Third Sunday of Lent

There are a lot of people whose main goal in life seems to be trying to have as many unique experiences as possible. They are the people who are always going on exotic vacations or trying new experiences. They are always looking for something new and exciting. Some people have the same approach to the spiritual life. They are always looking for great religious experiences, going on this retreat and that pilgrimage. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with religious experiences. But they aren’t the goal of the spiritual life. And just having religious experiences doesn’t make us good disciples.

St. Paul, in the second reading, speaks of the Israelites. He says that they “were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” He is speaking here of the events of the Exodus. Look at all the things that the people experienced. They saw the glory of God on the mountain, they passed through the Red Sea, they ate the manna that God provided and drank the water from the rock. These were amazing experiences. But St. Paul says, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them.” Why not? Why were these people, who experienced so much from God, not pleasing to Him? Think back to the stories of the Exodus. Despite everything they experienced, the people continued to rebel against God. In spite of all of their experiences, as powerful as those were, the people never grew, they never changed. God continually blessed them, but they repeatedly doubted Him and sinned against Him.

The purpose of the spiritual life is not to have these big religious experiences but to bear fruit, as Our Lord says in the Gospel. He uses the parable of a man who plants a tree, but the tree never bears fruit. It takes everything in, the sunlight, the water, the soil, but it never produces anything. The Israelites in the Exodus that St. Paul was speaking of were similar; they experienced all those amazing things, but they never bore fruit. We can fall into the same situation. There is a danger that our faith simply becomes a spectator sport. We experience a lot, but it never achieves anything, and we never bear fruit. We pray, we go to Mass, we receive Our Lord Himself in the Eucharist, but all the while, we never bear fruit. We’re like fans at a sporting event – we know a lot about the team, their stats and figures and the rules of the game, but we don’t actually play the game. Likewise, we can know a lot about Jesus, His teachings and such, but it doesn’t translate into action. Jesus isn’t looking for spiritual fans; He wants teammates. Our faith is not something that we experience but something we live.

Our Lord is calling us to bear fruit, and, as He says in the Gospel, the fruit that He is looking for is repentance. Sometimes, we can think “to repent” means “to be sorry for our sins.” But it means something much more. The Greek word for repentance in the Gospel is μετανοέω. It literally means a change of thought or a change of mind.

Repentance means more than just feeling bad for our sins, it means actually changing. That should make sense. If there is something that you do that offends or hurts your spouse, you don’t just feel bad about it, but you also work to avoid it in the future. Very often though, we may feel bad about our sins, but we don’t really work at avoiding it in the future. We can fall into the trap of just continuing to sin, all the while saying that we are sorry for it and convincing ourselves that just feeling bad is good enough. But true repentance means not just feeling sorry for our sins but actually working at avoiding it in the future. Likewise, it means not just wanting to be better but actually working at it.

This Lent, it is good to ask ourselves, what changes is the Lord calling me to make in my life? Are there sins that I repeatedly fall into without ever working on overcoming them? Are there virtues that I am lacking in that I don’t work on cultivating? And how can I work on these things during this holy season?

Our Lord calls us to be more than spectators; we are called to bear fruit, the fruit of repentance. We are called to change our lives. Moses is a great model for this. Upon having his encounter with God in the burning bush, his entire life changed. On the contrary, the Israelites during the Exodus also encountered God, and yet they didn’t repent and bear fruit. Which one will we be? We encounter God every Sunday here in the Eucharist. Will this encounter with God change us? Will we bear the fruit of repentance that God wants from us? Or will we stay unchanged?


