Why would a loving God not answer prayer?

I heard a story of a ship that was sinking in the middle of a storm. The captain called out to the crew and said, "Does anyone here know how to pray?"  One man stepped forward and said, "Yes sir, I know how to pray." The captain said, "Wonderful, you pray while the rest of us put on life jackets - we're one short." Last Sunday, in the gospel story of Martha and Mary, we were reminded of the importance of regular prayer. I suggested that you take it as a challenge to pray regularly for at least five minutes each day. How did it go? When we start to pray regularly, we usually begin to notice difficulties.  These difficulties are reflected in the joke we heard: 1) we find we don’t really know how to pray and 2) we discover that sometimes our prayers don’t seem to be answered. Jesus addresses these challenges in today’s gospel.

We all struggle with knowing how to pray. Praying is no easy or straight forward task.  Many Catholics do not think that they enjoy a very good prayer life.  They think everyone else has an amazing prayer life and that all everyone else has to do is close their eyes and they are immediately filled with the presence of God. This is nonsense! We all struggle with prayer, myself included. When I pray I seldom experience strong positive emotions. I can easily lose concentration and become distracted. I received a good reality check about the difficulty of prayer when I read an interview with the now deceased Cardinal Hume. Towards the end of his life this devout man was asked about his prayer life.  He responded:
Oh, I just keep plugging away. At its best it’s like being in a dark room with someone you love. You can’t see them, but you know they’re there.
The disciples too must have had challenges praying otherwise we would not find them asking Jesus to teach them how to pray in today’s gospel. That the disciples and great Christians such as Cardinal Hume also struggled with knowing how to pray gives me hope. We all find prayer difficult.

Though prayer can be tough, an intimate, personal relationship with God is not beyond our capabilities. When asked by His disciples “teach us to pray”, Jesus gives them the “Our Father”. This prayer teaches so much about the nature of prayer. According to Christ, prayer is an incredibly intimate and personal thing. We are to call on God as we would our own father, with loving trust that He will provide for all our needs. In the end, prayer is a matter of the heart. We unite our hearts with God. We can do this simply by speaking to God in our hearts during the day, being open and honest about our joys and frustrations. We can also unite our hearts to God silently in a type of loving gaze. There is an interesting anecdote from the life of St. John Vianney. He would often notice a poor old peasant spending hours in prayer before the tabernacle, in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually St. Vianney went and questioned the man about how he prayed, what does he did, what he said.  The man responded: "Nothing. I just look at Him and He looks at me."  Though prayer is challenging, it should foster this kind of intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer gradually transforms the human heart, to make it more in accord with God’s.  A huge obstacle in prayer can be the sense that God does not answer our prayers.  We can ask for things in prayer and when it does not come to pass we can feel that God is not listening, that our prayer is useless. Even though we may not see any results, prayer always works.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Transformation of the praying heart is the first response to our petition” (CCC §2739). We ask for many things in prayer, but do we even know what is really good for ourselves? If I look back I see that there are some things that I asked God for in prayer that weren’t really what was best for me. I can see now that what actually happened to me at that moment, though not what I wanted, was actually what was best for me.  When we pray God slowly changes our hearts so that we begin to desire what God desires for us. Hence in the Our Father we pray to God, “thy will be done”. There is a story that in a Soviet prison camp there was one prisoner who would get on his knees each day and pray. One day when he is praying with his eyes closed, a fellow prisoner walked by him and said with ridicule, "Prayers won't help you get out of here any faster." Opening his eyes, the praying prisoner answered, "I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God." Prayer changes our heart so that we more and more desire to have God’s will done in our life.       

