Beginning in 2014, articles that would originally appear in the Repair God's House section will now be posted on the Confraternity of Penitents Blog. Please check the Blog for all archived posts.
2013 Repair God's House Archives
January 2013: God Became Small to Lift Us Up to Himself
In December, we received God's greatest gift to the world. On Christmas day we celebrated the birth in time of God's Eternal Son. We gathered in the stable and watched Mary wrap the mortal limbs of her immortal Son in swaddling clothes. We sat around the cooking fire with the shepherds in the fields in the middle of the night and listened to the angelic choir sing of the Glory of God. Along with the members of the human race that were wrapped in chaos and doubt, we heard the heavenly host announce the birth of the Prince of Peace. As a result of these glad tidings, all creation has been summoned to worship the Lord through Whom the Father has reconciled the world to himself. I think this is all summed up in the ancient proclamation that inaugurated the annual celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh:
Eternal Son of the Father,
seeking to consecrate the world by coming into it;
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
nine months having passed since his conception,
in Bethlehem of Judea
was born of the Virgin Mary
and became man.
Now that the days of preparation are passed and our social schedule has calmed down a bit, we can ponder the great gift that God the Father has entrusted to us. Even though the Christmas tree may be losing its needles on the curb and the crèche packed for next Christmas, we can still sit quietly and allow the wonder and awe of the Incarnation to touch our hearts. The message of Christmas is extremely poignant, and we need time to take it all in. It is astonishing that God should choose to make Himself a most vulnerable member of the human race, an infant in the womb. With all the rhetoric of "pro-choice," we tend to forget that God chose to be conceived and to be born. Given a chance to be born, an infant can capture the heart of an adult.
As we continue to "unpack" this great Gift, let us carefully consider Who has appeared in human flesh. God knew that no human being could look upon the face of God and live, yet the Master of the Universe greatly desired to be seen by us. In the manger scene, we are shown how He resolved the issue. The infinite and almighty God became an infant so that we could love Him. He emptied Himself of His awesome power so that we might dare to approach Him and love Him. The Virgin Mary's Child trustingly lets Himself be picked up and taken into our arms. Don't be afraid to pick Him up and look into His eyes as He looks into your soul. In that gaze, the love of God is perfected. In that gaze, God's grace attains its true mark and produces its sovereign effect in each one of us. May He Who became small so that we might love Him allow us to grow in grace "until we all attain to the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Today, let us ask the Lord to allow us to encounter Him, especially at the moment when He places Himself into our hands and into our hearts as we receive the Blessed Sacrament.
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
February 2013: Strive for the Heavenly Homeland
"Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience" (Rom. 4:11). The author of the letter to the Hebrews is pleading with his readers to exert themselves during the time allotted us so that we may enter into the Eternal Sabbath. We are to pour ourselves out day by day; rejoicing in the fact that we are doing God's will and by using the gifts He has given us, helping to build up the Kingdom. Saint Peter expressed it this way in his first epistle. "If anyone has anything to say, let it be the Word of God; if anyone has a desire to be the servant of others, let him do it with the strength that comes from God; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all praise and glory forever and ever" (1Pet. 4:11).
We are to sacrifice ourselves in the service of the one true King, Jesus Christ. Recall these words taken from the Letter to the Philippians. "Our citizenship is in heaven; from where we await the coming of our Savior" (Phil. 3:20). While our feet are firmly planted on earth, our sight is to be firmly fixed on heaven. With the apostle to the Gentiles we strive to "forget the things that are behind and strain forward to grasp what lies above" (Phil 3:13). While we live in a world that has lost sight of its heavenly homeland, we are to live as citizens of Heaven. Forsaking all worldly values, we strive for those of Heaven. Even though we may have to engage in spiritual warfare here below, our rock and hiding place is God. "From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (Jn. 1:16). We are flooded with divine grace. We are built up by grace and we cling to God's saving grace so that we may partake of eternal rest close to the heart of God.
We must continue to strive after eternal life. We cannot presume upon the grace of final perseverance. While God floods us with His grace, He does not deprive us of free will. If we are not cautious, we can fall from grace. I think this is what Saint Paul had in mind when he wrote these words to the Church of Philippi. "So then, my loved ones, as you have at all times done what I say, not only when I am present, but now much more when I am not with you, give yourselves to working out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Unless we are watchful, we run the risk of final shipwreck. Jesus was sure to exhort the disciples about the need for vigilance: "Take heed, be watchful in prayer, for you do not know the time" (Mk. 13:33).
Until the day of the Lord's coming, we must surrender ourselves into the hands of God Who will mold us and form us into vessels of devotion fit for the eternal worship of His majesty. The grace with which God softens us is to be found in His Word and Sacrament. I would like to end with the prayer the Council fathers used to begin each session of Vatican II.
