Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Grateful Heart Is a Happy Heart: Franciscan Gratefulness

42 And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

This saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew is not talking about what a Christian should do, although Christians certainly should be attentive to the needs of fellow Christians. Jesus goes beyond that in this saying. Look at the words of Jesus. ANYONE who gives you a cup of cold water will surely not lose his reward.

Jesus is making a statement about those who treat Christians with kindness. If someone gives a Christian something good, that person will receive a reward from God. Christ blesses that person, no matter who that person is. Jesus does not say that only those who treat the apostles with kindness will be rewarded. He is talking about treating any Christian with kindness because he or she is a Christian. People who do that will receive a reward from God.

We call people who help us benefactors. They are do-gooders. God greatly blesses do-gooders. St. Francis put himself at the disposal of those who would do him good. He gave people an opportunity to do good to him and to be blessed by the Lord. Living in poverty was good for Francis because it got him closer to God and helped him become more holy and reach heaven. But it also gave others the opportunity to do Francis good and so be rewarded by the Lord as well.

We should show extreme gratefulness to those who do good to us, for all they have done for us. And thankfulness does not mean just saying thank you. We should take our benefactors into our hearts and plead before the Lord on their behalf. We can offer penances for them. This is how we are truly grateful for them. I need to be thankful for them not only with my mouth but in my heart. A grateful heart is a happy heart. This sounds like a bumper sticker but it is true. When I recognize the good gifts that have been given to me, and not dwell on how bad things are or on my past or if I am worthy, then I am blessed and happy. 

Yes, I am a sinner and I don't deserve anything. Yet if I start with the positive, if I see the good about me, I will be happy. On the other hand, if I think that nothing good is going to happen to me, if I always look at my miserable lot, if I see the cloud and the rain, I will not have a grateful heart. A grateful heart will recognize the good in the rain, in the clouds, and will enter into the joy of that time because God is using the rain and the clouds to bring forth new life. Self pity comes from a lack of gratefulness.

How can we recognize good in the midst of suffering? Francis saw that his sufferings were good because they drew him into the sufferings of Christ. We can be thankful that we are allowed to suffer something for Jesus. St. Francis told brother Leo a story about perfect joy. Perfect joy was not converting all of the infidels or knowing all the knowledge of the world or being able to have visions. Perfect joy was Francis coming to his own friary and having the Friars reject him, beat him, throw him into the snow, and tell him that he was a stupid idiot. Why was this perfect joy? Because it gave Francis an opportunity to feel the rejection that Christ felt from his own. If this actually would have happened to Francis, Christ would be giving Francis an opportunity to identify with Him in His sufferings.

St. Paul rejoiced in his sufferings. Did this mean that he did not enjoy good things? Of course not. But he was able to be grateful for his sufferings because now he had something to give back to the good God. St. Francis saw God as good and wrote a prayer in praise of God, extolling God for all His many good qualities. Francis recognized that God can make us holy through physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional illness and suffering.

Christians have suffered for the past 2000 years, and when the government that has been persecuting the Christians falls, then the Christians rise up again and flower because they have grown under suffering. Christ is present to those who suffer. Christ is in prison today. Somewhere Christ is being beheaded today. Pray for our fellow Christians who are suffering, whose blood is staining the earth and becoming the seed of conversion for others.

Franciscan gratefulness is finding the good in all things, and accepting that good from the good God, even if it doesn't seem good to us in any way. In the midst of suffering, turn toward God and ask him to show you the good that comes from union with Christ in that suffering. When we have a bad day, if we realize that there is good in it, we can pull the good out of that day. If we have a grateful heart, then we will never have a bad day. There is no such thing as a bad day for someone with a grateful heart. If I am falsely accused, so was Jesus; if I am hurting physically, so did Jesus hurt. If I am suffering the loss of loved ones, so did Jesus suffer this loss; if I am abused by others, Jesus suffered abuse. My sufferings unite me with Him. This is good.

Yes, we work for justice and we try to alleviate suffering. But in all of this, in our fallen world, we look for the presence of God and we have grateful hearts and true joy. Ask God to make you conscious of His presence at every moment, and then every moment will show you the joy that is in it. We get caught up in our own affairs and thoughts and forget to be conscious of God's presence. Lord, help us to grow in consciousness of the good that is around us and to turn our consciousness into gratefulness.

--Transcribed as well as possible from a  homily by Father David Engo, FBM

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Suffering Hell of Godlessness: Christ’s Redemptive Death Atoned for All Sin including Atheism

Words about deep suicidal depression, or the Night of the Spirit, and how to overcome, escape, or
 understand it, seem only words. No one has been equal to describe such horror, like handing an empty glass to someone dying of thirst. But we may try, and not judge negatively those who try.

God makes the initial move. Only He can give that Love, He IS that Love: love which has no beginning, no
 limit, and no cause. Incomprehensible by a created mind. I like the image of Jesus coming through the 
locked door; I could not represent it in a painting or sculpture, only modern photography could make some
semblance of this look real by using diapositives. 

No doubt we can shut Him out. We do it. He doesn't knock the door down violently He simply comes
 gently through it, as and when He wills. God is shut out, too, by others: from our "private" mind: by parents, school, the media.
What first brought about the separation of man from God, and locked Him out? Disobedience. Since the 
time of Adam, only one human being has at every moment obeyed God: the Blessed Virgin Mary. All others have disobeyed. When He as her Son said goodbye to her from the Cross (John 19:26), Mary began to feel a certain separation from Him, as though He had left and closed the door, which perhaps lasted until her 
Dormition and Assumption: horrendous suffering. But we are not told that. Most prefer to think He 
reappeared to her after His resurrection...We don’t know. But that may be part of the way that she is the 
co-remptrix. She experienced the losd of God, until she had "fallen asleep" into His eternal embrace.

When on the Cross Jesus cried out, "My God! My God! Why have You abandoned me?" He took upon 
Himself, along with all our other sins, the sin of Atheism. That is hell.

