The Good Samaritan “Bluegrass Kentucky Edition”

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 14, 2019)

Deuteronomy 30:10-14                   

Psalm 69:14,17,30-31,33-34,36,37

Colossians 1:15-20                                  

Luke 10:25-37

Knowing the back-story can make all the difference. If we don’t know all of the details, the points being made in a story do not have the same “wow factor” for the audience. Today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the Good Samaritan is one that we have heard many times before. It’s a familiar story and I’m guessing all of us could summarize it or retell it in our own words.

A guy is traveling on the road. He gets beat up by robbers and left for dead. Two men see him on the ground and choose to ignore him. But a third guy sees him and helps him. We obviously see that the 3rd guy (who happened to be a Samaritan) is the one we’re supposed to imitate. After all, this is where we get the phrase “Good Samaritan.”

However, the problem is this parable was told roughly 2,000 years ago. What really makes this story so amazing is all of the details that we may not recognize. We miss them because we weren’t raised in the same culture of the people living in the lands that Jesus traveled.

So I reached out to Pope Francis and asked him if it was ok for me to modernize this parable a little. He was ok with it but challenged me to make it very relatable to the people specifically in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. “Know your audience” were his parting words to me. So here is my attempt at the parable of the “Good Samaritan, Bluegrass Kentucky Edition.”

A University of Kentucky basketball fan was leaving Rupp Arena on his way home from a game. He fell victim to robbers who stripped off his UK basketball jersey, beat him, stole his iPhone and left him for dead on a sidewalk in Lexington. Another fan, wearing a UK football jersey, was walking down that same sidewalk. He noticed him, but turned his body so he could scoot by him on the other side of the sidewalk and kept walking. Yet another fan, this one wearing a UK baseball jersey, also saw him. He too scooted to the side of the narrow sidewalk and almost had to step over the guy on the ground as he passed by without offering any help. Just then, walking up the sidewalk… off in the distance… a third man was approaching. This guy… was wearing… red. It was hard to miss the red jersey because everyone else in Lexington was wearing a blue jersey. This man (you guessed it) was a University of Louisville fan. The U of L fan saw the UK fan lying on the ground and his heart was moved with compassion. So he cleaned him up and took him to the closest bed and breakfast in town. He gave the front desk clerk all the cash he had and gave strict instructions to take care of the man while he recovered. He even told the clerk that if the money he left wasn’t enough to cover the final bill, to shoot him a text and he’d PayPal him the rest of the money. The U of L fan then called for an Uber and continued on his way.

Now, before any of you call Bishop John on me… I have a confession. No, I did not speak with Pope Francis. Also I am not implying that University of Louisville fans are nicer or have more compassion than University of Kentucky fans. I did this to get a point across. The point is that we need to understand the details to better appreciate the power of this parable.

First off, Jesus was telling this parable to a Jew. Any Jew of that time and region would have known that the 18-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous one. Not only was it through desert like conditions, it was very isolated with very few hiding places. This road was nicknamed the, “Bloody Pass” because it was a common place to get beat up, robbed or killed.

The man who was attacked in the parable was a Jew. The priest and Levite who passed by without offering help were also Jews.

When we hear that the priest and Levite “passed by on the opposite side” of the road, we more than likely picture a wide road. However, much of this road isn’t any wider than a sidewalk. So it is very possible that the priest and Levite had to step over the man to pass by. But at the very least, there was no way they could have simply not seen the man on the ground. Even though we don’t know their motives, we know they chose to ignore the man in need.

The final bit of information we need to understand is that Samaritans and Jews did not get along at all. Actually, Jews and Samaritans hated each other.

That’s the back-story. The Jews hearing this parable told by Jesus probably had to pick their jaws up off the ground. Especially since it was a Samaritan, not a fellow Jew, who helped the injured man who would have surely died all alone on the desert road.