We have come before You, O God the Holy Spirit, hampered by our many and grievous sins, but yet gathered together in Your name. Come to us and be with us and enter our hearts. Teach us what we are to do and where we ought to tend; show us what we must accomplish, in order that, with Your help, we may be able to please You in all things. Be the author and the finisher of our judgments. Do not allow us to disturb the order of justice, You Who love equity above all things. Let not ignorance draw us into devious paths. Do not allow partiality to sway our minds, nor respect of riches nor persons pervert our judgment. Unite us to Yourself by the gift of Your grace, that we may be one in You and never forsake the truth; inasmuch as we are gathered together in Thy name, may we hold fast to justice tempered by mercy, so that in this life our judgment may in no wise be at variance with Yours and in the world to come we may receive the reward of everlasting life. Amen.
Father Jerome Macher, OSCO
March 2013: Onward and Upward during Lent
The fast of Lent propels us on our way as we continue our ascent of the HolyMountain, making our way to the place where the Most High dwells. With every step, we need to keep our gaze ahead of us, looking for the next handhold, lest we slide back into the darkness out of which the grace of God has drawn us. Saint Paul put it quite beautifully. "It is clear to me that I have not yet attained my goal; but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: forgetting everything that I left behind, and straining towards the things that lay ahead, I press on toward the goal, the prize of God's heavenly calling in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 13-14). As we ascend the mount of transfiguration, we approach the Holy One who descended the Throne of Glory to approach us.
This sacred season is granted us so that we may purify our hearts and make room in our souls for the indwelling of God's Only Begotten Son. Saint Paul wrote: "We have this precious treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be seen that the surpassing greatness of the power comes from God and not from ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7). We undertake the disciplines of fasting and prayer so as to empty our vessels of clay so that He who took to Himself our human nature may find a suitable and spacious resting place. We are encouraged to climb the heights so that we might breathe in the fresh air of the Spirit. There, enveloped in the overshadowing cloud, the Holy One pitched His tent and prepared a Dwelling Place for us. In the presence of Him Who emptied Himself for our sake, we can pour out our burdens of sin and find comfort in Him whom the Father raised from the dead.
Consider these words, taken from the Gospel according to Saint Mark. "Come away with me all by yourselves to a desert solitude and rest a while" (Mk. 6:31). Atop the mountain, far from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, God, who spoke to Moses and Elijah, speaks to us, the disciples of His Beloved Son. Undoubtedly, the Psalmist had it right when he wrote, "In God alone does my soul find its rest for all my hope is in Him" (Ps. 62:5). As we continue our ascent we learn that there is no one to trust in but our Lord Jesus Christ, and in order to hear His voice you must enter into silence. Gradually we begin to realize that God is the Rock that we are clinging to and it is on Him that we stand firm. God desires to enter into a conversation with us, inviting us to trust Him to fulfill His promises. The conversation demands total self-revelation, total self-disclosure. The exchange is heart-to-heart. God and man are united in a bond of love that renews the face of the earth. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, we have been made citizens of the heavenly kingdom. We have been drawn into fellowship with the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Gathered with the apostles in the Light of Glory we come to understand the meaning of the Paschal Mystery.
Standing on this holy ground with Moses and Elijah, we see the glory of God envelop the mountaintop. Observing Jesus as He dialogues with the holy men who preceded Him, we see the heavens torn open and experience the overshadowing presence of the Father. There, in the Father's loving embrace, Jesus radiates the glory that is His as the Only-begotten Son. All those who stand with the apostles in the Light of the Father's Glory join their voices and declare with all their strength: "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:11).
During these sacred days of Lent we are invited to climb the mountain of transfiguration and peer into the sublime mystery of God's covenant love. Indeed, Saint Paul had it right when he wrote: "This is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Like the apostle to the Gentiles, we move forward, forgetting the things behind and stretching ourselves towards our heavenly goal where Christ is seated at the Right Hand of the Divine Majesty. We must drive ourselves forward, never stopping until we have reached the peek. The vision that lies before us is a gift from God. What we see is the Lord wrapped in unapproachable light, Who emptied Himself of glory so that we might become heirs of the heavenly kingdom. As Christ resembles the fullness of the glory of the Father, we who have climbed the Holy Mountain and stand in the light of Glory must resemble Him in fulfilling the Father's will. In obedience to the Father, we must accept the Beloved Son as our Teacher, Savior, and Guide. Jesus is not just a lawgiver like Moses or a prophet like Elijah. Jesus is the Father's remedy intended to heal humanity of the wounds caused by sin.
