Can I Get A Witness?

WitnessToday’s reflection is for The Ascension of the Lord, June 2, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I remember attending a Southern Baptist church when visiting a friend in Oklahoma years ago. I remember a small, black preacher talking about the salvation that was won for us in Christ Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t remember exactly what he said beyond the key theme, but I do remember that he was on FIRE! Standing up there drenched in sweat, finger in the air, and Bible in his hand; he wanted to know if he could get a witness!

“And then-uh, the Lord Jeeezus-uh, rose from the grave-uh! Can I get a witness? I says-uh, can a bruthuh get a witness?!” Many in the congregation began to yell out, “Amen! Amen!” The sermon was without a doubt one of the most energetic and spirit-filled that I’ve ever experienced, but it was his desire to get a witness that caught me and possesses me still.

As we celebrate Ascension Sunday we celebrate not only the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but also the truth of Jesus’ ascension to the Father. The author of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us today that Jesus, “presented himself alive to [the apostles]… spoke about the kingdom of God,” and told them to wait, “for the promise of the Father,” and that they would be, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus promised them a baptism not only of water and repentance, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and power! He tells them they don’t need to worry about when he’s going to come back because that was for God to know. The only thing they should look forward to is to receiving the very Spirit of the living God! He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then, just like that, he was lifted up and was gone.

Jesus gives his disciples this most amazing gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s supernatural power for but one purpose–to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is it. Each of us is given the Spirit and power of God so that we might with force, determination, and zeal get out there and give our testimony, to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection in the world and in our life. We are an Easter people, a resurrected people, and we are obliged to give witness to the transforming power of the resurrection in our life. We who were once dead in sin have been given new life in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

As Hebrews teaches, Jesus died to take away sin and to bring salvation for those who eagerly await him. Jesus’ resurrection is the completion of God’s great work of overcoming sin and spiritual death due to sin. No one is saved outside of Christ’s work on the cross! His redemptive work was for the whole of humanity, and if Jesus never got out of the grave, then, as St. Paul teaches, we are still dead in our sin and salvation is not ours!

He tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished…But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1COR 15:17-20) You see, the Good News depends entirely on the resurrection, because without it there is no forgiveness of sins, and if no forgiveness of sins, no salvation and no good news! It’s as simple as that.

I’m afraid too many Christians are entirely unable to explain why we believe in the resurrection. And that’s probably the case because too many Christians are unaware that we are called to give witness to that very fact! When the Apostles replaced Judas, they drew lots and Matthias was chosen for that one purpose. Jesus ascended, and then just a few verses later Matthias was chosen. St. Peter, in Acts explained it like this, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that the primary and principle effect of Confirmation is to make us profess boldly the name of Jesus. Below are the effects of confirmation from the Catechism, paragraph 1303:

Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

Jesus’ Apostles and the disciples with them knew that they had but one job to do–be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. To be a witness was not an option for Jesus’ disciples then nor for us today. While there are many ways to give witness; through service to God and neighbor, acts of kindness, generosity in giving, being steadfast in prayer, or in our care and concern for others, to name only a few, to NOT give witness is to NOT be a disciple. I have gone door-to-door inviting people to know the name by which humanity is saved, and I see others going door-to-door still, and am always impressed with their commitment and courage.

I don’t know the particular way in which God has called you to be a witness to his resurrection, but I KNOW he is indeed calling you, has equipped you, and desires to send you out to be a witness, “That the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Like that Oklahoma preacher, Jesus wants you. Can He get a witness?!

Lord, give me the courage to speak your Holy name and to boldly bear witness to Jesus Christ.

By catholicevangelist

The Advocate

The AdvocateToday’s reflection is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I cannot possibly count the number of times I have told my mother that I love her—It’s quite a lot, really, but I can also not possibly count the number of times I have disobeyed her either! In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants to teach us that the opposite of love for God is not hatred of God, but rather disobedience to God’s will. Jesus tells us, If you love me, then act like it!

To love God seems kind of abstract. God is invisible so we can’t exactly hug and kiss, and help and hold God, can we? Maybe we can. I think that’s the brilliance of the New Command that we heard last week that came from John 13:34. Jesus said to love one another. As he has loved us, so should we love one another. I think that if we want to love God whom we cannot see then we should love our neighbor who we can see.

Remember the quote I gave you last week from Saint John Paul II and St. Thomas Aquinas, “Love wills the good of another.” So, it is impossible for us to say right here on Sunday, “I love God,” and then at the same time walk out this door and wish evil upon others, cause violence toward others, refuse to reconcile with others, be impatient, selfish, rude, hurtful, hateful, and unkind to others. If we do we are made liars be our very own actions and attitude.

In the first epistle of John, we hear as much. He teaches, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. If God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” (1JN 4:7-11)

We say on Sunday that we love God, but by Sunday afternoon…maybe even after breakfast, we choose not to love our neighbor. I’m not talking about temptation or forgetfulness, or catching ourselves and stopping. I’m talking about catching ourselves failing to love and then doing it anyway. That’s the difference between temptation to sin and indulging in sin.