Remember, this parable was told in response to a Jew (a scholar of the law) asking Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man asking, along with the priest and Levite in the parable, already had knowledge of the law. So when Jesus asked what the law said, he readily responded:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

To which Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’

Do this… Do…   Jesus didn’t say, “Know this and you will live.”

Do is a verb. It means to perform an action. Do this

But the scholar of the law pushed it further asking, “And who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus tells the parable we have been discussing (the original one, not the Bluegrass Kentucky Edition!).

Like a good teacher, and to see if the man really and truly got it, Jesus asks at the end of the parable, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 

“The one who treated him with mercy,” was the man’s reply. Not… the one who knew the law.

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  Go and dodo… there’s that little word again.

Loving God, loving neighbor, showing compassion, treating others with mercy. These are the things that allow us to be called Christian. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Not just to be a knower of Christ.

But to follow… it takes action.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Put all of your faith in Jesus Christ…

and then put all of that love of God into action.

Now go… and do likewise… and You. Will. Live!

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Live Your Faith Without Fear

3rd Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019)

Acts 5:27-32,40-41

Psalm 30:2,4-6,11-13

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-14

Something happened 2000 years ago that is beyond our ability as humans to fully understand. Through the Holy Spirit, God sent His only Son to earth. He didn’t come down on a cloud or riding on a chariot ready to lead an army like in a blockbuster movie. He came to earth as a baby, through the womb of a virgin named Mary. Jesus advanced in years and eventually began preaching about love, forgiveness, repentance and having eternal life with His Father in heaven. Throughout his travels, Jesus performed many miracles and His followers grew in number day by day. Jesus also made enemies along the way, which eventually lead to his gruesome death by crucifixion. Three days after his burial, Jesus rose from the dead… just as he claimed he would.

Stop here for a second and really ponder this. There have been other leaders and prophets before and after Jesus that have also claimed to be divine or have superhuman powers. But you know what ended their 10 seconds of fame? Death. No resurrection. Just death. Their followers saw them get killed or die and they too just faded away. 

So thinking through this logically… If the resurrection of Jesus Christ was just a myth, His followers would have scattered and disappeared into nothingness. The names of Peter, James, John, Matthew, Bartholomew and the rest of the Apostles would have no real value to us 2000 years later.

But that’s not the story we hear in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles are standing before the Sanhedrin. This is part of the group that was directly involved with convincing the Romans to execute Jesus. The Sanhedrin is demanding the Apostles to stop teaching in the name of Jesus Christ. Remember, the Apostles saw Jesus get scourged… they saw soldiers use nails to attach Him to a wooden cross… they saw the agonizing death that Jesus experienced as He struggled to breath His last breath. They saw the horrible death of someone claiming to be the Son of God.

But you know what else they saw??? They saw a teacher conquer death and rise again. That’s when they knew that Jesus truly was the Son of God. And that is what sets Jesus apart from every other teacher, leader or prophet. Jesus didn’t stay dead. No… He conquered death and ascended into heaven to spend eternity with His Father.

And here’s the kicker. Here’s why this is important to all of us. Jesus’ death and resurrection gave all of us the opportunity to also live forever in Heaven after our earthly death.

The Apostles knew this to be true. That’s why they pretty much laughed in the face of the Sanhedrin when they were ordered to be silent. They no longer feared death. They now understood that death lasts but a moment, but God’s love lasts eternally in heaven. And they were ready and willing to die to this life so as to be with God in heaven. They refused to deny their faith or remain silent anymore.

What about you? Is your faith strong and vibrant like the Apostles? Or are you afraid to live out your faith for fear of someone telling you to be silent?

Like the Apostles, do not be afraid to follow Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid to live out your faith. Have no fear… Jesus opened the gates of heaven for all of us. And on the other side of those gates is a loving Father. A Father ready to embrace us all.