Second Sunday of Lent

Did you listen to that first reading? Because it was weird. Like, really, really weird. God makes a promise to Abram that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars. And Abram asks God how he shall know that this promise shall come to pass. So far, things seem pretty normal. Then things get weird. God tells Abram to get a three-year old heifer, she-goat, and ram, as well as a turtledove and pigeon. Then he tells them to split the animals in half. After Abram does this, he stays with the carcasses, and once the sun sets, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. And we are told, “It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

What? No, seriously, what just happened? Just imagine you walk upon Abram cutting these animals in half and when you ask him what he’s doing, he says, “God told me to do this.” I’d probably back away very carefully. This is weird stuff. Most Biblical commentators will try to explain the act by saying that it was symbolic, the idea being that both persons making the covenant were essentially saying, “May the same thing that happened to these animals happen to me if I break the covenant.” And maybe that was the way that Abram understood the actions, but that is never spelled out in the Scriptures. The Bible never gives an explanation for why God asks Abram to do this. Even explaining why the animals are cut in half, there is still the bizarre reality of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch.

For being the occasion when God made a covenant with Abram, the Lord sure seems to hide Himself behind a lot of esoteric symbols and imagery. And I think that is the point. We were created for intimacy with God. But God is infinitely beyond us. By nature, God infinitely surpasses us. Then, there is even a greater gulf created by our sinfulness. In our fallen humanity, we can never approach God. We see this throughout the Old Testament. Think of Moses hiding his face in the rock as God’s glory passes by him. Throughout the Old Testament, people express fear of seeing God’s glory, because it so far surpasses us as to be dangerous to us. The Israelites had a very strong belief that if a human being saw the glory of God, they would die. Have you ever seen Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark? Do you know the scene at the end where they open the Ark and everyone who looks on it dies? That is a very real representation of what the Israelites thought would happen to anyone who looked upon the glory of God. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, where God was said to dwell, was off-limits, surrounded by curtains. Only the high priest could enter it once a year, and only then after it was filled with the smoke of incense to obscure his view.

That same unapproachability of God’s glory is seen in our first reading. Even as God makes a covenant with Abraham He also remains inaccessible, hidden behind darkness and strange symbols. Even as His glory is revealed, it is also obscured. Fast forward to our Gospel reading today, and something is different. Now, Peter, James, and John are able to look upon the glory of Christ without fear. His glory is not hidden in darkness and symbols but clearly shines forth in the face of Christ.

What happened? How did the glory of God go from being dangerous and inaccessible to something that the Apostles could openly gaze upon? God doesn’t want to remain hidden from us. He wants to be united with us in a close, intimate relationship. He wants us to be able to approach us. But we could never cross that distance that exists between us and Him. So He had to cross it. In the incarnation, God assumed our human nature. By His death and resurrection, Christ will destroy the final barriers that separate us from God: sin and death. God’s glory is no longer inaccessible to us. God no longer has to keep Himself hidden for us, because He has drawn us near to Himself. That is why the Gospels say that, when Jesus died, the veil in the Temple was torn in two; the barrier that separated us from God is no longer needed, as God has destroyed the distance between us. In the Transfiguration, God’s glory is fully revealed in Christ to show that God has truly drawn near to His people.

God has made Himself accessible and close to us. But sometimes, we still treat God as though He were far away and inaccessible. How often, when we pray, do we imagine God as far off in heaven, and we are way down here, just trying to get His attention? How often do we picture God as distant and aloof, only partly concerned with us and our lives? We pray as though Christ never came, as though God was still unapproachable. God has drawn close to us, but sometimes we still try to keep Him at arm’s length. God wants to reveal His glory to us without anything in the way. He wants a close, intimate relationship with us. But we have to respond.

Here in this Mass, God comes to us, not on a mountaintop with bright light and booming voice like in the transfiguration, not with animals and flaming torches like with Abram, but in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus, we receive God Himself. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we will be closer with God than either Abram was. We will even be closer to God than Peter, James, and John were in the Transfiguration. They saw God’s glory in the face of Christ, but they saw it as something outside of themselves. We will actually receive Him in our very selves. Truly, God is close to us. Let us allow Him to draw close. Don’t keep God at arm’s length. Don’t imagine Him far away in heaven, but realize that God Himself is here with us and He wants to be close to you. Let us also draw close to Him.


