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Dear Friends,

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants.”  When Jesus was conceived within the womb of the Virgin Mary, he was microscopic.  Just like us at our conception he was tiny, he was no more than the size of a mustard seed.  But now today His Mystical Body extends the world over, His Mystical Body extends even beyond space and time into eternity.  With our baptism we became a part of something magnificent and holy; we became a member of the Mystical Body of Jesus, something magnificent and holy.  Do we always recognize the greatness of the divine flowering of the mustard seed within us and in the people around us?  Do we always recognize Jesus within us and the people around us?

I have a story about a rich young man by the name of Alexis.  He lived in Rome during the fourth or fifth century and he lived at a time when it had just become legal to be a Catholic.  People could finally practice the Christian faith out in the open.   Both of Alexis’ parents were devout Catholics and his father was a senator.  Alexis’ parents taught him the faith and taught him to be especially charitable to the poor.  When Alexis was a teenager, he decided that he wanted to give up everything, give up his wealth and give up his place of privilege in Roman society.  He wanted to live a life of poverty and prayer, and he wanted to do this all for God, but his parents had other plans for him.  They had arranged for him to marry a rich young woman.  And because it was their will for him, he went along with it.  He really listened to his parents.  Yet on his wedding day when he saw his bride for the first time, he had second thoughts, this woman was smart, loving, and beautiful, and she would be a great wife, but even so, he asked for her permission to leave her for God.  She gave him permission.   So, he left.

He made his way to Syria, where he lived the life of a beggar.  Any money he received he first shared with the many poor people around him using only what was left over for himself.  When he wasn’t begging he was praying in the various churches of the city.  After living this way for several years people began to recognize him for his extraordinary holiness.  People would come to him for advice and to ask for his prayers.  They called him the living saint.  And this made Alexis very uncomfortable.  So after seventeen years in Syria he made his way back to Rome and to his parents’ house.  He came as a beggar to his own house where he’d grown up.  His parents didn’t recognize him and so he started living under the stairs leading up to their front door.  His parents allowed him to live there not knowing who he really was.  And there he stayed spending his time begging for food, praying in the churches of Rome, and teaching the homeless about God.  With his parents never realizing who he was, even though they passed him and looked at him every day as they went to and from their house. 

One morning, after 17 years of living under the stairs, the servants found him dead.  But before burying him they went through his few possessions, even going through the pockets of the jacket he was wearing.  And in one of his pockets, they found a note.  The note explained to them who he was and how he had lived this life of penance and prayer from the day his wedding was supposed to take place until then, a total of thirty-four years.  Writing that he did it all for the love of God.  Praying and sacrificing for the people of God.

When Alexis’ mother came to look and to hold the dead body of her son she cried out, “My son, my Alexis, I have known you too late! You were there all the time and I never really saw you. She was heartbroken.  She had seen her son every day for seventeen years, yet she didn’t really see him.  She had heard her son every day for seventeen years, yet she didn’t really hear him.  She had invited her son into her home, yet she didn’t really invite him in.   He got only as far as the space beneath the stairs.  It was a superficial relationship.  Alexis’ parents looked at their son every day for 17 years without ever really seeing him.  And then it was too late.

Do we always recognize the greatness of the divine mustard seed within us and in the people around us?  Do we always recognize Jesus within us and in the people around us?  Pope St. John Paul II was very good at this recognition of the divine within.  They say that when you talked with him you had his total attention and concentration.  In his papers St. John Paul wrote about this, he would say that each one of us is unrepeatable and incomparably unique.  Even within the unbaptized there is a soul that is unrepeatable and incomparably unique, and he paid attention.  He recognized the divine within, a soul made in the image and likeness of God, a soul with a whole lifetime of joys and sorrows, a soul with a whole lifetime of successes and failures, a soul made for communion with God.  St. John Paul paid attention. 

I give you homework this week; practice paying attention to those around you; the clerk behind the counter, the man at the street corner, your spouse, your children.   Recognize the greatness of the divine flowering of the mustard seed, recognize Jesus within, and recognize the greatness of the immortal soul within.

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” 

Maybe you’re the one meant to provide shade to one seeking the Kingdom of God.  May we pray for the grace to pay attention.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

In this letter my goal is to try and tie together the words “Amen” and “Laetare” with the story of Nicodemus.  Amen is a little word with a big meaning.  It’s a word we say at the end of every prayer and it’s a word that we say ten times during the Mass.  Unfortunately, because it’s a word that is so frequently expressed, we may sometimes say it without thinking about it.  

