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June 23, 2019: Corpus Christi C

June 23, 2019: Corpus Christi C
"You fed your people with the food of angels; you gave them bread from heaven, alleluia."

It was winter of 2001 at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church. I was sitting in the sanctuary during a daily mass, altar serving for Fr. Phil Spano as a layman. I just returned from a very moving pilgrimage to Medjugorje, where I received a clear sense that God was asking me to consider the priesthood. I was still wrestling with a bit of selfish thought. 'What about marriage, career, and my parents? Why give up my dreams?'

When communion time began, an inexplicable feeling came over me. It was a desire, and it was not my own. As I saw a multitude of people coming up to Fr. Phil to receive the Holy Eucharist, I sensed a great desire by Someone to feed this multitude. They were hungry--not just for food, drink, health, security, beauty, truth, and peace. They were truly hungry for God. Through the Eucharist, God satisfied their deepest hunger, and I was privileged to feel a glimpse of God's desire.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, we marvel that the Lord wants to feed us to satisfy our deepest yearning. His yearning is that we share this Good News that Jesus desires to feed all with Himself. While not all can receive the Holy Eucharist, we can feed them with our compassion and mercy. St. Therese of Lisieux gives us simple advice on how to feed others: "Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love."

You satisfy the hungry heart
With gift of finest wheat
Come give to us, O Saving Lord
The Bread of Life to eat

As when the shepherd calls his sheep
They know and heed his voice
So when you call your family Lord
They follow and rejoice

With joyful lips, we sing to you
Our praise and gratitude
That you should count us worthy Lord
To share this Heavenly food

June 21, 2019: Do good, hoping for nothing in return

St. Therese of Lisieux:
Do good, hoping for nothing thereby, and your reward shall be great. 

We have our natural likes and dislikes. We feel drawn to one person and may be tempted to go out of our way to avoid another. Well, our Lord tells me that this last is the person I must love and pray for. “If you love only those that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.” Nor is it enough to love; we must prove our love. 

We take a natural delight in pleasing our friends, but this is not charity. Even sinners do the same. We cannot always, indeed, carry out to the letter the words of the gospel, for occasions arise when we are compelled to refuse a request. Yet when charity has taken deep root in our soul, it shows itself outwardly. 

There is always a way of refusing so graciously that the refusal affords as much pleasure as the gift itself. We must not avoid the importunate. Nor should we be kind for the sake of being considered so, nor in the hope that our kindness will be returned. “Do good hoping for nothing thereby, and your reward shall be great.” The divine precepts do assuredly run counter to our natural inclinations, and without the help of grace it would be impossible to understand them, much less put them into practice. 

Prayer: Loving Father, your precepts most certainly run counter to my natural inclinations, and without the help of grace, it would be impossible for me to understand them, much less put them into practice. My inclination is to love those who love me. But even the most sinful among us does this much. My inclination is to be kind for the sake of being considered so. But you ask more. I am inclined to be kind in the hope that my kindness will be returned. But you tell me that I must do good, hoping for no return. Come, then, my loving Father, you have been kind to me all my days; bless me still as this day ends and the night begins.

Simply Surrender: Based on the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux, by John Kirvan 

June 16, 2019: Holy Trinity C

June 16, 2019: Holy Trinity C
Audio Homily:

“Tell me about your family.” It’s one of the first questions that I ask a newly engaged couple as they prepare for their marriage. The question about our “family of origin”--the family that we grew up in--reveals much about how our family has shaped who we are, our values, our belief systems, and how we view ourselves. The bonds created in our family have an impact far beyond our childhood. With an engaged couple, I also like to ask, “Tell me in what ways does your fiance resemble his father or mother?” This discussion usually leads to surprising observations that the fiance may not have noticed about himself or herself. However, an outsider of a family may not be able to capture everything about the inner workings or dynamics of a family. It can only be revealed by a family member. You all have known me now for eight years. I can reveal to you that I get my mild, gentle, and go-along-to-get-along attitude from my father. But I also get the hot-tempered, impatient, and go-getter attitude from my mother. Many times these attitudes clash with each other. My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. It’s been interesting to notice over the years how much I’m like my dad and how much I’m like my mother. Sometimes I have to consciously dial-up or dial-down my dad’s or mom’s tendencies depending on situations. 