First Sunday of Lent

I was reading online recently that a professional athlete can be thousands of dollars by their own team if they lose their playbook. While that seems like a pretty stiff penalty, it is understandable. If an opponent got hold of a team’s playbook, they would have an amazing advantage. Similarly, many of you may work for companies that required you to sign non-disclosure agreements that you won’t pass on any company information to their competitors, because, were their competitor to have that information, it would help them to get ahead. In a similar vein, think of the millions upon millions of dollars that the U.S. Government spends to protect its military secrets. Again, the reason is obvious, were an enemy to get hold of that information, it could have devastating results.

Whether in sports, in business, or in war, we all know how beneficial it would be to know our opponent’s strategy. Were we to know what moves they will make, how they will try to operate, we would be much better at outsmarting them. In the spiritual life, we have an opponent as well. We are called to fight against temptation, whether that temptation comes from the world, from the devil, or from our own sinful inclinations. In the Gospel today, we see Our Lord fighting against temptation. And, as we see the devil tempting Him, we can learn how temptation works in our own lives as well. If we can identify the strategy that temptation uses to make itself look appealing to us, we will be better able to resist it.

First, the devil tempts Christ to turn stones into bread. The temptation here is for Christ to abuse His divine power. In this temptation, we see a couple of tactics. The first is to propose that the ends justify the means. Sure, if He turns the stones into bread, Our Lord will be abusing His divine power, but He would be doing it so that He can eat, so the ends justify the means, right? Wrong. Doing evil, even for good intentions, is still evil. Likewise, in our own lives, we can try to justify sin by saying that the ends justify the means. Sure, I’m lying to this person, but it is for a good reason. We can never permit sin just because some good may come of it.

Another tactic that we see in this temptation is that temptation often preys on bodily pleasure and desires. Now, sensible pleasures aren’t inherently bad things. God gave us our senses and the ability to receive enjoyment from them. But just because something feels good doesn’t make it good for us, and just because we want it doesn’t make it good for us. There are a fair number of sins that fall under the category of “feel good, but aren’t good for us.” Gluttony, lust, sloth, just to name the big categories. Sin often presents itself as an escape from pain, just as Satan was tempting Jesus with bread to alleviate His hunger. So many addictions, whether it be to alcohol, technology, gambling, or any other addiction, form as an escape from feeling bad and a promise of pleasure. When we can see through the immediate desire for physical pleasure, we are able to see sin for what it is.

Unable to successfully tempt Christ to turn the stones into bread, the devil then tries a different tactic. He offers to Our Lord all the kingdoms of the world, with all its power and glory, if only Christ would worship him. In this, the devil is trying to use pride to tempt Our Lord to sin. Likewise, pride is a common tactic that temptation uses in our lives. Someone does something that I don’t like, and my pride then leads me to blow up on them. I know some information about someone else, and my pride tempts me to gossip about that person to build myself up. Pride is one of the most common tactics that temptation uses.

When you think of what the devil is offering Christ, it must be appealing. Our Lord came to draw all nations into the Kingdom of God. Here the devil is offering that to Him, nice and easy. How often in our own lives does temptation use the same strategy, presenting sin as the easy way to what we want? I could work hard for something, or I could lie, cheat, and steal my way there. It would certainly be much easier that way.

Still failing, the devil tries one last attempt. Taking Jesus to the top of the wall of the Temple, he tempts Him to throw Himself down, promising that, as Scripture says, angels will protect Him. The devil is tempting Jesus to think of Himself as special. It would obviously be a sin for anyone else to jump off a wall, because they would die from it, But not for Christ. He is special. He is apart from the Law. Likewise, we can be tempted to sin by the thought that the rules don’t apply to us. I know what the Church teaches, and I know it says that this or that is a sin, but that doesn’t apply to me. My situation is different. Or maybe I’m tempted to think that I deserve this, I’ve earned it. Again, the basic message is that I know that, generally speaking, this is wrong, but I’m a unique case. Our Lord refuses to buy into this tactic, and so should we.