In today’s Gospel we hear of Nicodemus.  And Nicodemus was a Pharisee who at this point in his life only visits Jesus at night.  He goes back and forth between faith and doubt, between trust and mistrust, and between courage and fear.  Now Nicodemus has a little bit of faith in Jesus, but it was at best a beginning and an immature belief.  That’s why he only shows up under the cover of darkness.  He doesn’t want anyone to see him with Jesus.  He had respect for what Jesus did, for His solid teaching and impressive miracles, but Nicodemus had a very limited understanding of just who Jesus was.  He believed that God was with Jesus, but he did not yet believe that Jesus was God.  Nicodemus’ faith in Jesus was wishy-washy.  Nicodemus couldn’t give a clear and firm Amen to Jesus.    The most he could manage was “maybe.”

Only to the degree that I trust someone am I able to entrust myself to that person.  Nicodemus’ faith hadn’t yet matured to that point of total trust, so very cautiously he came to Jesus under cover of night.  The darkness of Nicodemus was not only a protection against being detected, it was also a state of mind, a condition of his soul, and a sign of his immature faith.  Now looking at scripture we see other models of faith.  And during this season of lent as we make our way to Good Friday we first look to the good thief on the cross who made a faith-filled request of Jesus.  He asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  This is faith, this is trust, this is truly an Amen.   And as we continue to look at Good Friday the greatest amen of all is that of crucified Jesus Himself.  Deserted by his disciples, rejected by the very people He tried to help, condemned to die, and moments away from death, still He trusted.  Even then He could say, “Father into your hands, I commend my Spirit.  I entrust my very self to you.”  The greatest amen. 

This little word “Amen” means certainly, truly, surely.  It means I agree, I accept, I affirm, I believe.  It is a word of total conviction and commitment.  It is a word of trust, a trust that enables me to give myself to the Divine.  We can see why “Amen” is the language of prayer and faith.  It says we trust, we have confidence, and we accept as true.  Later, in the Gospel of John we read that Nicodemus was able to give the great Amen.  He later supported Jesus before the chief priests and Pharisees, he helped bury Jesus, and according to tradition he was a martyr for the faith.  With his life he gave the great Amen. 

Today is Laetare Sunday and Laetare is a word that means rejoice.  And we use the color of rose to symbolize this rejoicing.  Rose-colored vestments, and rose-colored flowers are like the pale color of the horizon when the dark night just begins to brighten just as the sun begins to rise.  Rose is the color of sunrise, it’s the color of the promise of sunlight.  Just think of that pinkish hue we see in the sky as the sun begins to come up.  Spiritually speaking it’s the promise of the coming Easter, and the promise of the eternal Easter at the end of time.  And to speak of another color, the color rose eventually gives rise to the golden color of the sun, symbolizing the eternal goldness of basking in the light of our Lord

Nicodemus once lived in darkness, his amen was very weak.  With grace he moved to the Laetare dawn of his salvation, his amen became strong and committed, and now in Heaven, basking in the golden light of our Lord his amen is perfected. 

We are all familiar with Michelangelo’s iconic painting of God creating Adam.  It’s on the top of the Sistine Chapel.  God’s finger is reaching out to Adam’s finger, Heaven is reaching out to earth.  And in that space between the two fingers that’s where we find the Mass, Heaven reaching out to earth.  This is the place of Laetare rejoicing and it’s the place of the great Amen of certainly, truly, surely, and of I agree, I accept, I affirm, I bleieve.  It’s where we live in the Rose-colored sunrise of salvation looking toward to the golden light of the eternal Easter of Heaven.  This should fill us with hopeful joy. 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Imagine for a moment that one morning while you’re standing in the bathroom and you’re just staring at yourself in the mirror and the reflection of you, that image of you that you see staring back begins to talk.      This image of you begins to talk to you saying, “You know I don’t really need you anymore.  You’re holding me back I have these new and exciting ideas and interests.  I don’t need you.”  Of course, this would be a foolish thing for the mirror image of you to say because once you leave the proximity of the bathroom mirror, once you stop looking into the mirror the image would cease to exist, it would disappear.  The image in the mirror needs you to exist. 

As we know you and I are made in the image and likeness of God.  We were created out of his love because love when it’s real and true always wants to share, God wanted to share his endless joy with us; we are creatures of his love.  And there’s no one person created on this earth who is not carried and surrounded by his infinite and benevolent and ecstatic love.  If for just one nanosecond God were to stop loving us, to stop beholding us, to stop looking upon us in his loving gaze we would cease to exist.  We’d be like that image in the mirror when we step away; gone.  But this isn’t going to happen because God created us to spend eternity with him and he isn’t about to stop beholding us in a gaze of ecstatic love. We on the other hand are sometimes like that image in the mirror distracted from God by our own exciting ideas, and our own interests, and our idols.