The first of the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary recalls His baptism by John in the River Jordan, when He was symbolically plunged into the fallen human condition.

Could He, with his free will, choose to disobey God, His Father, who is Infinite Good, Infinite Love? It is a mystery, but we have to reply in the negative. His humanity's "hypostatic union" with God the Son means that even his humanity belonged to God, was possessed by the Infinite Love and Wisdom which always and 
eternally chooses to love the Good.

We do not, always. “We is all sinners.”

But could He EXPERIENCE the feeling, the state and condition of being Godless, rebelling, let us say its
"side effects"? I answer affirmatively. 
How can He who is Light experience darkness? He who is Life, die? Dying is horrible, I came close the 
other day. Yes, He can plunge into all that filth, like into the Jordan, making it His own. He died, didn't He?  Satan thought so, and he was right for once.

He brought the disobedient nature into obedience, even to the death sentence. He overcame death: brought 
the mortal nature into union with the immortality of Him who is the Immortal, the Strong, the Holy One.
Figuratively He washed off all our private and public sins, washed them all clean not only in the Jordan but in His own Blood. No one else has shed every drop of his blood and come back to life. What we drink in the
chalice is alive in His risen body.

He paid the ultimate price for sin: death. He re-deemed it. In Latin the word means re-bought, bought it back===from Satan, who was really mad. It left him (Satan) with nothing, He would have to fight for it all over 
again, try to get it back. He cheats. I doubt he gets much. Jesus is all-mighty. He didn't go through that for 

Not BACK to hell. Jesus' abandonment was experience of separation from God. I used to think it was the 
experience of only a moment. He breathed out His spirit, committed His soul to His Father (who He felt had left Him), and the body died, which is assured by the centurion's lance in His side --whereupon the centurion expresses his act of Faith, but we are not told in the Gospel much. It is not revealed if anything went on in 
Jesus' SOUL after the expiration of His body. The statement in the Apostles' Creed that He "descended into hell" lends itself to the belief that the feeling of "abandonment" was not momentary in the Divine Soul, who 
took it with Him into the realm of the dead beyond our vision, but not our imagination or our faith.

I think that the experience of abandonment by God mysteriously took the sin of atheism, of the atheists, into his redemptive action, so that He could save the atheists at well as all other sinners.

Anyway, how deliberately is atheism committed? IT LEAVES ONE LONELY, BUT CULPABLY SO? Some may adhere to it as if it were a sad truth. They share in Christ's abandonment, and He is present in theirs, mysteriously of course.

It moves me away from judging atheists negatively. Had I had their experience, been in their shoes and 
classrooms as a child, would I be a believer?

Catholicism is true Love of the true God, from which it gets its joy. Can atheists see that? Do they find that in their history books, or their Catholic neighbors? Or do they reject what is actually a lie or a distortion?

I think that in Holy Week we might spend Holy Saturday contemplating the suffering and hell of Godlessness.
--Dom Julian Stead, OSB, Spiritual Advisor to the Confraternity of Penitents and Retired Visitor of the CFP

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Remedy for Evil: Overcome Evil with Good

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles. 
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“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,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 38-48)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the problem of evil. How do we go about in the world when faced with evil?

We know that there is a lot of evil in the world, and this is because we live in a fallen world. The advice Jesus gives seems to be impractical if not impossible.

The fact that evil exists, that suffering exists, causes people to question God’s existence. If God is all-powerful and all loving, why is there evil? If God is all-powerful, then he could end evil, but He does not. So how can He be all loving? Does God not care about suffering in our lives? Does He not care about us or love us?

Jesus addresses the problem of evil in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus faced evil in his own life, and his Passion and death. Jesus is the model. He said, “You have heard that it was said to do this, but I tell you to do that.” Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law and the prophets. They are good. I am not going to start something new. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets.”

The Book of Leviticus instructed the Jews not to bear hatred for their brothers and sisters in their hearts. We’ve all heard the eye for the eye and the tooth for a tooth law. This law was a good law. It was meant to curb violence. Because we are fallen, we have a tendency to escalate violence. My tendency is to take your two eyes for the one eye you have taken from me. The Book of Leviticus said no. You take my eye. I can take your eye but no more. Jesus goes farther. He says, “I say to you to not resist the evildoer. If someone strikes you on one cheek turn to him the other one so that he can strike you there as well. If someone takes your mantle, give him your cloak as well.” This is the remedy for evil. But that doesn’t solve the problem of evil, does it?

Look at Jesus’ life. By taking charge of evil, Jesus annihilated it by taking it on himself. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus was God. He was sinless. He could take the sins of the human race all through the centuries from the very first century to the end of time, and he is the only one who could do this because he is infinitely able and willing to take the sins of the world upon himself. Pope Benedict XVI said that when Jesus went into the River Jordan all the sins of the human race were on him and drowned in the waters.

Jesus before the High Priest by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1617

Look at the scenes of the Passion. Jesus offers us a testimonial. Jesus was struck on one sheet and he turned the other. He did not strike back. He was like a meek Lamb who does not strike back. On the cross he experienced all sorts of blasphemy, reviling, accusations. To all the world Jesus looked like a helpless, passive victim on the cross. But St. John of the Cross says that the most active ministry of Jesus’ life was on the cross, taking upon himself the sins of the world and annihilating them.

The original Gospel stuck to the Passion narratives. The miracles and healing that preceded the Passion were good, they were beautiful, but they were not the reason Jesus came. Jesus set us free from sin and darkness, not through the teachings and the miracles and the healings but through his Passion for he made atonement for all the sins of mankind.

We are to follow the example of Jesus. We are called to do what he did. Jesus says to offer no resistance. Turn the other cheek. Christians are called to this beautiful, noble, powerful remedy in the face of evil. Christians have a role to play, and we are privileged to be part and parcel of this remedy. What do we do if we offer no resistance? We are not passive. We are not suppressed by evil. This does not mean we give up seeking justice or we give up righting wrongs. The most active moment in our lives must be when we face evil.