We also see in this temptation how the evil spirit often tries to entangle us with false reasoning. The devil even quotes Scripture to Jesus to convince Him. Likewise, there can be the temptation in our lives to try reasoning with sin. We try to find loopholes or come up with our own arguments of why it isn’t really a sin after all, instead of facing sin honestly as Jesus did.

We see in the temptations of Christ some of the most common strategies that sin uses in our lives. This Gospel essentially gives us sin’s playbook. That’s a huge advantage to us. During this season of Lent, we are called to grow in holiness, and part of that process is by working to better resist temptation. The more we can identify the strategies that temptation uses in our life, the better we will be able to resist it. As you see these temptations that the devil offers Christ, do any of them strike a chord with you? Do you recognize any of these strategies in your own temptations? During this first week in Lent, spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to help you better see your sins and the strategies that sin uses in your life. For example, if I know that I easily give in to temptation when it uses the strategy of the ends justifying the means, then, the next time I Find myself starting to justify my actions that way, I can better resist temptation. By growing in our awareness of how temptation works in our own lives, we can better follow Christ in resisting temptation and staying faithful to Our Heavenly Father.


VIII Domingo Ordinario

Cuando yo era niño, mis padres tuvieron un jardín de fresas detrás de nuestra casa. El jardín no era grande, pero cada año tuviéramos una buena cosecha de fresas durante todo el verano. A mi me gustó recoger fresas con mi mamá. Pero algo extraño sucedió. Nos dimos cuenta que algunas fresas eran deformadas. Porque nosotros nunca rotamos las plantas o plantamos nuevas fresas, había mucha endogamia. Cada año, más y más de las fresas eran deformadas, y las deformaciones se hicieron más grave. Finalmente, tuvimos que desarraigar todas las plantas. Lo que en una vez fue una cosecha buena y sana se había convertido enferma y deforme.

Yo pienso sobre esto en la luz de la parábola en el evangelio hoy. El Señor nos dice que no hay árbol bueno que produzca frutos malos, ni árbol malo que produzca frutos buenos. Al decir esto, Él está haciendo referencia al libro de Sirá en nuestra primera lectura, que dice, “El fruto muestra cómo ha sido el cultivo de un árbol.” Cristo dice esto como una manera de examinación de consciencia. Es fácil decir que somos discípulos de Cristo, que somos “árboles buenos.” Pero el Señor nos desafía para producir prueba de esta afirmación. ¿Mi vida da el fruto de un discípulo? ¿Qué evidencia produce mi vida para demostrar que soy verdaderamente un seguidor de Cristo? ¿Qué es el fruto bueno que mi vida da? ¿Yo amo a mis enemigos? ¿Yo doy a los que me pida? ¿Vivo de acuerdo de las Bienaventuranzas?

Cristo quiere que seamos sus discípulos no solo en palabras pero en acción. Nuestras acciones deben reflejar la imagen de Cristo. Debemos preguntar a nosotros mismos, si alguien fuera a mirar mis acciones, ¿vería el fruto de un discípulo de Cristo, o vería algo diferente? Que fruto se produzca a mi vida?

A veces, en nuestra vida de fe, somos como las fresas en el jardín de mis padres. Al principio, somos discípulos sanos, dando frutos buenos. Pero, a través del tiempo, empezamos a deformarnos. Comenzamos dar fruto malo, en lugar del fruto bueno que Cristo quiere. Como las fresas, esto no sucede inmediatamente pero despacio. Permitimos que las cosas de este mundo se abran paso en nuestras vidas. Y el fruto que damos deja de ser el buen fruto de un discípulo y se convierte en el fruto malo del pecado.