Because of all the challenges that prayer poses, it is vital that we cultivate the virtue of perseverance in our prayer life.  Today’s Gospel makes several things crystal clear regarding prayer. 1) God is a Father who loves us dearly and will always give us in time what is best for us, and 2) our job is to persevere in prayer, to keep asking God for what we desire, to always knock. We may ask, “why does God not just grant us what we want right away? Why does He wait?” I would like to answer that by taking as an analogy the way a particular species of bamboo grows. When you try to grow this bamboo from a seed, something peculiar happens. For the first year you water and fertilize the seed but little seems to happen, a small shoot only emerges from the soil. When you water and fertilize the seedling for a second year, nothing seems to happen, no growth is visible. The same for the third year, and the fourth year. Then during the fifth year something remarkable happens. When you water and fertilize the plant, it will grow close to 90 feet in just a couple months. What was going on during the first four years? During this time, the bamboo plant was growing a vast root system underground that would ultimately support the towering plant.  When we ask for something in prayer, perhaps we are not yet ready to receive this gift or perhaps God has an even greater gift in mind. Like the plant, we lack the necessary roots. When we pray, it is like watering and fertilizing our soul so that our hearts – our root structure – can grow and become strong enough to receive the great gifts that God wants to give us. In order for our hearts to grow, we need to keep praying, we need to keep knocking. For this reason it is vital that we cultivate the virtue of perseverance in our prayer life.

Recently the world was able to witness an incredible testimony to the importance of prayer and perseverance. As many of you know, this past week Rio Di Janeiro has hosted the World Youth Day. A few nights ago was the prayer vigil, in which over three million young people joined the Holy Father to pray. The youth persevered in prayer late into the night, uniting their will with God. Surely their hearts were changed. It is a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me just to see the incredible images of this event showing the vast multitude of praying youth. Let us follow their example by persevering in prayer in the face of obstacles. Let us remain faithful to praying regularly each day so that God can transform our heart to better reflect the desires of His own.

Prayer? Ain't nobody got time for that!

Whenever I hear the gospel story about Martha and Mary, I cannot help but feel sorry for Martha. It seems like Jesus is being unfair to her. If I was in Martha’s shoes, running around working while Mary just sat around, I would probably complain to Jesus. I would also be upset that Jesus didn't tell Mary to get up and help. We must realize that there is more going on here than meets this eye. This gospel does not downplay the importance of work or service. This gospel should, however, serve as a powerful reminder about the importance of taking the time to pray. It is critical that we regularly imitate Mary by putting aside our duties and take the time to consciously spend time with Jesus. Such a reminder is important as we find ourselves so busy with work, family and social commitments.

Deep down we all harbor the suspicion that prayer is not the best use of our time. Of course we would never say this out loud; in theory we all agree we should take time to pray. But our actions suggest otherwise. How often do we justify not praying by telling ourselves that we are too busy today? I once read an interview with Bill Gates that struck this point home. As most of you know, Bill Gates is the founder of Microsoft and is now well known for his charity work.  Though I do not agree with all the causes Bill Gates supports, his generosity and drive in helping the poor is admirable. In the interview he was asked: “Mr. Gates, are you a religious person?” His response: “for me, I find that there are more productive ways that I can use my Sunday morning than being in Church”. I do not know whether Bill Gates still thinks like this, I mention it because I think that he said out loud what we often think. Often we think that there are better ways to use our time than spending it is prayer and religious pursuits.

The truth is that prayer makes us better people.  When we pray we give God the opportunity to transform us. I firmly believe that prayer makes me a better human being.  When I do not pray enough I find that I am less patient and not as kind. When I do not pray enough I lose sight of what is truly important in life and become bogged down in work and duties.  I become like Martha: distracted by many things. It is as though each of us is like an electric car which has batteries that power the engine. For a while the car runs great, but after some time you need to plug the car in otherwise the batteries get drained, the car loses power and will eventually stop. As Christians our “batteries” hold the grace of God, His strength and life, rather than an electric charge. If we do not take the time to re-charge we will stop working properly, we cannot live like Jesus intends. When we pray we “plug into” Jesus, the source of all goodness, love and kindness.  In prayer we become like Mary in the gospel, we sit at Jesus’ feet and He charges us with His grace. Plugging in an electric car to recharge it is not optional. Likewise for us Christians, taking the time to pray is not optional. When we pray we give God the opportunity to change us for the better.

