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Lk 21:12-19 The Never-Ending History of Christian Persecution

Wednesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings) 

By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“’They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.’”
In the comfort of a developed country, with friends and family sitting in our pews on a Sunday morning, listening to a homily that assures us God’s love, Catholics in the Western world have a difficult time understanding Jesus’ warnings of persecution and physical death. So much of it seems like needlessfearmongering, conspiracy theory, and irrational fundamentalism.
Perhaps Jesus’ disciples living in the oppressiveRoman Empire, which often killed its problems rather than solved them, as well as living with an increasingly desperate Jewish Nationalist sect, the Sanhedrin, who was also willing to use force to advance its agenda, would prompt Jesus to state the obvious: becoming Christian will put the believer at odds with his neighbors. Nothing less than God’s own Holy Spirit could empower new believers to face such adversity. Nothing less than John’s revelation of Christ’s return could instill such hope into Christian who knew that torture and death awaited him. Nothing less than Jesus’ prophecies and later His resurrection could counter the leviathan of the world. Such difficult times called for difficult words, and this explains Jesus’ warnings.
Nevertheless, these words still apply throughout the ages. The first three centuries of the Roman Empire witnessed the torture and death of thousands of Christians. Even after Christianity became the state religion, the Arian heresy acted as the oriflamme of persecutors who set their sights on eliminatingorthodox Christians for the next three centuries.
After Rome declined in the West, Muslim armies from the east soon swamped the Mediterranean and nearly all of Europe, slaughtering Christians or enslaving them while endangering Christendom for nearly a millennium. Pagans like the Huns, the Mongols, and the Vikings also joined in attacking Christians during this time.
At the tail end of Muslim hegemony, which ruled over most of the Eastern hemisphere with the exception of Western Europe, the Protestant Reformation arose, breaking up Christendom with bloody wars and national rivalries would last indefinitely and lead to renewed persecutions and divisions.
With the religious wars casting the shadow of skepticism over religion in general, political movements such as socialism, nationalism, fascism, or some other ideology promising heaven on earth soon led persecutions against the church once more. Whenever a revolution or civil war broke out (i.e. the French Revolution, the English Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Bolshevik Revolution, etc.),Catholics would lose no matter which side won.
Today, the tradition of persecuting Christians still holds strong, for even if new threats to the Churchsprout up, the old ones tend to linger and sometimes even worsen in their terror. The Muslim world continues to viciously persecute Christians with impunity. Nationalists and Socialists in Asia continue to brutalize Christians without a murmur from the media. Although not physically militant, skeptics and secularists in the West openly defy and marginalize the Church through deceit and mass scandalAs a result, many Christians in the West have succumbed to ignorance, vice, and delusion. The world goes up in flames, and we laugh, doubting its reality as we create our own. At least those who suffer a physical death because of their faith can look forward to a heavenly reward; those who trade away their baptismal birthright for uninhibited dissolution—like Esau trading away his birthright for a bowl of redstew—have nothing to hope for after the party ends.
As usual, Jesus speaks for all times, not just His own. This is a fallen world, and the cross neverdisappears. Until He comes again with His angels, Catholics will have to endure the adversity of the world. Seeking the good, the true, the beautiful will separate us from the majority, who seek the bad, the false, and the ugly. Even when offered as a choice, one good and one evil, the former often proves too difficult while the latter proves so easy. Persecution is easier than conversion; ignorance is easier than wisdom; hatred is easier than love. As long as this remains true, devout Catholics will have enemies in their midst, both inside and outside the Church, for even “parents, brothers, relatives, and friends” will become hostile.
Fortunately, God will come to out aid if we let Him. Jesus, the Word Himself, will supply the words of our defense. He will inform (and reform) our hearts, if not our minds, with the Truth. He will save those who stay with him and persevere for His sake. For this, we should be happy, even grateful. In our faith, we have hope, and in our hope we can truly love. Our enemies cannot make such a claim. Our struggle will end, and in this struggle we will find true joy, but their struggle never ends, and, after so muchpleasure-seeking and ridicule, they will inevitablyfind true sadness.

