Preparing the Way for Jesus

In this week’s Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist, the messenger calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord”.  St. John completes the work of all the prophets beginning with Elijah. He proclaims to the people that the consolation they have been longing for is fast approaching. In the reading this week from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord”. The prophets were always calling the people back from their wayward way of living.  Jesus’ first coming is near and John the Baptist is in the desert calling the people to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. The people came to John in the desert and “acknowledged their sins”. Today it seems as though there is so much sin, and yet very little acknowledgment of our own personal sin. It is much easier to be like the Pharisees and point out the plank in the other person’s eye. It is time to repent!

Remember St. Peter? He denied Our Lord three times at his trial and fled before His crucifixion. But that was not the end of his relationship with Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus meets up with Peter and the other apostles for breakfast on the beach. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them, and bring them back into the sheepfold.

This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, and still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him. 

Advent is a time for us to reflect on how we may have offended Him and to turn to Him to receive mercy. Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy as we examine our conscience and seek out the Sacrament of Penance as a way to prepare the way for the Lord this Christmas.

The Sacrament of Penance is there to help us prepare for our celebration of Christmas. We should also try to make this sacrament a habit in order to be prepared for His Second Coming. The second reading for this Sunday, taken from the Second Letter of Saint Peter, so aptly reminds us about how our conduct ought to be and what kind of persons we should be, conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”.  All the while remembering that the day of “the Lord will come like a thief” and when we least expect it. So let us have Him find us always ready!

Or we can just go on with our lives in peace instead. However, there are different kinds of peace.

There is the false peace that the world gives. First among this type of peace is riches. People with wealth and who try to lead holy lives avoiding any serious sin, think that they are secure. Nevertheless they often fail to reflect on the fact that they are stewards and that their money is not theirs, but has been entrusted to them by God. They do give sometimes, but they need to be sure to not delay in helping those who are poor and suffering with the surplus. For those who are not rich, St. Teresa counsels to “be content with little.“ Otherwise they will find themselves embittered with envy. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed St. Teresa’s advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much”. Praise can cause much harm if one is not careful. Words of praise can cause harm by making you “believe that the truth was spoken or make you think that now everything is accomplished and that you have done your part.” St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself “and if in some matters people speak truth in praising you, note that the virtue is not yours and that you are obliged to serve more.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 11-13)

Then there is the false peace that comes from our bodies, which are very fond of comfort. St. Teresa wants us to understand that there is a false peace that comes from seeking “one’s peace in comforts” and living comfortably, since the Lord suffered so much and underwent many trials. Additionally, “the body grows fat and the soul weakens” when we give the body so much pampering. Craving comforts can harm the soul without one even being aware. She gives examples of how one day the body can endure a hardship and then a week later it is unable to bear with something like a rough tunic. Or that “some days eating fish may hurt you, but once your stomach gets used to it, it will not harm you.” Her point here is that “we must not find our rest in being lax.” Since the body can be so untrustworthy, we need to understand this about it and to use discretion. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15)

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him. May all our efforts cooperate with the grace God gives in each moment to prepare a heart, pure and receptive, to receive so great a gift as we prepare for His coming. 

“Since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him and at peace” 2 Pt 3:14

The Prophet of Mercy

Elijah is the prophet of mercy. Why? Because mercy is a gift and a call. It is a generous gift and a call to conversion. This can be seen in the life of the “father” of prophets. After considering a reign like that of Ahab, who wouldn’t be left downcast and sorrowful in spirit? Dark clouds loom, every light seems extinguished, and voices are silenced – with death on the horizon. What a scene where all seems to be in the control of Satan himself! But God had a plan. In His mercy, He raised up a prophet. Elijah was to be a witness bringing light and power.

God is wise and full of compassion.

“As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.

For he knows how we are formed,

remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

It is the mercy of God that raises up a prophet in a day of ruin. This He does with Elijah. God seeks out Elijah who is deserting, hiding under a broom tree! But God does not say, “Get up, go back to Jezreel!”

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God is wise and full of compassion. 

The Lord tells Elijah first to rest and sleep. “ “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again.” (1Kings 19:5-6) It has all been too much for Elijah, and he is crushed and unable to think or act clearly.