When we catch ourselves being led into wrongdoing, that’s temptation. And if we catch ourselves and stop, or catch ourselves not doing what we should be doing and make the correction—we’re good. Maybe you’ve been there, where right when you were about to do wrong, you heard a small voice inside you, “Steve, that’s not a good idea! I know you know better than that! That’s not going to turn out well…” Have you heard that voice? We’re going to talk about that voice in a second because that voice is God’s great gift to us! But if we hear that voice, shut it down, drown it out, and think, “Y.O.L.O.!” and do it anyway, then now we’ve given in to that temptation, we’ve ignored the voice of God, knew better, could have done something different, and still chose to do wrong—that’s sin.

Ephesians 6 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, so that he may have something to share with one in need. No foul language should come out of your mouths. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (24-32)

My brothers, the love for God comes with a promise, a promise never to leave us, never to abandon us, always to be in us, and to always speak to us in the depths of our being, directing us to what is good and holy. This gift of God was revealed at the day of Pentecost that we celebrate on June 9. What sadness the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them that he must return to the Father, but what joy upon hearing Jesus’ promise to send his very own Spirit to dwell within them, to guide them, and teach them in every moment how to love God and their neighbor.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” God was out there, far away, approachable to only a select few who mediated God’s message to others. And then in an amazing act of love, God sent his only begotten Son to earth, to live with disciples and teach them about God, and how to love pray. But at Pentecost God sent his own Spirit to make his home in us. In our heart, in our head, in our bodies. We can now hear the very voice of god guiding us to do what is right, standing beside us to encourage us to do the good, regardless of the cost.

The Advocate stands with us, speaks through us, says to Satan—back off this one’s mine, and says to God, I’m making up the difference for what he owes. I’m good for it. He’s with us. The Advocate has attorney-client privileges. He is in your heart—speak to him, and hear his voice. He has a lot to say if we have ears to hear and hearts open to hear it. Amen.


By catholicevangelist

Love; That’s How They Know

img_4031Today’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

We have today gathered, disciples of Jesus Christ. Do our coworkers, friends, complete strangers know we are Christian? Do the guards know you are Christian? I wonder, what makes us Christian? I mean, what is the defining characteristic of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ—honestly. I know we love our rosaries, prayer cards, crucifixes, and holy oil, statues, and medallions (a.k.a. Catholic Bling), but not a single one of those things make us Christian. Jesus tells us today that the world will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another. That’s it. It is by our love that people will know we are Christian.

That alone is how they will know that we are born again, resurrected, Easter people; that we are His and He is ours. The world will know that we bear the Holy Name: Christian. By our love. So simple. So difficult.

St. Paul has to help out the Church in Corinth, when he tells them that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1COR13:4-8) For a simple exercise, replace your name with the word love in the verses above. Steve is patient, Steve is kind. He is not jealous, he is not pompous, he is not inflated, he is not rude…I’ve got some serious work to do. The truth is that too often I’m neither patient, nor kind. I often seek my own interests, and it is often at the expense of those closest to me. I could work on these for the rest of my life and still have work to do.

Saint John Paul II, used the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “Love wills the good of another.” That’s very beautiful. The loving person desires what is good for others. That’s true love and it is often exemplified in the sacrificial love of parents for their children. Because I love you, I set boundaries, establish rules and disciplinary consequences for violating them. Discipline is not contrary to love, but is at its service. As Hebrews teaches, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (HEB 12:11) Because I will the good of my children, I do not withhold corrective discipline—nor should you, or our schools, or the state. It must never be done out of anger, revenge, but out of love.

To pray for others is also a beautiful act of love. We pray even for, and especially for our enemies. We can all pray for one another—there is nothing to impede it. What greater thing can I do for one who resists me that to pray for their peace, their understanding, their generosity, mercy, and love. Jesus tells his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (MT 5:43-45) The single greatest moments in my difficult relationships have come with prayer for the other. It’s free, and changes everything.

All that I have been talking about from First Corinthians and from St. John Paul II, and finally for praying for those who harm us, have everything to do with love, and sacrifice, and death. Yes, death. For us to love like Christ, we must also be willing to die with Him. During this Easter season we are mindful that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for another. (JN 15:14) If we are to follow his commandment to love, we must die to ourselves, die to our ego, our hatred, our pain, and our suffering. If are going to call ourselves Christians we must be a humble people, a servant people, and even an enslaved people. We are set free by love so that we can freely choose to surrender to love. St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (ROM 6:17) And so we are. With our freedom we serve unto death the one who set us free, and Jesus Christ, our liberator asks only one thing of his disciples—that they love. That’s it. That’s how they’ll know that we are his; not by our prayer cards, rosaries, and crucifixes, but by our willingness to love someone to death.

So, of what use, or for what purpose are rosaries, prayer cards, crosses, the Commandments, Catholic Social teachings, crucifixes, holy water, holy oil, medallions, theology, paintings, stained glass windows, statues, or even Scripture? They teach us to love. They remind us to love. In every generation they help us to love. They have no value in and of themselves—but they help us to encounter love, be healed by love, be transformed by love, so that we can love.

Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (JN 13:34) Let us love, in word and deed, and the world will know, and we will rise with him. Amen.