Lk 21:5-11 Stones Thrown

Tuesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will…

Lk 21:1-4 Big Rewards with Small Coins

Monday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.A small boy with a massive tumor….

Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse 2014-11-24 11:53:00

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
Over this past summer, one of my friends went on a long hiking trip.  Every time he goes on one of these trips, he wears a dog tag with a verse from Scripture on the back—Philippians 4:13. However, before this past trip, he mistakenly told me that the verse was Philippians 4:12, so I looked it up. It says, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”  

What is St. Paul saying in this verse? He is not merely recounting his past wealth or bragging about his spiritual might; in fact, in Philippians 4:13, he claims that he could not have lived well without God’s assistance:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Instead, St. Paul is saying that he found just as much difficulty in living in prosperity as he did in humility. He needed the same assistance of Christ to live out his vocation in both seasons of his life.

How is this? How did St. Paul, who was eventually imprisoned and beheaded for his faith, find the same struggling in wealth as in his persecution? The truth is that comfort is a great temptation against faith. It breeds belief in self-sufficiency. It breeds complacency. But it’s not just the super-wealthy that are tempted to complacency. The truth is, unless you are travelling all across the world and evangelizing like St. Paul, you are probably tempted to complacency every day.
What is complacency? Simply put, it’s the temptation to say to ourselves that we are good in our current station of life. We don’t need to pray more, strive more, act more. We are fine. What a terrible lie, but what a tempting one!

How many times have we gone to Mass to simply fulfill an obligation? Like the wealthy men in the Gospel reading, we put in one houbut not a minute more, lest it should interfere with our comfortable Sunday. Two weeks ago, a family member was baptized in a very large Baptist church in the area. It is not uncommon for service at that church to last for an hour and a half to two hours, or more. I have to admit that I could not find it within myself to be attentive for the whole service. One of my Catholic family members upon leaving the church joked, “I like being a Catholic because our services are one and done”—of course, referring to the length of the Mass. I have to admit that I laughed, but upon further reflection, how sad! If our Masses were two hours long, would we go as easily? Could we spare another hour of our time for the man who spent much more than an hour living and dying for us?

Or think about complacency in prayer. We say prayer before meals, and maybe upon rising and before going to sleep. But can we find motivation to pray more? And if we do, can we sustain it, even when it seems to be inconvenient or even unfruitful?

How do we serve others? Do we give just enough to satisfy our guilt, or do we give entirely of ourselves like the widow did? I have told this story before in a previous blog post, so if you have already read it, bear with me. In my English class this year, our teacher had us watch a speech by a woman who risked everything to start a small company that gives microloans to impoverished business owners in Asia and Africa (usually women who sell things they make, small farmers, etc.). She said that before she resolved to take a risk and do more, she was simply throwing money in donation jars to satisfy her own guilt. Her service was mostly motivated by selfishness, or a sense that she was obligated to give. We have all been there, much like the wealthy men in this Gospel reading who only give to fulfill an obligation—NEVER sacrificing their own comfort. John Paul II once said that our lives only find meaning when they are poured out for another. Do we believe it? Can we do more than the bare minimum in our service to others? Could we give of our very livelihood in service? These are great aspirations, but we must know how to live them out. We must learn how to fight complacency and truly give what is due to God.

Teenagers or students who may be reading—never get too busy for the important things; namely, prayer, your family, and your community. I am slightly biased, but I think complacency is easiest to fall into in this stage of life. Everything in our culture says that we should be working towards our own comfort and success. Unless we give ourselves to God through prayer and service, we will look back and find that we are slipping down a slippery slope.