Where do we get this notion of a family? Our family identity is built right into the image of who we are from the very beginning of creation. The fact that God is triune--that is, consisting of three in one--is a great mystery. We cannot know this from logical deductions; it has to be revealed by God himself. From the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we learn God’s intention for his creation of human beings, “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen 1:26) Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites addressed God as their Father--”Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” (Deut 32:6) God is also like a mother as we read in Isaiah,“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” (Is 66:13) In our own human experience, our own father and mother stand for origin and authority, for what is protective and supportive. 

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to fully reveal to us what God the Father is really like. Jesus said to his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:5). In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus shows us the Father as a merciful father who is patient, understanding, and compassionate. Jesus teaches us to regard his Father as our Father and to address him as “our Father.” Our understanding of our earthly father and mother is limited to human experience; we will never grasp the depth of the love of the eternal Heavenly Father. 

The deeper mystery that Jesus reveals to us about his Father and the Holy Spirit is that God is love in his inner life. With eternal love, the Father begets the Son and both give themselves to each other in the Holy Spirit. That image is stamped right into our own human bodies. The profound love between a husband and a wife begets a child who is the fruit of self-giving love of the spouses. St. Augustine wrote, “Wherever there is Love, there is a trinity: a Lover, a beloved, and a fountain of Love.” With our baptism, communion, and confirmation, our lives are deeply intertwined with the love between the Three Persons of the Trinity. God desires the self-giving love He has for His Son, the sacrificial love His Son has for the Father to be born in our own love for others.  In our own human relationships, we may see a glimpse of this divine love, and at times the weakness of our human love. 

A challenging question that I ask an engaged couple is, “What aspect of your parents’ relationship do you want to emulate in your own marriage? What aspects of their relationship would you not rather repeat in your own marriage?” The same question can be asked to everyone. We all know the challenge from St. Paul, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7) In what ways can I improve the way I love my spouse, family, and neighbors?

June 13, 2019: St. Anthony of Padua

June 13, 2019: St. Anthony of Padua

He is a great help with more than just finding lost things!

By Philip Kosloski

Today (June 13) is the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan priest, who was famous for his preaching during the 13th century. However, he is more popularly known for his intercession when an item has been lost. He is often invoked with the prayer, “Tony, Tony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”
Saint Anthony is also known for the prayer of exorcism that he gave to a woman oppressed by a demon during a dream she had of the saint.

He is the author of numerous sermons, many of which have been preserved through the centuries. Because of his teachings and example, Saint Anthony was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

To help us appreciate the life of Saint Anthony (and not invoke him only when we lose our car keys) here are ten inspiring quotes from a true disciple of Saint Francis:

1) “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”

2) “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.”

3) “Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.”

4) “Solicitude for material things distracts the soul and divides it. The devil seizes the divided soul and drags it to hell.” **

5) “Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ just as travelers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey.”

6) “The spirit of humility is sweeter than honey, and those who nourish themselves with this honey produce sweet fruit.”

7) “Anyone, then, who desires to live chastely in Christ Jesus, must flee not only the mouse of lust, but even from its very scent.”

8)“The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.” **

9) “Damned money! Alas! How many religious did it blind! How many cloistered religious did it deceive! Money is the ‘droppings of birds’ that blinded the eyes of Tobit.”

10) “The saints are like the stars, who, in His providence, Christ hides under a seal, lest they appear whenever they wish. Instead, they are always ready to disembark from the quiet of contemplation into the works of mercy at the time decided upon by God, whenever their heart should hear the word of command.”

June 9, 2019: Pentecost C

June 9, 2019: Pentecost C
Audio Homily:

I would like for you to think about a period of nine years of your life that made a big difference in your life. Perhaps it was the first nine years after you graduated and entered the workforce, the first nine years of your marriage, the first nine years of your life as a parent, or the first nine years after the loss of a loved one. What joys, sorrows, triumphs, and setbacks do you recall? A lot of things can happen in a period of nine years of a person’s life that can change and transform the person for the better or for worse.

