Thursday, January 25, 2018

Into The World

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Strengthening Our Spiritual Core

Good physical workouts should strengthen the heart. Spiritual workouts should do that too. The Bible talks about "the heart" over a thousand times! But Scripture isn't talking about the physical organ that pumps blood in our chest. It is referring to our hidden center, the dwelling place where we live. One great way to strengthen our hearts are prayers of thanksgiving and praise.

—from the book A 40-Day Spiritual Workout for Catholics by Bob Rice
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"We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place for those who love us."
– St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"Since all our love for God is ultimately a response to His love for us, we can never love Him in the same way He loves us, namely, gratuitously. Since we are fundamentally dependent on God and in His debt for our creation and redemption, our love is always owed to Him, a duty, a response to His love. But we can love our neighbor in the same way that He loves us, gratuitously—not because of anything the neighbor has done for us or because of anything that we owe him, but simply because love has been freely given to us. We thereby greatly please the Father. God the Father tells Catherine [of Siena]: This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me—that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me."
– Ralph Martin, p. 261
Fulfillment of all Desire


St. Paul the Apostle, originally named Saul, was an intelligent and zealous Jewish scholar and Pharisee who fiercely persecuted the first Christian converts among the Jews. While on his way to Damascus with permission to arrest Christians, he received a vision of the resurrected Christ. Jesus rebuked him for his actions and struck him blind, and through this encounter St. Paul was converted. God then used St. Paul and his zeal to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially to the Gentiles. St. Paul was martyred in Rome in the year 65 A.D. The feast day of St. Paul's conversion is celebrated on January 25.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
John 14:27


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Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Paul's entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot's hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: "…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment" (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was "entered," possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.

One sentence determined his theology: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.

From then on, his only work was to "present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me" (Colossians 1:28b-29). "For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).

Paul's life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ's victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.

So Paul's great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more "works" than the Law could ever contemplate.

Paul is undoubtedly hard to understand. His style often reflects the rabbinical style of argument of his day, and often his thought skips on mountaintops while we plod below. But perhaps our problems are accentuated by the fact that so many beautiful jewels have become part of the everyday coin in our Christian language.


Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Reading 1 Acts 22:3-16

Paul addressed the people in these words:
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.

"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
I replied, 'Who are you, sir?'
And he said to me,
'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?'
The Lord answered me, 'Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.'
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
'Saul, my brother, regain your sight.'
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
'The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.'"


Acts 9:1-22

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
He said, "Who are you, sir?"
The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do."
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, AAnanias."
He answered, "Here I am, Lord."
The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight."
But Ananias replied,
"Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name."
But the Lord said to him,
"Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name."
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
"Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
"Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?"
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.

Responsorial Psalm PS 117:1bc, 2
R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Alleluia See Jn 15:16
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
To go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 16:15-18

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
"Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."


Meditation: Acts 22:3-16

The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle (Feast)

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 22:7)

Don't you find it odd that these would be Jesus' first words to Paul? He could have thundered against Paul's violent campaign. He could have urged Paul to repent. He could have even opened with one of his many parables! But Jesus chose instead to ask Paul a probing question—Why are you doing this? What do you think you are accomplishing?

This isn't the first time God has questioned one of his people. When Elijah fled the wrath of Queen Jezebel and took refuge in a cave, God asked him, "Why are you here?" (1 Kings 19:9). Appearing in disguise to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus asked, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" (Luke 24:17). And speaking to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, God asked a number of questions: "Where are you? . . . Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree?" (Genesis 3:9, 11).

Of course, God knew the answers to all of these questions—just as he knew why Paul was persecuting him. But he chose a humble approach rather than an overpowering one. He invited these individuals to speak for themselves. He opened a conversation with them so that they would examine their actions and come face-to-face with their sin, their fears, or their needs.

Jesus wants to ask you some questions today too. What makes you anxious? What one thing can you do today to build my kingdom? Who can you love a little more today? He never imposes himself on you. Instead, he leads you step-by-step along the path he has marked out for you. And when you step off of that path, he has the right questions to help get you back on track.

So try to spend a little time in prayer listening. Let Jesus ask his questions, and don't be afraid to answer. Adam and Eve found the promise of restoration, Elijah found the courage to press on, the Emmaus disciples' eyes were opened to see Jesus, and Saul of Tarsus became the great St. Paul. Imagine what can happen to you as you hear and answer!

"Thank you, Jesus, for caring enough to ask me how I'm doing."