Mothers and fathers who may be reading—never forget how important your job is. I have been greatly blessed in my life with incredible parents who give of themselves every day for me.  Now that I am getting closer to leaving home, I have been getting more sentimental than I would like to admit. When I look back through the years, I realize that I owe everything I have and everything that I am to my parents (well, to God first, but through them– you understand). Parents, you have blank canvases before you in your children. The way you live your vocation as a parent will determine the way your children will live their vocation as Christians. Don’t do the bare minimum for the faith of your family. Don’t just take your kids to Mass on Sunday and be done—talk with them about how God has worked in your life as a family, and pray together. Mother Teresa said that world peace begins in the family. How right is she!

We need to be on our guard against complacency. We need to get rid of the bare minimum mentality. Today, let’s ask God to help us, because we need His help in all things.

Mt 25:31-46 The Best Who Served The Rest

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe(Click here for readings)Jesus said to his disciples:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will…

Lk 19:45-48 My Body, His Temple

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary(Click here for readings)Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have ma…

Lk 19:11-28 The Good Manager

Wednesday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
The first came forward and said,
Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
You, take charge of five cities.’
Very often, when people devote themselves to a career or a big project, they focus the product but often fail to think about the result of that product, whether their bosses will reward their labor or not. In a few cases, success will land them a promotion, or a raise, or extra vacation time, but more often their success will simply lead to a pat on the back and even more work. Younger employees always fall into this trap, going above and beyond to impress their bosses only to have additional workloads, but the seasoned employees often know better and keep a low profile in order to keep their workload to a minimum.
In an unjust, but very common, ironic twist, many bad employees are sooner promoted over good ones because the latter are more valuable to the company at the lower level than they are at a higher one. Schools will often work this way, keeping their talented teachers in the classroom while promoting the mediocre teachers to positions of administration. After all, if a school has talented teachers, the administrators do not need to do all that much except attend meetings and fill out paperwork, something any average person could do. Unfortunately, these average paper-pushers earn much more money and receive much more respect than the pedagogical geniuses of the classroom. This dynamic has created a huge problem in American education. Great teachers will do one of three things: they stop teaching and find a career that rewards their ability; they purposely stifle their excellence and pursue a promotion that will take them away from the classroom and compensate them better; or, most often, they will do amazing things for a few years, burn out, and quit the profession altogether. Bad teachers will usually stay because they figured out a way to as little as possible and still keep their job.
Far from giving more to those who have, schools (and probably many other organizations) take from those who have and give to those who have not. Besides internalizing spiritual implications, people might do well to understand Jesus’ words in a practical sense. School districts could pay their teachers, the people who actually work with the students, more, and they could pay their principles, the people who work the paperwork, less. Moreover, good teachers could earn even more for doing especially well with their classes. And since secretaries and paraprofessionals handle most of the paperwork, and administering discipline is simply a matter of following predetermined protocol, the school could easily let go many of its principals, superintendents, and all the unseen education bureaucrats in the administration buildings, and replace them with more efficient grading software, new copy machines, and maybe some ping pong tables for the teachers’ lounge. In such a case, Jesus’ wisdom could finally shine: “I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Teachers who have ability will have more, and those who cannot, or do not, teach will either quit or be demoted to administration.
Jesus’ parable of the three servants draws a parallel between management and discipleship. The nobleman rewards his first two servants, but punishes the the third. The first two servants follow their master’s command to “engage in trade” with the money he gives them; this means that they must enter the world, create, sell, and manage so that they can make a profit. In their effort to gain a profit, they invest themselves in the gift of their master. Not only do they grow richer since their master rewards them, they also grow as people because they have learned to successfully manage and acquire wealth—in a way, they have become masters themselves.
The third servant, and the people who despise the nobleman from the beginning, do not have anything to offer except excuses. Instead of growing like the first two enterprising servants, they shrink in their own pettiness and envy. The third servant, in accounting for his utter laziness, mutters the excuse of every mediocre imbecile: “you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.” Compounding his failure with defiance, the third servant actually criticizes the master for even expecting something from him—one could translate his reply as, “I’m not paid enough to do any kind of work.” Not even repentant for his failure, the servant still feels entitled to his master’s mercy. Unlike the slave who follows a perverted justice that compensates dullards like himself, the master executes true justice to suit the third servant’s response: “Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.” Like a good manager, he rewards excellence and punishes failure.
On the surface, this parable seems to suggest that Jesus lacks sympathy for the poor and only wants to make the rich richer, but the details and context lead to a different interpretation.  The servants were not rich, and they received their capital with the same request made to them. The first two became rich through hard work and obedience; the third one became poor through indolence and disobedience. In terms of discipleship, the first two servants resemble the saints who worked hard through prayer, fasting, and alms-giving and obeyed Christ’s teachings to convert nonbelievers, while the third servant resembles the growing mass of lackadaisical believers who feel entitled to the sacraments and salvation without lifting a finger. Obviously, the first group will bring souls to God as they themselves grow closer to God while the second group does precisely the opposite.
Therefore, Christ, the good manager as well as the good shepherd, must elevate the first group and humiliate the second one. In keeping with this judgment, leaders of the Church and leaders of the family (and the leaders of schools) have a responsibility to do the same with their own members. To do otherwise would inevitably lead to corruption of the whole institution.
In the end, as Christians, we are all Christ’s servants and we have a choice to work and obey, or not. Fortunately, Christ is a loving master and makes it clear what we should choose.