If you believe that… then live like it…

The Sign of the Cross

The Most Holy Trinity (June 16, 2019)

Proverbs 8:22-31

Romans 5:1-5

Psalm 8:4-9

John 16:12-15

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t it interesting that pretty much everyone in here just made the Sign of the Cross with me?? I didn’t tell you to do it. You just did it. Making the Sign of the Cross is almost like a “Catholic reflex.” We hear or see someone do it and we join in. It’s a natural response for us. But have you ever really considered what it means?

First off, it’s a prayer. Probably one of the shortest prayers that we commonly use. It is a prayer that reminds us of the cross of salvation and also invokes the name of the Most Holy Trinity. The Feast Day, which we celebrate today.

The Sign of the Cross is an extremely powerful prayer that should be used frequently. In the fourth century, St. Athanasius wrote, “For by the Sign of the Cross, if a man will use it, their deceptions are driven out.” He was referring to driving out demons.

In one of his sermons, St. John Vianney said, “The Sign of the Cross is the most terrible weapon against the Devil… the Church wants us to make the Sign of the Cross ourselves at every juncture of our day: when we go to bed, when we awaken during the night, when we get up, when we begin any action, and above all when we’re tempted.”

Both of these Saints are speaking about using the Sign of the Cross against demons, the Devil and temptations. This shows how much power and grace this prayer can provide us.

This prayer should be made consciously and devoutly… never carelessly… never rushed. As mentioned earlier, it is a prayer to the Holy Trinity, which is a central dogma to our Christian faith. One God, Three Persons.

We must remember that this prayer is a sign of our salvation in Jesus Christ. God the Father (touch forehead) sent us His only Son (touch stomach) to become man. Jesus Christ then offered his life on the cross (touch shoulders) to pay a debt we could not pay. His death was the one true and perfect sacrifice for the redemption of our souls… opening the gates of heaven for all of us. This short prayer should remind us of the love God has for each one of us. A love that is stronger than death.

When we look at the three persons of the Holy Trinity, there are certain characteristics that typically come to mind. The 1st person of the Trinity, God the Father, is often associated with being the creator of life. A loving Father that looks at us as His children. We hear in the Old Testament how He made certain rules to help guide His chosen people while leading them to the Promised Land.

The 2nd person of the Trinity is the Son of God, or as we like to call Him – Jesus Christ. Jesus is the loving teacher that showed us how to live. He taught us that God’s love is open to all who believe in Him and follow God’s teachings. Jesus is the one who died a horrible death to allow us the gift of eternal life.

God the Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. He is the God of love and action. It’s often been said that the Holy Spirit is the love that exists between the Father and the Son. This is the Spirit that came down on the Apostles at Pentecost to begin the work of the church after Jesus’ ascension. We hear much about the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel from John. Jesus refers to Him as the “Spirit of Truth” because he will guide us to all truth.

All three of these persons in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are one. They are 3 separate persons, but one God. Where one is present, all three are present. So even though we often give certain characteristics to each of the persons, they are all together as one God. This is possibly one of the hardest mysteries to fully grasp with our human brains. What we are saying is that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, not 3 (it’s new math!).

Now let us look at God as a whole, not by the separate characteristics of each person. Our God is the creator of life. He is very loving. He showed us by His example of how to live and treat others, even when we may not agree with them. He laid down His life for us so that we could be with Him for eternity in Heaven. And to help us in our daily lives, He still moves among us and encourages us with gentle nudges to act lovingly throughout our days. He is the source of truth.

This is the God we are praying to when we say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is whom we invoke in our time of despair… when we need encouragement and guidance… when we second-guess our choices… when we need the strength to get back up after falling into sin.

This is who is on our side, cheering for us, each and everyday. Do not be afraid to call on the Trinity frequently… whether in desperate times when nothing seems to be going our way or in thanksgiving for the many little blessings in our lives.

Don’t allow the Sign of the Cross to just be a mindless “Catholic Reflex.”

It is a powerful prayer to the Holy Trinity.