Well over a hundred years ago on a Sunday afternoon, Therese Martin, a 14-year-old teenager, asked her dad if they could have a talk. It was the Feast of Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 1887. Therese begged her father to grant permission for her to enter the Discalced Carmelite Order to become a cloistered nun. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the young teenager with the desire to serve God through a religious order also inspired her elderly father with courage and trust to allow his daughter to leave his side and enter a convent. Therese was accepted by the Carmel Order in Lisieux near Normandy and she stayed there until she died nine years later, at the age of 24. Although she lived and worked behind the cloistered walls of the convent, and from a secular view did nothing outstanding, she was eventually declared a saint, universal patron of the missions, and a Doctor of the Church. What happened to her in those short nine years that transformed her into a saint? Can that kind of transformation happen to us?

For St. Therese the length of time or her own effort is not what transformed her into a saint. She was transformed by the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. She, like many of us, may not have been aware of the work of the Holy Spirit. In order to understand how an ordinary person is transformed by the Holy Spirit, we must go back to the very beginning--back to the Book of Genesis.

In the Book of Genesis Chapter 2, we read that God prepared a Garden of Eden to place in it the crowning jewel of his creation, a man and a woman. In verse 7 we read, “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Each of us received the “Breath” of God’s Spirit from the very beginning of our life. We not only need the Breath of God to exist, but we also need the Spirit of God to recreate us into sons and daughters of God, preparing us to spend eternity with Heavenly Father. For this purpose, Jesus became one of us to transform and elevate our fallen human nature to the divine temple of God capable of being filled with the Holy Spirit. After Jesus rose from the dead, he came among his disciples in the Upper Room and “breathed” on them saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Once the disciples were filled with the living Spirit of God in the Upper Room, they were no longer to stay and wait. Jesus sent them out to the world as he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Just as the apostles were sent out on the greatest mission ever, we too are sent out in the world, commissioned by Jesus and filled with the “Living Breath” of God. Our transformation starts with a simple desire—a desire to love and serve God with our whole being. While we may think that we can’t accomplish great spiritual feats that saints such as St. Therese, Mother Teresa, John Paul, and Padre Pio accomplished, God who breathed His Spirit in the Apostles and saints also breathed His Spirit into us. We may never be recognized as canonized saints in the Church, but we will be saints in the way we live our lives and carry on the mission of Jesus. We have not received a spirit of fear, but the mighty Breath of God who transformed little souls who accomplished great things for God by their love for God. While Jesus waits for us in Heaven, at the same time he remains with each of us through the indwelling Holy Spirit that we received at our baptism and confirmation. Each of us, through the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, are instruments of Jesus’ presence--his kindness, patience, compassion, and mercy. We pray this day - and every day - that the fire of the Holy Spirit continues to transform us so that this earthly kingdom will be a kingdom of God’s mercy and charity.

June 2, 2019: Ascension of the Lord C

June 2, 2019: Ascension of the Lord C

For those of you who still receive a printed newspaper, you know it’s a chore sometimes to walk out to the driveway early in the morning and retrieve a poorly thrown newspaper from the wet grass. Wouldn’t it be nice if the paper was right there by the front door when you went to get it? For some of the neighbors of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Denham Springs, every morning they’ll find their newspaper delivered right to their door, thanks to Fr. Frank Uter. Fr. Frank has a daily routine of waking up around 4am, praying his morning prayers, and walking a three-mile route around the church. While walking, he ponders about the plans for the day, prays for the persons to whom he will visit, and places newspapers on the doorsteps of parishioners who live around the church. Recently, at his 50th anniversary mass of his ordination, Fr. Frank reflected about his 50 years as a priest. He said that he never asked for a particular parish assignment; rather, he always said yes wherever the bishop asked him to go. Over the past 50 years, he said he was ministered to and affirmed by the very parishioners to whom he ministered.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus’ departure from his disciples and ascension to the right side of the Heavenly Father marked the end of his earthly mission and a new beginning for his disciples. His ascension did not mean that Jesus had abandoned his disciples; rather, Jesus would be present to his disciples in a new way—while invisible to their senses, he is at the right hand of the Father interceding and walking with each of his disciples. He told his disciples to wait patiently until he sent them the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith and commitment. We - the disciples - are to follow Our Lord wherever he goes; in time we will follow Jesus to his Father’s home. His ascension to His Father side reminds us that we have no lasting home on this side of the earth. We are a stranger and pilgrim while on earth and we will not have rest until we are united with Christ in Heaven.