In order for God to transform our lives through prayer we need to pray regularly each day. Just as regular practice is crucial to becoming a good musician, praying regularly is fundamental to becoming a good Christian. There was this great pianist called Ignacy Jan Paderewski. When asked about the important of practice he said the following: “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it.  If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.” If we pray regularly, we should experience the same thing. If you miss praying one day, you will notice the difference, you may be less patient for example. If you miss two days, those closest to you, your family, will notice a difference. If you miss three days everyone else will notice a difference. Sometimes we are inspired to make a grand plan to pray for a long time each day, but what usually happens is that after two days we stop. It is much better to choose a realistic amount of time to pray, and a certain time that you can be sure to pray each day and stick to it. For example, perhaps you just have time for five minutes of personal prayer each day that you can do first thing in the morning. The important thing is that you are faithful to this time and do it every day. This regularity in prayer is a great sign of love to God and will also allow Him to change you.

In the end, the more generous we are with God in our prayer life, the more He will be able to transform us.  God can only transform us to the extent that we give ourselves to Him in prayer. Generosity in prayer is about more than just spending time in prayer, but also about how open we are with Jesus. For example, the more honest that we are with Jesus in prayer about our problems, the more He can help us with them. There is story that illustrates this principle.   In India there was a beggar sitting by the side of the road. Every so often a traveller would pass by and place a little rice in the bowl the beggar was holding. One day the beggar heard the king approaching with his entourage. This was the moment the beggar was waiting for. Surely the king would give him plenty of rice! The king did indeed stop before the beggar. But when he bent over towards him, this great king said something unexpected. The king said to the beggar, “give me some of your rice”. The beggar was taken aback! He reached into his bowl and gave the king one grain of rice. The great king calmly replied “is that all”? Furious, the beggar took out a second grain from his bowl and tossed it at the king. With this the king gathered up his entourage and was off. The beggar, filled with rage, greedily fingered the remaining rice grains in his bowl. It was then that he noticed that one grain felt different to the touch. When he brought it out of the bowl he noticed that it was a grain of pure gold! The beggar quickly checked the rest of his bowl. To his delight he found a second grain of gold. He had one grain of gold for each grain of rice he gave the king. As the king walked away, the beggar couldn't help thinking “why on earth did I not give the king everything?!”  We should ask ourselves the same question. Why do we not give our King, Jesus Christ, everything? The more generous we are with God in prayer, the more God can transform us.

Though we are busy, if we are honest with ourselves and examine how much time we spend daily on television or social media I think we must conclude that we do have time to pray more. Today let us commit to praying more regularly. If you do not yet have a daily time of personal prayer, commit to pray 5 minutes each day at some time that works for you. If you are already do this, commit to praying 5 minutes more. Let us be generous with God. Pray regularly and allow yourself to be transformed by God. You will be doing yourself and everyone around you a favor.

Avoiding "God blindness"

In North America and Europe God can seem so far away for many people. Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, has written quite a lot about this. He explains that a few hundred years ago, belief in God was “axiomatic”, it was something that people simply accepted. Today in Western society this is just not the case. Believing in God does not come automatically. Many people are unsure if God exists, others say there is no God. What accounts for this dramatic change?

Though there are perhaps many reasons, I suggest that one is that we have become blind to the way that God works and acts in our life. In today’s gospel Jesus is warning the inhabitants of the cities in which He has worked His greatest miracles. Even though Jesus has done His amazing works in these places, the people have refused to change their ways and turn to God. In North America and Europe we have an abundance of good things: plentiful food, peace, access to education and a good medical system. Certainly things are not perfect, but we do have so much.  Often we can go through our lives ignoring all the good things that we have.  Perhaps it is because we tend to focus on the negative. We should stop and ask ourselves: why do we have all this goodness in our lives? I am not asking a scientific question here but a philosophical one. Science, for example, can tell us how we have so much food: good soil, climate, agricultural technology, etc. It is an entirely different question though to ask why we have so many good things.  Is it just chance?  Are we just lucky that the factors are such in the universe that we happen to have it so good? Or is the answer that there is a God who loves us and is trying to show us this by giving us so many gifts? One answer is not more scientific than the other. Maybe we have become like the cities that Jesus cautions in the gospel. God is working so much and giving us so much but we do not recognize it comes from Him. Perhaps as a society we have become blind to the way God works in and acts in our life.

