Author Archive

Lk 12:29-53 Setting The Earth On Fire

Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)Jesus said to his disciples:  “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”Set the earth on fire.  Did your fire die out long ago?&nb…

Lk 12:39-48 Reflections on Teaching English to the Best and Brightest

Wednesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Teaching an AP English class, I have the opportunity to work with the school’s most talented and motivated students each year. Because my class focuses mainly on writing, which reflects one’s thinking, I also have the unique perspective of seeing these students’ thoughts. Whether an essay prompt concerns the relationship between certainty and doubt or the morality behind offering incentives for charity, a unique pattern of reasoning and values will always filter through their essays. Some students work through the prompt like a math problem, speedily moving through a logical sequence without much analysis or nuance. Others let their imaginations roam through the many mental associations they have made on the subject, and spiral their way through an essay until their thoughts converge on a focused claim. Unfortunately, the rest of the students usually have little to say on the subject: they have no opinion, no curiosity, and no background.
For the rest of the year, I usually work on improving these types since almost no student comes into the class as a ready-made writer. I try to show the logicians how to elaborate their points, ease their transitions, and consider a deeper way of thinking about the subject in general. For the dreamers, I have to give them various grammatical and compositional structures to hold their ideas in place and give them coherence. For the raw majority, I simply have to break their mental silence with constant practice and flood their empty caves of thought with every piece of relevant content I can find. For any problem with writing (and there are many), I have a handout and prepared lecture; for any gap in general knowledge, I have an essay and list of writers for further reading; for any flippant dismissal of writing, I have powerful arguments and a loud voice to refute them.
By God’s grace, many students make significant improvements in their writing and, more importantly, in their thinking. They enter the class as children sheltered from any real thought about anything outside themselves, yet leave the class as young adults prepared to engage the ideas around them. They can think through their decisions because they realize that thought involves more than a knee-jerk impulse or hunch. They can talk with adults because they can now adapt their thinking to others and ask relevant questions to develop a conversation. Finally, these students can now take a certain amount of joy in thinking and expression now that they have a certain measure of competence.
In the past, this achievement alone would content me. As a teacher, I had succeeded in all the meaningful ways. My students have earned their AP credit, learned the necessary skills, and can now follow their dreams. Although I still feel this way to some extent, I have now started worrying about less academic matters. They have fine minds and great potential, but what does this mean if they have nothing in their hearts?
I normally have to keep this concern to myself because public schools and most parents think teachers should remain morally neutral—or empty, depending on how one looks at it—and treat their students as products rolling down an assembly line. After I affix the proper equipment and input the proper sequences at my station, the students move on to a destination that I never really have the chance to see. I have made the students a little more human, albeit in a rather mechanical way, but what for? Where do they go? I always hope that they will go on to find God, find their neighbor, and love them both; yet I know, based on my conversations with them, that they go on to find the World, find themselves, and love nothing. They do not see their education as a gift, something that liberates their mind and frees their heart; they rather see it as a set of marketable skills in an already glutted marketplace. Instead of rising above the grind of working and consuming, they become further entrenched in it, competing for petty honors and empty pleasures. I helped along in their journey, but they were going the wrong way all along.
In my own quiet way, I try to help my students find a Catholic alternative, sometimes mentioning a feast day (today is Sts. Celine and Viator, by the way), discussing Catholic history, referencing a rhetorical strategy that I heard in a priest’s homily, or offering a Catholic perspective on issues that sometime arise. I pray in the “moment of silence” and cross myself at the conclusion of that tiny oasis of silence and reflection. I embrace my job despite its many crosses and its modest compensation, and try to communicate the hidden joys that come from learning and helping others. I could add that what I teach and what I do helps brings me closer to God, but I might lose my job if I say that. A few students notice this, but most of them already have their courses fixed on the star of apparent success. Even though they are not even old enough to vote, they still have enough wisdom to somehow pity me in my idealism.
Pitied or not, I choose to rest in my idealism confident in my Savior’s words. As I read, as I write, as I teach, I “draw joyfully from the springs of salvation.” His words are truth and endure forever, and I must follow them as well as I can. Jesus expects this of me and every other disciple. He also expects these bright young people to bring God into the world and make life better for all His creatures. Jesus expects them to use their talents and gifts to care for those in need, not enter the rat race and pretend that death does not exist. Obviously, their minds need instruction; perhaps less obviously, their hearts need Jesus. If we truly loved our young people, as Jesus loves them, we would teach them how to love before anything else.