Fr. Frank shared one time that when he was called upon by bishop to move to one parish, only weeks later due to uncontrollable circumstances, the bishop asked if he would go elsewhere instead of the original assignment. Fr. Frank was free and willing to go wherever and whenever, so he did not have difficulty changing course midway. He said in one interview, “Control is an illusion… You can set up a schedule so you can make use of your time, but you have to be ready and understand that you are not in control of your time.” Indeed, as Fr. Frank said, time belongs to God. We are to be available wherever, whenever, and to whomever God sends us. We are not to cling onto passing things of this earth—health, wealth, comfort. We are to fix our minds on what God has in plan for us, praying that we may not resist God’s assignment for us. We are not alone in carrying out God’s work; Jesus is right here with us in a new way to assist, to encourage, and guide our each step.

Our Lord invites us to lift up our hearts to seek always things that are above and not preoccupied with things of earth. The most important thing we can do on earth is to be a witness and an instrument of Jesus. To believe in the Ascension of the Lord, to believe in the birth, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ is life changing for us; no longer are we free-agents for ourselves. Rather, each of us is the very presence of Jesus through our faith and action. Fr. Frank explained at his anniversary mass that wherever he was assigned, he was the presence of Jesus in the lives of the parishioners just as much as parishioners were Jesus to him. In what way can we be the presence of Jesus for our family and workplace?

May 31, 2019: Feast of Visitation

May 31, 2019: Feast of Visitation

We should write our own Magnificat

Mary, newly pregnant with our Lord, traveled 70-some miles of rough territory to help her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. Both pregnancies were miraculous, and both involved key figures in salvation history: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
When the two women meet, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her womb the second he heard Mary’s voice. In that single moment, our Lord was revealed as the Savior and his cousin became the herald of his coming.
But there’s another moment in the Visitation narrative, the significance of which I believe we often miss.
It’s the Magnificat, or The Canticle of Mary.

After greeting Elizabeth, and humbly accepting her words of veneration, Mary speaks this prayer of praise, greatness, and power.
But, it’s not her own praise, greatness, and power to which she’s referring. It’s God’s.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever. (Lk 1:46-55)

As is the case in every instance of her life, Mary pointed away from herself and toward God.

The Magnificat is all at once a history lesson, song of praise, and prophetic message. In it, Mary lauded the magnificent things God has done for his people throughout the centuries. She praised him for his might, wisdom and goodness. Then, she accepted the incredible responsibility God had given her – to be called blessed by every generation henceforth.
All without giving herself one iota of credit.
This is exactly how we should conduct ourselves as well.

Of course, we’re not bound to have every generation call us blessed as Mary is. Yet, in similar fashion, God has done great things for us in our lives and has endowed us with his favor and bestowed on us a specific position and responsibility in salvation history.
Because of that, we have our very own Magnificat.

Each one of us has a heritage and history of how God has worked in our life, how he has cared for us and protected us in the past, and how he has led us to where we are at right now. If we look back, we can name occasion after occasion in which he showered us with his mercy and guided us with the strength of his arm.

Each one of us has a long list of gifts, abilities, qualities, and characteristics that are uniquely ours and for which we not only can, but must give praise to God. We are all blessed by God, individually and unequivocally.

The problem is, we seldom stop to take all of this into account.
If we did consider these things as Mary did, we could write our own Magnificat, our own prayer of praise, thanksgiving, and awareness of what God has done for us and what we can do for him in return.

That would be an interesting meditation for this Feast of the Visitation, don’t you agree?
I think that, if you sat down to write your own Magnificat, you’d be amazed at all that God has done for you, with you, and through you in your lifetime. You’d also be amazed at the potential for what he can and will do in the future. And as with Mary, you’d realize that everything, always, points to God.