Being deaf to how God is speaking to us is a real possibility for us who profess a belief in God and are trying to grow close to Him. We too regularly ignore how Jesus is working in our lives, just like the cities in today’s gospel.  The problem is that we expect God to work in dramatic and fantastic ways. God can work like this but more than not God speaks to us in simple, daily events: a conversation with a friend, a family dinner, a passage of scripture that happens to strike us or a sunset. We might complain that God is not active in our lives, that we feel unloved by Him or that He is not answering our prayers. We should ask ourselves if we are paying attention. Perhaps God tried to show you His love today through the smile of some stranger on the bus. Maybe God is trying to tell you to be more patient with yourself through the words of a friend with whom you are having a conversation. If you are having doubts about God’s power, perhaps He is trying to demonstrate it to you through some wonder of nature, such as a thunder storm.  Since God is always speaking to us through daily events, it is important to develop a discerning heart by 1) being aware of different events that happen to us (not just letting life pass us by) and 2) taking the time to ask, “what is God trying to tell me through this person or event”? God is always speaking to us, but often we are not listening.

Let us not make the same mistake are the cities that Jesus rebukes in today’s gospel by being blind to the works that God is doing in our lives.  We should notice them and allow them to lead us closer to Him. A very practical way you can do this is by taking some time at night to review your day to try to find one or two events in which God was active. Perhaps something good happened to you, for example someone said something kind. Or maybe you felt inspired to do a good deed for someone. Whatever it may be, identify it, give thanks to God and ask the question, “what is God telling me through this person/event”? You may be surprised by the answer.

Loving "difficult" people

Luke 10: 25 - 37

Today’s gospel covers a moral principle that is so fundamental, something we have all heard so many times. In theory we all agree that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.   You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn't agree with the Golden Rule, to treat other people as you would like to be treated, it’s something we all learn in Kindergarten.  In today’s Gospel we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is such a beautiful and meaningful passage. Because we have heard it so often, we can listen without giving it a second thought.  We have no problem agreeing with the message.  Of course we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course our neighbor is everyone, there are no exceptions.  We get it, we need to love everyone and treat everyone as we would like them to treat us. When we hear the story we might even judge the priest and Levite harshly.  How could they possibly pass the man by who is in such great need?  I guess they both need to go back to kindergarten.  In theory we all agree that we should love our neighbor as ourselves and treat others as we would like to be treated.

In practice, however, it is not easy to love our neighbor.  In our daily lives we often encounter people who we simply cannot treat as we would like them to treat us.  Take a moment to picture in your mind some person, or perhaps people that you just have a hard time getting along with. Think of someone who upsets you, someone you find it difficult to be around, someone who you would never go out of your way to help.  Perhaps you were thinking of your boss at work who is rude and overly demanding.  Maybe you pictured someone who lives close by that you find annoying, someone who when you see them coming down the street you want to go inside your house and hide because you do not want to get into a conversation with them.  Or did you think of a member of your extended family who always gets on your nerves because they never pull their weight, they are just a little lazy? I suspect that we all were able to think of someone.  Two things are important to realize: 1) Like the man who fell victim to robbers, that person is in need of something. Perhaps it is something as simple as a kind greeting or someone to listen to them. 2) According to Jesus, that person is your neighbor, someone you should love as yourself.  The truth is that we all behave like the priest and Levite in the gospel, we often pass people by who are in need of our help, love and support.
We tend to make excuses that allow us to pass by our neighbor who is in need. Often we come up with reasons that justify our indifference toward people we come in contact with who are in help. The priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan did the same. The priest needed to remain ritually pure in order to do his job. If the man were a non-Jew or already dead, touching him would mean that he would become impure. Surely this should excuse him from helping the man. Levites were often assistants to the priests. Some commentators suggest that the Levite saw the priest pass by the man in need so   the Levite was able to excuse himself from helping the man, thinking “if even the priest is not helping him, I need not”. Like the priest and Levite we too make excuses for passing by those in need of love and help. We excuse ourselves from greeting a rude co-worker by telling ourselves that they are always unkind and abrasive to us. Why should we be nice to them? We make it too easy to pass by a beggar on the street by telling ourselves that they are probably faking or that they will just spend the money on booze. Further from home, we excuse ourselves from thinking too much about those in the developing world because they are so far away, nothing we could do could ever make a difference. We tend to come up with excuses that justify our indifference towards people who are in need of our attention.