"God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be" (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta). Listening to Jesus' words can be confusing and perplexing at times. While we hear him speak words of consolation and assurance of God's love for us, there is the sacrificial side of discipleship that demands our whole life. If we want to share in His glory, we must also share in His sufferings. We offer ourselves as servants to those in need around us. If the glory of Christ is to be seen now, we will see it beneath the surface of those suffering. Lent opens our eyes and stirs us to respond to the voice that directs, "listen to Him." Faith in Jesus fulfills the law and makes us righteous; following His prophetic words enables us to listen to the cry of the poor. Jesus doesn't lead us to those peaks only to have us stay there for the rest of our lives; as hard as it might be, He tells us to come down from the heights and return to our normal lives so that we might share what has been revealed to us with others.
Remember this prayer from one of the Masses of Lent: God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory. Amen.
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
April 2013: The Easter Message
We venerate your cross, O Lord,
And praise and glorify your resurrection;
For by virtue of your cross,
Joy has come into the whole world.
This beautiful and ancient antiphon expresses the reason we have gathered in this holy place. We have come together to commemorate Our Lord's Sacred Passion in a solemn way. The austere simplicity of the liturgy allows us to revisit familiar Scripture texts and hear their message afresh, as if for the first time. Today we recall how God looked down on us wretched sinners and handed Himself over to death for our sake. Gazing upon the crucifix we are reminded of the depths of God's love that was made tangible in the Beloved Son. The Eternal Word, Who for all eternity was clothed in majesty, was bitterly scourged and crowned with thorns. In His passion He bore our infirmities and endured our sufferings; and by His stripes that we were healed.
Faithful Cross, above all others,
One and only noble Tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
The Cross is the means of our salvation. The instrument of death has become for us the Tree of Life. The wood of the cross upon which Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died was consecrated by the streams of blood that flowed from His sacred wounds. In the bitterness of His pain we find freedom from our sin and victory over death. The Cross is the Altar upon which Christ our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed. By His death He conquered death and granted life to all who had died. Because Christ was tested in every way that we are and did not sin, He has become the source of salvation for all who believe in Him. Because He understands the agony of every human heart, we can confidently approach the throne of grace and mercy.
O cross, our one reliance, hail!
May thy power with us avail
to give new virtue to the saint,
and pardon to the penitent.
The grace and love of God toward sinners was such that Christ chose to die for us. Beholding the mercy that is manifested on the Cross, we are overcome with joy and thanksgiving. Recognizing the hidden Majesty of the Only-Begotten Son, we can approach the Throne of Judgment with confidence and peace. When Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, He drew all creation into one and filled all things with His power and love. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, we are overcome with joy and peace, knowing that we have been reconciled with the Father. Because we have been grafted to Christ in baptism, the love of the Father, that filled His whole being, flows through our beings like blood flows through our veins. With the crucified Savior, we sing the glorious song of creation, lifting our hands in praise and thanksgiving.
We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You.
Because, by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.
Nailed to the Cross, Jesus becomes our evening sacrifice of praise. Because He has emptied himself of the grandeur that was His as God, He united Himself to us never to be separated. In His action of total Self-sacrifice, Jesus offers us along with Himself to the Father. Because He united our human nature to Himself, He, Who laid down His life for us, has made us heirs to eternal life. Through His death and Resurrection, Jesus has destroyed death and granted us life. If we are to make our own that for which Christ has made us His own, we must be willing to embrace the Tree of the Cross and eat of its fruit. We are called to enter into communion with Him Who united Himself with us on the Cross.
(Sorrowful Mother) Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.
At the center of the world stands the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the remedy for the sin of the world, the mystical tree of life, and the throne of glory on which the Son of Man is exalted. The apostle and evangelist John tells us that Mary stood close to the cross upon which Christ "offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God" (Heb. 9:14). Because Mary is the Mother of the Redeemer she has a unique role to play in the plan of salvation. Suffering grievously with her Son, she united herself with a maternal heart to His sacrifice and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which she herself had brought forth. After participating in an intimate way in the redeeming sacrifice of her Son, the Blessed Virgin Mary is proclaimed the Mother of each beloved disciple who stays with her in the shadow of the Cross.
I love You, beloved Jesus;
I ask You most earnestly
to engrave upon my heart
a deep and lively faith, hope, and charity,
Grant that I may love You always;
And then do with me as You will.
--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
May 2013: Bring the Good News to the World
The word Gospel means "Good News." I like the way Saint Mark puts it at the beginning of his gospel: "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk. 1:1). We have been commissioned by Christ to proclaim the Good News of His victory over sin and death. Contrary to what many radio preachers would like people to believe, the Good News is not about material prosperity. Jesus never promised His disciples good health, long life, lasting honors, or social status. This is underscored by the fact that many of the disciples were beaten, imprisoned, and ultimately put to death as a result of their preaching.
Looking at all this pain and suffering, we have to ask, "What really is the Good News of the Gospel?" Since it is pretty obvious that success and wealth are not guaranteed, what exactly does Jesus promise those who follow in His footsteps? Saint John offers us the answer to that question. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you." And almost every time he appears to his disciples after the resurrection he greets them with the words, "Peace be to you." The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus always keeps his promise. Throughout the Easter Season we have been celebrating the gift that Christ -- true to His word -- has given the members of His Body, the Church.
