How do we express our repentance?

Jonah was a man of faith, a man who loved his God and His people. But, the fact that he hated evil more than he loved good meant that he had little faith in the power of repentance. So, he became a model of those of us, who forget the lesson of our own salvation: that we, like Jonah, often flee from God and do not do the things He asks us. Do we want to see our enemies destroyed? Or do we want to warn them of their peril and sincerely hope that they will respond, repent and turn from their evil ways? For Jonah, it took radical measures to convince him to respond to God’s call. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that for us! Instead, let’s get into the habit of trying to sense what God wants to say to us. It’s really not so hard. God has given all of us the gift of spiritual intuition. He wants to guide our lives. All we have to do is learn how to hear Him.

We see that finally Jonah takes the Word of the Lord out to the Ninevites, and before he is even a third of the way across the city, the King hears of it and declares all humans and beasts of Nineveh to take on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. The miracle here is not that they were spared by the Lord, but that the people of Nineveh actually listened to Jonah and took action to avert punishment. They knew the Truth when they heard it and acted upon it. It doesn’t matter how many signs we receive from the Lord — if we don’t watch for them (with our own eyes) and change our behaviors based upon them (with our own hearts and minds), then they do no good. Do we pay careful attention to warning signs? The Ninevites recognized God’s warning when Jonah spoke to them, and they repented. Jonah was God’s sign and his message was the message of a merciful God for the people of Nineveh.

When the Ninevites repented, they expressed their repentance by fasting, covering themselves with sackcloth, and sitting in ashes. They indicated “by their actions how they turned from their evil way”. We human beings must express ourselves in sensory ways, that is, we are sacramental. That’s why it’s important to go to Confession to a priest – a person you can see, hear, and touch. However, we human beings are not just a little sacramental; we are very sacramental. We must express ourselves in many sensory ways. In addition to Confession, we need fasting. In addition to fasting, we need sackcloth and ashes, or something like them. We need more than ashes on Ash Wednesday. A little dab of ashes won’t do us.

How do we express our repentance? This is a critical question. Because of the way we are, if we don’t express repentance, we may not be repentant. May this Lent be a re-discovery of penitential practices and our deepest selves.


“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

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Jesus presented God to His disciples as a personal, loving Father, in contrast to the common perception of the Jews at that time, who viewed Yahweh God as a distant authority figure, awesome and severe, who only communicated with their prophets. To the Jews at that time, this teaching of Jesus must have seemed too radical, or even bordering on blasphemy. But Jesus taught with such authority that His disciples followed His example, and the whole Christian world is the better for it. Thus, when we pray to God, we should feel His presence like a father listening to his child.

We can approach God confidently because He is waiting with arms wide open to receive His prodigal sons and daughters. That is why Jesus gave His disciples the perfect prayer that dares to call God, Our Father. This prayer teaches us how to ask God for the things we really need, the things that matter not only for the present but for eternity as well. We can approach God our Father with confidence and boldness because Christ has opened the way to heaven for us through His death and resurrection. When we ask God for help, He fortunately does not give us what we deserve. Instead, He responds with grace, mercy, and kindness. He is good and forgiving towards us, and He expects us to treat our neighbor the same. God has poured His love into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that love is like a refining fire – it purifies and burns away all prejudice, hatred, resentment, vengeance, and bitterness until there is nothing left but goodness and forgiveness towards those who cause us grief or harm.

At the same time, Jesus also taught us that we must acknowledge God as the King of all creation. He is the Ruler of our lives; thus we must subjugate our will to His will, and trust in all His plans for us. (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”) He is the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power”. It is with an attitude of deep reverence for His Holy Name that we should approach God in prayer. That is why Jesus taught us to say, “May Your Name be holy forever”. In this respect should we place ourselves in His holy Presence. The Lord’s Prayer has been used throughout the ages and is used throughout the world. It is the prayer we may have learned first as children. In this Prayer, Jesus seeks our closeness to God, our neighbors and the environment.

Jesus exhorts us to treat our neighbor as ourselves—‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.’ St Basil the Great challenges us further in very specific ways: ‘The bread you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat you guard under locks belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes; the silver you keep in a safe place belongs to the needy.’