Cuando esto pasa, necesitamos ser purificados. Necesitamos que las fuentes de la enfermedad y deformación sean desarraigadas de nuestras vidas y que vegetación nueva y saludable sea plantada. Esto es la razón por que hay el tiempo d la Cuaresma, que empieza este miércoles. La Cuaresma es un tiempo de purificación, de deshacernos de lo que es deformada para que podemos dar fruto bueno. Hay tres maneras en que la Iglesia nos llama a hacer esto durante la Cuaresma: oración, ayuno, y limosna. Estas tres disciplinas nos ayudan para dar fruto bueno.

La primera disciplina de Cuaresma es oración. No podemos producir el buen fruto de un discípulo si no somos en una relación con Cristo. No podemos saber lo que es el fruto malo que Dios quiere desarraigar sino estemos cerca de Él.  Oración es esencial si vamos a dar el fruto de un discípulo. Si queremos que esta Cuaresma sea verdaderamente un tiempo de crecimiento espiritual, necesitamos pasar tiempo en oración. ¿Cómo vas a crecer en oración esta Cuaresma? Quizás puedes hacer tiempo cada día para oración privada o con tu familia. Quizás asistirás a la Misa diaria. Hay la Escuela de Oración aquí en la parroquia durante la Cuaresma para ayudarnos a crecer en oración.

La segunda disciplina de Cuaresma es ayuno. Esto es lo que la gente suele asociar con la Cuaresma. A menudo, las personas ayunan de algo como soda o chocolate. Pero te invito a que pienses diferentemente en tu ayuno este año. Para dar fruto bueno, necesitamos desarraigar las cosas que produce al fruto malo. ¿Qué son estas cosas en tu vida que dan el fruto malo del pecado en lugar del fruto bueno de un discípulo? ¿Cómo puedes ayunar de estas cosas durante la Cuaresma? Ayunar de estas cosas será más difícil que ayunar de helado o chocolate, pero si ayunas de las cosas que producen frutos malos, tu Cuaresma será mucho más provechoso.

La última disciplina de Cuaresma es limosna. La limosna es el acto de dar fruto bueno. Después de pidiendo a Dios en oración cual es el fruto bueno que Él quiere; después de desarraigando las cosas que produce fruto malo por ayuno, tenemos que dar frutos buenos. La limosna es la disciplina de Cuaresma en que producimos el fruto de un discípulo.

No importa cuán buenos seamos como discípulos de Cristo, siempre podemos hacerlo mejor dando buenos frutos y desarraigando los malos frutos en nuestra vida espiritual. La Cuaresma nos invita a hacer esto a través de las disciplinas de oración, ayuno y limosna. Si realmente nos aplicamos a estas tres prácticas durante esta temporada santa, en la Pascua seremos seguidores de Jesús mejores, más fructíferos.


Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Growing up, my parents had a strawberry patch in our backyard. It wasn’t a very big patch, but if the weather was good, we would have a nice little crop of strawberries throughout the summer. I loved going out and picking strawberries with my mom. But something strange began to happen. We started noticing that some of the strawberries were deformed. Because we never rotated the plants or planted new ones, the strawberries began to be inbred. Each year, more and more of the strawberries were deformed, and the deformations became more extreme. In addition to deformed fruit, the plants began having other problems as well. Finally, we had no choice but to uproot all the plants. What had once been a good, healthy crop of strawberries had become, over time, diseased and deformed.

I think of this in reference to the parable that Christ uses in today’s Gospel. The Lord tells us that a good tree bears good fruit and a rotten tree bears rotten fruit. In saying this, He is drawing from the Book of Sirach in our first reading, which says “the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had.” Christ says this as a sort of examination of conscience. It is easy to tell ourselves that we are His disciples, that we are “good trees” so to speak. But the Lord challenges us to produce proof of that claim. Does my life bear the fruit of a disciple? What evidence does my life produce to show that I am truly a follower of Christ? What is the good fruit that my life bears? Think of the Gospel readings over the past few Sundays. Do I love my enemies? Do I give to those who ask of me? Do I live according to the Beatitudes?