Saint Josephine Bakita
I was at a conference where a priest was giving two talks. In the first talk he spoke about the state of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. And he listed statistic after statistic that talked about the evil of wars, of violence, of lives lost, of persecutions. The first session was so depressing that many priests left. But in the second session, the priests were crying practically the entire time. The presenter began with the beautiful life of St. Josephine Bakita, an African slave girl who was subjected to torture, humiliation, and injustice of the most horrible types. This little girl was sold into slavery and then transferred from one master to another until finally she ended up with an Italian Catholic family who bought her. From them she learned about Jesus and this turned her life around. Eventually she became a Catholic and wanted to become a Canossian nun. Because she was humble and could not read, she considered herself to be a little sister. She had no education, but in the school she would place her hands on every child and bless them day after day to the end of her life. This is what St. Paul advises. Do not overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good. If your enemy is hungry give him some food. If he is thirsty give them something to drink. Bless those curse you. The children were not the ones who had inflicted evil on Bakita. She could not do good to those evil doers, but she did good to many others. She overcame the evil she had experienced in her life by doing good to others. Overcome evil with good.

We Christians are called to be in the major league in the fight against evil. We can’t bear the outcome of evil by ourselves. The weight of sin presses us down. We have to take the side of another. That is why we do not retaliate. I am simple and flawed myself. I must accept the evil in me but not conform to it. I must give the evil over to the power of the Holy Spirit which was given to me at Baptism just as it was given to Jesus.

We are called to be living furnaces where evil is concerned. Everything thrown into a furnace will burn up. We are to burn up evil in our lives and in our world. The world would be different if we acted by the power of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said that he baptized with water but after him would come someone who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Why fire? Because fire burns. We are to be living furnaces who burn up evil by returning good for it, by blessing those who harm us. This is a three-part formula for dealing with evil.
1. Accept that evil exists but do not conform to it.
2. Give it over to the power of the Holy Spirit
3. Return good for evil and bless those who persecute us.

What if every time that we heard of evil or experienced evil, we did something good? By this power, by this blessing, evil can be overcome in the world.

--Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Fr. James Kumbakkeel, O.S.B

Anyone Who Is Not Against Us Is for Us

17 Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and does not do it commits a sin. (James 4: 17)

38 John said to him, 'Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.'  But  Jesus said, 'You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9: 38-40)'

These readings challenge us not to be self-confident or self-reliant. Saint James instructed the members of his congregation not to be arrogant, but to walk humbly with their God. Those who are truly humble and self-sacrificing truly resemble Christ. In the Jewish profession of faith – Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone – we find a summary of religion. This short phrase contains the first principles of faith and obedience. A faith that does not demonstrate itself in tangible ways is useless. The person of faith must surrender his or her life into the hands of God and become totally dependent on God’s provident care.

As we ponder the Word of God, it would be helpful to recall a passage taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, “The word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12). Pondering the word, we should add these words taken from Genesis. “God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). God is the source of all that exists. He uttered a word and the whole world came into existence. God speaks a word of love to the ears of our hearts. Either we can listen to the word and respond to it in love, or we can rebel against it and remain in darkness. Coming out of the darkness we can live in love for Him and for one another.

Like the disciples in this Gospel passage from Mark, many of us are ready to take action against do-gooders who don’t belong to our denomination. Our Lord reminded them that he who wrought good works in His name would not be likely to hurt His cause. If sinners are brought to repent, to believe in the Savior, and to live sober, righteous, and godly lives, we then see that the Lord works by the preacher. Blessed are those who have this one God for their God. Blessed are those who come to the Lord and drink deeply from the streams of life-giving water that flows from His pierced heart. Because God’s love for us is unconditional and unfailing, love can blossom within us. Consequently, peace will come to those who help the poor, love their enemies.

We are disciples of Christ Who entered into the depths of love by embracing His passion and death. By rising from the dead He became the fountain of life for all who are willing to drink deeply. We are to listen to His voice and be conformed to Him in the bond of love. Faith is not something we do in church. Faith is a way of life whereby we love God with all our heart, and all our soul and all our strength. We are to respond to the call of Love with a sincere love, not just in word but with acts of love and compassion towards others. We are to respond to the call of Love with our whole being. We are to respond to the call of Love loving whatever we love for the love of God. We are to respond to the call of love, united in love to all who have heard the same call.

In His self-sacrificing love, Jesus has filled our hearts with love and compassion. Thus we learn to look at others not simply with our eyes but with the perspective of Christ. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, we can give others much more than their outward necessities; we can give them the look of love which they crave. Love is the service whereby we attend to our neighbor’s sufferings and needs. If we serve our neighbor our eyes will be opened to what God does for us and how much He loves us. When the Lord comes in glory may He bring us all together into eternal life.

Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Jesus Raised the Bar

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife -  unless the marriage is unlawful -
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,' and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5: 17-37)

Head of Christ by Rembrandt
We hear this Gospel and we go, “Whoooooa,” because, man, I’m in trouble. This Gospel is about me. Jesus is explaining what the commandments mean, and he is doing such an important thing in this preaching.

The people of Israel followed the law by the letter. But they did not let it enter their hearts. They were following the letter of the law. We can explain it this way. Think of a teen who has just gotten his driver’s license and now has the keys to the car. He thinks, “Whooee! Freedom!” Mom gives him the keys, and he hops in the car with his friend and, as he’s about to close the door, she calls after him, “Be home by 9 o’clock!” “OK,” he hollers back. Then he closes the door, revs up the motor, and says to his friend, “She didn’t say a.m. or p.m. I’ll be back by 9 o’clock for sure.”

That teen is worried about keeping the letter of the law and not about the spirit of the law. Technically he is correct, but only by the letter of what Mom said. Mom is interested in teaching the teen responsibility, how to be a responsible person. And all he is concerned about is how can I do what Mom says and still do what I want?