A prayer that helps us get through the struggles of life on our journey towards heaven.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Faith Like the Apostles

3rd Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019)

Acts 5:27-32,40-41

Psalm 30:2,4-6,11-13

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-14

Something happened 2000 years ago that is beyond our ability as humans to fully understand. Through the Holy Spirit, God sent His only Son to earth. He didn’t come down on a cloud or riding on a chariot ready to lead an army like in a blockbuster movie. He came to earth as a baby, through the womb of a virgin named Mary. Jesus advanced in years and eventually began preaching about love, forgiveness, repentance and having eternal life with His Father in heaven. Throughout his travels, Jesus performed many miracles and His followers grew in number day by day. Jesus also made enemies along the way, which eventually lead to his gruesome death by crucifixion. Three days after his burial, Jesus rose from the dead… just as he claimed he would.

Stop here for a second and really ponder this. There have been other leaders and prophets before and after Jesus that have also claimed to be divine or have superhuman powers. But you know what ended their 10 seconds of fame? Death. No resurrection. Just death. Their followers saw them get killed or die and they too just faded away. 

So thinking through this logically… If the resurrection of Jesus Christ was just a myth, His followers would have scattered and disappeared into nothingness. The names of Peter, James, John, Matthew, Bartholomew and the rest of the Apostles would have no real value to us 2000 years later.

But that’s not the story we hear in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles are standing before the Sanhedrin. This is part of the group that was directly involved with convincing the Romans to execute Jesus. The Sanhedrin is demanding the Apostles to stop teaching in the name of Jesus Christ. Remember, the Apostles saw Jesus get scourged… they saw soldiers use nails to attach Him to a wooden cross… they saw the agonizing death that Jesus experienced as He struggled to breath His last breath. They saw the horrible death of someone claiming to be the Son of God.

But you know what else they saw??? They saw a teacher conquer death and rise again. That’s when they knew that Jesus truly was the Son of God. And that is what sets Jesus apart from every other teacher, leader or prophet. Jesus didn’t stay dead. He conquered death and ascended into heaven to spend eternity with His Father.

And here’s the kicker. Here’s why this is important to all of us. Jesus’ death and resurrection gave all of us the opportunity to also live forever in Heaven after our earthly death.

The Apostles knew this to be true. That’s why they pretty much laughed in the face of the Sanhedrin when they were ordered to be silent. They no longer feared death. They now understood that death lasts but a moment, but God’s love lasts eternally in heaven. And they were ready and willing to die to this life so as to be with God in heaven. They refused to deny their faith or remain silent anymore.

What about you? Is your faith strong and vibrant like the Apostles? Or are you afraid to live out your faith for fear of someone telling you to be silent?

Like the Apostles, do not be afraid to follow Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid to live out your faith. Have no fear… Jesus opened the gates of heaven for all of us. And on the other side of those gates is a loving Father. A Father ready to embrace us all.

If you believe that… then live like it…

Wipe Away The Dirt

5th Sunday of Lent – April 7, 2019

Isaish 43:16-21

Psalm 126:1-6

Philippians 3:8-14

John 8:1-11

What in the world did Jesus write on the ground? That is a question people have been asking for centuries. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty powerful!

Consider how the scene begins. A woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. According to the law, Moses commanded that such a person be sentenced to death by stoning. Not a single person present, including the accused woman, suggested that she was innocent. Not even Jesus denied her guilt. A mob of people, experts on Mosaic Law, presented an ironclad case against a guilty woman who was minutes away from her imminent death.

They then ask Jesus to simply acknowledge that this guilty person should be put to death according to their law. They just want Him to say, “Yup, you got her. Guilty as charged… go get the stones.” But instead, Jesus bends down to write something on the ground, not once, but twice.

Now consider how the scene ends after this mysterious inscription is written on the ground. No more mob. No one pointing fingers. No more questions. No stones in sight. Just Jesus and the accused woman all alone.