For this third week of Lent, we are given the Ten Commandments for our first reading.  These commandments are the foundation of Western Society and they’re intended to keep us pure of heart, to keep God at the very center of our heart and soul.  The first three commandments deal with right relationship with God while the next seven deal with right relationship with our families and neighbors.  However, the Bible places a great emphasis on the first three commandments because we won’t love our neighbor right until we love God right.  The first commandment states, “I am the Lord your God…you shall not have other gods besides me.”   These few words are the spiritual foundation of our life.  And you can tell a lot about a person by how he or she answers these questions, “Who or what do you worship?  What do you hold to be of highest value? Where is your treasure?”  Is it pleasure, health, reputation, wealth, power, ego, family, or business?  What do you hold to be of highest value?  St. Ambrose would say, “Where a person’s heart is, there is his treasure also.”

We heard next in the first reading that, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.”   Now this word jealous is not to be read as an emotion.  We can’t add or detract from God.  We can’t add anything to God; we can’t take anything from God. We can’t change him in any way, he’s already perfect, and we can’t make him emotionally jealous.  The worship of God benefits us, not God.  Let me repeat that, the worship of God benefits us not God.    God is jealous because he wants us to be fully alive and the way for us to be fully alive is to stop worshipping idols whatever they may be and to worship God alone.   We exist for Him.

And then we heard, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”  Keeping this day holy we demonstrate that God is the highest love in our life.  We set aside a day for God, He is the one we worship above all people and things, not in the abstract but through concrete set of actions. 

As we know, the Saints are experts at loving through concrete actions, Mass, prayer, and corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  From the life of St. Catherine of Siena, we have an example of her great intimacy with Jesus. St. Catherine was a third order Dominican and as a third order Dominican she made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day.  In her great intimacy with Jesus St. Catherine would sometimes hold a dialogue with our Lord (some of these dialogues are written down for us to read); on one occasion she prayed the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours with Jesus.  At the end of each Psalm the “Glory be” prayer is prayed, and St. Catherine prayed it like this: “Glory to the Father, and to thee, and to the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus was right there with her, and she addressed him as “thee.”  This might not sound too extraordinary to the modern ear, but to use the words “thee” and “thy” and “thou” shows a great intimacy and love.  Thee, thy, and thou are the informal words for you and yours.  Thee and thy and thou are used when speaking to someone very close to you, someone you love.  The words “you” and “yours” are used when addressing someone you’re not too close to, someone not a member of the family.  St. Catherine addressed Jesus as “thee” a personal and intimate word.  The same word we use with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary.” 

Of all the World religions Christianity is unique; we address God with intimate and personal words.  Our transcendent Lord, who created the universe, loves us personally and individually and ecstatically.  In John’s gospel Jesus says to us, “I no longer call you slaves…I have called you friends.”  And we call him Thee.  To obey and adhere to the first three commandments protects and nurtures our personal relationship with our Lord.  Scripture tells us and all the saints throughout the centuries tell us that we only find happiness to the extent to where God is made first in our lives.  To help us make God first in our lives and to help us obey the first three commandments I encourage everyone to spend an hour a week in front of the Eucharist, that can be where the Eucharist is exposed for adoration or simply coming to sit in church when the Eucharist is reposed in the tabernacle.  This will make a difference in your life.  You might feel like nothing is happening, but God is slowly and carefully transforming you into the saint He knows you can become. 

Pope St. John Paul II was a great proponent of spending time in front of the Eucharist. He wanted every parish in the world to have some form of Eucharistic adoration.   In his own personal chapel he had a desk and that’s where he wrote a majority of his letters and encyclicals.  He once said, The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift—however precious—among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity.”  And “It is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to his breast like the beloved disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart.” 

Our Lord looks upon us always, let us spend more time looking upon Him.

Let us become great saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

We are still at the beginning of Lent, but today the Church talks to us about the Resurrection.  In the transfiguration of Jesus in today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of Christ’s eternal glory, the glory he fully claims after the resurrection.  And in our first reading too we get a hint of the resurrection.  Abraham and Isaac lived almost 2000 years before Christ yet this incident from their lives is a symbol of the resurrection.  When Isaac is freed from his bonds he’s given a new life, a symbol of Christ’s new life after rising from the bonds of death.  And even today’s psalm, when it speaks about walking with the Lord in the Land of the living and God “loosening the bonds” of his servant, this is also pointing our attention towards Christ’s resurrection. 