God is wise and full of compassion. 

He knows that Elijah is unable to process any correction nor is he able to take in any instruction. First, in order for him to be profitable, he needs to regain his physical and emotional strength.

“After Elijah had learned mercy during his retreat at the Wadi Cherith, he teaches the widow of Zarephath to believe in The Word of God and confirms her faith by his urgent prayer: God brings the widow’s child back to life.” (CCC 2583) The Catechism goes on to explain that it is “in their “one to one” encounters with God, the prophets draw light and strength for their mission. Their prayer is not flight from this unfaithful world, but rather attentiveness to The Word of God. At times their prayer is an argument or a complaint, but it is always an intercession that awaits and prepares for the intervention of the Savior God, the Lord of history.”(CCC 2584)

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According to the visions of St.          Faustina, the Divine Mercy chaplet’s prayers for mercy have a threefold purpose. First, to obtain mercy, then to trust in the mercy of God, and finally to show mercy.

Christians know that they are not called to bring judgment. They know that they are to bring the Good News of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice to others. When faith is weakened people soon abandon the path to conversion because of their many sins. Then they are ladened with the guilt of these sins which slowly devour them. The role of the prophet is to help others to accept their faults and weaknesses while trusting in the mercy and hope that is found on the road towards forgiveness and conversion which leads to Jesus Christ.

To obtain “mercy” means to be given something that we do not deserve. As sinners we clearly do not deserve anything from God. But here is where we insert the prophetic message – God is merciful:

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,

slow to anger, abounding in mercy.

He will not always accuse,

and nurses no lasting anger;

He has not dealt with us as our sins merit,

nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.

For as the heavens tower over the earth,

so his mercy towers over those who fear   

him.” (Psalm 103:8-11)

When we live in, with, through and for Christ, He will supply us with every grace.Then we can show others the way with God’s mercy. Mercy is God’s love, a compassionate love that seeks and meets the needs of others and relieves them of their miseries.The prophet, Elijah, prays for the widow’s son and he is returned back to life for her. “The woman said to Elijah, “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God, and it is truly the word of the LORD that you speak.” (1 Kings 17:24) 

Sadly, prayer among Christians is a neglected exercise and especially at at time when it is needed most. There is a mutual weakness felt among us, and along with this there should be a united utterance of this weakness that would therefore result in a renewal of our collective strength. From a shared, heartfelt prayer we could, no doubt, expect an outpouring of God’s refreshing grace that would revive those who are resting and satisfied with their dead, cold lives.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “St. James refers to Elijah in order to encourage us to pray: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”” (2582) On this Feast of Divine Mercy and inspired by Elijah, the prophet of mercy, let us renew our efforts at prayer entering into that “one to one” encounter with God, and from this draw light, and strength, for our prophetic mission.

Mercy Without Measure

Lord-be-merciful-unto-me-wGod gives gifts without measure. However, we often measure how much we will receive. Prayer changes all this. Prayer changes everything. It opens up our capacity to receive, to receive the gifts God wants to give us.

We are the ones who break friendship with God. It is so ingrained in our nature to dodge His demands. God wants to work in us, but we don’t want it; we have “other interests” or else we want to control God and so the conflict begins. A divided heart settles within and we resist and rebel. 

But our God is a God of Mercy. He only interacts with us as Mercy, yet we want to turn and run from so great a gift! Read more here.

A Merciful Heart

 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15)

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Breakfast on the beach – I have always been fond of this Gospel passage. There is something familiar and ordinary about it. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them and bring them back into the sheepfold.

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This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, like impatience! And still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him.

St. Therese says that He, “thrills with joy when, humbly acknowledging our faults, we come to fling ourselves into His arms, imploring forgiveness; then He loves us even more tenderly than before we fell.”

Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy.

 

Into His Arms With Joy

The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The essence of this devotion is to His mercy and love and to make reparation for the neglect, indifference and ingratitude of man that results in Christ being left alone, abandoned and forgotten in the Blessed Sacrament.