The first step in loving our neighbor as ourselves is repenting of our hardness of heart, the indifference, we have towards some people. In order to really treat other as we would like them to treat us we must start by repenting for all the times that we have made excuses that have allowed us to think that some people were not really our neighbor and ignore their needs. Recently Pope Francis visited Lampedusa, a small Italian island far south of Sicily, close to the African continent.  Lampedusa is famous because tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Africa land there as they try to enter Europe.  Thousands of Africans have lost their lives making the journey to Italy from Africa.  Pope Francis spoke about how we have become blind to the plight of these refugees.  Our behavior towards them has been like that of the priest and the Levite in the parable. Pope Francis begged God for the grace to no longer be indifferent, to see again these refugees as our neighbors.  Interestingly the Pope did not come proposing some political solution to the problem.  He is telling us that the first step in loving others as we love ourselves is to stop being indifferent to those who suffer. The Pope wanted to show those refugees who suffer, our neighbors, that we see their sufferings and that we want to stand by them.  He went to make a “gesture of closeness”.  What the Pope has done is an example for us all.  Repenting of our indifference is the first step in loving others as we love ourselves.

During our life we won’t be able to help every person in need who we come in contact with. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, but we need to ensure that our hearts do not become closed to those who suffer.  We need to be careful that we are not making excuses that allow us to be indifferent towards some people, that we can pass them by without noticing their suffering.  This is the first step in following the commandment to love others as you love yourself.  Let’s return to that question I asked earlier, “think of someone who upsets you, someone you find it difficult to be around, someone who you would never go out of your way to help”.  Maybe it was your boss or relative. Today let us ask God for the grace to see that person as your neighbor who is in need of your attention. Let us try to stop making excuses that allow us to pass by this person. Ask God to remove your indifference.

Judge much?

Matthew 9:32-38

When we see someone doing a good deed for someone else, you would think that our natural reaction would be happiness.  You would think that we would give thanks when we see someone going out of their way to help someone out. Unfortunately, often we do not react in this way. For various reasons - jealousy, insecurity or prejudice - we have a tendency to tear down people who do good for others.

Often we negatively judge those who go out of their way to help others.  When we see somebody doing good, sometimes we will try to tear them down by suggesting that their motivations for doing good are selfish or misguided.  In the gospel of today this is happening to Jesus.  Jesus has done a good deed in curing a man of his muteness by casting out a devil.  Most people react positively.  The Pharisees respond by trying to tear down Jesus. They say bad things about Jesus and His intentions, that He “by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons”.  We can act in the same way as the Pharisees sometimes.  In school, for example, when one student does some good deed, the other students will call him/her a “teacher’s pet” or “suck-up”.  If someone volunteers a lot of time in the Church we may say, either to ourselves or to others, that that person is just looking for attention.  When we hear about a celebrity giving a large sum of money to charity we call it a “publicity stunt” or claim they are doing it just to get a tax write-off. When we see other people doing good, we unfortunately have a tendency to try to tear them down by making a negative judgement of their intentions or motivation for doing the act.

The remedy for this kind of judging is to get out and do good deeds ourselves.  When we find ourselves falling into the trap of judging negatively those who do charitable acts, we should go and do something kind ourselves.  If we are busy doing good works, then we will be too busy for name-calling. We need to remember that God alone can judge people’s hearts and intentions. If we ourselves are the victims of negative judgement, the solution is to continue doing good works. In the gospel Jesus does not respond to the name-calling of the Pharisees. On the other hand He goes out of His way to do more for the needy. Jesus’ is more concerned to help those who suffer than the derogatory statement of the Pharisees.  Jesus recognizes the neediness of the people, that they are like “sheep without a shepherd”.  He is concerned with serving, not defending Himself from derogatory comments.  At the end of the gospel Jesus expresses His desire that we too become laborers in this work.  Whether we find ourselves the victim of negative judgement or we are the one doing the judging, the remedy is to get out and perform charitable, kind acts for the needy.