God tries to reorder our hearts. He is concerned about our hearts that are ripped apart by sin. We might be fulfilling the law. But where are our hearts? We tend to get trapped by our society that is so confident that Jesus wants us to just do what is good and it’s okay. It’s okay to break a couple of laws as long if you are really hurting anyone, never mind what the Bible says. People who say that have never read the Bible. They have never read these words that Jesus preached. I have people come to the sin bin and tell me, “Father, I’m not so bad. I never murdered anyone.” What type of measure of righteousness are we living by if the bar you measure your life by is murder? Jesus came to raise the bar.

I have to say that I am guilty of this for that sin in my life. The fifth commandment says, “Thou shall not kill.” Jesus raises the bar. Jesus says that anyone who is angry with his brother commits a sin against the fifth commandment. We don’t refrain from killing just to maintain life. We need to realize that human life is a gift from God, and we are all children of God. We do not degrade a child of God. We treat that person as God’s child, with love and respect.

The seventh commandment says. ”Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Jesus raises the bar. He says that anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. Jesus is saying, “Don’t even go there in your thoughts, in your hearts.” God made marriage so that we can experience unconditional love for another person. The marriage bond is a sign of the union between God and his Church. Marriage is a sacrament in which men and women can come to be like Christ for each other and for others. Marriage is more than just having children. Marriage helps us to know the love of God, the faithfulness of God, and who He is.

See, Jesus is making each of the commandments deeper. We need to understand the spirit behind the commandments as well as the letter of the commandments, the letter of the law. We need to fear hell. This is not a popular topic. We like to talk about entering the kingdom of heaven, and that is our goal. But we can exchange heaven for doing things our own way on earth. Christ is not going to force heaven on us. Hell is a reality. Not only those who kill are going to go to hell. At Fatima Our Lady showed the children a vision of hell, and people were falling into it like snowflakes into a fire. The Blessed Mother was weeping because of this. We need to take heed. We have nothing to fear, because God has a remedy for hell. If we are receiving the sacraments, Confession and Eucharist, these are the remedies to going to hell and to help us attain salvation.

What was the main sin of the scribes and Pharisees? They were keeping the law. They said, “Look at me. I am the keeper of the law. I do everything right.” The scribes and Pharisees were righteous. The Lord says to us that we cannot be prideful about keeping the law. Righteousness is not enough. He wants us not to be prideful. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you cannot get to the kingdom of heaven.” Now how am I going to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? They were keeping the law perfectly. But we need to surpass them. How? Are we doomed?

Not at all. We need to humble ourselves enough to say, “I know what the law is, and I still messed up. I need God’s mercy.” We need to get beyond the idea of the teenage Pharisee and follow after the Lord with an undivided heart. A few thoughts of a fiery hell can go a long way, not that God wants to intimidate us but that we understand that God is serious. Jesus is telling us how serious God is in these Gospel passages. Do I want to go to heaven? No one is above being damned to hell. Are we trying to follow God by our own version of the law? Or are we trying to follow the law that God gave us?

– Father Jacob Meyer, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

Thursday, February 20, 2014

God Does Amazing Things Even When We Don't Know He's at Work

God does amazing things, even when we don’t know that He is at work.

This has been a very snowy winter here in Indiana. The snow that collected in the parking lot and driveway by the headquarters was piled up on either side of the lot, one side against the fence, and the opposite side against the garage in which the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop and CFP office are located. The garage door was supposed to be removed and replaced with a wall, but that did not happen because the state of Indiana wants the plans for the renovation and completion of the garage to meet state standards and include a handicapped accessible bathroom because Confraternity members, other than those who live on the property, may be working in the shop and office at some point. Plans for the renovation are at the state being approved. Meanwhile, the gift shop and CFP office are in the partially renovated garage and are functioning.

Last week Bob, one of our Confraternity of Penitents’ members, stopped by the CFP headquarters and said that he had extra shelving that he had picked up from a demolition job he had done last year. This was in storage at his shop and he knew that we needed more shelving for the Confraternity of Penitents Holy Angels Gift Shop and wondered if we would want it. We certainly did want it! We needed it because many religious items had been given to us from Good Shepherd Gift Shop which had gone out of business at Christmas time 2012. These items were in boxes on the floor, for the most part, and on some tables. Shelving would enable us to remove the items from the boxes, put them on the Internet site, and be able to see them to fill orders as they came in.

Bob took two days to complete the shelving, sturdy metal shelving that goes up about 6 feet. He made the first shelf about six or 8 inches from the floor and then went up from there. On the first day, Kay Marie, gift shop manager, and I transferred items from tables to shelves and to other tables so that Bob would have room to work. When he went home, we then transferred items from the tables to the new shelving. The second day Bob completed the shelving. Then, because Bob is a great man, he picked up the remaining boxes that were on the floor and put them on the shelves.

Bob did leave on the floor the boxes of used books which we had piled up out of his way next to the garage door. But the Confraternity is having a Day of Recollection on March 1, and people are always looking for good reading materials for Lent. So it seemed reasonable to take the used books they are and see if they might be useful to those attending. Wanting to price them, because some people are stymied if you tell them to give a donation of their choice, Jim and I brought the books into the house on Friday and Saturday so that they could be priced.

The Great Melt started here on Tuesday as the temperatures began to rise above freezing for the first time in many weeks. We did not anticipate the problems that this might cause.

On Tuesday night, something was being repaired on the sidewalk at the neighbor’s house. Huge trucks dug up the sidewalk and whatever was underneath it and replaced the entire pavement with gravel and dirt. This happened when we, along with CFP Member Jackie, were praying Evening Prayer and Night Prayer around 8:00 PM in the in house prayer chapel that faces the street. The men working surely noticed our lit candles and us at prayer as we were facing the street. We wondered if a water main had broken and was being repaired.