Jesus goes on to teach us that it is not the amount of words, nor the time we spend, but faith that is important as we pray to our Father in heaven. This does not preclude spending an extended time in prayer. We see in the Gospels how Jesus spent whole nights in prayer. Nor does the teaching preclude the use of repetition in prayer as we do in the rosary, as long as we have the right intention and don’t look upon it as some sort of incantation. The most important part of the rosary is our meditation on the meditations in which we reflect on the lives of Jesus and Mary.

It is taken for granted that all Christians pray. You are more likely to find a living man who doesn’t breathe, as a living Christian who doesn’t pray. But, what are we praying for when we pray for God’s Kingdom to come? This Lord’s Prayer rules out any idea that the Kingdom of God is a purely heavenly reality. We pray that God’s Kingdom may come and we pray that God’s design will be done, earth as it is in heaven. Here are two things to remember: be in God’s word daily, for it will produce good fruit in your life; secondly we don’t need to worry, fret and or lengthen our prayers to God, for God knows what we need. Just say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” The prayer we learned as children is mostly about forgiveness, and this point is emphasized at the end of the Gospel reading. So, on this day let us chose to forgive that person who has hurt us, causing us to lose our peace. As children saying this prayer, we remember some of these words were big; and some of us have heard recordings of children tripping over them and making up new words. But, today as we say these words, may the Good Lord help us to own them, by choosing that person with whom our forgiveness is needed.

Pillar No.3: The Mass

Catholics worship God in a variety of ways, but the chief act of corporate or communal worship is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Eastern churches, Catholic and Orthodox, this is known as the Divine Liturgy; in the West, it is known as the Mass, an English word derived from the Latin text of the priest’s dismissal of the congregation at the end of the liturgy (“Ite, missa est.”).

Mass includes the Holy Eucharist, one of the seven Sacraments in the Catholic religion. The Eucharist is bread and wine that God transforms into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ during the Mass. For devout Catholics, the sacraments are important because they hold special religious meaning. Catechism, the church doctrine, expresses the importance of attending Mass and receiving the sacraments. Catholics also believe in the Ten Commandments, tenets from God that include a rule to keep the Sabbath day (Sunday) holy. Mass is a way to keep the Sabbath day holy since it includes the Eucharist. Throughout the centuries, the liturgy of the Church has taken a variety of regional and historical forms, but one thing has remained constant: The Mass has always been the central form of Catholic worship.

As far back as the Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul’s epistles, we find descriptions of the Christian community gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. In the catacombs in Rome, the tombs of martyrs were used as altars for the celebration of the earliest forms of the Mass, making the tie between the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, its re-presentation in the Mass, and the strengthening of the faith of Christians explicit.

Catholics gather in church to attend Mass because worshiping together as a group strengthens and professes their faith as Christians. As with any regularly scheduled event, attendance becomes routinized. Some Catholics go to Mass every day or every Sunday while others only go occasionally or on special holidays. Chances are that if a Catholic regularly attends Mass, he or she thinks the Mass is important. The opportunity to partake in the sacrament of Eucharist motivates Catholics to attend Mass.

The Mass represents the Last Supper, when Jesus broke bread and drank wine with His disciples. According to the Bible, Jesus instructed His disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine in order to remember Him. Catholics are also disciples of Jesus, so it is important for them to commemorate the Last Supper. Belief is the bottom line when it comes to why Mass is important to Catholics. People choose to practice Catholicism because they believe in the validity of the religion and its tenets. They believe the Mass is important and they practice the religion regularly to strengthen and maintain their beliefs. Mass isn’t important to all Catholics, but it is important to the ones who participate and attend regularly.

When we go to Mass we tell the world around us who we are and what we represent. Simply by going to Mass makes us all evangelists to our family, friends, neighbours and the community in which we live. Jesus says very clearly in His Gospels that anyone who stands up for Him before the world, He will stand up for us before God the Father . In the light of our life in eternity, what more could anyone ask, for so little effort on our part.

Attendance at Mass is not just simply joining in a social or community action taking place in a certain type of building. We are actually and formally worshiping God in a community setting. At this time we can thank Him for His many graces and favours to us over the past week and beg His indulgence for needs that are coming in our own lives and the lives of our family and community. Most of all, though, we can acknowledge our absolute dependence on Him. It is only by His grace and mercy that we get to draw our next breath, let alone anything else in our lives.