Abiding in the peace of Christ, we are to proclaim the Word of God that we have received with joy. However, in order to proclaim the Word, we must be familiar with it. Through daily meditation we come to conform our lives more and more to the Beloved Son, Who draws us into relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Having been made companions of the Loving Word, we can nourish the souls of the people we meet and bring the peace of Christ into their lives. By cooperating with the workings of the Holy Spirit, we can help build up the Body of Christ in our day. Having been taught by God's Word, let us focus our efforts on the things that are of Christ, trusting that He will be with us until the end of the age.
--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
June 2013: Message for the Ascension
The Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy wrote: "It is within my power either to serve God or not to serve Him. Serving Him, I add to my own good and the good of the whole world. Not serving Him, I forfeit my own good and deprive the world of that good, which was in my power to create" (Leo Tolstoy). Before Jesus returned to the Throne of Glory at the right hand of His Father, He commissioned His disciples to go forth to the entire world proclaiming the Good News of Salvation. Depending on how we respond to that commissioning, we can either help build up the Kingdom of God or deprive the world of the Light that came to overcome the darkness. Our service to the Kingdom is to bring people to the knowledge of Christ Who is the Light from Light Who entered into the kingdom of death and darkness and conquered it. Through His resurrection and Ascension into Glory, Jesus has manifested His victory over the powers of darkness, and through the life-giving waters of Baptism we have been made partakers of Christ's deifying glory. In a word, the Ascension is about Jesus manifesting the victory He had won by means of His death and resurrection.
Each Sunday throughout the Easter Season, we sang this beautiful responsory: "He has risen on high to His throne, Alleluia." Today we celebrate the fulfillment of that anthem. From His throne of glory, Jesus continues to shepherd His flock. The Son of the One Who is faithful and true has not left His fold orphans. He knows that left on our own we can do nothing. In one of his Mass reflections, Pope Francis said. "It is [Christ] who keeps [the Church] going and holds her and makes her grow , makes her holy, defends and protects her from the prince of this world and what he wants the Church to become, in short more and more worldly. This is the greatest danger!" We have a defender in Christ. We have reason for confidence, for as the apostle John wrote: "For He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4).
With the apostles who watched Jesus being taken from their midst, we hear the question of the white-robed angel: "Men of Galilee, why are you just standing there looking up into heaven?" (Acts 1:11) This statement echoes that of Jesus to Mary of Magdala: "Do no cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Rather, go to me brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn. 20:17). Like Mary before them, the apostles are reminded that they cannot stay on the mountain but must go down into valley where they will encounter many lost and confused people. They needed to know that, even though Jesus had ascended to the Father's right hand in glory, the Blessed Trinity has pitched Its Tent in their hearts. God is not somewhere out or up there, but in here, in the human heart. It is the duty of every believer not to stand in idleness and gaze up towards heaven. Each of us, like the apostles, has a great work to do. Knowing that the Lord is with us, we must engage in the task of building up the Kingdom and spreading the Good News. Our confidence lies in the fact that He promised to give believers strength equal to their trials and challenges. He likewise promised to send the Advocate through whom they would draw people into the Kingdom of the Living God, making them members of the Body of Christ.
A few moments ago, we heard these beautiful words proclaimed from the Letter to the Hebrews: "Brethren, we have been granted the liberty to enter into the holy place because of the Blood of Jesus through the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us" (Heb. 10: 19-20). Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, has offered Himself upon the altar of the Cross as a sacrificial offering that cleansed all humanity of sin. In His own flesh, Jesus has reconciled all the members of the human race to the Father. By means of His ascension, Jesus has opened the way to the mercy seat in heaven, upon which He is now seated. The mystery of Divine Mercy is that, through the sacrifice of the Lamb, we have been granted access to the heart of God. Each of us has been commissioned to testify to God's infinite love and to exhort every man, woman and child to avail themselves of the grace bestowed upon them by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Because of Christ, sin is removed and peace is made with God. Because of Jesus Christ, pardon is granted. In Jesus Christ, justice and mercy have embraced. Because God has loved us so, we are to love one another and show one another mercy and forgiveness.
The apostles had been companions of Christ throughout His earthly ministry. They had come to know Him as the Way to the Kingdom and as the Lamb that took away the sins of the world. They watched Him ascend into heaven where He was received with a welcome by His Father and adored by all the heavenly hosts. There, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, He was crowned with glory and honor and exalted above all creatures in heaven and on earth. Because they believed that Jesus and the Father were One, they came to depend upon His continual intercession on their behalf before the Mercy Seat in heaven. The glory of Christ is the joy of all true believers, even while they are here in this world. While waiting for God's promises, we must go forth to meet them with our praises. And nothing better prepares the mind for receiving the Holy Ghost. Fears are silenced, sorrows sweetened and allayed, and hopes kept up.