One could argue that this passage from John gives us a tremendous amount of hope. When one understands what really happened here, it is a powerful example of God’s grace and mercy. The same grace and mercy that He extends to all of us even to this very day.

To understand this better, one must recall the last time God wrote something down for His people. Anyone want to take a guess? On Mount Sinai God engraved the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. These were His laws for the people to obey. God’s people were very lost and needed some parental guidance. So God gave Moses strict rules to implement among His people.

Contrast that with today’s Gospel from John. Rather than writing on stone tablets, Jesus writes in the dirt. Stone tablets are hard and obviously hard to change once engraved. Writing on the dirt can easily be erased with the swipe of a hand to give a clean slate… a fresh start.

So again, recall the scene from the Gospel. A group of people, probably with stones in hand, brought a guilty person to the temple area for a quick “judge, jury and executioner” chat with Jesus.  His response… was to write something down in the dirt and say, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus then bends down for a second time to write in the dirt again. Everyone present read what Jesus wrote in the dirt… and slowly walked away… one by one.

WHAT DID HE WRITE???? Come on!!! That’s the juiciest piece of information and it’s nowhere to be found anywhere in the bible!!!

Did he write down a list of everyone’s sins? Did he perhaps write down the name of other adulterers present who were better at hiding their sin and haven’t been caught yet? Did he write, “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do not judge and you will not be judged”… It’s nowhere to be found!

And you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Are you are ready for the punch-in-the-gut moment of today’s Gospel? Here it is… the woman caught in adultery… is US. Yes, Jesus sees a guilty woman standing before Him. But at the same time He sees all of God’s people of the past, present and future that are not always faithful to Him. And His heart is moved with compassion. These are precisely the people that Jesus came to save. These are the people that He will sacrifice Himself on the cross for on Good Friday… to release us from our sins.

Jesus doesn’t look at her, or us, and condemn us for our actions. Instead, He is offering us His grace and much needed mercy. He is reminding us that only He can forgive our sins… only He can wipe away the dirt on the ground. Only He can give us a fresh start.

Now… I wouldn’t be doing my job up here if I skipped over the last sentence from this passage. Yes, God’s love and mercy can surpass all things. Yes, God is full of compassion. But pay close attention to what he tells the woman after he pardons her.

Jesus says, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Did you catch that? Do not sin any more.

Jesus is asking us to do our part. To put in some effort. There is no doubt that God’s grace and mercy gives us new life. However, it should also stir something inside of us that desires change. Positive change. Change toward living a good and holy life. A desire to avoid sin if at all possible. But in those moments when we fail, we need to repent and rely on God’s grace and mercy to start over. To wipe away the dirt.

So no matter what we have done in the past, God is cheering for us. He’s not condemning us. He actually sees more potential in us than we see in ourselves.

We need to allow His love and mercy to fully engulf us. Allowing His grace to give us the strength to overcome sin and to go and sin no more.

Our future is not set in stone. And the sins of our past do not dictate our future.

With God’s help, we can be the positive change for a brighter future. A future that eventually ends with us face to face with God in heaven.

10 Minutes A Day

2nd Sunday of Lent – March 17, 2019

Genesis 15:5-12,17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Psalm 27:1,7-9,13-14

Luke 9:28b-36

When was the last time you went away from the business of the world and spent at least 10 minutes in quiet prayer? As Catholics, I know we are good with reciting the memorized prayers such as the Rosary, the Our Father and the Apostles’ Creed. These are good prayers, but what I’m really asking is… when was the last time you’ve had a deep, heartfelt conversation with God. After all, isn’t that what prayer is… a conversation with God? And the key thing to consider here is that this form of prayer involves both a speaking AND, more importantly, a quiet listening. It is a dialogue that was not meant to be one sided.

One of the problems we encounter in life is… we tend to go to God mainly when we are in desperate need… almost as a last resort.