St. Therese had a different approach to the Sacred Heart – it was always that the heart of Jesus was a heart of love – a purifying love. Suffering is part of the process of this purifying love, but it is not the end. For our saint this devotion is an aid in conforming our hearts to the heart of Jesus – one that is burning with love.

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St. Therese particularly emphasized Christ’s love as merciful. In a letter to Maurice Belliere written just weeks before she was to die, St. Therese wrote in order to inspire him, and all of us who call ourselves His friends, that:

 

“the heart of God is saddened more by the thousand little indelicacies of His friends than it is by the faults, even the grave ones, which people of the world commit.” But my dear little brother, it seems to me that it is only when his friends, ignoring their continual indelicacies, make a habit out of them and don’t ask forgiveness for them, that Jesus can utter those touching words which the Church puts on his lips in Holy Week: “These wounds you see in the palms of my hands are the ones I received in the house of those who loved me.”  For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy. He says to His angels what the father of the prodigal son said to his servants: “Put his best robe on him and put a ring on his finger, and let us rejoice” Ah! my brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known! 

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The heart of Jesus is full of mercy – an infinite treasure of mercy. St. Therese urges us to go the Jesus with confidence in His mercy. She sees in the Gospel account of the prodigal son a message that applies not only to those who have committed great sins, but even to those who have turned away from venial sins. If we humble ourselves and strive to rise again after each fall or fault committed through a lack of reflection or through weakness, Jesus never tires of forgiving us and is thrilled “with joy” when we humbly acknowledge our faults and throw ourselves “into His arms” asking for forgiveness. Jesus’ love for us will be as tender as ever.


 

Lent and Almsgiving

God dwells in a soul not in grace giving it being and holding it in existence. This soul is not able to receive light from the Lord, however. St. Teresa of Jesus says these souls are “in a dark prison” and that they cannot do anything good nor can they merit anything for themselves. She exhorts us to have pity on these unfortunate souls and to think about our own past sins and the time when we were in this sad condition. Since the Lord had mercy on us, we should also desire that He have mercy on them.

St. Teresa wants us to give alms by praying for those souls in mortal sin:

“Let us take special care, Sisters, to beg this mercy of Him and not be careless, for it is a most generous alms to pray for those who are in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle VII, 1, 4)

A soul in mortal sin is “bound hands and feet” “dying of hunger” because he cannot take hold of the food that is set before him and eat. In truth this soul has a great disgust for the food. But we should not just stand by and let this soul die for the death is an eternal one.

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St. Teresa continues in The Interior Castle to say that our prayers can loosen the bonds of souls that are in this sad state:

“For the love of God I ask you always to remember in your prayers souls in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle, VII, 1,4)

This is how Carmelites are to save souls – by praying for them, for to pray is to give. We should beg God’s mercy on them so that the darkness that covers their souls will be lifted and they will receive light.

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Reckless Mercy

God gives gifts without measure. However, we often measure how much we will receive. Prayer changes all this. Prayer changes everything. It opens up our capacity to receive, to receive the gifts God wants to give us.

We are the ones who break friendship with God. It is so ingrained in our nature to dodge His demands. God wants to work in us, but we don’t want it; we have “other interests” or else we want to control God and so the conflict begins. A divided heart settles within and we resist and rebel. 

But our God is a God of Mercy. He only interacts with us as Mercy, yet we want to turn and run from so great a gift! 

All we ever have to do is to turn to Him, a simple lifting up of the heart . . . a whispered prayer. . . “Father!”, and then the Reckless Mercy begins. It washes over us, pours into our soul, penetrates the heart, fills it with blessings and makes us new. And the good news is that He never tires of doing this.

“Souls should remember His words and see what he did with me; before I grew tired of offending Him, His Majesty began to pardon me. He never tires of giving, nor can He exhaust His mercies. Let us not tire of receiving. May he be blessed forever, amen. – and may all things praise Him.” (St. Teresa, Book of Her Life 19,15)

St. Teresa was overcome by the mercy that God showered on her. She discovered in His presence mercy both for herself and for all sinners. God is merciful and His mercy is reckless and this is beautifully expressed in the following prayer by St. Teresa.

O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in “wedding garments.” Amen.