On Wednesday morning, when Kay Marie left the house to go to work in the gift shop, she came back in stating that there was a huge puddle of water at the bottom of the steps into the driveway and that the driveway was flooded with ice. My husband Jim and I went out to investigate and we saw water rushing out from under a huge pile of snow in the parking lot to the left of this puddle, from the direction of the neighbor’s property. The water was a small stream, as if a faucet were turned on full blast, pouring into our parking lot and driveway and then flowing out down the street. We called the city of Fort Wayne, but the city said that since the water appeared to be coming from the neighbor’s property, they could do nothing about it. It was the neighbor’s issue.

So I visited the neighbor and explained to her about the problem, and she promised to tell her son about it. About 30 minutes later, the flow of water stopped. Of course, the driveway was still flooded and icy. So we waited a few hours as the temperature rose and the ice began to melt, and then Kay Marie went out to the garage where the gift shop is located to fill the orders for the day. She immediately phoned and said, “There are couple inches of water in here. The place is flooded.” 

Sure enough. Apparently two things happened. First the flow of water from the neighbor’s property, backed up by the snow and ice piled at that end of the parking lot, had flowed toward the shop and came in under the opening where the door would have been had the building been able to be completed. The other issue was that the four foot line of snow that was piled up against the garage door was melting and again, because the bottom layer of the snow was very icy, the flowing water took the path of least resistance which was under the garage door and into the shop.

But the Holy Spirit was looking out for us because there were only four boxes of religious goods on the floor, and this was because Bob had, not even a week before, put up the shelves and had put the items on them and because Jim and I had taken the used books into the house to price. As it was, the items at the top of the four boxes on the floor were not wet or damaged, so what had to be discarded was minimal. Jim put a sump pump into the shop to pump out the water, and I went in after supper and mopped up the floor. The floor dried overnight and was fine on Thursday.

But another problem faced us on Wednesday. What to do about the huge pile of melting snow up against the garage door? We called one of our Confraternity of Penitents affiliates Andy who has a tractor with a front scoop shovel and a back plow. Andy has been so kind as to come and plow our driveway and parking area several times with all the snows Fort Wayne has had. Andy does the plowing and many other jobs for so many people that the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare have nicknamed him Brother Fix-It Mary! After fixing a broken water pipe at a shopping center, Andy came on Wednesday afternoon and hauled away all the snow in front of the garage as well as the huge heap under which the neighbor’s water had been flowing. Jim and I shoveled the rest of the snow that was right next to the garage door where Andy’s plow could not safely reach. By the end of the day, all of the snow that had been abutting the garage door was now against the fence at one end of the parking lot or was piled up on the other side on the lawn away from the garage.

Following Andy’s suggestion about making a trench through the ice which he could not remove with the plow, and Kay Marie’s suggestion about using hot water to melt the ice and Jim’s suggestion about using a crowbar to chip away the ice, I made a channel through the ice so that the water that was backed up from the neighbor could flow through the inch of ice and down the driveway and into the street.

We went to bed praising God for His mercy and goodness. He had given us two good Confraternity friends to help us with this dilemma. One of them came before the melt began and put up the shelves that saved the merchandise. The other came to remove the four foot length of snow piled against the garage door. The melt had occurred on a weekday when Kay Marie goes into the shop to work. Had this happened on a Saturday night, she would not have discovered the flooding until Monday morning and it would have been much worse. In addition, because the garage slopes slightly toward the driveway, the water had not risen enough to travel back to the Confraternity library which is behind the shop but in the same room. About half of the library books are on the floor in boxes being sorted, and none of them were touched by water.

I am always amazed by how God’s hand works even when we don’t see it. In this case, He sent Bob in advance, and we are so grateful. He inspired me to take in the used books to prepare well in advance for the Day of Recollection, and we are so grateful. He made sure that the flow of water from the neighbor was stopped, and we are so grateful. He sent Kay Marie out to see what was going on, and we are so grateful. He sent Andy with a snow shovel, and we are so grateful. When you read this, thank Him for the mercy’s He has granted to you. May God be praised now and forever!

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Monday, February 17, 2014

Asking God for a Sign

My brothers, consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you, 3 for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and 4 perseverance must complete its work so that you are become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way. 5 Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given.
6 But the prayer must be made with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea by the buffeting of the wind. 7 That sort of person, in two minds,
8 inconsistent in every activity, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1: 1-8)

11 The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with him; they demanded of him a sign from heaven, to put him to the test. 12 And with a profound sigh he said, 'Why does this generation demand a sign? In truth I tell you, no sign shall be given to this generation.' (Mark 8: 11-12)

No sign will be given to this generation. What was the big deal about the Pharisees asking for a sign? The big deal was that they had already received so many signs and one more was not going to matter. This Gospel is in Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel. Before we read this Gospel, Jesus had cast out unclean spirits, made a deaf man hear and speak, healed many people with various diseases including leprosy and paralysis, restored a man’s withered and, and multiplied the loaves and the fishes. What more could the Pharisees be looking for? They had received many signs from the Lord. They did not want to see them. No matter what God did, it was not going to matter.

The Pharisees were trying to find a way around the truth. They got mad because Jesus healed a withered hand on the Sabbath, but it was okay to plot to kill him on the Sabbath. Jesus is frustrated with the Pharisees. They were not looking to be open to Jesus. They were testing Jesus. Push him, push him, see how far he will go

Sometimes we test God. We say to the Lord, “Okay, Lord, just one more sign. Just one more sign and I will do what you want. Just let me know for sure that it’s You.”

Are you waiting to know for sure, or are you hoping God won’t answer the way he was answering before? We ask God for a particular direction in life, and we keep on seeing coincidences. Oh, that was a coincidence. Oh there’s another coincidence. And that’s another coincidence. Are these all coincidences? Might God be giving you the signs that you are asking for, and you keep asking for more? Are you truly seeking an answer or do you want God to tell you what you want to hear?