So even though Easter is more than a month away, we are being reminded of the resurrection as we enter more fully into the season of lent.  As we know lent is meant to be a time of repentance and penitence, a time of sacrifice and a time of reflection in which we acknowledge the weight of suffering in the world and in our lives, suffering that many times has its roots in sin.  This suffering is always part of the story of every human life, with or without Christ.  Suffering is always a part of the story with or without Christ, but with Christ, suffering is not the end of the story.  Crosses purify us, crosses purify us of selfishness, if we let them; crosses teach us to lean more and more on Christ so as to have a greater experience of his wisdom and joy, his resurrection.  In our Catholic faith, the cross and the resurrection are two sides of the same coin; we never allow ourselves to think of one without thinking of the other.  There is no Easter Resurrection without Good Friday. 

That is why a Christian never has to be afraid of suffering.  We are like the child who walks at night when all is pitch black, holding his father’s hand, we know that our Father can handle the darkness and lead us through it.  (Dad can do anything) The Christian can face suffering, embrace it, work through it, and transform it and help others do the same.  And we do it by holding onto that hand of the Father, leaning on Grace.  With Christ, the pains and sorrows of life become opportunities and springboards for becoming spiritually mature. 

Pope Benedict once said that we can try to limit suffering, or to fight against it, but we can’t eliminate it.  Now there are instances when we should avoid suffering and look for solutions but there will always be some suffering where solutions are not easily found.  Pope Benedict goes on to say, that when we try to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, or love, or goodness, then we drift into a life of emptiness.  And in this state, there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.  It’s not by sidestepping or running from suffering that we are healed, but rather we are healed by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ who suffered with infinite love.  A balance between the cross and the resurrections is a balance between sorrow and joy.  They both work for our good.

I have a story.  It’s about St. Germaine, in her life there were moments of great joy, like the transfiguration or Easter Sunday and there were moments of suffering, moments of the Cross, like Good Friday.  But with both joy and suffering she became a saint.  The joy reminded her of the goodness of God and the suffering helped her to lean more and more on God.  Germaine was born in Toulouse France in 1579.  She was born with a crippled right arm that she could never use.  Her parents, whoever they were, abandoned her as soon as she was born, leaving her on the porch of a farmer and his wife.  This couple took her in, but they never grew to love her.  They neglected her, forcing her to live in the barn.  Food was left for her outside the door of the kitchen, usually just bread and water.  Sometimes they would even beat her. 

Now even with all these crosses there were joys in her life.  She taught the catechism to poor kids in the village.  She brought bread to the poor and she enjoyed the company and kindness of the people at church.  These were small joys for Germaine reminding her of God’s goodness.  But the one great joy in her life was that she was allowed to go to Mass on Sunday.  And by going to Mass every Sunday she grew to appreciate and love the Eucharist and with this increasing love she wanted to go to Mass every day.  But she couldn’t because she had to watch the sheep out in the field all day.  So, during the week when the church bells rang announcing the beginning of Mass she would turn toward the church and pray.  Praying with all the sheep around her, she would make a spiritual communion. 

One day our Lord spoke to Germaine’s heart and gave her an inspiration.  She took her cane and jammed it into the ground, telling her sheep not to leave; they didn’t, and off to Mass she ran, when she got back all her sheep were still there all gathered around her cane.  She did this every day, before going to Mass she jammed her cane into the ground and all the sheep gathered around it; she never lost a sheep.  Germaine died at the age of 22 and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession. 

Both the Cross of Good Friday and the joys of the Resurrection were a part of Germaine’s life.  They helped her grow in holiness.  The crosses of physical disability and family neglect helped her to lean more on God.  The joys of Godly friendship with the children she taught, the poor she helped, and the Eucharist reminded her of God’s goodness and that gave her hope.  Both the cross and the resurrection are necessary for our growth in holiness.  God allows us to experience both, in accordance with the timing that he deems best.  On the mountain tops, those resurrection moments of great joy he strengthens our hope, and with crosses he strengthens our love, as we learn to cling to him more and more. 

The crosses teach us to lean on Jesus and the true joys of life speak to us in a small way of the Heavenly joys to come. 

Let us become great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

To contemplate the face of Jesus, this is our calling, this is our destiny.  As we read in the Book of Revelation, “They shall see him face to face.”  We shall see our Lord face to face.

I have a story about St. Anthony of Padua.  Now the story I have about him happened when he was just 9 years old.  St Anthony belonged to a wealthy family, and they had the tradition of generously giving to the poor. 