At Mass God is able to talk to us in a way that we will not find anywhere else. Through the prayers of the Mass itself, the scripture readings that change each day, and the sermon on Sundays, God is able to help, encourage and instruct us in a unique and personal way. Many times I have come away from Mass with a particular thought or phrase going through my mind, which usually and not surprisingly applies to something that is going on in my life at that time.

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When did we see you sick, or in prison?’

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“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”
Matthew 25

Today’s gospel is quite personal for Jesus as He identifies with the poor and marginalized. He doesn’t say they were hungry or they were sick or unwelcome. He says, I was hungry, naked, unwelcome and in prison. Jesus fully identifies with those who are hungry and on the margins. It gives us a message of humility as well as care. The message of this Gospel leads to a place of personal connection with the poor. “Humility is that downward mobility and it leads to a place of solidarity with the poor and the outcasts. There is no distance; it’s a one-ness.” Those of us who want to put a distance between ourselves and the struggling might say, ‘He was in jail and you visited him.’
The Lord continues His chain of commands by telling us to not stand by idly while our neighbor’s life is at stake. Jesus’ words have such power to them because in a few simple sentences, He gives us our marching orders as Christians. How are we to live? We should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, and visit the imprisoned. Jesus even goes so far as to assure us: “As often as you did it for one of My least brothers, you did it for Me.

As much as we might like to judge the parables, the parables, nonetheless, judge us by pointing out the consequences of the choices we make and the kind of life we choose to follow. Jesus’ parable of the separation of goats and sheep invites His audience to consider their lives in view of the age to come. Jesus teaches us a very important lesson about loving our neighbor and taking responsibility for others. God will judge us not only for the wrong we have done but also for what we have failed to do. Now is the time of God’s mercy, for seeking His help and grace to turn away from sin, and to walk in His way of love. We can love freely, generously, and unconditionally because God has already poured His love into our hearts through the gift and working of His Holy Spirit.

What kind of future are you preparing for? What about the life to come after our death? God puts in the heart of every living person the desire for unending life and happiness with Him. While death claims each of us at the appointed time, God gives us something which death cannot touch – His own divine life and sustaining power. We can either accept or reject the offer which God makes to us in Christ Jesus the Lord. The Day of the Lord will reveal what kind of life we have chosen for the age to come – a life of peace and joy with God or a life of misery and separation apart from God.

We are not to suppose that acts of bounty will entitle to eternal happiness. Good works done for God’s sake mark the character of Christians and are the effects of grace, bestowed on those who do good works. Thus, life and death, good and evil, are set before us, so that we may choose our way, and as we live in love and peace, so shall we die. As Christians, we know that we must serve the very least with our love and service. We should also welcome the participation of all people, who have a concerned heart for the poor of our world. It’s safe to say the Lord is trying to tell us something. He commands us to give sacrificially to the poor of our city and of the world. He calls us not just to give from our surplus but give till it hurts. He calls us to a radical change of lifestyle and to a life of Gospel simplicity. If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.

Dear Lord, you know that I have often failed to feed you and clothe you; that often I do not see you in other people, especially if they are in need. Give me the courage to follow you more closely this Lent. Let the weeks ahead be focused on those who need my food, healing and welcome. Let me love you by loving those you put in my path each day who need my help. Let me not hide behind the distance I want to put between those on the margins and myself.

What are the deserts in my life?

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The season of Lent draws us into the desert with our Lord. Jesus Himself invites us to the desert. The desert can be geographical – a place apart – or it can be psychological – a time of purification. One person described it: “God is a million light years away. He has simply disappeared.” Another said “God is in the desert. Don’t be afraid to enter there. He cannot be found anywhere else… He loves you and waits in the desert to embrace you and lead you home.” It seems that most people who make a breakthrough to greatness of one kind or another start with some sort of desert experience.

As Jesus was tempted in the desert so we will also be tempted. In the desert of emptiness and dryness and feeling that God is absent, we can be tempted to skip our meditation periods. We can rationalize that we will make it up later. Behind our rationalization lies a feeling of resentment. We are hurt. God seems to have let us down. We say to ourselves, “If I am generous enough to give God two half hours of my time in meditation each day, He could at least give me a little encouragement.” This is the self concern we are meant to leave behind in meditation. There is nothing we can do to force God to reveal Himself to us. Only the faithful repetition and the acceptance of the poverty of the Mantra will save us. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert learning the lesson that there was very little they could do to save themselves; the situation was fundamentally beyond their control and they had to place all their trust in a God who would provide for them and lead them on one day at a time. In our own desert experience and in the poverty and emptiness of our hearts we too have to learn to accept our state of helplessness so that God can fill us with Himself.