Lk 12:39-48 Be Prepared

Wednesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be sure of this:

if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
 A few weeks ago I received an unexpected phone call from my grandfather. He voiced concern because he had not yet received my monthly loan payment.  I looked at my online checking account, noticing the check cleared. Upon further investigation, I discovered the check had been endorsed by someone other than my grandfather!  It was a very bad forgery.  To this day we don’t know if the check was stolen by someone in the Post Office or someone who received the wrong mail in his mailbox.  Sending checks through the mail for years, this was the first time something like this has happened.  Fortunately, within a short time the bank reimbursed the stolen funds.  Still I will always wonder, “How did this happen? How can a similar incident be prevented in the future?”
We must always be prepared.  We never know when something will strike us out of the norm. A severe thunderstorm may leave us out of electricity for days.  A sudden illness may leave us out of work for weeks. Our houses may be flooded or damaged by a fire leaving us homeless for months while rebuilding is underway……
At an hour we do not expect, the Lord may decide to take us from this earth.  Our death is determined, but we don’t know exactly the number of years we have.  It may be a short span, like when we lose a child, or a great number of years like those lived by a centenarian.
How can we better prepare ourselves for when “life happens”?  How can we better prepare ourselves for when our time is up on earth?  How can we better prepare ourselves for when the Son of Man returns?
Pray Not baby, wimpy, superficial prayers but heartfelt prayers from the inner soul!  Prayer unites us with God in ways that adore him, thank him, and honor him.  Amazing how when we pray we begin to discover ways we can help ourselves as well as others.  Prayer “prepares” us for the future because we become more aware of our surroundings.  We may “smell” when things aren’t going right.  Perhaps temptation is wrapping its arms around us.  But, a healthy prayer life can stop sin dead in its tracks.  Pray the rosary.  Pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Pray during the work commute.  When bored with nothing to do, turn to Jesus in prayer!
Frequent Confession and Communion A second powerful way of preparing our soul for the Kingdom of Heaven, and our minds for life’s challenges, is through frequent confession and Holy Communion. Personally, I try to go to confession on a monthly basis.  If I don’t have any mortal sins, I have no problems confessing venial sins I battle daily.  When it comes to Holy Communion, I find daily reception is the best even though it does not always work in my busy schedule.  If I can make one weekday mass and then every Sunday mass I’m set.  I’ve discovered that confession and communion give me the strength in preparation for what life sends my way.  I’ve had a host of annoyances happen this past month (i.e. the stolen check) but don’t think of them in an over-dramatic way.  I know God is aware of the situations and will provide relief in due course time.
Humbly Serve Others When we make an effort to help others, we better prepare ourselves to share eternity with Jesus in heaven.  He loves when we look after the widow and the orphan.  He smiles when we reach out to help the poor, the suffering and the neglected.  As we emulate Christ in His Way, Truth and Light, our souls benefit from the outpouring of graces.  Giving to others takes us out of ourselves. Serving others, without expecting anything in return, demonstrates our authentic witness as a disciple of Christ.  We wish for people we serve to make it into heaven along with us.
Take a moment to reflect on how well-prepared you are when life happens. Do you take it in stride with God by your side, or do you complain and fret not knowing what to do?  Preparation of the mind, heart and soul isn’t a difficult task.  It takes discipline and a change of thinking.  When we place God front center in our lives, we better prepare our souls for Heaven.
“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
― Saint Pope John Paul II, Pray for Us!