One day a beggar knocked at their door.  And it was Anthony who opened the door.  And there standing in front of him was a very poor looking man.  Seeing the sad plight of the beggar Anthony dropped a small bag of gold coins into his hands.  But the beggar refused the money and gave it back.  So, Anthony went to the kitchen and came back with a platter filled with all sorts of fruit and bread.  But again, the beggar refused.  Anthony then went into his dad’s room and got some clothing and a nice warm coat for the beggar.  And again, the beggar refused the gifts.  Anthony was losing his patience and in frustration, staring into the face of the beggar he said, “What do you want me to give you?”  And the beggar looked straight into his eyes and said, “I want your sins!”  Simple as that, “I want your sins!” 

At once the beggar disappeared leaving Anthony all alone.  It was a mystical moment that he never forgot, he was deeply moved, realizing that it was Jesus who had appeared as the beggar.  Our Lord wanted his sins.  In this story Anthony stared into the face of Jesus, and all Jesus wanted was his sins.  To look into the face of divine innocence, to look into the face of Jesus, is to know that you’re accepted, and your sins are forgiven.  And the face of Divine innocence, the face of divine love is experienced by us as mercy

In the Bible the wish to see God’s face is expressed 100 times.  God has a face, and this means he is someone we can enter into a relationship with.  He talks to us, he listens to us, he sees us, he makes a covenant, and he loves.   The desire to know God truly, the desire to see God’s face, is innate in every human being, even in atheists, they just don’t know it.  As St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.”    And as we know God had shown his face, he is visible in Jesus Christ.

During the season of Lent, we spend time focusing and pondering the Passion of our Lord.  On that first Good Friday on a cross next to our crucified Lord was a man we have traditionally called the “good thief.”  Now the good thief had been looking for meaning his whole life, but always looking in all the wrong places.  And now on the very last day of his life he sees the face that clarifies everything, and it brings peace to his heart.  That face of Divine Innocence received the sinner on the cross next to him.  And the thief yielded to the love of God giving him all his failures, all of his sins, and all of his fears and in return the good thief was filled with God, hearing the most beautiful words ever spoken, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

St. John Chrysostom once wrote, “The man to whom these words were spoken was a robber, one ignorant of the sublime truths of religion, knowing nothing of the prophecies, who had spent all his life in desert places, committing many murders, never hearing the Word of God, or being present at the reading of the Holy Scriptures.” 

“Was there ever a creature as miserable as this robber?  And suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, he attains the greatest happiness.  He had committed hundreds of murders; his life had been spent in wickedness.  As many, as witness his death, accuse his crimes.  And yet now he is made blessed, because during a few seconds of time he had feared God, as God ought to be feared.” 

“Whence the change?  A sound of that Voice, which breaks the cedars and makes the mountains tremble, had found its way into the heart of the thief; and this heart of stone had been changed into a heart of flesh; the heart of a brute had become that of a man; and the heart of this infamous sinner had been transformed into that of a saint.  A ray of the Sun of Justice had fallen upon his countenance, and his whole body had become lightsome.  His hideous deformity had given place to superhuman beauty, even angelic grace; and his mouth, which had been full of blasphemies, now uttered words sweet as honey, pleasant as the lowly violet.  Such is this admirable metamorphosis of Calvary; a wolf became a lamb, a blasphemer turned into an evangelist, a vile criminal transformed into one of the greatest saints.”

“The mercy of God had done everything.  For what had this robber said or done?  Had he fasted, and wept, and afflicted his body, and done penance during a long time?  Nothing of all this.  But on the cross itself, immediately after the sentence of death, he received his pardon.  See with what speed he was transferred from the cross to heaven.  In the midst of torment, he found salvation.” 

He looked into the Face of Divine innocence, he saw no judgment, and he was received.   In his struggle the good thief looked into the face of Christ.  He looks into the face of the one who fills his heart with meaning and restores his dignity.  In our struggles do we seek the Face of Jesus?

 Do we look for the Face of Jesus?

In the Eucharist

In the Confessional

In our Spouse, or loved ones

In our fellow Parishioners, or in our neighbors?

Where do we look for the face of Jesus?

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Blessed Benedetta Porro was born in 1936.  When she was very young, she contracted polio which left her crippled.  She was very intelligent and at the age of 5 she began to keep a diary. When she was 7 she wrote this, “The universe is enchanting!  It is great to be alive.”  As a teenager, Benedetta began going deaf, but despite this, she entered medical school where she was the top student.  She took her oral exams by reading the lips of her professors.  She had a great desire to become a doctor, but she struggled with an illness that kept getting worse.  With the loss of her hearing, she also lost her sight, and the use of her legs.  After five years of medical training, just one year short of completing her degree, she was forced to end her studies. 

