Saturday, July 27, 2013

Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear reader,

I won't be able to make my usual Sunday post because I'm currently at the Steubenville North Conference with High Schoolers from our Cathedral.  I will however definitely have a post available on Wednesday for Thursday.

Peace and joy in Christ,
James Zahler

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Can you Drink the Chalice?

When I was younger, I would walk down my driveway, inspecting the milkweed that grew in the field next to
my house.  I would scour them, searching for half eaten leaves which indicated the presence of caterpillars.  I would take the critters home in a class jar, jammed full with more leaves and a couple sticks.  I watched the caterpillars grow larger until they made a little chrysalis on a stick in the jar.  Monarch caterpillars grow a think, green chrysalis, but if you wait patiently, the chrysalis thins and clears, and the orange-black wings of a butterfly appear.  Inside this that plain green shell, a beautiful work of art was being formed.

That’s exactly what St. Paul is talking about in the first reading when he says, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.”  Our fallen human nature is like an earthen vessel: plain, drab, and fragile.  Underneath this exterior covering is a growing treasure of grace.  Grace is God’s help and a share in God’s very own life.  Beneath our sinful selves, Jesus Christ is coming more and more alive.  A young monarch is coming to life under the chrysalis of our sin.

Grace changes us at the very core of our being.  It’s makes us children of God and able to love just as He taught us.  Without grace we are nothing.  We’re not able to live in the way that Jesus taught us.  Grace is a “surpassing power” from God and not from us which transforms us so that “we are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  Grace transforms us so that even when death is at work on our earthen vessels, Jesus Christ is coming alive in our hearts.

Let’s quickly switch to St. James, whose feast day we celebrate today.  In the Gospel, Jesus asks James, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”  Keep in mind, this is the same cup that Jesus, on the eve of His passion will ask the Father to take away from Him.  This is a cup of suffering and death.  Jesus is bold enough to ask James to drink from it.

When we approach the chalice of the Eucharist, Jesus asks us that same question.  “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”  What’s our answer going to be?  Are we going to despair because we’re an earthen vessel?  Or are we going to man up because we know that God has placed an inestimable treasure of grace in us?  God has given us the power to love Him unto the end.  This power will grow in us until we're willing to become martyrs for Jesus.  The question we have to ask ourselves is: are we going to choose to cooperate?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Better Part

Today, I want to extol the virtues of Mary and contrast her with her sister, Martha.  The Gospel tells us that Mary “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”  She was close to Him.  She trusted Him. She wasn’t afraid of Him, but sat at His feet listening to Him speak.  Mary was not a woman who wanted to be far away from Jesus or His teaching.  Rather she yearned for His doctrine.  She hung on every word and humbly opened herself up to receive that word.  St. Augustine says about Mary, “Now as was her humility in sitting at His feet, so much the more did she receive from him. For the waters pour down to the lowest part of the valley, but flow away from the rising of the hill.”  Mary recognized that Jesus had the words of eternal life, that Jesus had a wisdom which she needed, and opened herself up to received that wisdom.  Jesus gladly lavished it upon her.

Martha, on the other hand, was busy.  She was anxious.  She didn’t make the time for wisdom or for receiving the teaching of the Lord.  Jesus identifies the reason; she was anxious and worried about things that she didn’t need to worry about.  This invariably leads to sin.  Martha becomes prideful thinking that her sister is wronging her.  She becomes envious of her sister, declaring to Jesus Mary’s alleged faults and commanding Jesus to make her help.  When we let our anxiety about the world control us, we are brought down into sin.

So, are we more like Mary or Martha?  Do we take the time to read the Scriptures and study our Catholic faith in order to receive the wisdom of the Lord?  Or are we too busy?  Do we make time to pray every day so that we are close to Jesus?  Or are we too busy?  Are we resolute on coming to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation so that our hearts can be entirely filled with the Eucharistic presence of Jesus?  Or sometimes, are we just too busy and anxious about the world?  If we want to be like Mary, we need to make time for study, for prayer, and the sacraments.  These are the means by which we draw close to Jesus and listen to Him speak to us.