Today let us examine ourselves. If we find that we judge negatively those who do good works, let us repent. If we ourselves are the victim of such abuse, let us take heart that Jesus Himself suffered in the same way. Whatever the case, let us all ask for the grace to be good laborers at service of those in need, who do the right thing regardless of what others think or say about us.

Peace starts at home

Isaiah 66: 10-14 ; Galatians 6: 14-18 ; Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

When I was a child my favorite part about Mass on Sunday was the sign of peace, because it meant that I got to go around and shake people’s hands.  Each Sunday we have the opportunity to offer each other the sign of peace, to say “peace be with you”.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks much about peace.  Today Jesus sends His disciples on a mission.  The disciples are told that when they encounter others they are to offer them peace in a gesture so much like the sign of peace we offer at Mass.  As Christians, Jesus sends us to bring peace to others. Sometimes we offer people peace so casually at Mass, but we do not think about what true peace means.  What is this peace that we want to “be” with other people?  Also, it is very important to consider if, outside of this gesture on Sundays, we are offering peace to those we come in contact with on a daily basis.

True peace, the kind of peace Christ talks about in the Gospel, has a deeper meaning than we normally imagine.  The peace that we are to offer at Mass is something that is so much more than the way that peace is usually understood.  We usually think that peace is simply the absence of conflict.  We say that after World War II there was peace in Europe after the treaties.  There was peace because open conflict had ceased. But was there true peace?  Far from it.  After fighting had stopped, people in Europe were deeply wounded by the violence done.  There was anger and despair in people’s hearts.  A treaty did not obtain full, true peace.  The peace that Jesus is talking about is so much more.  True peace is peace of heart; it is consolation, joy and tranquility.  This peace is not something man-made but comes as a gift from God.  The first reading speaks vividly of the peace God brings.  He consoles us like a mother nursing her baby.  God comforts us like a parent comforts their child by putting them upon their lap.  St. Paul reminds us in the 2nd reading that the peace that God gives us was won by the Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.  On the Cross Jesus conquered the enemies of peace: sin and death.  True peace is a gift from God and was won by Jesus on the cross.   

When we receive this kind of peace from Jesus, we need to share it with others.  If our heart is truly touched by this kind of peace we are compelled to go give it to those around us.  Picture for a moment an empty glass. Imagine that you take a pitcher full of water and begin filling the glass.  When the glass is full, you continue to pour the water so that the glass overflows and water runs down the cup and onto its surrounding.  This is what happens when Jesus fills us with peace.  In this analogy, the water is peace, our heart is the glass and Jesus is the one holding the pitcher.  When Jesus pours peace into our heart, He fills us to the brim and the peace we receive will spread to those around us.  The heart of every person thirsts for peace.  In order to spread peace to those around us we must first receive God’s peace, we must allow Jesus to fill our cup. You cannot give what you do not have.  Notice in the gospel that the disciples are only sent to bring peace to others after having been with Jesus.  They first received peace from Him.  We receive Jesus’ peace through prayer and receiving the Sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.  When we do this we become like that overflowing cup, God`s peace will flow from us to those we come in contact with.  When our heart is touched by God`s peace we transmit peace to others.