Lk 12:35-38 Turning The Tables

Tuesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)By FR. ALFONSE NAZZAROJesus said to his disciples:  “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return.”Gird your loins!  We hea…

Lk 12:13-21 Be On Your Guard

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)

“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
This is one of the “tough” Gospels that gets the congregation squirming a little bit in their pews, but I don’t think it should be that way. What I see when I read this Gospel is an honest reflection of human nature, still entirely overshadowed by the mercy and protection of God.
But first, I want to tell a story about a timely comment that someone made to me. Yesterday, I went to work at the hospice, but my coordinator was out sick unexpectedly, so I had no clerical work to do and no list of things to get done.  When this happens, I have gotten in the habit of visiting one of my favorite patients. Although he is only a bit older than my father, he is terminally ill, and by doctor’s predictions, he should have passed away a few months ago. However, he is astoundingly almost always in good spirits. He is one of those people that just shines—that kind of person that remembers everyone’s name, goes out of his way to make others feel welcomed, and always smiles no matter what is going on. I remember one time (this is a tangent but a necessary one) he was having a rough day pain-wise, but as I was leaving his room, he got up out of bed and came down the hall to ask me if I wanted to bring home some extra iced tea that his son had brought him. Yes—he is just that kind of person. I think we all know one.
But back to the story—yesterday, I was in his room and he was in more pain than I had ever seen him in before. He was trying to be in good spirits, but looked to be tired and would drift in and out of sleep.  He told me about how the night before a family member had taken him to a movie, but he had fallen asleep. Sixty dollars in tickets and food—he lamented—wasted. But yet, he smiled. He said something that I didn’t really understand, but I feel like it applies here, roughly: “Those things don’t matter to me anymore… I have already said goodbye to those things, and I am ready for them to pass away.”
One’s life does not consist of possessions.” In the dying people that I have gotten to know, one thing has stood out to me: there is a very distinct divide in their minds between what still matters and what no longer matters. Possessions, wealth, or nice nights out nearly always fall on the side of what doesn’t matter.Being comfortable, materially or physically, falls by the wayside. Physical appearance doesn’t matter. The only things that still matter are the things that would have mattered to Jesus Christ: family, community, faith, spending quality time with others, etc. The superficial passes away.
“You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” We like to think we are immortal. As a teenager, I am tempted by that thought all the time. I may as well stay out really late and skip out on that family dinner, right? My family will still be there some time down the road when I need them, right? The temptation is to push all the important things to “later” and “store up” superficial things for now. As a teenager, self-image, popularity, and academic things can quickly become “stored up” while the family is left sitting at home for a later date when it’s time to settle down and start caring.
“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”We live under the assumption that we will have time in our life to turn away from the superficial and begin to value things. There will always be tomorrow, right? I remember when I used to fight with my older sister (usually over who got to wear the cutest thing in the closet), my mom would always tell me,someday you will realize how important sisters are.” She turned out to be absolutely right. But why do we live under the assumption that that ‘someday’ will come? Why can’t we just begin to live for what is truly valuable today? Why don’t we stop counting our worth in possessions and other fleeting things?
Maybe it is because we don’t trust that God can provide for us. Maybe we are afraid that the things of true value are “messy.”Maybe we think we have to do it all for ourselves. But remember, as the first reading today says, “… by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of Godit is not from works, so no one may boast. Sometimes we forget that God is great at giving gifts. Clearly he must be, if he gives us our salvation. Let’s pray that we can begin to trust Him more, and put aside things that don’t matter for those that truly do.
This all reminds me of a very catchy song. Please excuse the late-nineties vibe the music video may give you, but I deemed that the message was greater than the negative hairstyle memories it may bring back.