Psalm 117:1-2
Mark 16:15-18


The First Holy Word said "... you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay?" The greatest cause of sin procrastination, putting things off. Since this is the part that I give personal testimony, I share the faith like St. Paul, giving faith. My conversion was though, of a young man, in his early 20's, vested and grew up in the church and in retreats and even putting on a retreat being a student in a Universtiy. I got married. A year or two later I was asked to live a cursillo. I said "yeah, later" and in my mind I thought "probably when I'm really old", like the old lady inviting me, she seemed so thrilled about it in her older age. But, she was persistent. She wrote a letter, handwritten, and I was convinced I should go and I went, and what transpired, was life-changing. Why the delay? The sin of procrastinating, am I making this up? Today is the day of conversion. To delay, could be a lie. What if there is no tomorrow? I had a middle school teacher that always said "but tomorrow never comes". I was always dumbfounded by that statement, and it haunted me. But why live in tomorrow, when it is about now? Right? In the hereafter, it will always be Now.

Let us pray: "For steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News." When we hear good news, do we go out in great Spirit to share? Bad news gets around pretty quick, like rumors. But good news? Man, it feels good to hear good news, no? "Did you hear that ___was saved?" Did you hear that brother ____ was released early?" "Did you hear that ____ wants to personally invite you to be the guest of honor?" "Did you hear that ____ is coming!? Fill in the blanks. Fill it with your name or even a loved one or an enemy or even the is all good news, isn't it? That is, unless you do not care for anyone you filled with ____ . For this, we need to hear a good the conversion of a sinner, like one turned from bad to good, like one that was zealous, but the zealousness turned to something greater.

In comes the great St. Paul. Jim Caviezel played the role of Jesus in the Passion of the Christ and is now playing a side part in the movie coming of St. Paul, movie called Paul, Apostle of Christ. Jim said a speech about it at a university not too long ago, and said that Saul meant "the great" and Paul meant "the little" speaking about the conversion of Saul. See the video keeps going and Jim recalls his testimony as he took some real hits portraying the Lord (click to see). Jim's conversion is clear. How about your conversion story? Is it convincing enough? Enough to see people in a new light, the light of Christ? Enough to hear His voice clear? Is it enough to forever be changed and....even die for the Lord, as St. Paul did. In my conversion, it was one of one trying to be faithful....but weak. Strong but not convinced. And I was convinced. First by invite, then by the Lord. You see, when someone invites you to the Lord, you appear before the Lord. Then, His invite is on a whole other level. Here you must hear His voice. Did I see a great light? I saw many things. I saw much love. A comradely. I was confronted in a confession. At one point, I was threatened to be thrown out (because of improper paperwork/priest approval). But God had mercy. An ignorant was allowed. Allowed to partake in a life changing event. In the Holy Mass, my eyes were burning because my heart was burning, I don't know why this overwhelming sense of love came over me. I looked up at the priest holding the Eucharist up, and I saw ... what I can not explain. Jesus held up.

And that means so much.
He held up, was held up. What held Him up? Who held Him up?

Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
At the cursillo they said "words attract souls but examples/testimony/witness drag Heaven". Primero, prime one, you. You must be loved and lovable and love. Here's a funny thing about me. I lead in song in Choir. I mess up. I want another opportunity. I used to just cry about it, and feel terrible, but now, I thrive, "let me try again, I will do better, I promise" these are the words in confessions in an act of contrition. You give to give. You give thanks and don't wait for thanks. I see it in people serving for decades, in their weakness declare "nobody is here now, after all I've done for the church". I was perplexed when an old lady told me that, thinking "I guess I'm chopped liver". Shall we fail to see Jesus in front of us in any given point of time? He is everywhere He desires and is called to be.

The conversion story begins now.

Do not delay.
Present yourself now. Present yourself to the Lord. And see what happens Saul, you will take on a new name and a new life Paul.

It is a story of love like no other. A call like no other. Heaven is not what you want it to be. It is so much more. A finite mind can not hold the infinite. Saul's conversion happened with only one question: Why are you persecuting ME?
Shall I lift a finger against any person? Jesus never did. Shall I raise my voice? Only for correction but with Love. Admonish the sinner. This we said in our family prayer last night in works of mercy. Yet today, evil wants to be right. A robber sues the person who stopped him for hurting him. An adulteress woman sues her husband for filming catching her in the act of "privacy". The non-traditional marriage is suing for rights to be non-traditional. And the unborn? Have no say in most states. Not allowed to speak "would you like to be born?" They can't speak for themselves. Who will?

Do not delay. The truth is being attacked, but not in the world, but in your heart. Love the truth. How hard is it to speak with the truth...Jesus? Pray more. Visit Him more. Love Him more. Serve Him more. Seek Him more. Be with Him more. Be more of Him.....



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