I would like to close with these words taken from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: "What must have been [the angels'] ecstasy as they welcomed and attended Him "far above all heavens" into the presence-chamber, and conducted Him to the right hand of the Majesty on High! You have an everlasting right, O my Savior, to that august place. The brightness of the Father's glory, enshrined in our nature, has won it well; for He poured out His soul unto death, and led captivity captive, receiving gifts for men, yea for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them. You are the King of glory, O Christ. Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in! Even so will You change these vile bodies of ours, that they may be like unto Your own glorious body; and then with gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought, they shall enter into the King's palace!"
Peace be with you,
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
July 2013: Jesus Is About Love: A Reflection on Luke 7:47
“I tell you this woman’s sins, and her sins are many, are forgiven, because she loves much.” (Luke 7:47)
This statement of Jesus boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
In the Gospels, we see Jesus lash out in such fury against the Pharisee’s, the money changers in the temple, and even his own apostles, and yet in this story we see the Jesus we feel most comfortable with; the Jesus we place our trust in. Who is the man, Jesus of Nazareth? He seems a contradiction. It’s hard to believe sometimes we’re hearing about the same man. And yet this man we call ‘savior’.
What Jesus is all about hinges on that one word, “Love.”
Jesus’ life on earth was the physical appearance of the Father’s love.
His death on the cross was the perfect expression of that love because it gave birth to the Church. Perfect love is always life giving.
And his presence in the sacraments is the continuation of that love.
But love is not only what God gives and we passively receive. Love is the criterion by which we are judged. It’s is the crux of Jesus’ message. How often do we see the word “love” used in the New Testament?
“Love your enemies.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Any one who claims to love God while hating his brother is a liar.”
“If you love me you will keep my commandments.”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
The list is endless.
Love is not an option. Love is not how we feel. Love is a commandment from God. If we want salvation we must love.
In passage in the Gospels, Jesus says that the only unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. What is that? The Holy Spirit is the pure love of the Father and the Son, so pure it becomes a Third Person. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, because that means we become so hard hearted that we become incapable of love.
That’s why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees. They obeyed rules, but they didn’t love.
In Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy read Paul’s advice, “Let no one look down on you because of your youth.” If we look at Timothy, John the beloved disciple, Jeremiah the prophet, David the shepherd boy who becomes king, God seems to be partially disposed to the youth. Why? I have a theory. Young people haven’t learned to hate. Young people love easily. They give their hearts easily. They forgive easily. That’s why God could work with the youth throughout salvation history.
God loves his creation. His sacrifice on the cross proved that. So we must love his creation, which includes humanity. How do we know if we love? By our reaction to the world. Do we care, or are we indifferent? Do we get involved or do we look away? I think apathy and indifference are probably the chief sins of the modern day Catholic.
Does abortion infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the innocent and helpless.
Does euthanasia infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the sick, and elderly.
Does pornography infuriate us? It should! Because we should love men & women, and not see them as objects of lust.
Does teen violence infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the youth.
Does poverty infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the poor.
Does indifference infuriate us? It should! Because we should love God. And our God is not indifferent, because indifference sins against love.
If we can say that these things anger or upset us, even in some small way, good. We have a foundation of love. Now we must pray that our love motivates us to act, even if it’s something as small as fasting for these evils to end. Not everyone is cut out to be a speaker, or walk around with a picket sign. OK. But ask God to show you how he wants YOU to work to build his Kingdom.
“I tell you this woman’s sins, and her sins are many, are forgiven her because she has loved much.” May God be able to say the same of each of us. Amen.
Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor to the Confraternity of Penitents
August 2013: The Fruits of the Earth
Because our produce is raised on huge farms and purchased at the local supermarket, we do not appreciate the sacred rhythm of seed-time and harvest-time. We do not know the sweat and toil of planting the seed, nor do we appreciate the thrill of harvesting a bountiful crop. While we may complain about the summer’s heat, we do not know the dread of drought or famine. Modern farming technology has separated us from the very earth that we were created to cultivate and care for (CF. Gen 2:17). I am so urbanized that I could not tell you the difference between barley and oats in the field. I can’t tell you the last time I plucked a stalk of wheat and rubbed the fresh grain between my hands. Yet it was the cycle between planting and harvesting that set the rhythm of life for our ancestors. Since this cycle was so important to the lives of the people, it was celebrated with liturgical rites and communal festivities. Is it possible that because we have alienated ourselves from the cycle of seed-time and harvest-time we have alienated ourselves from wonder and awe of God who is the Giver of Life?