Christ wants us to be His disciples not just in word but in deed. Our actions should reflect the image of Christ. We should ask ourselves, if someone were to watch my actions, would they see the fruit of a disciple of Christ, or would they see something else? What fruit does my life bear?

Sometimes, in our life of faith, we are like the strawberries in my parents’ backyard. We start out as healthy disciples of Christ, bearing good fruit. But, over time, we begin to get deformed. We start bearing rotten fruit, rather than the good fruit that Christ wants. Like the strawberries, it doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly. We allow the things of this world to work their way into our lives. And the fruit we bear stops being the good fruit of a disciple and becomes the rotten fruit of sin.

When that happens, we need to be purified. We need the sources of disease and rot to be pulled out of our life and new, healthy growth to be planted. That is why the Church gives us the season of Lent, which, in case you missed it, starts this Wednesday. Lent is a time of purification, of getting rid of that which is rotten so that we may bear good fruit. There are three ways that the Church calls us to do this during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three disciplines are aimed at helping us bear good fruit.

The first discipline of Lent is prayer. We can’t bear the good fruit that God wants us to bear if we are not in relationship with Him. We can’t know what the bad fruit is that God wants to uproot from our lives unless we are close to Him. Prayer is essential if we are going to bear the fruit of a disciple. If we want this Lent to truly be a time of spiritual growth, we must spend time in prayer.

The second discipline of Lent is fasting. This is what people usually think of when they think of Lent – giving something up. Often, the thing they give up is something like soda or chocolate. But I invite you to think of your fasting this year for Lent differently. In order to bear good fruit, we must uproot those things that cause us to bear rotten fruit. What are those things in your life that lead to you bearing the rotten fruit of sin rather than the good fruit of a disciple? How can you fast from those things during Lent? It will probably be much harder to fast from those things than it is to fast from ice cream or chocolate, but if you fast from the things that lead you to bear bad fruit, your Lent will be much more rewarding.

The final discipline of Lent is almsgiving. Almsgiving is the actual act of bearing good fruit. After we have spent time in prayer asking God what the good fruit is that He wants us to bear, after we have uprooted the things that lead us to bear rotten fruit, we have to actually bear good fruit. Almsgiving is the discipline of Lent whereby we bear the good fruit of a disciple.

No matter how good we are as disciples of Christ, we can always do better at bearing good fruit and uprooting the rotten fruit in our spiritual life. Lent invites us to do this through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we truly apply ourselves to these three practices during this holy season, by Easter we will be better, more fruitful followers of Jesus.

V Domingo Ordinario

Si te encontraras con Dios, ¿qué sería lo primero que hiciste? ¿Le pedirías algo? Tal vez le agradecerías. ¿Ofrecerías una oración de alabanza? ¿Cómo reaccionarías ante un encuentro con Dios?

En las lecturas hoy, tres personas tienen encuentros con Dios. Y todos tres tienen una reacción similar. En la primera lectura, la profeta Isaías ve la gloria de Dios, y él exclama, “¡Ay de mí!, estoy perdido, porque soy un hombre de labios impuros, que habito en medio de un pueblo de labios impuros.” En la segunda lectura, cuando San Pablo describe como Cristo apareció a él, se refiere a si mismo como “indigno de llamarme apóstol.” Y, en el Evangelio, cuando Pedro se da cuenta de quien es Jesús, él responde proclamando, “¡Apártate de mí, Señor, porque soy un pecador!” Para Isaías, Pablo, y Pedro, cuando se encuentran con la gloria de Dios, su primera reacción es proclamar su propio pecaminosidad e indignidad.

Sus primeros pensamientos a tener un encuentro con Dios es profesar que no son dignos de tener un encuentro con Dios. Reconocen la santidad de Dios tanto como su propio pecaminosidad. Y reconocen que esas dos cosas no armonizan. Entienden que su pecado los hace totalmente indignos de estar en la presencia de Dios.