Everyone is tested, and everyone fails, but not all the time thanks to the help of the spirit. As human beings we are put to the test, but making use of the perfections of our humanity we overcame the evil one. In fact, it is necessary to be very alert spiritually, so that by living in a state of grace we may keep the enemy away. When we live by the desires of our flesh, our spirit is annihilated, we surrender to our passions and give ourselves to Satan, and we become his property. In the spirit we are tempted, but because we don’t accept that subtle encounter with our spirit, we dismiss it too quickly and do not discern the inner voice that helps us. We are then convinced by the devil to do his will, not the will of God. Once we get caught up in our sinfulness we only have one option in order to save ourselves: renounce Satan, renounce his evil ways, listen to the voice of our spirit, repent and come to the light again.

The disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-denial and almsgiving serve to focus our attention more accurately upon things that really matter in this life.
Jesus calls us to the conversion of heart that has us repent our sins and find forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. He invites us to take delight in the nourishment we receive from the table of His Word and the table of His Body and Blood. And through the grace that comes throughout the forty days of this sacred season, we are to be strengthened in body, mind and soul to live out our lives in His service: putting into practice the faith we believe as good and faithful stewards. “The time has come,” Jesus says. This is the season to make changes in our lives. This is the moment to turn away from sin and to embrace His way of life. This is the most important Lent of our lives.

Pillar No.2: Contemplation

The Dictionary defines contemplation as a thoughtful observation or study; a meditation on spiritual matters, especially as a form of devotion. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the idea of contemplation is so intimately connected with that of mystical theology that one cannot be clearly explained independent of the other.
Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at Him and He looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love Him and follow Him.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, contemplation is a form of prayer. What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” Contemplative prayer seeks Him “whom my soul loves.” It is Jesus, and in Him, the Father. We seek Him, because to desire Him is always the beginning of love, and we seek Him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of Him and to live in Him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord Himself. Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. In it the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” and we may be “grounded in love.”

It is true that human thought is creative, and it is definitely true that what we think, we become. If the goal of human existence is to become partakers in the divine nature, seems we should spend more than a little time contemplating the divine. Maybe there exist those who can ponder their innermost thoughts & attain to the divine essence whilst working at their desk with the phone ringing, or in line at the grocery store or in traffic, but the rest of us need silence. In order to live a “Christ-centered life” we have to put Christ and “the Good” in the center of our thoughts. As these are not the typical things we’re bombarded with each day in our culture, what can help us focus our thoughts? “The Classroom of Silence.” I agree that this silence is crucial to our spiritual life; in the silence we’ll find God and ourselves.
The problem of NOISE in our lives is so difficult, and it really does not allow us to hear the voice of God. I loved the quote from Screwtape – “we will make the whole universe a noise in the end.” Our “inner noise” is as much a problem, though, as the external noise of our culture and this is especially true for most of us. Much of the inner noise (duties, tasks, figuring out our responsibilities as Catholic citizens in the political and cultural battles) has its importance, but must be regularly set aside for quiet listening to God.

The enemy hates silence, so he fills our lives with as much noise & distraction & activity as possible. Therefore, unless you decide to change the pattern of your life , I doubt you will ever really find that time of silence; there’s always something to crowd it out. We are habitual creatures. Our habits – the actions that reflect our priorities & our world view – are the activities for which we regularly give our time. It is largely through our habits that we create ourselves. If our habits are for good, we grow in virtue; if for bad, we grow in vice. There is no neutral ground here; we are either climbing the mountain of God or falling back down.

Another consideration is receptivity. Even if we could dwell in the most remote desert cave, the silence would do little good if we make it only a monologue about ourselves – it must be a dialogue. Christians call this loving exchange prayer. God converses with us in the silence, but he is the only one who really has anything interesting to say, so we must be prepared to listen. But don’t be fooled. This is no ordinary, empty silence; it is a very active waiting, full of the power of God &, therefore, full of every possibility. It was in this silence that Mary received the angel & gave her fiat. Make it a habit to spend time with God in silence.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

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Are you ready to forsake all for Christ?