The ancients knew themselves to be created in the image and likeness of God. They knew their strength and power came from the hand of God. They knew that the success of the work of their hands came from God. The pilgrim feasts were proper and beautiful acts of devotion, expressive of their dependence on the God of the Universe. The ritual of offering the firstfruits sanctified the whole harvest. We have these words taken from the Letter to the Roman: “If the firstfruits are holy, so is the whole batch of dough. If the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16).
We gather at Mass in response to God’s summons. At Mass, the priest will place the fruits of the earth and the work of our hands on the altar. God Who delights in the work of His hands will send down the Holy Spirit to transform our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, “Who has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). May we who have been created in the image and likeness of God recognize the Presence of the only begotten Son in the breaking of the Bread. May we live in communion of faith and love with all those whom God has made His own through the life, death and resurrection of His Beloved Son. And when the Lord returns in glory, may He bring us all together into everlasting life. Amen.
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
September 2013:Saint Bernard
The author of the Book of Wisdom praises wisdom as he prays for it: “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” Drinking from this living and life-giving stream, Saint Bernard believed wisdom was a kindly spirit that was easy to approach and often anticipated any cry for aid. Once an individual possesses divine Wisdom, everything else is accounted mire and dust (CF. Wis. 7:8). Saint Bernard knew Jesus Christ, his Lord and Master in a personal and intimate way and dedicated his life to His service. This great Doctor of the Church devoted himself to seeking the Living Word, both by day and by night. With Saint Paul, he recognized Wisdom Incarnate as the power of God and the Wisdom of God (CF. 1 Cor. 1:24). Like Jacob, Bernard would spend the night wrestling with the Word of God, striving to obtain a blessing (CF. Gen. 32: 25-27). “For the word of God is living and full of power, and is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting through and making a division even of soul and spirit, of both bones and muscles, and it judges the secret thoughts and intentions of the heart. It exposes us for what we really are” (Heb. 4:12). In the Beloved’s embrace, Bernard gradually came to know himself as he was known (CF. 1 Cor. 13:12).
With the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Bernard believed that “[The Eternal Word] is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be forever” (Heb. 13:8). Therefore, he sought to understand his life experiences in the light of the words that recounted the salvific history of God’s Chosen People. For him, the relationship between the Incarnate Word and the individual was likened to that of the Bridegroom and His spouse. Saint Bernard was passionately in love with God, with the Beloved Son and with the Ever-Virgin Mary and sought to light the Flame of Divine Love in the hearts of his disciples. Anticipating Leo XIII, Bernard believed the Bible was a love letter from God, and as such it needed to be approached in love. Bernard would abide with Word of God Who took flesh in the womb of the ever-virgin Mary so that the Living Word would abide with him all the days of his life.
When one finds himself with Jesus," the Pope said, "he lives the wondrous awe of that encounter and feel the need to look for Him in prayer, in the reading of the Gospels. Due to his patient and prayerful penetration of the Sacred Text and his finely polished style in communicating his encounters with the Word to others, Bernard is often called the “last of the Fathers.” In his writing and in his preaching, Bernard strove to draw his listeners into a loving and personal encounter with the Living God. For him, to love God was to know Him.
In his first epistle, Saint John wrote: “God is love; and whoever abides in love abides in God and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). For Saint Bernard, Jesus was the love of God made tangible. Consequently, his spirituality was Christ centered. His knowledge of Christ was rooted in the sacred texts of Scripture. Like Origen, Bernard believed that since every word in the Bible spoke of Jesus the Scriptures were the royal road to the knowledge of God. Every discussion or debate needed to be rooted in the Eternal Word. Saint Bernard wrote: “Every food of the mind is dry if it is not dipped in that oil; it is tasteless if not seasoned by that salt. Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus. Talk or argue about what you will, I shall not relish it if you exclude the name of Jesus. Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart (Sermon #15 on the Song)." Like Jesus who poured Himself out for the life of the world, Bernard sought to pour himself out in the service of the one true King. Bernard spoke of how the invisible God was born of the ever-virgin Mary so that He would be loved rather than feared. Christ raised us up by lowering Himself to our mortal condition. Central to Bernard's theology is the notion that Love created us out of love to share Love itself. After humanity fell from grace, He redeemed us, thereby giving us again the ability to love and to be loved. What was important to Bernard was that the monks entrusted to his care be renewed in the likeness of Christ.
Our monastic vocation is a gift of God, a wonderful legacy and a sacred trust. This gift comes to us through Christ Jesus, Who loved us so much that He embraced the Cross and conquered death and sin forever. We have been called to forget the things that were behind and stretch ourselves forward towards Christ, who is the goal of our existence. Anyone who runs a race, must never stop short of the finish, but must press forward as best he or she can. To worthily compete in the arena of the monastery, we must strip off the old self and its way of life. We must beseech the Lord to anoint us with the oil of gladness and clothe us in the new self. As monks we are to make Christ all in all and set our hearts on the things that are above. Our citizenship is in heaven, the dwelling of our true King. Until we reach our heavenly homeland, we see ourselves as pilgrims on the road, strangers to the city and sojourners in a foreign land, heeding no voice but that of the Good Shepherd. Through the intercession of Saint Bernard, may we be drawn into the loving embrace of our heavenly bridegroom and may our love for one another be animated by power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. With true humility and obedience founded in authentic fraternal love, may we faithfully and devoutly fulfill the vows that we have made so that God will be all in all.