By catholicevangelist

Moms: God’s Herald

Madonna and ChildToday’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

Happy Mother’s Day! Today’s reflection is a call to give thanks, pray, and reflect. In today’s Gospel, Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (JN 10:27)

In my own life I had a wonderful conversion experience where I actually heard God speak to me in the depths of my being. Just as loud and as clear as can be, I heard the voice of God. He is my shepherd, I heard his voice, chose to follow him, and have been given eternal life—and not just me, but all those who hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him.

But the important point for us today, is not whether or not I heard God’s voice, but how I knew it was the voice of the Lord when I heard it—and that’s why I live in thanksgiving today. Because my mom was faithful, and for her I give thanks. My mom got us out of bed on Sundays and holy days of obligation and drove us into town to go to Church whether we wanted to or not. She made us say prayers before meals and before bed whether we wanted to or not. I remember very vividly her lying to us at bed time. “We’re only going to say one decade of the rosary,” she promised, but we all knew we were doing five! She signed us up and made sure we attended CCD. She taught CCD, was a lector, ensured I was an altar boy, and eventually a lector and commentator—and now, God willing, a deacon.

It was she, during this time of great distress, difficulty, and hardship, that my mom put a roof over our head, put food on the table, ensured that we were clothed, had something to drink when we were thirsty, and put our sunscreen on when it was hot outside. When we were successful in school and in life she was there to celebrate with us, and when we were unsuccessful and failed, she was there for a warm embrace and to dry our tears. My mom took care of us (and continues to care for us) while on this earth, but more importantly, she taught us to hear, recognize, and respond to the call of God in our life to be his disciples. She is God’s great herald to me. She invited me into a relationship with the one who could give me eternal life that never perishes. No greater gift could be given by any mother to her children. Thanks, mom.

John tells us today in his vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem that, “The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That’s what my mom has been doing my whole life! It’s as though God gave me my mom as a foretaste of a relationship with him so that I would more strongly desire what was to come. My mom both created the want within me to experience the love of God and taught me to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that I might follow and lie down in green pastures forever.

The “elder” tells John, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.” The goal of our life is to stand before God’s throne and worship him for all eternity. My mom started me on the road to salvation and rejoices in the robe that I wear. Thank you, mom. Thanks be to God that our churches today are filled with moms who take up the mantle, who get their children ready for church, who sign them up for catechism, and who encourage them to say their prayers at night. So often I see church’s filled with women and children. I give thanks to those women today.

I also want to pray today for those mothers who have struggled and who continue to struggle with temptation, with unhealthy desires, and with addictions of various types. I believe very strongly that Satan’s strategy after breaking down the family, is to break down women. It is within the family that God’s warriors are formed, and when families are broken it is overwhelming moms who raise Christian soldiers. We need strong women now more than ever! We need strong families now more than ever. And so, we pray. On this Mother’s Day pray for strong marriages and pray for strong women who continue to do the great work of raising disciples of Jesus Christ who hear the shepherd’s voice, courageously say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” Yes, today we give thanks and pray.

Finally, we reflect on the foot of the cross where Jesus gave the Church his own mother as an example for women, and comfort for all children. Jesus told his mother, “Woman, behold your son, John, behold your mother.” (John 19:25) We have our mothers here on earth, but Jesus made sure we always had his mother as well. Every generation is invited to accept Jesus’ mother, to take her into our home, and allow us to share the love that she had for her son. She gives all mothers an opportunity to reflect on how she might have handled one situation or another, and to go to her in prayer to ask for guidance, support, and advice. She is the perfect model of motherhood as her son fulfilled God’s will for him on this earth and remains an inspiration for mothers supporting God’s calling for their own children as they fulfill their own vocation. Mary should be on the mind of every mother as their children bring them the joys and struggles of motherhood. Therefore, we reflect time and time again on how Mary is an example of motherhood as she leads ever deeper into a relationship with her son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Moms are amazing, give thanks. Moms are humans who are tempted and fail, pray. Mary is every mother’s model, reflect. Amen. Happy Mother’s Day!

For Reflection

Have I given sufficient honor and thanks to my mother who brought me into a relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ?

Do I pray for my mom, wife, sister, or coworkers struggling to steer clear of temptation and raise their children to know the Lord?

Do I often reflect on Mary’s life, and to what degree have I brought her into my home as the Lord commanded?

By catholicevangelist

No Going Back

New Life old lifeToday’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

We are told in the first reading that Peter and the apostles were given strict orders by the Sanhedrin, “to stop teaching in [Jesus’] name.” Their simple response was only this: “We must obey God rather than men.” That was their only answer and it must be ours as well. At every time, in every circumstance, we obey God. Period. They’re not our boss, He is.

I remember, being in junior high and my mom being so tired, upset, and fed up with my sister. I don’t remember exactly what the order was, but it was definitely an order she yelled out at the top of her lungs, “And you better do it!” My sister, cool as a cucumber said, “You’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me.” Okay, so my sister probably didn’t get the circumstance right, but her answer was definitely right! God is indeed the boss of me. He’s my boss, he’s my advisor, he’s my director, he’s my guide, he’s my savior. I am his and he is mine.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that once we are His, there is no going back to the way things used to be. Peter, Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—they were fishermen when Jesus found them. The Scripture tells us that he called them and immediately they dropped their nets or left their father to follow this amazing Jesus. He promised that from that point forward that these fishermen would be fishers of men. How exciting! What a ride those three years with Jesus must have been for them! To encounter God and find, hope, joy, and peace in Him.