May 26, 2019: 6th Sunday Easter C

May 26, 2019: 6th Sunday Easter C
Did you know that Donaldsonville is the home of one of the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States? The wooden building, now in use as an Ace Hardware store, was built in 1872 by Congregation Bikur Cholim. During the 19th century, many Jewish persons in and around Germany including French speaking Jews from the borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France settled on the Mississippi River, establishing themselves as merchants and storekeepers. During that time, a Jewish person would have greeted a fellow Jew with the word, “Shalom,” meaning peace and the other person would have responded, “Aleichem Shalom,” meaning ‘upon you peace.’ The Jewish word ‘Shalom’ does not simply mean absence of war, friction, quarrel, and strife. “Shalom” is taken from the root word ‘shalam,’ which speaks of completeness, fullness, or wholeness that encourages you to give back or generously repay in someway. So when you greet someone or say goodbye with “Shalom,” you are literally saying, “may you be full of well-being” or, “may health and prosperity be upon you.”

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure from them. As his Passion and death loomed, Jesus encouraged his disciples to prove their love for him by their loyalty and obedience to his word. They would not be left alone; he promised the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as their help and guide. Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (‘Shalom Hashem’ I leave with you, my ‘Shalom’ I give to you) Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid...The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.” Soon after the arrest and death of Jesus, the small, fledgling Church would shudder under fear of the unknown future. 

Similarly today’s disciples also face challenges that makes them anxious and worried. As Christians we accept that we face trials, suffering and death. Just this month, several Catholics and a priest were martyred in Africa; this follows a string of terrorism on Catholics and Christians the past few months, including arbitrary demolishing of Catholic churches by the communist government in China. We pray that we never face that kind of challenge. However, we each face difficulties such as illnesses, aging parents, addiction, loss of job or broken relationships. We must always remember the Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit is with us to grant us shalom--wholeness, completeness, and fullness in our soul--in the midst of difficulties. St. Teresa of Avila, a saint who was no stranger to grave illness and personal trials, composed a simple encouragement for her religious sisters: 

Let nothing disturb you / Let nothing frighten you / All things are passing away: God never changes / Patience obtains all things / Whoever has God lacks nothing / God alone suffices.

Within us is the Holy Spirit who lends us God’s strength and hope to radiate God’s peace in our own hearts, our family, and community. Patience, St. Teresa said, obtains all things. Courage and fortitude during times of disturbance and fear lead to the ultimate reality that God is our reality who never changes or leaves us. 

I imagine that the small Jewish community of Donaldsonville faced much change and hardship over the years-- economic and population boom and bust, and a shrinking congregation. In 1940, the small Jewish congregation of Bikur Cholim finally disbanded and closed its door to the synagogue. While the small Jewish cemetery on the corner of St. Patrick Street and Marchand Drive is a visible reminder of their past presence in our community, the faith of their descendents in our community continues to live on because God whom they worshipped continues His presence among us. The Holy Spirit whom Heavenly Father sent to the hearts of the faithful in Donaldsonville continues to work through each generation of disciples of Christ. Each of us today is called to be instruments of God’s shalom; we are to radiate His joy, blessing, and hope in both in the good and bad times of our lives. Who can separate us from the love and peace of Christ, except our own fear and distrust in Our Lord?

May 13, 2019: Our Lady of Fatima

May 13, 2019: Our Lady of Fatima

"Are you willing to offer yourselves to God?" With this boldness a Lady, more brilliant than the sun, breaks out, on May 13, 1917, and enters into the lives of three children in the Cova da Iria. For six months, every 13th, the Virgin Mary will renew this invitation, on base of which the three shepherds will become humble witnesses of God's heart, in the complexity of a suffering world.

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” (M 175)

The spontaneous fiat of the shephers, 'the Lady welcomed [...] as the first fruits of her Message "(CVM 36), is confirmed by the Virgin with an intense light that penetrated the innermost dephts of the children, making them see themselves" in God, who was that light"(M 175). This light, in which they will also be immersed in June, will prepare them to welcome the Secret revealed to them in July: in a succession of images unveiled by Our Lady, the little shepherds grasp the idea that God's heart is caring for the human history; that sin consists in being indifferent to God's heart; that God is merciful and is always in search of man entangled in his dramas and misfortunes; and that those who embrace the light of God's heart are invited to participate, by prayer and sacrifice, in His care for humanity.

On the first immersion in that light, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, still savoring the echoes of the depth they had experienced, decided not to tell anything of what happened. But Jacinta, strongly affected by the beauty of the Lady and full of an irrepressible joy, cannot refrain herself. She is the first herald and messenger of this newfound divine joy communicated by the Lady. And like the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24,32) who, in front of the paschal mystery, had a burning feeling in the chest, she will confess to her friends: "I had inside me something that would not let me be silent" (M 45).