Is it fear, or insecurity, that makes you not accept the signs that God is giving you? Is your brokenness not allowing you to be receptive to what God is saying? Perhaps the battle scares you. St. James acknowledges that it is difficult to follow the Lord. He talks about trials. Trials? You mean there are going to be trials? Were you thinking that following Jesus was not going to be difficult?

He talks about testing of the faith that brings perseverance. Testing? Why testing? Are you afraid to be tested?

You mean I have to work for my salvation? That following Jesus is not an escalator ride? You mean I’m going to have to do battle with myself? That scares me! The struggle and what it requires of me scares me. Why? Because my heart is not yet formed to love. I am not ready to burst forth with the gift of myself.

We have to die to things in our own lives. We need to persevere on those tests of faith that come to us. The Lord will provide the perseverance. St. James says that we must be “fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.” How do we achieve this? Through perseverance.

 To compete in the Olympics, the contestants must endure many trials and have great perseverance. It is in the perseverance that the gold medals are won. This is the same with virtue. Virtue is not built at the end of the battle, but it is built in the fight, in encountering trials and persevering through trust.

When it is toughest to love, that is when love is built. Love is tested through trials and perseverance. When I marry couples, I tell them that I hope that, when they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they don’t love each other as much as they do on their marriage day. I tell them that I want them to love each other much more because then they will have gone through the trials and struggles their marriage will bring, and they will bear the battle scars of life and the wrinkles of a love that persevered and became perfected and drew strength and power from the times they were together. This is true love. Love is fostered in the fight, not fighting with one another but fighting the battle of life.

If we are scared of the battle, of perseverance, afraid of our weaknesses, we have to come to God and trust. We trust that God will not let us fall. He will be there. We need to have faith in God who loves us. Remember that His Holy Will is to do good for us. What reply can we give to Divine Love except to love back? If I keep asking questions, asking God for signs, then I don’t have to reply to Divine Love, do I? I am waiting for answers.

How do I make an answer to Divine Love? How do I make myself Love’s Reply? Can it be anything less than the fullness of love returned? When I hear the voice of God, I need to respond even though I am facing a future that will have trials and battles, a future that will require perseverance and testing. God will give me the grace to reply to His Love, to listen to His Holy Will, to remove anything that keeps me from Love’s Reply. What about this? What about that? Will I have the strength? Will I have the courage? What if I fail? What if I mess up? Questions. Doubts.

Just reply to God in love. God has taken care of all those things. Trust him with your future because God loves you.

--Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father David Mary Engo, FBM

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Take the Bus and Leave the Driving to Us: A Reflection on Death and Dying

On the eve of Saint Valentine’s Day, 2014, we at the Confraternity of Penitents headquarters received a phone call from one of our life pledged and privately vowed members Ameil “Doc” Klein (br. Philip Julius is his privately vowed name) in Germany. It was very early morning on Valentine’s Day in Germany when Doc called. He was going to send us an email, but was not able to use the computer for several weeks.

Doc coming back to the pew after taking his pledge and private vow to live the Confraternity of Penitents' Rule for Life, October 13, 2013

He called to say hello, and I foolishly asked him how he was. He answered, “Next question.” I knew what he meant because Doc is dying from liver cancer. The next thing he said was that he is in the final stages of this illness. Doc has not eaten for three weeks, and tomorrow his doctors are sending him to the hospital to have a feeding tube put into his stomach.

Doc learned several years ago that he had cancer, and he has been battling it since. Several months ago, it was apparent that he was losing the battle, and so he determined that he was not afraid to die, completed his Confraternity of Penitents lessons, pledged and privately vowed to live the CFP rule for life, and went on living his life as best he could at home without any further operations or extensive treatments. His call tonight was to say that he remembered, when he was living in the United States, hearing the slogan of a well-known bus line that went something like this: “take the bus and leave the driving to us.”

“Years ago I realized,” Doc said, “that I wasn’t able to handle life on my own so I remembered that saying-- take the bus and leave the driving to us-- and I thought, ‘I’m not that good of a driver. This is more than I can handle. Please take the wheel.’ And God did.”

"God, please take the wheel."
Doc has been getting visits from his friends, family, and neighbors. He has been receiving phone calls from Italy and Spain. Doc teaches and greatly enjoys country line dancing. One visitor told him that he has no idea what he meant to a woman who used to dance with the group and who died when she was 38 years old from cancer. He has many people telling him what he has meant to them, how his example has touched them, and he is so humble by this unbelievable outpouring of love.

“I wish everyone could experience what I’m experiencing,” Doc says. ”People I hardly know have come up to me and said thank you. And I don’t know what I did for them.” Apparently we all make impressions upon others that we are unaware of, and people are taking this opportunity to tell Doc. what he meant to them. Doc said that he wishes that people would come to have his faith, his trust in Jesus, but he has learned not to expect this. A friend told him that faith might come to others later, after his death. Right now he continues to be an example just by being who he is.

Doc’s doctors visit him twice daily. He has a neighbor that walks his dogs. One neighbor comes and visits four times a day. Other neighbors will stop and say, “Can I get you anything at the store?” One neighbor picks up his mail. These are tremendous helps to him and to his wife Helene. The head of his local Salesian monastery visited him a few times. The Bishop was at the monastery recently, and the head of the monastery told the Bishop about Doc who, when he was well, went to the monastery daily to participate in the Divine Office and to attend Mass. The Bishop said that he wished he could visit Doc but he had to catch a plane so instead he sent Doc a card with best wishes. The members of the Salesian monastery come and visit Doc and tell jokes. They have an “absolutely wonderful time” together.