It’s easy to neglect our life of prayer and worship, but we need to stay focused on the better part Mary chose.  Jesus says “There is need of only one thing,” that is, to center one’s life on the words of Jesus.  We need to treasure our time with Jesus as the pearl of great price.  He needs to be the beginning and end of all that we do.  If we are faithful to this, no matter the trials and suffering it brings, then, one day Jesus well tell us that we have chosen the better part and that it will not be taken from us.  Our love for Jesus will console us for eternity.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The God of Jacob Has Sent Me To You

Last Saturday my sister got married.  In the morning my family was buzzing about and getting everything
ready for the celebration.  My mother appointed me to drive into town in order to pick up the cake and bring it to the banquet hall for the reception.  Along the way, I made a stop at Wal-Mart and on my way out of the store, I notice people at a table handing out materials about how to correctly interpret the Bible.  I got a little excited!  Too many people aren’t willing to talk about religion or their faith beliefs, so here was my opportunity to have an interesting conversation!  I strode over before asking them which denomination they represented.  They identified themselves as Jehovah Witnesses.  I told them that I was studying to be a Roman Catholic priest.  The conversation got interesting real fast.

There are two things I admire about the Jehovah Witnesses.  First, they’re willing to proclaim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from the roof tops.  They aren’t afraid to use words when necessary.  I admire that zeal for evangelization.  Second, they strongly affirm that God has personally revealed Himself to humanity even giving Moses His personal name by which he wants to be known.  In fact, that’s why they’re called Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Jehovah is their pronunciation of the Hebrew Yahweh.  They strongly affirm that God is knowable and personable.

But if the Jehovah Witnesses already believe in God, why should I go and talk with them and share with them my Catholic Faith?  Jehovah Witnesses and Catholics have very fundamental differences.  Catholics say that God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three persons in one God.  The Jehovah Witnesses deny that; they don’t think that Jesus Christ was God.  So why debate with the Jehovah Witnesses about the divinity of Jesus?  Because the Jehovah Witnesses believe that God is knowable and personable.

While the Incarnation makes God all the more transcendent and mysterious; it also makes Him all the more knowable.  That the Son of the Father could assume a human nature is incredible and incomprehensible.  At the same time, the Invisible Word of God, by the incarnation, is translated into a human language.  The personality of the Son takes a human expression that we can understand.  The truths of the Catholic faith complete and perfect the truths found in other religions and Christian denominations.  The Catholic Church contains the fullness of the truth for which every human heart is longing.  I tried to evangelize the Jehovah Witnesses because God has given me something to share with them.

This is exactly what’s happening when God reveals His name to Moses.  God reveals His name to Moses and then sends him to the Israelites so that they might worship the one, true God.  God gives Moses a truth to share so that Israel might have a more personal relationship with their heavenly Father.  As Christians, we are called to share, not simply the name of God, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.  Rather, he emptied Himself, taking the form of the slave… obedient to death, even death on the Cross” (Phil 2:6-8).  You see, God so loved the world that He gave His own life to redeem us.  We need to go out into the world and preach that love.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

For the Sake of Saving Lives

“It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you” Gen 45:6.  What Joseph’s brothers had meant as an evil God allowed as something good.  This is an important lesson.  Evil has no power to thwart God’s plans; rather God writes straight with crooked lines.  You want to sell you brother into slavery?  That’s not a problem. God already has a plan with how to deal with it.  Whether the evil you’re facing is sin or death, that’s not going to stop God.

Look at how God took care of Joseph.  He was sold into slavery abused by his master and thrown into prison, but God took care of him so that Joseph would be in the position to save people’s lives.  Joseph saved many lives, many Egyptians, and even those of his own family.  While Joseph didn’t know what God’s plan for him was.  He trusted that there was a plan.

In the Gospel reading for today, we see the same message.  Jesus tells His disciples (that means you and me) not to bring any money or a sack or any spare clothes or sandals or even a walking stick.  Rather, they have to entrust everything to God’s providence.  When God’s people are out doing God’s work, they don’t need to worry about how they’ll be taken care of.  They know that everything—everything—works for the good of those who love the Father.  So I put this question before you: how are you going to trust God today?  Are you going to trust Him with your finances?  Are you going to trust Him with your friends?  Find an area in your life, today, and entrust it to God.

And do this every day.  One thing I do every morning (and I’ll end my reflection with this) is to pray a simple prayer by Charles de Foucauld.  It goes like this “Father, I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will.  Whatever you do, I thank you.  I am ready for all; I accept all.  Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.  I ask for no more than this, O Lord.  Into your hands Lord I commend my Spirit.  I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord and so dearly wish to give of myself, to surrender myself into your hands, with boundless confidence for you are my Father.”