The news of the apparitions of the Lady of the Rosary soon will make its way. And the number of those who, as pilgrims, come to the Cova da Iria will certainly increase; and so the children will have much to suffer at the hands of those who doubted or opposed them. Already in the first encounter, almost as if to confirm the children fiat, the Lady had assured them that they would have much to suffer. As was the case with prophets (Jer 1:19), the vocation of the little shepherds accepts suffering as an integral part of their mission. They will be, for many, accused of fraud and greed. Even their own families, except perhaps the father of Francisco and Jacinta, fear they are spreading a lie and are afraid for their life. At home, and everywhere, they are subjected to visits and to incessant and strenuous interrogations.

But the greatest trial and affliction would occur on August 13. On the morning of that day, the children are surprised by the visit of the Municipality of Ourém Adminitrator, a well-known mason and freethinker. After having questioned them in their home and at the rectory, because he wanted at all costs to know the secret they insisted on keeping concealed, the Administrator, in a tricky and deceitful way, proposes to lead them to the the Cova da Iria, but in fact conveys them to Ourem. There he insists on pressing the kids to unveil their secret, and even reached the point of locking them, for a while, in  a cell with other prisoners, and of uttering the threat of making them fry in olive oil. Francisco's innocent reply radiates peace and joy: “If they kill us, it’s all the same! We’ll go to Heaven!”(M 146).

Handed back to their parents on August 15, they will encounter the White Lady on the 19th, in Valinhos, and in September and October, in the Cova da Iria. A large crowd gather in this last apparition – thirsty for God or simply curious - and witness a sign, as the Lady had promised. But for the children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the last encounter becomes a permanent reminder that they are called to transform their lives into a blessing (Gen. 12.2).

"I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15)

The life of the shepherd children no more ceased to be paced and measured by God's heart. The fiat uttered to the Lady more brilliant than the sun was constantly renewed by the innocent desire of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta to intensify in their lives the passionate affection for God. The presence of God became, for them, sacred ground and, like Moses, barefoot in front of the burning bush (Ex 3.2-12), their intimacy is transmuted into an act of adoration in the presence of that inner light, which is God, which burns without consuming. That's the ineffable secret strengthening them. This Sacred Bush burning in their chest awakens them, as once did to Moses, for the mission of caring for those who live in the slavery of sin and ingratitude. And so, in sight of all others, they are the presence of God's light and also, before God, mediators in behalf of all others. Their lives become a constant offering of everything they are and do – however slight – for the love of God and in favour of sinners.

Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia's lives assume this vocation, that is inseparably contemplative, compassionate and announcing. But each of them will take on, with a particular and greater accent, the specific nature of their calling.

Francisco, moved by his inner eye sensitive to the Spirit's light, listens to the call to worship and contemplation. Sometimes, he took refuge behind a rock or on top of the mountain to pray alone. Other times, he remained in the parish church, for long hours, in the intimacy of silence, to keep company with Jesus hidden in the tabernacle. There he persisted in prayer, thinking about God, absorbed in the contemplation of the unfathomable mystery of God who comes to meet man. Francisco, and only he, with the eyes of his heart, becomes aware of the sadness of God before the suffering of the world, suffers from it and wants to comfort Him (M 145). The little shepherd, who had not heard both the Angel and Mary, but had only seen them, is the most contemplative of the three children. In his life, it is almost as if contemplation springs from attentive listening to silence that speaks of God, to silence in which God speaks. Francisco's contemplative disposition consists in letting himself to be inhabited by the unspeakable presence of God – “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how!” (M 142) - and this presence was to be transfigured into prayerful reception of the others. In Francisco comes to the fore a life of contemplation.