The song, Amazing Grace, expresses the joy that one discovers when being called by God. Maybe some of you are here today because you have heard the voice of God and responded. I remember when I first heard God’s voice. I was going to school up in Humboldt County. Although I was raised in a Catholic family I didn’t live like a Catholic Christian and I left the Church. One day my roommate was gone, the T.V. was off, the stereo was off, and I got this sick empty feeling in my stomach. I’ve never been lonely like that. And I had this thought that I had never thought before; I thought, “I need God back in my life.” Immediately I thought, “Where did that thought come from!”

I went to Church growing up, altar server, and lector and stuff, but I never thought of God as a relational God who could satisfy the emptiness inside of me. That thought could never have come from me. And I’m here to tell you, that was it for me. God is real. God spoke to me. I heard God’s voice. And nothing will ever be the same again. I can’t unthink that thought. I can’t unhear the call. I’m now a fisher of men. I’m like the Psalmist today, I praise the Lord because he rescued me.

Sometimes I forget though. Sometimes I ignore my relationship with God. Sometimes, like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, when things don’t turn out right, when we get confused, when our faith has been shaken by tragedy, or pain, and suffering, too often we go back to the way we were before we met Jesus. We make a commitment to follow him, but then we go back to the same old friends, the same old corners, the same old houses. It was the “Green House” for me up in Humboldt. That’s where my rugby buddies hung out, where there was always beer and pot and girls. You know that place. Every disciple knows that place for him. We make commitments to Jesus and to the Father and say, “I’m done with that old life! When I get out, things will be different!” But too often they are not.

The Scriptures tell us today that this was the THIRD time the risen lord appeared to his apostles! The third time! He told them to drop their nets because they would be fishers of men! He had a different plan for them…but they just kept going back to what they knew. Proverbs 26:2 says that just, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his mistakes,” and 2Peter 2:23 says that, “A pig that is washed goes back to wallowing in the mud.” And so it was with them, and so it can easily be with us.

And that’s why this is called “the good news!” because we know that John recognized Jesus and Peter jumped out of the boat, and they spent time with their Lord. And we know too, that they never went back to fishing again. Peter led the Church and died for the Lord Jesus in Rome, John wrote the Book of Revelation, Andrew and James, and all the rest of Jesus’ disciples courageously followed him no matter what anybody said or what anybody thought. And if they did it, then so can we! That’s good news!

Peter had to make a conscious decision to follow Jesus and to never get back in the boat, and he did and he was our first Pope. I had to make the decision not to go back to the Green House, and I did and now God has called me to be a deacon. And you too will have to decide at some point not to go back to the block. And I can’t wait to see what God has planned for you!

Like my sister, we must affirm to old friends and neighbors, to those who lead us into temptation and evil, and sin, we must say loud and clear—you’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me. And like those courageous disciples we too must say loud and clear, “We must obey God, rather than men.” Amen?

For Reflection:

How often do I sit in the silence to hear God’s voice?

Are you responding to, or running from God’s call to you in this life?

What will it take to “stop returning to the mud?”

By catholicevangelist

Divine Mercy and Restoration

Doubting ThomasToday’s reflection is for the Second Sunday of Easter (Or Sunday of Divine Mercy), April 28, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

On this second Sunday of Easter, also referred to as Divine Mercy Sunday, we reflect not only on Jesus’ resurrection, but on what His resurrection means to those of us who believe. In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina, also known as The Apostle of Divine Mercy, for her visions of Jesus; the merciful love of God revealed to the whole world.

Today we stop to reflect on a God of mercy who is one hundred percent committed to our total restore-ation. Mercy, because God does not give us what we deserve due to our sin, but more than what we deserve because of His grace and love. And restoration, because like the Father who welcomed back the prodigal son, God does not welcome us back as a slave to hang our head low in shame—the most we could hope for, but instead as a son filled with love—more that we could ever have imagined. That’s Divine Mercy—a wayward child welcomed back home with open arms.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the well-known story of Thomas, who, like a lot of us, says that seeing is believing! Just a week earlier, the Scripture says, Jesus appeared to his disciples showed them his wounds and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed on them the Holy Spirit, and gave them, his Apostles, his own power to forgive sins! Remember in Luke 5:21, the scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of blasphemy! They asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Of course, God is the only one who can forgive sins, and Jesus is God, so God forgave sins, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the very men who denied him and abandoned him the power to bind to their words and actions His own power to forgive the sins of the world. That’s Divine Mercy—giving broken men the power of God.

Jesus is the savior, but for 2,000 years Jesus’ Apostles have been forgiving sins by the power of the Savior himself. In every generation there are those who, like the tax collector in Luke’s gospel, stand at a distance, unworthy to approach the throne of God, who beat their breast, and cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” (18:13) and God’s mercy is given through the ministry and ministers of the Church. That’s Divine Mercy—a sinner hearing the words of forgiveness that he could not possibly obtain on his own.