Hay una lección importante para nosotros. A veces, podemos olvidar que una parte integral de una espiritualidad cristiana autentica es humildad. Cuando oramos, no estamos entablando un diálogo entre iguales. Llegamos a la presencia de Dios que es todo bueno, todo poderoso, todo glorioso, todo santo. Y nosotros no somos. Somos pecaminosos y caídos. Y nuestro pecado nos hace indignos para adorar a Dios. Dios es todo santo. No hay ni la más mínima imperfección en él. Él merece ser adorado por adoradoras que son igualmente perfectos. Y eso no es nosotros. No somos dignos para adorar a Dios. Yo y usted estamos pecadores. Somos indignos estar en la presencia de Dios.

Reconocer nuestra propia pecaminosidad es el primero paso de oración cristiana. Nos vemos esto en las lecturas hoy. De hecho, la Iglesia nos enseña esto en la Misa. ¿Cómo empieza cada misa? Inmediatamente después del Signo de la Cruz, tenemos el rito penitencial. La primera cosa que hacemos en la misa es confesar nuestro pecado y pedirle a Dios su perdón. Eso no es accidental. La liturgia de la iglesia es basado en las Escrituras, y las Escrituras nos enseña, en ejemplos como las lecturas hoy, que nuestra reacción primera a estar en la presencia de Dios es un admisión de nuestro pecado. El Catecismo dice que la petición de perdón es “el comienzo de una oración justa y pura.”

Esto es verdadero no solo en la misa pero para todas nuestras oraciones. Cuando oramos, siempre debe haber el reconocimiento de que nos acercamos a Dios que es mucho mayor que nosotros. Debe haber una reverencia y respeto para la santidad incomparable de Dios. Eso es lo que la Biblia llama “temor de Dios.” Temor de Dios no es temor de castigo. No es temor que Dios hará algo para hacernos daño. Más bien, temor de Dios es el reconocimiento de la grandeza de Dios y un temor que, por nuestro pecado, podríamos deslustrar el esplendor de Dios. Por eso debemos tener cuidado de nunca tomar el nombre de Dios en vano, porque Dios es santo, y debemos temer tratar a Dios de cualquier manera que no sea digna de Su santidad. Este temor a Dios también es la razón por la que construimos iglesias hermosas y usamos cosas hermosas en la liturgia, porque queremos que nuestra adoración a Dios sea de alguna manera digna de Su grandeza.

Pero no nos sirve tener iglesias hermosas y almas sucias. Podemos usar artículos ornamentados e impecables para la misa, pero si nuestras almas están manchadas por el pecado, los cálices de lujo y las costosas vestimentas no importan. Cuando venimos a misa, usamos nuestras mejores ropas por respeto a Dios. ¿Pero también nos aseguramos de que nuestras almas sean lo mejor que pueden ser?

Debemos trabajar tan duro como podamos para crecer en santidad por respeto a Dios. Pero nunca pensemos que de alguna manera podemos hacernos iguales a Dios. No importa cuán santos seamos, nunca seremos dignos de venir a Su presencia. Nunca seremos dignos de adorarle. Él siempre permanecerá infinitamente más allá de nosotros. Y sin embargo, a pesar de nuestra perpetua indignidad, Dios nos llama a adorarle. Él nos llama a su presencia. Y también, Él nos hace Sus hijos e hijas. No somos dignos de ser Sus siervos y, sin embargo, Él nos hace Sus hijos. Cada vez que oramos, cada vez que vamos a misa, debemos estar conscientes del asombroso amor de Dios que nos permite hacerlo, a pesar de nuestra indignidad. Así como Dios llamó al profeta Isaías, a San Pablo y a San Pedro, a pesar de su pecaminosidad e indignidad, así también Él nos llama. Al acercarnos a Dios aquí en esta misa, al prepararnos para recibir a Jesús en esta Eucaristía, confesemos humildemente nuestra indignidad y demos gracias a Dios por su gracia.