Though many will accept the peace we offer, some will reject it.  When we go bringing peace to those around us, though the majority will willingly accept it, some will not want to receive it.  In the gospel, after Jesus has sent His disciples on a mission he warns them of this reality.  Some people will welcome them, others will not.  If you are looking for an example of people rejecting Christians and their message, look no further than the Internet.  Many of you are probably aware that the past two Popes have had Twitter accounts.  If you have no idea what Twitter is, if you think that a “tweet” is just a sound a bird make, allow me to clarify.  Twitter is a program that allows you to send a short message to a large group of people.  People can share this message with others and even respond to your message.  Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have used Twitter to share short Gospel messages with millions of people.  In general their messages have been well received.  But, it you ever look at the responses people write, you would be shocked.  Many people write incredibly rude and hateful responses to the Popes.  There are a lot of broken and wounded people who respond to a well-intentioned message with outright hostility.  When we are rejected in this way, we should not get angry or stay to debate. We shouldn't “feed the trolls”, as they say in internet lingo.  We should follow the advice of Christ and “shake the dust from our feet”.  We must not allow the hate and bitterness of others to cling to us and poison us, destroying our peace.  We should shake it off.  Though many will accept the peace we offer them, some people, who are wounded and broken, will reject it.
Jesus calls us to bring peace to all people, but we need to start with those closest to us, our own family.  Christ’s mission to bring peace far and wide must start in our own family.  Mother Teresa often said that “peace starts at home”.  If a family is at peace, then it will bring tranquility to society.  On the other hand, if a family is at war, it will bring discord to society.  It is like when you throw a pebble in a pond and ripples are formed on the surface of the water that spread far and wide.  Such a small stone can have such a great effect.  Likewise, a family that is at peace creates a ripple-effect in society; its affect can be huge.  How then can we bring peace to our family? To quote Mother Teresa again: “works of love are works of peace”.  Through small works of love we can bring peace to our families and eventually to the world.  Something as simple as a smile or saying “good morning” can bring peace.  Helping a younger brother or sister with their homework or house chores is a work of love.  Taking the time to listen patiently to your husband or wife who has had a hard day at work is an act of peace.  Calling up an elderly relative to see how they are doing is also a work of love.  Works of love are works of peace.  Peace starts at home; from there it radiates to all of society.

Today our world yearns for the peace that only Jesus Christ can give.  Jesus sends us to bring this peace to others.  Whenever we give each other the sign of peace we can remind ourselves of this in a special way.  It is significant that shaking hands is a sign for agreeing to something, of making a deal.  When you give the sign of peace today, let it be your chance to agree to be someone who brings peace to others, starting with the members of our own family.  Let us agree to bring peace by doing simple acts of love.  Every time we offer each other the sign of peace commit to doing this.  Let us shake on it.

What pulling off a Band-Aid teaches us about the spiritual life

Matthew 9:9-13

We all know the best way to rip off a Band-Aid, you have to tear it off quickly and in one go!  More often than not we do not do this because we are a little afraid of the pain.  So we start tugging gently at the Band-Aid, thinking that it will hurt less or be easier if we take it off slowly.  In the end though, after hesitation and some false-starts, we eventually just tear it off quickly because this is simply the best way to do it.  This example of the Band-Aid illustrates an important general principle for our life: some things are best done quickly.

Sometimes we are slow to respond to what Jesus is asking of us.  In various areas of our life we know what Jesus wants from us, but we hesitate to do it.  For example we may be convinced in our heart that Jesus is asking us to give something up in our lives.  Perhaps it is a sinful behaviour.  Maybe it is something that is not of itself bad but is taking too much of our time and is leading us away from God. It could be that we know Jesus wants us to spend less time watching TV, surfing the web or gossiping with friends on the phone.  Or maybe we are convinced that Jesus is asking us to start doing some good activity in our life.  Perhaps we know we should spend more time with God in prayer, get involved in a parish group or give more money to the poor.  Though we know what Jesus wants us to do, we hesitate to do it.  It actually makes doing the thing more difficult and more painful in the end.  It is like when we take our time pulling off a Band-Aid instead of giving it one quick pull.  We are afraid to pull it off because of the pain but in the end it ends up hurting more.  For various reasons, whether it be fear, laziness or discouragement, we can often be slow to respond to what Jesus is asking us to do in our life.

Responding quickly to the call of Christ is usually the best approach.  Doing what Jesus is asking of us decisively and with determination is usually what is best for us in the long run.  In today’s Gospel we see this clearly in the life of St. Matthew.  We find that Matthew is a sitting at his custom’s post.  He is a tax collector, someone who was looked down upon by the other Jews.  Jesus passes by Matthew and asks him to follow him.  Matthew probably knew who Jesus was before, maybe he was drawn by his teaching.  At this moment Matthew knew exactly what Jesus was asking of him, that he become his follower.  He also knew the consequences of this action.  He was leaving behind a job and security for a risky, unknown future.  But Matthew takes courageous action.  He knows what Christ wants from him and he does it.  Getting back to our Band-Aid analogy, Matthew goes ahead and rips off the Band-Aid is one clean pull.  If he had hesitated, perhaps Matthew would never have left his post and followed Christ.  The decision to do what Jesus asked forever changed his life.  He came to know Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.  He became an evangelist, helping to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Matthew is a great example because he teaches us that responding quickly and decisively to what Jesus asks of us is what is best for us.