Interestingly enough, Thomas was not actually there when Jesus appeared to his apostles, and Thomas, like many of us, refused to believe until he saw it for himself! Arrogant. Prideful. And like many of us, he wanted proof. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He reappeared, offered himself and his open wounds to an unbeliever so that he might believe. That’s Divine Mercy—a doubter given a sign so that he might believe.

My brothers, God’s mercy, Divine Mercy, is NEVER about what we are owed, what we deserve, or what we rate—in fact, it isn’t about us at all. Divine mercy is called Divine Mercy for a reason; it’s about God. It’s about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s desire for our friendship, and God’s desire for our joy and fulfillment that can only be found in him. God has such great plans for each of us, and none of us can experience it on our own.

I told you last week that like Peter and John, we must be willing to remain united together—as different as some of us may be. We must be willing to enter the tomb if we are to rise with him. Today’s first reading shows the fruit of unity and dying to oneself. It shows the fruit of Divine Mercy. Acts of the Apostles tells us, “Many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles, people respected them, and believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” The Scriptures say that the sick were carried out into the streets just so that when Peter came by his shadow might fall on them. A large number of people brought out the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were cured. That’s the fruit of Divine Mercy!

Like I said, Divine Mercy isn’t about you, it’s about God and what God wants to do through you! And me! Divine Mercy is restorative. It recreates us to God’s image so that we can be his life, his love, and his goodness in a world of darkness. Do we believe God can do anything good with us at all?

That’s always our problem, we don’t see it. We stand back to back with God. We see and know only our past, God sees and cares only about our future. We say, “You can’t use me, God, look where I’ve been and what I’ve done!” God says, “I’ve got great plans for you, wherever you are, and whomever you are with.” It was true of Moses, of the prophets, of the Apostles, and of the Saints of the Church. And it can be true for us too.

It doesn’t matter where we’ve been, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done, all that matters is if we’re willing to seek Divine Mercy and go to where God is calling us to go. Will you accept his mercy today? Will you allow him to heal you? Transform you? Repurpose you? Restore you to your original goodness in His image. He just needs our “yes” and He will do amazing things through us—and many will come to believe and be healed.

For Reflection:

Am I aware of, and do I believe in the transforming power of Divine Mercy?

Am I like Thomas? What’s keeping me from believing?

To what degree have I given my “yes” to God? Where is God calling me? Am I willing to go?

By catholicevangelist

Enter the Tomb

John and Peter

Today’s reflection is on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

Happy Easter! The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, Alleluia! Our long journey through Lent has come to an end! I don’t know what you took on, or gave up for Lent, but whatever it was, it no doubt took some sacrifice and maybe some pain. I set the bar high this Lenten Season. My wife and I committed to only liquids during the day, and only soup for dinner. I would be lying, though, if I told you that I stuck to it perfectly. I’m quite embarrassed to say that I did not. The Lord, in His generosity gave me another 40 days of Spiritual boot camp to get things right, to sacrifice and be transformed—but again, I fell short of the mark. I am weak.

Not until we really want to change do we realize how weak we are to do so…and that has been my Lenten experience this year. I know what Jesus did for me. I know his way of the cross. I know of his passion and suffering, and yet still I deny him. Not only three times, like Peter, but many times every day. How about you? Did you get up to pray? Abstain from meat on Fridays, and fast daily? Today’s Gospel is a message of hope and has a promise for guys like us who seem to fail time and time again. Today we join Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who is John.

Isn’t it interesting that Mary ran from the tomb straight to Peter and John? They must have been together at the same place, right? The Scripture says, “So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.” But why would they be together? Jesus was just thirty-five hours or so earlier crucified. Jesus died on Friday evening, he was in the tomb on Saturday, and Mary goes to the tomb while it is still dark Sunday morning. Both John and Mary remained at Jesus’ side throughout his whole ugly, painful passion and death. John was standing at the foot of the cross with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother when Jesus died—where was Peter?! Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, and John was with Jesus to the end.

You couldn’t find more opposite disciples of Jesus. John who was always so faithful and Peter who was so weak in his faith. And yet, they remain together, in the same place, no doubt supporting one another through their difficult time. That’s what it means to follow Jesus, my brothers, and that’s the first thing I want to point out. In this Christian community we are all at different levels of growth in our faith, some are more courageous than others, some are more disciplined than others, some remain in their weakness to sin, but like John and Peter, we stick together. Through good times and bad we stick together. Look around—you are my brothers and we are here for each other, helping each other: weak, strong, smart, dumb, black, white, brown, old, young, incarcerated or free, holy, and weak in our holiness: the Church is ONE and must remain ONE, and we must never let the world divide us.

The first thing I wanted to point out is that we must remain united, and the second is that we don’t have to have it all figured out in order to believe—but we do have to enter the tomb. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we must be willing to die to ourselves, enter the tomb with Jesus Christ so that we can rise with him. If we do not enter the tomb and die when will never truly live.