“Dear God, help me pass this test that I forgot to study for.”

“Dear God, if I win the lottery I’ll give 10%, no 15%, back to the church.”

But we also have those desperate, but more serious situations as well.

“Dear God, heal my friend from their serious illness.”

“Dear God, help me forgive the person who hurt me so I can trust again.”

We, as humans, expect instant results. Things should happen now, not later. So we say our prayer and expect an immediate answer, right?. But guess what… the majority of us typically don’t get a loud voice from above with an instant response. That often leads us to then ask, “Where are you God? See, I tried. I prayed and told you what I needed and I got nothing in return. Why do I even bother?” Then our prayer life gets pushed farther and farther away from our daily routine.

If this resonates with you in any way, I’m here to encourage you to change your daily routine. I want to encourage you to pray, not just in those times of need, but EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. regardless of your needs. Regardless of whether or not you “feel” like praying. After all, we are in the Lenten Season. This is a time we are supposed to try and step away from the world… to disconnect from some of our earthly distractions… and prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. As Fr. Al reminded us last week, Lent is a time to focus on fasting, almsgiving and… guess what… PRAYER. So let’s talk about prayer.

Today’s Gospel from Luke is commonly referred to as the “Transfiguration.” I want us to look at this passage and see what it could be telling us regarding prayer.

The first major thing we should notice is in the opening verse, “Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus went up a mountain to pray? To get away. To find some peace and quiet. It’s awfully hard to hear God’s voice when you can’t even hear yourself think. If you are a parent with kids at home, you know exactly what I mean. I think kids deliberately get LOUDER the quieter you try and become. It’s like they can sense it! So it’s important to find a place that you can spend some uninterrupted time in prayer. I suggest starting with 10 minutes. It’s not a magical number but it’s a doable number for most people.

Unfortunately, when I began trying to make deliberate time to pray, I’d often fall asleep. I began to realize I was always on the go and finally getting a chance to sit down for 10 minutes was all it took to doze off. This leads me to the second suggestion from today’s Gospel regarding prayer. “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory.” Let me say that again. Becoming fully awake, they saw his glory.

This has two meanings to me. One, don’t pray when you are super tired because you’ll miss something due to the fact you will end up asleep! But more importantly, if you want to see God’s glory and possibly hear His voice, you need to be “awake” to His presence around you. Praying daily keeps you focused on God… every day. It puts Him in front of your eyes rather than on the back burner. When you pray frequently, you will actually start to see that God is more active in your life than you originally thought. But you have to be fully awake to Him because, from my experience, God can be very, very subtle… so much so that you may miss it if you’re not paying attention or you’ll blow it off as a coincidence when He does answer a prayer.

Have you ever heard the story of the guy driving around the parking lot at the mall on a busy, rainy Saturday morning? He’s driving around looking for a parking spot up close to the front door so he can get inside without getting too wet. But there is not a single parking spot available anywhere near the front. So out of frustration the man looks up to heaven and says, “God, could you please find me a parking spot up close to the front?” Just then, someone starts backing out of a space right up near the front door. The man slams on his brakes… then quickly looks up and says, “Never mind God, I found a spot.”

Unfortunately, God doesn’t typically give us a bright, flashing neon sign with an answer. He often speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts.

The last point I want to emphasize from today’s Gospel is in the last verse. After Peter, James and John heard the voice of God in a cloud, it says that, “They fell silent.” I can’t emphasize enough the importance of silence when it comes to prayer. Silence allows time to reflect on what we are praying about. It allows that voice in our brains to go to work. It also allows us to reflect on the fact that maybe God isn’t answering a prayer the way we want for a reason. You’ll be surprised at what you can hear when you combine silence with the Holy Spirit.