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In today’s gospel passage, Jesus meets a publican named Levi and He asks him to follow Him. Levi, better known as Matthew, responds generously and promptly to the call from Jesus. To celebrate and to show how appreciative he is for his vocation he gives a banquet. Levi left behind his job as a tax collector and followed Jesus. Tax collectors during Jesus’ time were perceived to be corrupt even up to now there is this perception. But even the most incorrigible sinner once touched by Jesus will leave behind his sinful life. Levi eventually became an apostle who wrote a Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.

This passage of the Gospel shows us that a vocation is something we should be very grateful for and happy about. If we see it only in terms of renunciation and giving things up, and not as a gift from God and something which will enhance us and redound to others’ benefit, we can easily become depressed, like the rich young man who, not wanting to give up his possession, went away sad. Matthew believes in quite the opposite way, as did the Magi who “when they saw the star rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” and who gave much more importance to adoring the new-born God than to all the inconveniences involved in traveling to see Him.

I and you are also called to follow Jesus. If, like Levi, you choose to follow Jesus, you will write the good news of Jesus. In fact, you will be the good news, “known and read by all men, written on your hearts”. You will be and preach good news to the poor. “The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; ‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you, ‘Restorer of ruined homesteads’ “.”You shall delight in the Lord”. He “will make you ride on the heights of the earth. You will be very good news.

What does it mean to “leave all and follow the Lord”? Bede the Venerable, a 7th century church Father comments: “By ‘follow’ He meant not so much the movement of feet as of the heart, the carrying out of a way of life. For one who says that he lives in Christ ought himself to walk just as He walked, not to aim at earthly things, not to pursue perishable gains, but to flee base praise, to embrace willingly the contempt of all that is worldly for the sake of heavenly glory, to do good to all, to inflict injuries upon no one in bitterness, to suffer patiently those injuries that come to oneself, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who oppress, never to seek one’s own glory but always God’s, and to uphold whatever helps one love heavenly things. This is what is meant by following Christ. In this way, disregarding earthly gains, Matthew attached himself to the band of followers of One who had no riches. For the Lord Himself, who outwardly called Matthew by a word, inwardly bestowed upon him the gift of an invisible impulse so that he was able to follow.” Are you ready to forsake all for Christ?

On the other hand, this story has a message that we should be able and willing to forgive all people, no matter how bad the thing that they did to us was. It speaks to the people today because too many people hold grudges against each other and it is affecting society, ruining relationships and making more loners each day. The key is to just forgive and forget and move on with life. The Pharisees that were present at this incident became concerned. They tried to challenge Jesus’ unorthodox behavior in eating with public sinners. Jesus’ defence was quite simple. A doctor doesn’t need to treat healthy people; instead he goes to those who are sick. Jesus likewise sought out those in the greatest need. A true physician seeks healing of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. Jesus came as the divine physician and good shepherd to care for His people and to restore them to wholeness of life. The orthodox were so preoccupied with their own practice of religion that they neglected to help the very people who needed the greatest care. Their religion was selfish because they didn’t want to have anything to do with people not like themselves. Jesus stated His mission in unequivocal terms: I came not to call the righteous, but to call sinners. When your neighbor stumbles through sin or ignorance, do you point the finger to criticize or do you lend a helping hand to lift him up? The prophet Isaiah tells us that God repays in kind. When we bless others, especially those who need spiritual as well and physical help, God in turn blesses us. Since this is how Jesus operates, the only way we can be saved is by admitting before God, in all simplicity, that we are sinners. “Jesus has no time for calculations, for astuteness, for the cruelty of cold hearts, for attractive but empty beauty. What He likes is the cheerfulness of a young heart, a simple step, a natural voice, clean eyes, attention to His affectionate word of advice. That is how He reigns in the soul”

Your invitation places challenging demands on me, Lord, demands that I have no hope of carrying out without your love and help. Your invitation does not allow me to run away from the world, but makes me confront it in all its goodness and sinfulness. I know I am weak and not up to the task on my own, but your words from are full of tenderness and reassure me that you will be there to guide me, to give me strength and to give me relief through all the difficult times and desert places I have to go through in following you. I pray, Lord, for the grace never to lose sight of your love for and support of me, so that I can respond to your call to follow you in every aspect of my life.