She was eventually diagnosed with Von Recklinghausen’s disease.  In a short period of time Benedetta could only move her left hand.  She was able to communicate when her family would sign the alphabet into her left palm.  Benedetta struggled mightily with spiritual darkness and the temptation to despair, but after a trip to Lourdes she reported an interior healing saying, “I am aware more than ever of the richness of my condition and I don’t desire anything but to continue in it.” 

As her world shrank she demonstrated an extraordinary courage and holiness and she was visited by many who sought her counsel and prayers.  Instead of becoming a medical doctor she became a kind of doctor to the soul to all who visited.  In a letter to a young man who suffered from the same disease she wrote: “Because I’m deaf and blind, things have become complicated for me. …Nevertheless, in my Calvary, I do not lack hope. I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me. I have discovered that God exists, that He is love, faithfulness, joy, certitude, to the end of the ages. … My days are not easy. They are hard but also sweet because Jesus is with me, with my sufferings, and He gives me His sweetness in my loneliness and light in the darkness. He smiles at me and accepts my collaboration.”  Blessed Benedetta Porro died in 1964 at the age of 28. 

The point is often made that it’s hard to keep one’s trust in God while suffering.  Even Jesus on the Cross pronounced the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Was that a lack of trust on his part?  No, no lack of trust, because Jesus’ words are in fact the opening words of Psalm 22, which expresses great distress at the beginning but ends on a magnificent note of hope:  they shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come, declare his faithfulness to peoples yet unborn.

Jesus’ faith was tested to the limit, but he did not lose trust.  Sometimes a trial of suffering is a call to go to the extremes of trust.  And every trial, no matter what its causes and characteristics are, is a trial of faith of hope, and of love

Every trial is a trial of faith.  We ask ourselves “What is God doing in all of this?  Does he really love me?  Is he present in what I am living through?”  No matter the trial (sickness, unemployment, family issues, or something else) trust in God is put to the test.  We might doubt God’s love, we might accuse him of abandoning us, and we might rebel against him.  However, it is possible, and this is a beautiful and constructive thing; to see this time of trial as a call to have a more determined, mature, and adult faith. 

The questions we are faced with are these:  What is God doing?  Is He faithful?  Can He draw good out of what is happening?  These are questions of faith.  And we are invited to respond by deciding to have faith:  I believe!  I continue to trust God! Even though I can’t’ see, even though I don’t feel anything, even though appearances are against it, I decide to believe.  I will believe that God is faithful, that he will not let me fall, that he can draw something positive out of everything that is happening to me.  I believe.

Every trial is a trial of hope.  When we are having a difficult time, some of the questions that come up:  In this painful experience, what do I rely on?  What am I counting on?  In what or in whom do I place my hope?  The answer we’re invited to give is:  I’m counting on the Lord; I’m expecting help from Him.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to apply all the human resources available, but at the deepest level I abandon myself into God’s hands, and it is in him that I hope. 

Our only real security and we have no other is that God’s mercy is unlimited.  God is infinitely good and faithful.  He is our rock.  All the rest; salary, health, education, qualifications, friends, our own strength, our virtues can leave us.  All these are valuable things, they are good and  we should welcome them, but never make them our security.  For God alone is absolute security.  He’ll never forsake us, it’s not in his nature to forsake.  It is in God that I hope. 

Every trial is a trial of love.  Maybe our relationship with God is in crisis or maybe it’s our relationship with family or neighbor.  Sometimes we might lose a taste for prayer.  What does that trial mean?  It’s a call to continue praying all the same, because we don’t pray just because we enjoy it or experience satisfaction, but first and foremost we pray to praise and thank God.  When we find great pleasure in it, that’s fine, but when prayer is difficult, we need to keep going just the same!  When we keep praying, even when we don’t want to, that purifies our love for God, which becomes freer, more genuine, and not just a selfish search for ourselves. 

Or maybe it’s in our relationship with family or neighbor.  You loved your husband when he was young, handsome, well-behaved, pleasant, and answered all your expectations.  But now you observe that he is sometimes bad-tempered, that he has a few wrinkles and is getting fat; do you continue to love him? Do you love him for yourself, or do you love him truly, with a love that consists of wanting his good, and not only seeking your own satisfaction?  We are constantly faced with this kind of trial in loving another person as he or she is, loving them freely and forgiving them. 

Loving those who are close to us is more difficult, but this is what the genuineness of our love for God will be judged on!  The surest way of loving God is to love the people around us, loving them in a considerate way, praying for them, and accepting them as they are. 