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

If you were to meet God face-to-face, what would be the first thing you did? Would you ask Him for something? Maybe you would thank Him. Would you offer a prayer of praise? How would you react to an encounter with God?

In today’s readings, three people have an encounter with God. And they all have a similar reaction. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord, and he cries out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” In the second reading, when St. Paul describes how Christ appeared to him, he refers to himself as, “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” And, in the Gospel, when Peter realizes who Christ is, he responds by proclaiming, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, when they encounter the glory of God, their first reaction is to proclaim their own sinfulness and unworthiness.

Their first reaction to having an encounter with God is to proclaim that they are not worthy of having an encounter with God. They recognize God’s holiness as well as their own sinfulness. And they recognize that those two things don’t go together. They recognize that their sinfulness makes them totally unworthy to be in the presence of God.

There’s an important lesson there. Sometimes, we can forget that an integral part of an authentic Christian spirituality is humility. When we pray, we are not engaging in a dialogue between equals. We are coming to into the presence of God who is all-good, all-powerful, all-glorious, all-holy. And we are not. We are sinful and fallen. And, objectively speaking, our sinfulness makes us unworthy to worship God. God is all-holy. There is not even the slightest imperfection in Him. He deserves to be worshipped by worshippers who are equally perfect. And that is not us. We are not worthy to worship God. You and I are sinners. We are unworthy to be in God’s presence.

Recognizing our own sinfulness is the first step of authentic Christian prayer. In fact, the Church teaches us in the Mass. How does every Mass start? Immediately after the Sign of the Cross, we have the Penitential Rite. The very first thing that we do at Mass is to confess our sinfulness and ask for God’s forgiveness. That isn’t accidental. The Church’s liturgy is based on Scripture, and Scripture teaches us, in examples like today’s readings, that our first reaction to being in God’s presence is an admission of our own sinfulness. The Catechism says that asking forgiveness for our sins “is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.” (CCC 2631)

This is true not just for Mass but in all of our prayers. When we pray, there should always be the recognition that we are approaching God who is far beyond us. There should be a reverence and respect for God’s incomparable holiness. This is what the Bible often refers to as “fear of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord is not a fear of punishment. It isn’t fear that God is going to do something to harm us. Rather, fear of the Lord is a recognition of God’s grandeur, and a fear that, by our sinfulness, we might tarnish God’s splendor. This is why we should be careful to never take God’s name in vain, because God is holy, and we should fear treating God in any way that is not worthy of His holiness. This fear of God is also why we build beautiful churches and use beautiful items in the liturgy, because we want our worship of God to be in some way worthy of His grandeur.

But it does us no good to have beautiful churches and dirty souls. We can use the ornate, impeccable items for Mass, but if our souls are stained by sin, the fancy chalices and expensive vestments aren’t any good to us. When we come to Mass, we wear our Sunday best out of reverence for God. But do we also make sure that our souls are the best they can be?

We should work as hard as we can to grow in holiness out of reverence for God. But let us never think that we can somehow make ourselves equal to God. No matter how holy we become, we will never be worthy to come into His presence. We will never be worthy to worship Him. He will always remain infinitely beyond us. And yet, despite our perpetual unworthiness, God calls us to worship Him. He calls us into is presence. And, not only that, but He makes us His sons and daughters. We are unworthy to be His servants, and yet He makes us His children. Every time we pray, every time we come to Mass, we should be aware of the boundless love of God that allows us to do so, despite our unworthiness. Just as God called the Prophet Isaiah, and St. Paul, and St. Peter, in spite of their sinfulness and unworthiness, so He calls us. As we approach God here in this Mass, as we prepare to receive Jesus Himself in this Eucharist, let us humbly confess our unworthiness, and let us give thanks to God for His grace.