Little Jacinta translates the joy, purity and generosity of faith, welcomed as an offering of God's heart, and difused through the chores and trifles of her life as a simple girl, into a sacrifice acceptable to God (Romans 12, 1) in behalf of humanity. The force with which the divine light broke in and invaded her child's life seizes her definitely with a new dynamic and ardent desire of sharing her joy. The purity of her mirthful heart longs and wants that everyone may enjoy, grateful and pure, the presence and the gladness of God's heart. This eagerness to share the ardent love she felt for the hearts of Jesus and Mary made her grow and become solicitous for sinners. All the small details of her grazing day, all the discomforts of the unending questionings and interrogations to which she was subject, all the distresses of her illness were an occasion and motive of an offering to God for the conversion of sinners. Other times, she shared her food with the poor, offering this abstinence in sacrifice, as a sign of giving her life for the love of God and humanity. This pray and suffering for love "was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else» (M 61). Her joy was to live immersed in the love of the suffering Christ, in the manner of St. Paul: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church "(Col 1:24). The fire she had in her chest radiated and would, certainly, expand inasmuch as it  did not contagiate, through the theological dynamics of prayer and sacrifice, all men and women, particularly the ungrateful ones, that is, all those who do not welcome the grace. Jacinta's vocation is compassion.

Lucia welcomes the mission to evangelize, to make known the good news of God's mercy, responding to the merciful God's desire to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (M 175). Early and in good time Lucia understands that in the core of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is the transforming power of God's mercy. And there she discovers her vocation to be a living memorial of the "greatness of the Divine Mercy" (M 190). In a way similar to Israel, called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49.6), Lucy's life becomes a living testimony of the designs of mercy that God has for humanity. From her humble life as shepherdness until the closure of her religious consecration, Lucia is the witness who quenches herself in order that light of the Secret of God's mercy shine without interruption, as already definitively revealed by the Son and remembered at Fatima. In her we can catch a glimpse of the faithful witness of a gift, that is accepted and offered to the world.

May 12, 2019: 4th Sunday Easter C

May 12, 2019: 4th Sunday Easter C
This is a season when many mothers face empty nest as their children graduate and “fly away” to colleges or enter workforce. Some mothers posted online what they are telling their sons and daughters as they depart for their new adventures: Call your mother, or at least text your mother; Only spend what you have...being broke in college or anywhere after high school is a rite of passage; Show gratitude to all of those people who have gotten you to where you are today… don’t look down on anyone unless you are helping them up; Don’t let your room get to the point where it looks like an episode of “Hoarders.” How much these mom’s advice stick depends on how well they decide to listen. As our graduates embark on their new journey, there is one advice that will help ground them firmly on their faith: your one desire should be that you want and choose what better leads you to a deeper relationship with God.

To want and choose that which leads us into a deeper relationship with
Our Heavenly Father means that we must recognize the voice and the presence of Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, in the ordinary choices we face every day. We the disciples of Jesus are the faithful sheep that belongs to Jesus and listen to his guiding voice. Granted, it is not easy to listen to his voice in today’s environment. We get distracted by things around us--swirling desires pull us in all sorts of directions. Only listening attentively in prayer will we hear what our Good Shepherd has to say to us.  

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." So Dan asked the question in another way and said, "Well then, what does God say?"  Mother Teresa smiled and said, "He listens." Dan was confused and didn’t know what to say. Mother added, "And if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you." In prayer two friends listen attentively to each other; it’s not a one way communication. God listens to us attentively like a Good Shepherd, listening to our deepest desires and yearnings. We in turn listen, not just say lots of words. We listen for his thirst for love of us. Perhaps if we listen attentively, we will hear the following:

“I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter. I come - longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts.” (Fr. Joseph Langford, “I thirst for you”)

When we truly listen to Jesus in prayer, we will gradually want and choose what matters most to Heavenly Father. We will deepen our desire to satiate Jesus’ thirst for us. Rather than impulsively go and do whatever we want, we instead desire to heed Jesus’ call to us, “follow me,” to go where Our Shepherd wants us to go. For our young people graduating, in due time you will encounter persons you are attracted to marry. Or perhaps, you will feel an attraction to a consecrated life to priesthood or religious life. In these attractions, one must pray deeply to hear the genuine invitation from Our Good Shepherd to follow His lead rather than to be swept away by emotions. By your prayerful discernment, you will be participating in an adventure which the Lord has in plan for you.

There is no greater joy than to risk one’s life for the Lord. We ask our Good Shepherd to give us a heart and ears open to His call. When he calls us to follow His path, we need to trust Him and not yield to our fears and preferences. Like the disciples who left their nets and boat behind when they were called, when we trust the Lord’s invitation and follow Him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can satiate our deepest yearnings.