Lk 19:1-10 Seek N’ Save

Tuesday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

By JENNIFER BURGIN

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
 “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he!”   This song comes to mind every time I read the familiar story of Zacchaeus in the Sycamore tree.  I remember as a child spending summers at a Baptist day care center, sitting through boring Wednesday chapel service.  My repetitive yawning and occasional roll of the eyes kept me more fully engaged.  I somewhat enjoyed singing songs like “Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man” or “Jesus Loves Me” but the preaching was automatic tune-out material.  At the end of the long sermon, we’d be invited to stand up at the front to “Be Saved!”  There was the normal uncomfortable, dead silence.  Most of the kids were saved anyway, so I didn’t understand the reason for a weekly invitation.  Every now and then a brave young soul ventured up to the front.  I understood the “real” reason why.  If a kid proclaimed that Jesus saved him, he received tons of attention!  In fact, other kids would smile and pat him on the back; kids who never paid attention on a normal day suddenly noticed him.  It was a clever attention-seeking mechanism.  Of course, stardom was only short lived….  
I often wondered how many kids were truly “saved” and believed in Jesus Christ or just pretended to be “saved” in order to get brownie points with the staff…..
I felt somewhat like Zacchaeus — a wee little girl.  Too short in height, I climbed up the tree trying to see Jesus.  I just couldn’t find him!  I climbed higher and higher.  Where are you, Jesus?  I know you are here!  All I could see was a fog of fakeness and a sea of hypocrisy in the child care center I was “dropped off” at each day.  Jesus was in my heart; I knew that for a fact.  I believed in him; however, I couldn’t quite see the Lord among the haziness of memorized scripture verses and uninspiring sermons by non-ordained ministers. I trembled in fear on top of the Sycamore tree’s wavering branch.  Would I ever feel connected to the Lord like all of these others who have been “saved?  Would I have the courage to seek the Lord out? I always had a funny feeling that the Southern Baptistidea of faith just wasn’t for me.
 I hate to admit this, but I resented my mother for making me go to that daycare every day.  Later I understood she simply had no other choice as a single mom.  It was her best option. She never found out, until I became an adult, about the bullies.  If kids weren’t bullying me then they just ignored me.  Most of the children played sports.  I lacked athletic ability, but I could definitely beat them at board games!   
Short in stature but big in heart  Some of the smallest people have hearts of gold.  They may be short in stature, quiet and shy, but they love big.  They see the good in everybody and everything.  People may snub them because they aren’t as tall or sophisticated.  They may even be hated  because they stand for things that others don’t like.  Certainly, Zacchaeus wasn’t a very popular guy around town.  Tax collectors were known to charge higher rates and then pocket the difference.  They accumulated vast wealth at the expense of the poor. 
Zacchaeus knew he wasn’t well loved by the people; yet, he was curious about Jesus.  If I sought him out would he save me?  Would he forgive me where others just shame me? I’ll stay up in this tree, away from the people.  I fear what the Lord will think of me.  Will he recognize me and call me out?
Low and behold, Jesus discovers the wee little man up in that Sycamore tree.  Not very many grown men hang out in trees!  Jesus calls out to him and Zacchaeus repents!  The wee little man is so impressed with the Lord that he’s willing to give up all of his possessions and redistribute his wealth to the poor.  Now this is a conversion worth a huge pat on the back and a round of applause!  
Seek N’ Save  Kids of my generation (the good old 1980′s) played with Speak N’ Spells.  Our parents shopped and bagged their own groceries at neighborhood Sack & Save supermarkets.  It never occurred to me until I was much older the need to Seek N’ Save.  Seek out God on a daily basis; seek Him out in our homes, work places, and places of worship.  When we seek God, we rediscover bits and pieces of our lost selves.  God saves these fragments in hopes that we will utilize them as we grow wiser in the faith.  For me, I’ve learned to forgive the daycare bullies and love them as children of God.  I’ve learned to respect those with different religious viewpoints.  Best of all, through years of seeking out God, and finding the Catholic Church, I finally understood the true meaning of being saved.  Christ died on the cross for our salvation.  God forgives us over and over again; he loves us that much!
This meditation was written by Jennifer Burgin.  Please follow her blog:  Jennifer’s Spectrum of Spirituality