I will allow Saint Bernard to close these reflections. “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your kindness in uniting us to the Church you so dearly love, not merely that we may be endowed with the gift of faith, but that like brides we may be one with you in an embrace that is sweet, chaste and eternal, beholding with unveiled faces that glory which is yours in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen” (Sermon 12 on the Song).
Father Jermone Machar, OSCO
October 2013: Rejoicing in the Lord Must Be Your Strength
“Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The People of God found great joy in the Law and in the Temple. The Jewish People knew the Psalms and prayed them faithfully. These words taken from Psalm sixty-two resonated in their hearts: “My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my secure height; I shall never fall” (Ps. 62:2-3).
Worship and fidelity were their very identity. To hear the Word of the Lord and to allow that Word to guide their path, was the cause of their joy. Having been taken possession of by the cause of their joy, the people found strength to face all life’s challenges.
In our present day, many have lost their sense of direction. Every attempt to overcome failure and distress only ends in greater frustration.
Many of our brothers and sisters have abandoned the Church and become engrossed in the world and its secular enticements, building their hopes on its loose and shifting sand.
We have only to recall these words taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “The people who have frequent contact with the world should not get engrossed in it; for the world’s way of life, and all that it has to offer, will come to an end” (1 Cor. 7: 31).
Many people find themselves in distress and frustration because they are trying to fill the hunger of their souls with things that cannot satisfy their deepest needs. The world that they are enmeshed in wears them down and deprives them of joy and inner peace.
The noise of the world deafens their ears to the sounds of Word that echoes in hushed silence.
For lack of wisdom and knowledge many people find themselves being sucked into the vortex of darkness and ignorance. Even though they cannot admit it, they stand in need of the compassion and love of those who disciples of the Word-Made-Flesh.
In their weariness, they need someone to guide them back to the Way Who is the Light of the World. The Lord approaches us when we fail, when we are weak and when we sin. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks us and carries us close to His heart.
People who have been drawn from the all-consuming darkness into the Light of Christ have reason to rejoice and celebrate. Having been delivered from the oppression of sin they have been clothed with the garments of righteousness and walk in the freedom of the Children of God.
God is ever faithful and ever true. Placing our trust in God’s great holiness, we can open our hearts to His Living Word. There in the intimacy of His loving embrace we can find a place of rest where the just repose.
We must never forget that God desires to be near to us more than we desire to be near to Him. We must break out of the boundaries of our small world and open ourselves to the boundless love of God.
As we surrender to His loving care for us we can live life to its fullest and reach our greatest heights, where rejoicing in the Lord will be our strength.
As we partake of the Sacred Banquet of the Eucharist, let us step out of ourselves and trust Christ. It is He Who will give us the glory that is ours as the Children of God. When the Lord returns in glory, may He bring us all together into everlasting life. Amen!
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
People of Prayer
In his first epistle, the apostle Peter wrote: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are turned to their prayer” (1 Pet. 3: 12).
In order to live in righteousness we must ponder the Holy Scriptures and conform our lives to their teaching. The Bible is a sure guide to holiness and eternal life. There is something in the Scriptures suitable for every case. “Who we are called to be is pronounced as good, as made in the very image of God to live in covenant fidelity. This calling to image God in faithfulness to God’s covenant is what is said to give human life its purpose, its real vocation” (Christopher Morse, “Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Belief,” 1994).
We recall these words of Saint Paul addressed to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need to learn how to walk as men and women of faith, as members of the Body of Christ.
In the Scriptures, we find a rich legacy. By making ourselves familiar with the great acts of God in the past, we can grow in the conviction that God dwells in our midst. Clinging to this sure hope, we can remain at peace as we face the challenges of life.
The author of the Book of Exodus tells us that the People of God were on the move. They were first set free from the land of slavery and then baptized in the waters of the Red Sea. The glow of God’s grace was upon them and they were ready to do whatever God would ask of them. They found strength in the certainty that the Lord was with them. Under His watchful gaze this rag-tag army would be able to face any trial and overcome any obstacle.
Their time in the desert was not easy. They had many obstacles to overcome. Despite their murmuring and complaining, this disorganized group of people was used by God to manifest His majesty and glory. Obeying the word that came from the mouth of the Lord, they engaged in battle. During the fight, Moses was the instrument of blessing that shielded them. Through this dynamic struggle they learned that while the battle was theirs to fight, the victory was the Lord’s to claim.