Doc tells a true story about a priest whom he knows. The priest has been in religious life for 50 years. He was a farmer boy, and when he goes home to visit his family he always slaughters a pig and brings it back to his community for meat. However, years ago, when he was crossing the border from East to West Germany, he was stopped by the border guards who asked him what he had in the barrel in the back of his truck. The priest answered ,”Old church documents.” This was not a lie because he had covered the pig with old church documents to hide the carcass because it is illegal to slaughter an animal without government permission. The border patrol went back to check and told the priest, “Your documents are bleeding.” The priest said, “Of course they are. They are documents about martyrs.” The border patrol shook his head and left the priest go on. Doc had a good laugh in the retelling of this story.

Doc said that he sleeps a lot, and when he goes to sleep he sleeps peacefully. He has no appetite; he cannot stomach this taste of food. He has difficulty breathing, and his lips get so dry that they sometimes stick to his teeth and then he can’t talk clearly. He said sincerely, “I wish that everyone could experience what I’m experiencing. There is nothing to be afraid of.” He had a friend who had not been to see him, and finally, a few days ago, the friend came by. He apologized to Doc for not coming to see him and said that he didn’t do it because he was afraid of death. He was afraid to sit with someone who is dying. Doc said to him, “But there is nothing to be afraid of. This is a wonderful experience. I wish everyone could experience what I’m experiencing.” Then Doc laughed. “And I guess they will!”

Doc expressed his gratitude to Andrea, Roger, Catherine, and Castillo, the four people whom he had in formation in the Confraternity of Penitents. He said that they will never know what love they shared with him and how much he enjoyed working with them. “They blessed me greatly by knowing them and corresponding with them.” He apologized for not being able to answer his emails and keep up with their correspondence now, but assured them that they are in his prayers and his love. He wanted to thank all of the Confraternity members and everyone else who has been praying for him. The fruits of your prayers are with him.

Doc repeated the bus analogy. “God, you know how to drive a lot better than I do so I’m going to sit back on the bus and let you do the driving.’ And I’ve done that ever since and it’s been a great ride.”

Doc is living what Father David Engo preached in a recent homily about death. Here are Father David’s thoughts:

Death is a mysterious thing. We don’t know how to deal with death. As a young man, I did not want to deal with death. I wanted to avoid it. Then one of my fellow novices in religious life fell victim to cancer, and I found myself around death more and more. My classmate was able to renew his solemn vows and then passed away that evening, but I was not able to go to the funeral. So the Guardian of the friary made me go to the grave and to reflect there on why I could not go to the funeral. Why was I afraid to deal with death?

And I came to realize that death began as an end to man but it is not an end any longer. Man had been lost, but God saved him by dying for his sin. Death ends the suffering of the world, it is a cure for suffering. It also prevents the person from sinning any longer. The goal of the Christian should be to enter death at God’s time and in God’s way and to realize that God makes death a holy experience when it is united with God himself. Death is something that is sacred and even longed for when it is in harmony with God’s will, with the death that God has chosen. Our prayer should be, “Lord, I choose the death that you have chosen for me.”

The Mass for the dead says that life is changed, not ended. Certainly we grieve when we lose a loved one because death shatters the order of love which we had experienced with others. We suffer the pain of separation. We should not feel guilty if we grieve. St. Padre Pio cried for three days when his mother died. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We can’t sugarcoat death. We feel the separation and pain, but in the midst of this there is hope.

We might ask ourselves: How do I view death? How do I experience it? We all must face death for ourselves and for others. We need to come to a reconciliation with death, understand that it is a gift, and look beyond it to the divine God who restores all things to life. We can understand that death is the remedy for sin and suffering, but it has been redeemed by Christ St. Francis, upon his deathbed said, “Welcome, Sister Death.”

It is amazing to be at the bedside of those who passed faithfully from life into the arms of God. Their faithful life affects the way they die. At the time of death, doctors need to step aside because only the priest can minister now. The priest can help open the door so that the deceased person may pass through to eternal life.

Let us pray for those who are dying and let us pray to choose the death that God has chosen for us. When out turn comes, may we die in peace with faith in Christ and his promise of eternal life.

Abundant Life

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who have surrendered their lives and wills to the love and care of God.

Each of us is invited to ponder what God has done for us. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. This is great news, and we are called to share this News in our lives with all the people we meet.

As Christians, we are invited to take the words of the Gospel to heart and by reflecting on them find the Light of Life. Bathed in this Light, we will be able to face all the afflictions of life with patience and constancy. Bathed in this Light, we shall embrace the trials of life with our hearts set on the heavenly kingdom, where love is made perfect.

Let us keep in mind these words that Saint Paul addressed to the church that gathered in Corinth, “The world as we know it and all it contains will pass away” (1 Cor. 7:31).

When Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spoke of His mission to the crowds, He said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

We are called to live this life in the midst of a culture of death that does not respect the dignity of the human person or value the precious gift of life. When Christ came into the world, He sprang from the heart of the loving Father so as to draw us back into communion with the living God and with one another.

The Giver of Life entered into our world to show all of us that sin and the consequences of sin do not contaminate Him nor do they hinder His power to redeem that which was lost.

The Word became Flesh to seek out people who were so caught up in their self-interests and concerns that they did not even know that they had cut themselves adrift on the sea of life.

The Only-begotten Son came into the world to speak a word of forgiveness and peace to people who had become resentful, angry and listless. We have only to recall these words written by Saint John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (Jn. 4: 10-11).

God seeks out the sinner and calls him back to the abundance of life for which he was created. God allows us to see ourselves for the sinners we are and permits us to abide in our misery so that we, moved by His grace, might cry out for His compassionate mercy.

We have the beautiful story Saint Matthew tells of the leper who approached Jesus. “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Matthew goes on to recount Jesus’ reply, “I do will it; be made clean” (Cf. Mat. 8: 2, 3).

God desires to give us every grace and blessing. In order to move us to take advantage of these blessings, God places a hunger in our souls, a longing for those things which alone can make us truly human.

God uses the misery we experience as a result of our sins to turn our attention to His mercy and loving kindness. God wants us to be truly human. In order to do this we must acknowledge Him as the Giver of all good gifts. Admitting our inadequacy and neediness, we throw ourselves into His open arms and depend on His providence.