We must die to anger, malice, greed, and lust. We must enter the tomb and put to death jealousy, rivalry, divisions, and arrogance. John arrived at the tomb first, but he was unwilling to go in. I wonder what kept him from going right in. Scripture says He saw the burial clothes and stopped. Interesting that Peter never hesitated. John was faster and arrived first, but Peter entered the tomb before John. He went into the tomb and then saw the burial clothes. John was a little more cautious; a little more careful, but he does enter the tomb.

Are you more like Peter or more like John? Are you more a little more courageous and willing to jump right in? Know this, courageous or cautious they both went in. They entered the tomb with all their unanswered questions, with all their fears, and with all their doubts. They entered the tomb so that they could rise with Jesus.

My brothers, the resurrection of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean anything on its own. We celebrate the resurrection as Christians because Jesus rose from the grave, and somehow, through the waters of baptism, we mysteriously rise with him! God has powerfully connected Baptism to Jesus’ resurrection and our new life. Jesus conquered the grave 2,000 years ago, and we celebrate his victory today, but we celebrate our victory with him everyday! He won, and made winners out of all of us who believe.

But let me make this clear: we must unite together, we must stand by one another regardless of color or status, we must be willing to encourage each other and pray with each other, to look out for one another and to help one another, and we must willing to together enter the grave if we are to have any share in the resurrection that we celebrate today. We are an Easter people! Every day is Easter for those who enter the grave to be born again. Happy Easter, brothers. Let us live in this newness of life. Amen.

For Reflection:

When I fail do I beat myself up, throw all the cards in, or reach out to God in prayer for strength and consolation?

Am I living the resurrected life? One of unity with those around me and a willingness to come to another’s aid regardless of who they are or what they believe?

Am I holding on too tightly to die with Christ? What is keeping me from going “all in” for Jesus and His church?

By catholicevangelist

The Way of the Cross

Today’s reflection is on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 14, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel is the saddest moment in human history—namely, the death of God on earth. The narrative could have gone a thousand different ways. If Pilate had been courageous enough to stand up for what he knew was true about Jesus’ innocence things would have been different. If Herod had cared as much about God and the Messiah as he did about wealth and power things could have been different. If the religious leaders were open to the possibility that they didn’t have it all figured out, and that as much as they believed otherwise, Jesus could indeed have been their long-awaited king. If Jesus had not gone to Jerusalem; if Judas had not betrayed him; if any one of the soldiers stood by Jesus’ side and said, “Enough!”

But none of those things happened, and in today’s Gospel we see ridicule, sadness, brokenness, arrogance, violence, selfishness, suffering, and the death of innocence, righteousness, purity, and holiness. And sometimes that’s just the way life goes. Life is indeed difficult and often unfair. Here is your cross. It’s no wonder Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (MT 16:24).

I’ve had experiences in my own life where there was no light—only darkness. In the midst of my suffering I did not see answers, only questions. I did not feel the presence of God in those moments, and I can identify very strongly with the Psalmist today, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” When we are in the midst of that darkness we cry out to God but do not always hear an answer. We are in our Holy Week. We find ourselves on our way of the cross.

There were fourteen stations on Jesus’ way to his tomb. There may have been more, but certainly not less. Sometimes our via de la cruz seems not to have fourteen, but rather a hundred! But fourteen or a hundred, the truth is that the cross, and the way of the cross are essential to salvation. We know it’s true of Jesus, and we believe it true for ourselves—that without the cross there is no resurrection. And so, we do not lament our journey of suffering, we embrace our cross, and journey to the tomb in joyful hope in the resurrection. Jesus told his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (JN 12:24)

I know that the cross is necessary for salvation, but to be honest, I don’t often accept it well. Like Jesus, my prayer is to avoid the cross! And like Jesus, I do accept God’s will and that it be done in my life. But quite unlike Jesus, in the midst of my trial, I do not remain silent when others plot against me, when my friends betray me, when others wrongfully accuse me, when haters mock me, and when my cross is thrust upon me. More often than not, I am entirely unwilling to forgive those who persecute me, and when others see my sadness and suffering, I seek first their prayer for me, rather than to think to pray for them. I need to be a lot more like Jesus—that’s for sure!

Jesus’ attitude given to us in the letter to the Philippians, and his example in today’s Gospel, can teach us what to do to get through tough times. Philippians tell us, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (2:6-8) I think being found in human appearance we too need to humble ourselves. Humility reminds us that we are but servants with a job to do. We are not promised anything in this life of service, though because of God’s goodness, we sometimes get more than we deserve. We need to start with humility.

Our humility teaches us that we cannot do this alone. We need the power of God to see us through our darkness and pain. Knowing that we need God to get us through, opens us up to prayer. When we go through our trial, it’s helpful to remain in prayer as Jesus did. I think Jesus’ prayer kept him close to God his father at all times. I know as Catholics we have lots of memorized prayers, but sometimes, we just need to talk to God, with regular words, about the truth of our experience. Just close the door and talk to God who always hears us.