In every trial we ask ourselves:  What act of faith am I being invited to make?  What attitude of hope am I being called to live by?  And what conversion of love am I called to, so that my love is purer and truer. 

The leper of today’s gospel suffered but in trust he made a statement of faith, hope and love by kneeling down and saying to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  And he was made clean.  Benedetta Porro suffered but in trust she made a statement of faith, hope, and love by saying, “I do not lack hope.  I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me.  He is love, faithfulness, and joy to the end of the ages.”  And now she is now among the blessed of heaven.  On the Cross Jesus suffered but in trust he made a statement of faith, hope, and love, by saying, “Into your hands Lord I commend my Spirit.”  And on the third day in great glory, He rose from the dead. 

When you suffer ask yourself three questions:  what is my act of faith, what is my attitude of hope, and what is my conversion of love? 

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

In our first reading from the Book of Job we heard of these human conditions, drudgery, slavery, misery, troubled, restlessness, anxiety, hopelessness, and sorrow.  All these in a very short reading; a real downer, but I’m sure that most everyone can relate.  We’ve probably experienced each of these states; they are part of the human condition.  As we know our Lord experienced all things human, he experienced everything we have, but without sin.  In His true humanity he knows how it feels to be miserable, troubled, restless, anxious, and sorrowful.  But he did come to heal us of all that, to heal us of all that afflicts us. 

In our gospel today, Peter’s mother-in-law is sick, and the disciples demonstrate the Christian response to troubles:  they immediately tell Jesus about it.  They go to Jesus.  That is their very first instinct, they don’t even know what he’s going to do, but they go to him first.  This is what a disciple does.  St. Basil, a fourth century doctor of the Church wrote that a disciple is one whoever draws near to the Lord, to follow him, to hear him, to believe him, and to obey him, obeying him as Lord, and King, and Doctor, and Teacher of all truth.  Complete abandonment to Him.

Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo was such a disciple.  He understood the relationship between our neediness and God’s goodness.  Fr. Dolindo was an Italian priest who lived from 1881 -1970.  Ordained at the age of 23, Don Dolindo spent his life in prayer, sacrifice, and service. He heard confessions, gave spiritual guidance, and cared for those in need. Fr. Dolindo was a contemporary of the more widely known saint, Padre Pio.

When some pilgrims from Naples, where Don Dolindo lived, went to Padre Pio in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio responded: “Why do you come here, if you have Don Dolindo in Naples? Go to him, he’s a saint!”

As scholars begin to study his many written works this simple priest is becoming most known for his spirituality of surrender. He was aware of the depth of human weakness and neediness, and Fr. Dolindo saw this as a way of fostering continual union with God.  While inviting us to continually bring our worries and concerns to the Lord, Fr. Dolindo would teach that the focus doesn’t stay on our needs. Give it to God and let go! He would encourage his people to bring their needs to God and to then be at peace, leaving God free to care for them in his own way and his own wisdom. Don Dolindo told his people that the Lord has promised to fully take on all the needs we entrust to him. In his own words:  a thousand prayers do not equal one act of abandonment; give yourself to Jesus, and don’t forget it.  Everything we suffer is an opportunity for trusting in the love of Jesus.  Give it to God and let go.  And there is no better prayer than this he would say:  Jesus, I abandon myself to you.  Jesus, you take over.

Fr. Dolindo knew suffering, his body was crippled with arthritis, his legs were always covered in ulcers that were always becoming infected, and for the last ten years of his life he was completely paralyzed.  In each of these sufferings and every day of his life he too would pray:  Jesus you take over.  This always filled him with joy. 

We know that Jesus is the Divine Doctor; he healed the mother-in-law of a fever.  And like any good doctor he is attracted to a wound.  Have you ever noticed how doctors will sometimes talk about different cases they may have seen.  And they will sometimes talk about the wounds they have seen, in great gory detail sometimes, they are attracted to them because they want to heal them.  In the same way our Divine Doctor wants to heal our wounds, he’s attracted to them.  He wants to heal us; sometimes physically, but he also wants to heal us of our spiritual wounds of drudgery, slavery to sin, misery, troubledness, restlessness, anxiety, hopelessness, and sorrow, all the things of Job.  He wants to heal.  God is not attracted to our gifts and virtues, but rather to our weakness, brokenness, and sin.  This is the very definition of Mercy.  He wants to heal. 

God loves like a doctor, he loves like a doctor loves a wound, and we are wounded.  And God rushes to our wounds.  Every time we make the sign of the cross, he rushes to our wounds.  As his disciples, go to Jesus, let him minister to the wound, abandoning everything to Him saying, Jesus you take over, Jesus you take over, Jesus you take over. 