Gal 5:18-25 The Spiritual Life

Wednesday of the Twenty–Eighth Week in Ordinary Time 
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Those who deny the spirit usually do so in order to dismiss the good that comes with the life of spirit. The allure of the flesh drives their mind to adopt the necessary logic to justify their skepticism. As Paul says in Philippians 3:19, Their God is their stomach.” In most cases, their appetites, not their minds, direct their course through life and all good things eventually fall by the wayside while every evil thing crops up on the horizon.
In the struggle for holiness, no one should  imagine that it is a conflict of mind over the body—the body will win every time—but rather is a conflict of the soul with the flesh. The very force that works upon the mind and the will, one’s own spirit, must subdue the other force that can do the same, one’s body. While not inherently evil, the body can open the forces of evil into one’s life if not controlled. Like an ignorant mob instigating a reign of prejudice and terror that tears apart the history and culture of a nation, the unbridled impulses of the body can decimate the nobler parts of a man. The life of the spirit properly contains these hordes and channels their energy towards more constructive ends. The spiritual individual can truly regain his humanity and adopt the virtues that Paul speaks of: “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Unfortunately, the soul often loses in its struggle with the body. After all, the body has the world on its side while the soul has God, whom many people foolishly choose to ignore. The lonely soldier that fights for the soul easily succumbs to the throng of armies fighting for the body. Neutrality does not exist in the battlefield of the one’s self: either the spirit rules or the flesh does; any wavering on this point inevitably favors the latter.
At first the victory of the flesh over the soul feels wonderful. One can sin with utter abandonment, delighting in the pleasures of the world. Jettisoning the burden of self-sacrifice and personal growth, the sinner can live like a child again except with the strength and spending-power of an adult. Anything seems possible in those early period of the flesh: relationships, food, politics, and entertainment all serve as perfectly fine idols to worship. All one has to do is have these things at hand forever until they die in perfect ignorant bliss. To this end, human progress has made great strides in supplying the spiritually impoverished with all the bodily goods they could possibly want.
However, these goods, these friendly ubiquitous idols, suffer the same fate as the bodies they satisfy: they grow old and pass away. Lust does not last, nor does gluttony, nor does vanity, nor does sloth. They peak, and then they fade, leaving a person empty. The body which triumphed in its success now struggles to continue as its kingdom declines. It desperately clutches some new source of joy or pleasure even to the point of enduring great suffering, much like an old despot starving his own people and brutalizing any opposition just to remain in power. By their very nature, these pleasures quickly degenerate into division, enmity, mediocrity, and desolation. Nothing but corruption can result from selfishness.
By contrast, the spiritual life brings about spiritual goods, the goods that last. Through His grace, God confers these gifts upon men from within. They, like the spirit, endure forever and require nothing from the world; hence, the world spurns the spiritual life and constantly denies its existence. Rather than dividing people and stoking hatred, these spiritual goods bring people together in true sincere manner. Far from encouraging mediocrity and self-indulgence, the spiritual life nurtures personal excellence and “self-control.”
St. Theresa of Avila, whose feast day the Church celebrates today, strove for this life of the spirit for much of her life. All of a sudden the spiritual life brought about all the goods that Paul mentions. Theresa personally discovered what grace lay in the life of the spirit that so many Christians took for granted. Illuminated by God, she created many new monasteries, reformed her own order, and wrote many crucial works on the spiritual life and the many barriers that prevented its full adoption. She demonstrated that the life of a Christian means pursuing this life of the spirit, and that a life of the spirit is ultimately a life that never ends.

Retreat Week

Please keep me in your prayers this week. I’m on retreat. :) Fr Alfonse

Gal 5:18-25 Guided By The Spirit

Wednesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Brothers and sisters: If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like…..In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Teresa of Avila, a Virgin and Doctor of the Church instrumental in reforming the Carmelite Order.  I love this quote from the Spanish mystic:
“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given toyou. May you be content knowing that you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and everyone of you.”   
 Saint Teresa’s beautiful words resonate as I reflect on how we are guided by the Holy Spirit.   Many times we ignore the Spirit’s prodding, choosing to do morally objectionable things through our own selfish will.   We fail to recognize how “works of the flesh” harm our souls as well relationships with others.  We lose an inner peace that Our Lord desperately wants to bless us with. Stubborn sinfulness is all too pervasive throughout mankind.
We feel instant attraction to forbidden fruit.  (As the saying goes, we want what we cannot have!)  We lust after attractive men or women often to the point of treating them as objects, using them for our own gratification.  We idolize everything from movie celebrities to money and power instead of placing God #1 in our lives.  We display acts of hate, anger, and rivalry in ways that cause divisions and frictions with one another.  Furthermore, we often fall into the trap of believing in heretic teachings, “new age” thought, and quackery which distances us from the Truth of Christ.
The forbidden fruits of the flesh may taste delectable, smell fragrant and look beautiful; however, they can be caustic to our souls.   To neutralize the caustic effect, it’s essential for us to dine from the fruits of the Spirit.  Most of us rather snack on a cookie than a carrot; drink soda instead of water; and eat fried food instead of baked!  Junk food tastes good, but if that’s all we eat we will harm our bodily health.  The same situation goes with our spiritual health; by engaging in sinful and perverse behaviors we cause damageto our souls.
Our interior souls are beautifully molded and crafted by God.  He wants our souls to be well taken care of.  He doesn’t want us to choose human pleasures that disconnect ourselves from Him.  When we love instead of hate, we see the goodness in another person.  When we strive for joyfulness instead of grouchiness, we bring smiles to others.  When we act with generosity and kindness, we bring hope to others.  When we remain patient and self-controlled, we no longer risk scandal and offense.
Most importantly of all, when we remain faithful in Jesus Christ we recognize a peace within ourselves and others.  This peace is often blinded by anxiety and worry, but through prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments we can overcome darkness and see the shining Light of Christ.
“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.”
-Saint Teresa of Jesus, Pray for Us!
This meditation was written by Jennifer Burgin.  Please visit her blog:  Jennifer’s Spectrum of Spirituality