Prayer is an on-going relationship with God Who calls us to be His own. Prayer requires us to listen to what He says with faith and love. This sacred encounter with God involves our whole being: mind and heart, soul and body. In prayer we make ourselves totally present to the One Who makes Himself totally present to us.
This intimate encounter with God enables us to face all life’s challenges. Through faith and prayer, we know ourselves to be a people gathered around the Living God. Having responded to the call of the Good Shepherd, we walk as members of one flock, united in faith and love.
Being people of faith, we cling tenaciously to the Word of Him who can neither deceive nor be deceived. We cling steadfastly to His promises, even in those moments of distress when God’s presence cannot be seen or felt.
Through his letter to Timothy, Saint Paul reminds us to be faithful to what we have learned from the Scriptures. Through the Sacred Pages, the Incarnate Word speaks to us personally and individually. Gathered together in the School of Love, we are encouraged to listen attentively to every word that comes from the mouth of God. Each sacred utterance engenders faith and love in the hearts of those who are hear it.
Jesus was well aware that at times we would get discouraged, especially when we wrestle with hard issues and the crises of life. However, it is only when we encounter the problems of daily living that we discover how weak and vulnerable we are. When we are most needy, the Words of Scripture can enflame our faith.
As we allow the Spirit that inspired the sacred writers to breathe in our souls and open our minds to its true and full meaning, we can learn to depend on the loving support of the community to help us when we are weak. Being members of the Body of Christ, we need never journey alone. The Lord Jesus promised to be with us, in the persons of our brothers and sisters, until the end of time.
The journey of faith is directed towards Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The more closely we are united to Christ, the more perfectly we will reflect the grandeur of God. We must lift up our hearts to God for his blessing and give Him thanks for His loving kindness. At no time should we grow weary, even though our prayer seems to be unanswered.
The gospel parable about the widow is not a story about praying until we get what we want. Actually, it is an encouragement to pray in such a way that we keep vigilant; waiting and watching for all of God’s comings and goings. It reminds us that faith goes beyond believing in God as a subject-heading in the Catechism.
We must never forget that the Lord Jesus has called us and has promised to work through us. In Christ, we become the vehicles whereby the world is recreated and men and women become all that they were made to be by their Creator. It might appropriate to conclude with the Prayer before the Crucifix at San Damiano.
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith,
certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out, Lord,
Your holy and true command.
Father Jerome Machar, OSCO
December 2013: Established as the Highest Mountain
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2: 1-3)
The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, ‘Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?’ Daniel answered the king, ‘No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed were these: To you, O king, as you lay in bed, came thoughts of what would be hereafter, and the revealer of mysteries disclosed to you what is to be. But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.
‘You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
‘This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. You, O king, the king of kings—to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all—you are the head of gold. After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything, it shall crush and shatter all these. As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy.’ (Daniel 2: 26-45)
Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the great image
Four hundred years before Daniel, the prophet Isaiah talked about the mountain of the Lord. The mountain of the Lord’s house would be the highest mountain. In Daniel’s interpretation, a stone is hewn from a mountain without being cut by human hands, and this stone destroys and replaces the kingdoms of the world.
What is the highest mountain?
The highest mountain is Jesus. To Him, all the nations of the world come to worship. The mountain of Christ was established by God for all ages. The sacrifice which Christ made on the mountain of Calvary has spread over the entire Earth.
What is the rock hewn from the mountain, but not by human hands?
From the side of Christ on the cross, from this highest mountain, was hewn a rock, the apostle Peter (whose name means ‘Rock’) whom Christ made the head of the Church. The Church has destroyed the kingdom of Satan and grown into a mountain which influences the entire Earth. God has cast the Church out into the world so that it can make disciples of all nations. Today we know that the influence of the Church has spread throughout the world.
One interpretation of the statue is that the golden head represents the Babylonian empire, replaced by the Medes and Persian empire (silver chest) which fell to the Greek empire (bronze thighs) which was replace by the Roman Empire (iron legs) which evolved into the Holy Roman Empire (feet of iron and tile pottery). Jesus was crucified by the Holy Roman Empire after establishing His Church through Saint Peter. Eventually the Holy Roman Empire collapsed as well.
But the highest mountain of the Lord remains to this day.
When we attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are ascending the highest mountain, we are standing at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. We are coming into the presence of God. Grace flows out to the people as the priest stands in persona Christi. In the Mass, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the highest mountain. When the priest ascends the steps to go up to the altar, he is entering the Holy of Holies as did the priests of the Old Testament. At Mass, God enters into us, but we enter into God as well. The summit of the mountain of the Mass is the interior life of God.
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths." May we respond with joy to the invitation.
(Adapted from a homily by Father David Engo, FBM, spiritual advisor to the Confraternity of Penitents)