Lk 19:1-10 The Untold Story

Tuesday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)By. FATHER ALFONSE NAZZAROJesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.  Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man…

Lk 18:35-43 The Dumb Question

Monday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

By KIM ELENEZ

Many of you probably grew up in a Catholic house. Lots of family, life structured in and around the church. Someone, a parent perhaps, taught you how to read a hymn and what to do during mass. I did not. I grew up in a loving home, although church was not a part of our lives. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, which were each more a celebration of gift giving than of God’s majesty. Please don’t feel bad for me. The good part was ahead.

 
As Jesus approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
 
In today’s gospel, we hear the story of the blind man who’s faith saved him. I love this story! For I, too, was the blind one. For years I sat on the side of the road, asking myself “where are all these people going?”. Puzzled I would do my best to watch and see, but I was blind. I was too proud and insecure to inquire about what was happening. So instead, I walked around thinking I would fake until I make it. Surely I can figure out where all these people are going if I just observe enough!
 
I was afraid to ask the simplest question, because if I did they would know that I didn’t have the answer. My ignorance would expose me. I would be embarrassed and ashamed. Little did I know that this dumb question was the single most important question any human can ask, because the answer will save your life. The answer is Jesus Christ.  Such a simple question with a simple answer, yet so complex for our human brains.
 
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
 
I went on like this for years, playing with various non-Catholic churches on my own, until my husband introduced me to Catholicism. There I learned that not only is it important to ask questions, but it is our duty to do so as we glorify God. The Catholic Church has given us the gift of the Catechism, so all these questions have a resource. It can be heady stuff, but it’s all right there. I recently heard a speaker refer to the Catechism as a guidebook for humans. Yep, sounds right.
 
Jesus had been in my life all my life, but I refused to humble myself to see Him there. My lack of education and abundance of pride and insecurity kept me from asking and re-asking those people the question – what is happening over there?
 
Please keep this in mind when talking to your non-Catholic or fallen-away Catholic friends and family. They simply don’t know what’s happening; they are blind. And don’t think that just giving them the Catechism will do the job. More likely they will need to personally experience Christ, then they will be able to appreciate the comfort of all that He teaches.
 
And don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions for yourself (hint: the old saying is true, there are no dumb questions!). Humble yourself and put your vulnerability on the line. Because once we do, perhaps we will starting asking the really good questions like – “what do you want me to do for you, Lord?”.
 
 
 
This meditation was written by Kim Elenez, wife, mother and media executive in Raleigh, NC. Kim converted to Catholicism in 2012.

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