Lk 11:37-41 Changing From Within

Tuesday of the Twenty-Eighth week in Ordinary Time

The Lord said to him, ‘Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.’”

In the readings today, both Paul and Jesus address a crowd of men who think their good manners and circumcisions will naturally earn them a place in Heaven, or at least the place of honor at the dinner table. After all, good manners distinguishes the respectful enlightened citizen from the uncouth peasant, and circumcision distinguished God’s people from the world’s people. Although these things may seem like superficial attributes, the ancient world, along with the modern world, did not offer many alternatives to differentiate good people from bad people. By that time, different peoples mixed, making one’s ethnicity and ancestry difficult to identify; Hellenization homogenized cultural distinctions like language and aesthetics, eliminating another obvious marker; and the economic and political status of certain individuals became difficult to ascertain due to Roman interference. Only in religion could a Jewish man gain honor for himself; and for most Jews, this meant following Mosaic Law.

While one could praise the Pharisees and the Galatian Judaizers for following God’s law, the motives behind their actions earn some of Jesus’ and Paul’s fiercest rebukes. In extolling their own strict observance of the law, the Pharisees and Galatians forget to observe their own souls. Their legalism creates a host of profound errors in which they misunderstand God, His Son, His Grace, and faith. They think think like children by deciding to ignore the crucial fact that their goodness comes from God, Who works from within. Instead, they insist on the impossible task of following the letter of law as they live as unexamined a life as possible. They sincerely believed that outer observance could lead to inner conversion, that change could happen by receiving instead of giving.

Modern thinking matches up closely with this kind of superficiality. Modern logic proclaims that one can change only by receiving something from outside of oneself. If certain people do not like the way they feel, they can buy something or take something to make them feel better. If certain people does not like the way they look they can buy products or services to remake themselves in their own image. If certain people struggle to make friends, they populate their daily lives with virtual friends. If certain people hate the way the world is going, they can elect new politicians and shop at different businesses. If one does not like a certain group of people, they can mandate abortion and eugenics to eliminate them from the gene pool. All the while, their hearts remain untouched. Time and again, this superficial understanding of reality, that people can change themselves by changing their circumstances, leads to deep-set patterns of sin rather than a commitment to virtue.

True change comes from within, where God dwells. Therefore, in order to experience a true change in one’s life, a conversion of the heart, one must have faith in God. When one converts the following cycle, brought about by constant prayer, will occur: faith in God will bring about a knowledge of God; a knowledge of God will stimulate a desire for God; a desire for God will lead to love towards God and neighbor; the joy and fulfillment that comes from this love will then strengthen one’s faith in God even further, thus continue the virtuous cycle. In this way, the Christian can truly change and distinguish himself from the Non-Christian. In this way, Catholics who make up the Church can the light the way for a world shrouded in darkness.

Too often, believers think a new pope, a new policy, a new law from the federal government, a new design for a local church, or some other addition will lead to a stronger Church that can successfully oppose the pressures of the world. Thinking this way verges towards the same reasoning the Pharisees used when they thought following their Law would do the same. In order to successfully rebuff the world, Christians must have God in their hearts. “Only faith working through love” will count for anything; everything else is simply another distraction from the truth.  

Mt 22:1-14 Let The Secret Out!

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time(Click here for readings)Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.”The kingdom of heaven.&nbs…

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