It was the presence of his father and his faith in his father that allowed him to hope in his vindication and restoration. When we know that our God is with us, walking and talking with us, encouraging us, living within us, and providing his strength to see us through, then we have confidence and hope in whatever happens or however it turns out. That’s called Christian hope! It’s an attitude of insurmountable optimism. We always look ahead, never down and never behind. God is good and will see us through.

And I think that’s how Jesus was able to love and forgive even while he suffered. Sometimes when we are hurting we lash out, feel sorry for ourselves, and become bitter with others. We love when life is easy, but when hardship comes we turn inward and close ourselves off, if not to God, sometimes to the world. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus never stopped loving, praying for, encouraging, and forgiving all the way to his death. We cannot be people who love only when we are loved. If so, we become little more than leaves blowing in the wind. If someone is kind then so are we. If someone is mean then so are we. This is not who we are! We are children of light and love. Period. That’s who we are in good times and in bad. We are called at all times and in all places, like Jesus, to love God and neighbor. And it’s our hope, rooted in faith that will make it so.

And so, as it turns out, only these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. So, as we journey through this holy week, may we be the people of prayer that makes us people who love in spite of our cross. Amen.

For Reflection:

When I suffer, do I go to prayer or do I complain, become bitter, and lash out at others?

What cross have I carried in the recent past? Do I recognize the presence of God who was able to see me through?

Is there some way that God is calling me to be Simon of Cyrene, helping someone I may not even know to carry their cross?


By catholicevangelist

Whose Fault Is It?

eve-blames-serpentToday’s reflection is on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 31, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The longer form for the 2nd Scrutiny was used for this reflection.

I can still hear my poor mom’s words now as she walked into the kitchen, “Who made this mess?!” My sisters and I just stood there. “This mess did not make itself.” she said. Finally, I blamed Stephanie, Stephanie blamed Marie, and Marie blamed me! My mom finally thundered, “I don’t care who made the mess! I just want it cleaned up! Now!”

My poor mom was experiencing in her own day the result of sin that transcends time! In the beginning God gave humanity one rule! That’s it! Don’t eat the fruit! Not so hard, right? Well… Like my mom, God comes in and says, “Who made this mess? The man says, “It’s that woman you put here! And the woman says, “It was the snake!” And that’s all it took—and we’ve been blaming each other for our problems ever since!

We do have some real problems in our families, our communities, in our country and in our world! Mass migration, deforestation, extinction of species, terrorism, pollution, abortion, abject poverty, homelessness, starvation, genocide, human trafficking, disease, violence, drugs, terrorism, racism, and sexism! Luckily, I know just who to blame…liberals! No wait! Conservatives! Mexicans! Communists! Corporations! It’s the man! The woman! No, wait…it’s kids these days!

We do this all the time in education. How is this kid so far below grade level! It’s gotta be that new 4th grade teacher! No, it’s the curriculum. It’s the administrative turn-over. It’s not the materials, it’s the learning environment! It’s parents these days! It’s the education system. It’s No Child Left Behind, it’s Common Core! It’s the liberals, the conservatives, the Mexicans, the…wait, are we back to that? Whose fault is it?! Who’s to blame?! To be honest I don’t know, and the truth is, it shouldn’t even matter us. Jesus has something very important for us today.

The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that to have more or less was a curse because of sin. So, if I’ve got a wart on my thumb, then I have more because of sin. If I lose my limb in an accident, then I’ve got less because of sin. If I’ve got a tumor, then that’s more because of sin, and if I’m blind, then that’s less–also because of sin. But what about the man blind from birth in today’s Gospel? Whose sin caused that?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples present him with what they think is a real head scratcher. “Rabbi, who sinned,” they ask, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” First, this is obviously a case of sin and this person is being punished—but whose sin caused it? Whose fault is it? Who is responsible for this? Who is to blame?

Jesus gives us a wonderful gift in today’s Gospel, and if you have ears to hear it can change your family, your workplace, your whole life. Jesus is asked a very simple question, “Whose fault is it?” Jesus tells his disciples, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus says stop trying to assign blame— recognize instead the opportunity. You see, that’s our problem. We always look for someone to blame (and so did they), but Jesus always looked for an opportunity to reveal the power of God through his life, his love, his touch, with his resources, his friendship with others. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus seeing a need and using what he had, (and sometimes what his disciples had), to make things a little better.

In the towns that he entered, in the people he met, in the death and brokenness that faced him, Jesus didn’t see a reason to complain, he saw a reason to hope. He didn’t see an opportunity to blame, he saw in this suffering and sadness an opportunity to proclaim! Jesus used human suffering as an opportunity to show others the amazing mercy, love, goodness and generosity of God.

I remember like yesterday walking across the Arcata bridge while going to school in Humboldt. As I walked past a transient on the bridge he asked me if I could spare a dollar. Naturally, I kept walking…but then I thought about the question. He didn’t ask me if I approved of his decisions in life, or whether I thought he deserved it. He didn’t ask me if I thought he might invest it wisely or whether he would feed a habit. He just asked me if I could spare a dollar…and I could…so I did. And I don’t know what he did with that dollar—but God does, and God will judge him…and me.