Because we have received mercy, we can look upon our brothers and sisters with mercy and compassion. The Lord calls us to respond with love and respect for all, especially those who are in bondage to sin.
Please ponder these words taken from the Letter to the Corinthians, “Let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8).

Having heard the words of Jesus expressed to His disciples, let us choose the leaven of hope, the leaven of faith, and the leaven of love. Then we will share and feast on much better bread with each other in our worship, our witness, our service, and our community. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Do I Trust God?: A Reflection on 2 Samuel 24: 1-17

10Afterward, however, David regretted having numbered the people. David said to the LORD: “I have sinned grievously in what I have done.b Take away, LORD, your servant’s guilt, for I have acted very foolishly.”*11When David rose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying:12Go, tell David: Thus says the LORD: I am offering you three options; choose one of them, and I will give you that.13Gad then went to David to inform him. He asked: “Should three years of famine come upon your land; or three months of fleeing from your enemy while he pursues you; or is it to be three days of plague in your land? Now consider well: what answer am I to give to him who sent me?”c14David answered Gad: “I am greatly distressed. But let us fall into the hand of God, whose mercy is great, rather than into human hands.”15Thus David chose the plague. At the time of the wheat harvest it broke out among the people. The LORD sent plague over Israel from morning until the time appointed, and from Dan to Beer-sheba seventy thousand of the people died.16But when the angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD changed his mind about the calamity, and said to the angel causing the destruction among the people: Enough now! Stay your hand.d The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.e17When David saw the angel who was striking the people, he said to the LORD: “It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these sheep, what have they done? Strike me and my father’s family!” (2 Sam. 24: 1-17)

What’s the big deal about David counting the military men? Wouldn’t a king want to know how many troops he has? Why is God so upset that David counted his men? There are several reasons.

First, David could have been proud that Judah, the tribe to which he belonged, had 500,000 soldiers, whereas the other 11 tribes of Israel had 800,000 altogether. He could boast about his own tribe. However this is not the main reason that God was upset with David.

Secondly, the book of Numbers is filled with numbers of the people. So why is God upset that David is counting the people when one of the books in the Bible is all about numbers?

The issue involves trust. As David develops in his relationship with God, God expects more of him that he did earlier. David has gone through some very serious sins of adultery and murder, and God showed him that he forgave those sins and still loved David and kept his covenant with him. So David should’ve trusted that God would take care of him.

More is expected of those to whom more has been given. As David grows in his relationship with God, he is expected to grow in trust of God. Perhaps he trusted himself and his troops more than God. Maybe he was considering what battles he could win or if he could win them, and he wanted to know the number of troops in order to make this determination. God held David to a higher standard than other military leaders and kings, because God had shown David that he, God, could be trusted. When David went out to destroy Goliath with a slingshot and five stones, God gave him the victory. Then 40 years later, when David is returning from battle, the women sing, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his 10,000s.” This certainly indicated that the victory was God’s, not David’s.

David has a lack of trust that God could deliver him from his enemies no matter how many troops he has or how many troops the enemy has. Unlike the time when David sinned with Bathsheba, this time David feels guilty before the prophet comes to him. In the case of Bathsheba, and the killing of Uriah the Hittite, David did not recognize his sin until the prophet Nathan confronted him with it. In the situation of the census of his people, David recognizes his sin before the prophet Gad comes. David asks God for forgiveness, and then speaks to Gad who comes to tell David, “OK. God has forgiven you. But you don’t get off scott free. As a punishment, do you want a b or c?” David’s response is interesting. He says, “Let us fall by the hands of God rather than by the hands of men because God is the most merciful.”

David understood God’s mercy. He wrote about this mercy many times in the Psalms. David is writing from his own experience. He experiences a deep sense of sorrow in his heart, a sorrow for the suffering of his people. He had been protective of his people before, but now we see the compassion and tenderness he has toward his people.

David does not say, “I, the king have sinned” or “I, the leader, have sinned.” Rather he says, “I, the shepherd, have sinned.” By calling himself a shepherd, he may have been looking back to his childhood when he, as a shepherd used to watch his sheep and have to take care of them. At that time he would defend his flock by using a sling to ward off predators, and God protected his flock. David says that he killed a bear and a lion who were going to attack his flock, all by the grace of God. David sees the people as sheep who are vulnerable, gentle, unsuspecting. He feels a deep love for the people. This shows that he has a deeper understanding of God.

David says, “Punish me, not the sheep. I am the one who is guilty. I am the one who lost trust.” David is not just willing to fight for his people but also to suffer for those in his charge.

This passage from Scripture helps us to consider what God has done for us and the many graces that he has given to us. Are we responding to those graces? Am I worrying about things? Am I still lazy? Do I not put up a fight? Am I not responding to what God has done in my life? Am I not responding appropriately to God? Is my trust in God strong in comparison to what he has shown about trusting him in Scripture? My trust is so small compared to what I have seen. My failure to trust, my lack of trust is not in accord with what God has done in my life. Why is that?

Consider the mercy of God. Do I trust enough in God’s mercy? Do I trust God’s mercy, not my own ability, talent, work? Where is my heart? Am I willing to not only trust God but also love him and love my neighbor? Am I advancing in love of neighbor or do I just love myself? Do I think I am this, I am that, it’s all about me, or am I truly beginning to think about those whom the Lord has given me to care for and pray for? Do I want to not just fight for Christ but also to enter into suffering with him, to lay down my life for him?

What about those of us who are in religious life in the first, second, or third orders? Jesus told us that the good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. David said that he would rather be punished for the sake of the others. Wasn’t that an example of the good shepherd? The willingness to suffer penance for our sins, however that penance may come, all done out of the love of Jesus, shows our love for him and for the sheep. And I willing to give Jesus my all? Do I trust in God and in his mercy and in the love that he showed us on the cross?

-- Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father David Engo, FBM