Use this Lenten season to strengthen your prayer life. Take 10 minutes every single day to have a dialogue with God. Remember to find a place to get away, be fully awake and allow for some silence. And in those 10 minutes, ask God for help… tell Him what is in your heart. At the very least, tell Him that you love Him and thank Him for the blessings in your life. I promise that if you do this, you will become a more humble, appreciative and loving human being.

So make prayer a daily priority in your life. 10 minutes a day. It’s not much, but it’s so extremely important. God is waiting to hear from you. But it’s up to you… to start the conversation.

Martyrs and Hope

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb 17, 2019)

Jeremiah 17:5-8

Psalm 1:1-2,3,4,6

1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20

Luke 6:17,20-26

I often get asked the question, “What made you become Catholic?” You see, I was not raised Catholic. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil of 1999 after going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program up in Ohio. It’s a question that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on because there are many different things that lead me here. However, there is one that seems to stick out to me the most. It’s reading about the people that were killed for their faith in the early Church. I’m talking about the martyrs. Here are a few examples…

The first recorded martyr was St. Stephen. He was stoned to death in the year 36, which is recorded in the Book of Acts.

St. Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows and left for dead. However, he didn’t die and was eventually nursed back to health. He continued in his faith and was later clubbed to death by order of the emperor… this time, he didn’t make it.

St. Agnes made of vow of perpetual virginity to God and was eventually beheaded for it. 

These are just a few examples of people who were killed for their faith. But what about modern day examples? Do people still die for their belief in Jesus Christ?

St. Jose Sanchez del Rio was 15 years old when he was killed during the Cristero War in Mexico. Mexican soldiers “cut the bottom of his feet and obliged him to walk around the town toward the cemetery. They also at times cut him with a machete until he was bleeding from several wounds. He cried and moaned with pain, but he did not give in. At times they stopped him and said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we will spare your life’. José would only shout, ‘I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!'” He was eventually shot to death in front of his parents.

On the night of December 14, 1957, a Cistercian Hungarian priest named Fr. János Brenner, was falsely called to give last rites to a sick person in a neighboring town. This was during the height of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He left his home, carrying his anointing oils and the Eucharist, but was ambushed in the woods outside and stabbed 32 times. He was found dead the next day, still clutching the Eucharist in his hands.

When I read about the church martyrs… it made me want to know more about their faith… because they seemed to get it. They understood that an earthly death, even if it was a painful death, could eventually lead them to eternal bliss in heaven. That is the faith I wanted to study and hopefully live out in my own life.

We live in a section of the world where, more than likely, none of us will have to die for our faith. But it is still happening all over the world. I’ve often thought what I would do if someone held a knife or gun to me and said, “Renounce your faith or die.” I’d probably have a few choice “4 letter words” to offer to the person but hopefully would be able to stay strong in my faith until the end.

The thing that attracts me the most about reading on the martyrs of the church also involves a “4 letter word.” And it is simply this… HOPE. The only reason people would die to this world, rather than deny their faith, is because they have a strong HOPE that what they believe in Jesus Christ and Heaven is real.

It is this same HOPE that Jesus is proclaiming in today’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus says blessed are you who are poor and hungry… who are weeping… who are hated, excluded and insulted. He doesn’t say complain, whine, hold grudges and return the insult. NO! Jesus instead says, “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!”

The hope that this passage from Luke gives us is this… no matter what we are going through, no matter the trials, no matter the struggles… as long as we hold onto our faith… all of the worldly struggles are just temporary. Our ultimate goal is to be in the presence of God in heaven. And that is more precious than any trial we have to go through here on earth. This is what should give us reason to rejoice and leap for joy. It is what gives us HOPE.

So no matter the struggles you are going through at this present moment, remember you are on a journey. A journey that is leading you back into the arms of our one true King, Jesus Christ. And even if you are not called to die for your faith, look to the martyrs of the Church as role models. Just like them, you are called to live out your faith with hope and love until your last breath. And if you are true to your faith and cling to that hope, you will truly “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day” when you finally meet God face to face.