defending his actions toward sinners against the accusations of his enemies. The parables are addressed to the scribes and Pharisees who “murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2).

In all the parables that Jesus tells in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-32), people end up rejoicing because something lost is found – a sheep, a coin, a son. Jesus is using three practical situations to illustrate God’s way of relating to human beings. They give us an image of God “in human clothes.” Jesus is saying this is how God acts! These are his reactions; this is his weakness! We need to take God as he is; we need to excuse God for his weakness because he finds joy in it.

We might conclude that it is a sinner’s decision to repent that causes heavenly rejoicing. But if we look carefully we see they do not focus primarily on a sinner’s act of repentance.

In the parable of the lost sheep, there is no act of repentance. The straying sheep does not realize it broke a rule and disobeyed its shepherd. In fact, we might conclude if anyone broke a rule it was the shepherd. He did not keep both eyes on all the sheep, all the time.

In the parable of the lost coin, the same thing holds true. The coin is an inanimate object incapable of regret and repentance. If the coin could think, it would wonder why the woman dropped it or put it in a place she could not later remember.

It is not the straying sheep, the lost coin, that give a reason for rejoicing, but rather the shepherd, the woman. The shepherd searches out the animal that was lost. The woman finds the coin. Those parables tell us that repentance and rejoicing happen not because of what we do, but because of what God does for us. As Saint Paul tells us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
We are not the ones who find our way back to God. God finds us and touches us with his mercy and love. What we call repentance happens when we have the sense to take the loving, forgiving, merciful hand that God stretches out to us.

The angels of heaven rejoice not because of what we do, but because of what God in his mercy continues to do for us.

In the parable of the lost sheep the tendencies of sheep to wander off to “greener grass” leads to its separation from the flock and its shepherd. As it is with humans we stray and wander away from our Creator’s guidance and direction thinking we can do it on our own or that it’s by our own strength and wisdom we are able to navigate this journey.

The story is told about sheep in the Highlands of Scotland and how they often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they cannot get out of, just to get to sweeter grass. But in jumping down for sweet grass they were unable to jump back up. After a couple days and eating all the grass, the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress and in those moments of distressed bleating the sheep is seeking the shepherd. The shepherd knowing it’s sheep the best, will wait until each animal was faint before pulling them out. The story continues, proving that the shepherd is being strategic in the saving the sheep because if the sheep aren’t faint the likelihood of them getting frightened when the attempt to save them is made, would cause them to jump to their death. Like the good shepherd, God is always strategic in God’s seeking of us and God is always working in our best interest.

The shepherd knows that if the sheep are separated from the flock and the shepherd both parties aren’t whole and can’t operate as they are meant too.

As it is when we are separated from right relationship with God, we aren’t operating in our true, full purpose. That is why God seeks us to be in right relationship and delights in restoration. This seeking is not just for the lost, but for every child of God wherever we find ourselves.

What can we deduce for our lives from this reading of the parables? This, above all: God really loves us; whatever has to do with us, what happens to us, does not leave him indifferent but echoes in his heart to the point of causing him anxiety, hope, sorrow, and joy.

Second, we can deduce that we are precious to him as individuals, not as a group of people or just as numbers. The fact that he focuses on a single sheep and puts it before all the rest of the flock functions to emphasize precisely the point that God knows us by name; each of us is a son or a daughter who is unique and unrepeatable for him. God knows how to count only to one, and that “one” is each person! This is what every good father or mother does. If a mother has five children, she does not divide her love into five parts to portion out a little bit for each child; she loves each child with all the love she has.

The parables of mercy contain a message for all of us. For us priests, we are reminded of our duty to go in search of lost sheep and welcome them with mercy when they return. For the many prodigal sons today who stray far away and waste their parental means in “loose living” (Luke 15:13), the parables make us glimpse the possibility of a radical change and a different life. They encourage mothers and fathers who have children who are “straying” to be patient and hopeful toward them in view of the patience and hope that God has for each of us (and that he perhaps had with them when they were young themselves!).

Everyone can find in the parables the part that is up to them to actualize in their own lives.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where He would be crucified. But the crowd thought that he was going to Jerusalem to oust Romans and to re-establish the old Davidic kingdom of Israel. Jesus was enormously popular with the crowds as a great healer, brave teacher and miracle worker. Looking at the cheering masses, however, Jesus frankly puts before them the strenuous conditions for discipleship in today’s Gospel.

Jesus gives a clear call and instruction on “discipleship.” Being a disciple is more than being a follower. We see instances in the Gospels of people who were followers of Jesus who turned away when they were challenged to become disciples. Discipleship involves accepting and integrating into our lives the teachings and values of the one whose disciple we become.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out a clear challenge to his followers. To paraphrase: “You must not let any person in this world stand in the way of your following me.” “Figure out what it is going to take for you to become my disciple. Don’t be unprepared.” And, finally, “Renounce any possessions that stand in the way of being my disciple.”

Jesus tells us not to begin something we aren’t sure that we can successfully complete. Using the stories of the king going off to war without sufficient soldiers and strategies and the man who begins building and can’t finish, he really isn’t giving military or business advice; he is really speaking of our spiritual life: before we choose to follow him, are we able to measure up to the demands of the Gospel?

When you reflect upon this, Jesus’ demand can be very intimidating.
Do we have what it takes to live out the Gospel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor in the first half of the 20th century, wrote a book titled The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself knew that cost firsthand. As a disciple of Jesus, Bonhoeffer risked everything, including his life, in order to resist Hitler and the spread of Nazism.
Bonhoeffer contrasted the cost of discipleship with what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace implies that the believer wants to have forgiveness without really being repentant, to have baptism without living the life of the church, to have Communion without really believing, and to be a disciple without accepting the cross. In other words, cheap grace means wanting to be a Christian without Jesus Christ!

In contrast to “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer defines the costly grace of discipleship this way: “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a person to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”

Christ knows that such an acceptance is intimidating, difficult, and frightening. He knows that we will not be able ever to do it on our own.
And for that reason, He promises us that he will be with us, be our strength, and make possible the impossible.

Knowing what to do as a disciple of Jesus isn’t always easy. As with Philemon, the decision to be reached might affect others. Sometimes the Way is fogged in and we can’t see the next step.

Through Christ’s word, proclaimed in the liturgy and our own reading of the Scriptures, in times of listening to the Lord in the silence of private prayer Christ teaches us how to think, see, hear, speak, and act according to the Gospel.

Let us pray, then, as did St Richard of Chichester, for the grace ‘to see him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, day by day’.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, received first in baptism, and encountered in a new relationship in Confirmation, Christ strengthens us to think, see, hear, speak, and act

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2016 in Uncategorized