Today let us look in our life and see if there is anything that we know that Jesus is asking us to do, but we are hesitating to do it.  Examine yourself to see if you have any Band-Aids that you are hesitating to pull off.  We all have areas in our life where we are reluctant to change or do some thing even though we know that Jesus is asking it of us.  After having done this, let us ask Jesus for the grace to act quickly and decisively in carrying out what it is that He is calling us to do.

From doubter to great missionary, the story of St. Thomas can be our own

John 20:24-29

Experiencing doubts about your faith is a common experience.  Sometimes people have difficulty believing in the existence of God.  Others are uncertain about whether Jesus Christ is truly God.  There are also those who struggle to accept various teachings proposed by the Church.  Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas”.  He is something like the patron saint of those who doubt.  By looking at His life we can discover an important lesson about the role of doubt in the life of Christians.

From the Gospel we learn that Jesus is there to support us when we experience doubts.  When we struggle with disbelief, Christ will always be there to help us, to help lead us back to belief in Him.  Initially Thomas doubted the Resurrection.  When the Apostles told Thomas that they had seen the Risen Christ, he doubts it. He says he cannot believe it unless he sees it with his own eyes.  The interesting thing is that Thomas keeps searching.  Though he has doubts he continues to spend time with the Apostles.  Thomas does not walk away. Because Thomas keeps searching, Jesus has an opportunity to reveal Himself to Thomas, to show Thomas the holes in His hands, feet and side.  Likewise when we experience doubt it is important for us to continue searching.  We should never give up when we experience doubts.  When we do this Christ will work in our life to satisfy our struggles with the faith.  He can do this in many different ways.  For example, if we have difficulty believing in the existence of God, perhaps through the beauty of a sunset we will be convinced that there must be a loving God who created this.  Or if we are struggling with a particular teaching of the Church, through a conversation with somebody or through a book that we may read, the issue may all of a sudden “click” in our mind, it may make sense like it never has before.  As long as we continue to search for the truth when we experience doubt, Jesus will eventually satisfy our doubts as He did for Thomas.

After experiencing struggles in our faith it is possible to become a great follower of Jesus Christ.  Once our doubt has turned to belief we can become a more fervent and effective follower of Jesus Christ than before.  In the Gospel we see this already with St. Thomas.  After Jesus appeared to Thomas, Thomas proclaims what is one of the strongest declarations of faith in the New Testament: “my Lord and my God”.  After the Ascension of Jesus, Thomas went on to become a great missionary.  Ancient tradition tells us that St. Thomas travelled through the Middle East and eventually settled in India.  All along the way Thomas spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Many Christians in India call themselves “Thomas Christians” because they recognize that their faith came to them through Thomas.  I think that Thomas was so great a missionary because he himself had first struggled with doubt.  This made him better suited to tell other people about the Resurrection of Jesus, people who would also experience doubt about the whole idea.  We find a modern day equivalent in Jacques Maritain, a great French philosopher who passed away in 1973.  As a university student, Maritain struggled to believe in God.  One day his life changed forever when he heard a lecture by the philosopher Henri Bergson.  He was convinced that absolute truth does indeed exist and eventually entered the Catholic Church.  Maritain went on to become a great philosopher, defending belief in God and the Christian worldview. Maritain was able to do such a great job defending the faith to those who were skeptical because he himself had first experienced doubts in his own journey.  His life shows that once our doubt has turned to belief we can become a more fervent and effective follower of Jesus Christ than before.

At different times we will all probably struggle with doubt and uncertainty in our faith.  As long as we continue to search for truth in the midst of our doubt, Jesus will eventually make things clear to us.  Today let us commit ourselves to never stop searching for the truth when we struggle with doubts about our faith.