Jesus does not call us to complain or to judge. And he doesn’t need us to figure out whose fault it is so we have someone to blame. Like my dear old mom, Jesus wants us to just clean up the mess. Jesus wants the children of light—that’s you and I—to overcome the darkness.

Light does not negotiate or cower before the darkness—it just expels it. It does not shame it or blame it—it just overcomes it. As St. Paul tells us, “You are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Awake, O sleeper and allow the work of God to be made visible through you. Amen?

For Reflection:

Think about your day; do you more often look for a reason to blame or an opportunity to help a person in need?

What are some creative ways to come to the help of someone in need that don’t include contributing to addiction and brokenness?

What groups exist at your parish, or can you start at your parish, to alleviate suffering in your community?

By catholicevangelist

A Slow Rising Tide

Woman at the wellToday’s reflection is on the Third Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy. The longer form for the 1st Scrutiny was used for this reflection

God’s desire is that all would come to know him, love him, and serve him, and be happy not only in this life, but for all eternity. In the very first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we hear these words, “God created mankind to share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to mankind. He calls mankind to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” (#1) Today’s gospel reading shows us a very clear example of how God makes himself known to us—not all at once as in the case of St. Paul, but slowly, in various ways over time—like a slow rising tide.


I think there are a few important take-aways from this Gospel story. The first is that Jesus is a boundary breaker. The second is that time with Jesus is always an opportunity to know him more fully. And finally, the result of knowing Jesus places a claim on us, and demands that respond.


Jesus is a boundary breaker. In Jesus’ day men didn’t talk to women in the absence of their father or husband. Any male to female contact would have to be arranged. Worse yet is that this woman is not even of his same religious view. She is a Samaritan—and for a lot of reasons the Jews and Samaritans (much like Catholics and Protestants today) didn’t always see eye-to eye on theological issues. She is a woman and she is a Samaritan…and Jesus doesn’t care.


Jesus does not see male or female, Samaritan or Jew, he only sees children of his heavenly Father. What do we see? Do we see divisions, rivalries, and an ugly past? Do we make distinctions: Black, white, brown skin? Do we divide along where you’re from or what language you speak? Do we judge based on whether a person is incarcerated or free? Rich or poor?


When I was in the Marines, there was no such thing as the color of skin—we were all green. It is true that we had light green Marines, and dark green Marines, but we were all Marines—lean, mean, and, well…green.


Can we make efforts to overcome boundaries? Can we say that we are first and foremost children of our heavenly father? Can we ask God to heal our eyes so that we see one regardless of color or origin? Can we see one, no matter if Catholic or Protestant? Can we see one whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, believer, unbeliever or can’t hardly believe? Here’s the point—we’ve got to stop dividing and, like Jesus, be willing to start uniting. God wants everyone to share in his life…that’s everyone.


The second thing that the Gospel teaches us today is that Jesus sometimes takes it slow and kinda creeps up on you as he enters more fully into your life. At first Jesus is no more than another Jewish man. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” And that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t scold her, he spends more time with her. He starts telling her a bit about herself! In almost no time he goes from being a Jew to a prophet. She says, “I can see that you are a prophet.” Isn’t that cool? She spends a little time with the Lord and her eyes are opened a little wider. She’s able to see a little more clearly. Finally, she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” And then her eyes are finally open-wide to see, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking with you.’” WHAAAAT?! That’s amazing! I wish I was there to see her face! (Sung) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.


Do we have eyes to see? Do we find ourselves in the depths of amazing grace? Are we growing in our understanding not only of who Jesus is, but who Jesus is for me? If not, we need to start spending a lot more time with the Lord—time in quiet prayer, time in God’s Word, time with others of who are on the same road. Be prepared when Jesus goes from just another Jew to your Lord and Messiah…well, things can’t ever be the same again, can they? We can’t hardly go back to the same as we were before, can we?


And finally, to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah just makes you want to go out and tell the whole darn world! When you start thinking differently. When you start talking differently. When you start acting differently–well, someone is going to notice the Good you have become.


That woman was so excited that she left everything and ran right into town and started blabbing to everyone who would listen! “I found the Messiah! I found the Messiah! Everybody, listen! It’s him! He knows me—inside and out! He knows me! For better or worse, he loves me.” And people will listen. The Scriptures say, “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.’”
And that’s what we call evangelization. Evangelization is breaking down barriers, falling in love with Jesus, and sharing the truth of Jesus and His Church to anyone who will listen! And how much rejoicing there is in heaven when just one person turns away from sin and follows the Lord. My brothers, Jesus broke down barriers to love us, shared his life with us, and saved us. Shouldn’t we, out of gratitude, break down some barriers of our own. Shouldn’t we be willing to love him a little more and spend time with him a little more each day? God can be known. And wants you to know him, and love him, and tell others about it. Will you? Amen.

For Reflection:

Do I more often see barriers or bridges? Do I courageously reach out to others that are different than me or do I tend to hang around those who look like me, think like me, and act like me?

How much time do I spend with the Lord? Am I growing daily to know him more, and allow him to know me more deeply?

Does the love of God compel me to share with others? Have I ever invited others to Sunday service? Do I talk about my faith? Or is it just something I do for an hour at 5am one day a week?

By catholicevangelist