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

January 31st is the Feast day of St. John Bosco, and he happens to be the patron of schoolchildren. He was born in Italy on August 16, 1815, into a poor family of farmers. His father, Francis, passed away when John was only two years old, leaving his mother, Margherita, to raise John and his two older brothers on her own. John worked very hard on the farm to help support his family.

When John was nine years old, he had several vivid dreams that would influence the rest of his life. In one of those dreams, he was fighting with a group of boys who were cursing and acting unruly. He tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. In the dream, Jesus and Mary appeared to John. Jesus told him, “Not with blows will you help these boys, but with goodness and kindness!” The boys turned into growling wild animals and then into lambs when Mary put out her hand. She told John, “This is the field of your work. Be humble, steadfast, and strong!” St John Bosco would later say that he realized that God was calling him, calling him to a vocation, calling him to action to stop standing on the sidelines and to get involved.

St. John Bosco would eventually become a priest and founder of the Salesians, an order dedicated to educating and forming young men.  He would teach them the same message he had received, not to stand on the sidelines but to get involved, to be faithful, industrious, and virtuous.   He was a very successful educator.  Our school here at St. Joseph’s strives to do the same for our kids.  Our motto being, “We will know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.”  In other words, like St. John Bosco we will not stand on the sidelines but get involved.  Not long ago our school gave witness to the sanctity of life with two marches.  The elementary students marched and prayed a rosary in support of life while the middle schoolers carried signs and marched through the neighborhood.  “We will know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.” 

In our gospel today we got a view of the spiritual battle that is waged between good and evil.   And as long as we are here on earth we cannot avoid being involved in this spiritual battle.  The devil is just too interested in making our lives miserable, both now and forever.  He works hard to separate us from God.  But as we heard in our gospel Jesus can expel the demon from the possessed man easily and definitively.  And still today our Lord gives us the same grace and strength to be victorious in the spiritual battle. 

There are three things that we can do and practice that will help this strength flow more freely in our lives.

First, stay close to Jesus.  It was because this possessed man in our Gospel was close to Jesus, that our Lord was able to expel the demon.  The same goes for us if we stay close to our Lord, especially through daily prayer and the worthy reception of the Eucharist.  Second, stay close to truth. Know especially the truths of your Catholic faith.  The devil’s main weapon is deception.  He manipulates our selfish tendencies by spreading lies and half-truths. This is one reason he fights to keep us out of the confessional.  Confession is the gift of truth:  We face the truth about ourselves By confessing our sins, our failures, and our weaknesses, we face the truth about ourselves.  And God, through the priest, reminds us of His truth: mercy, forgiveness, unconditional grace.  The devil loves the darkness; but confession unleashes the light.  Third, stay close to others in need.  The devil is the lord of selfishness, while Christ is the Lord of self-gift.  When we resist our selfishness by serving others, whatever their need may be, we weaken the devil’s influence in our lives.

These three practices can be summarized as “Know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.” 

I want to end with a story I read on Church Pop earlier this week.   It’s about a priest by the name of Fr. Cepada and he had recently been assigned to a new parish.  After Mass on his first day, he was approached by a couple with a young boy and they asked him if their son Gabriel could serve Mass as his altar boy.  Fr. Cepada said sure, bring him back tomorrow.  Next day Gabriel was there in the sacristy dressed in his new cassock and surplice.  Fr. Cepada came to learn that Gabriel had never served Mass before so he told him, just do what I do, and after Mass I can teach you how to serve.  That was a mistake.  When Fr. Cepada entered the sanctuary and kissed the altar so did Gabriel.  And during the homily Fr. Cepada made hand gestures and so did Gabriel.  He mimicked every hand movement of Fr. Cepada.  The people in the pews just smiled and laughed through the entire homily. 

So, after Mass Fr. Cepada gave him some instructions and they practiced.  He also made sure to tell Gabriel not to kiss the altar and not to make those hand gestures.  But Gabriel asked, “Why do you kiss the altar?”  Fr. Cepada answered, “That kiss is for Jesus, the altar is a symbol of Jesus, and my kiss is a sign of my love and honor and respect for him.”  “I want to kiss the altar too; I want to kiss Jesus” said Gabriel!  “No, I’ll kiss the altar for the both of us,” said Fr. Cepada.

Next day, Gabriel did not kiss the altar; instead, he laid his cheek against the altar.  After Mass Fr. Cepada asked him why he did that, and Gabriel simply said, “I’m letting Jesus kiss me.”

Every Christian is a spiritual warrior. And we need all the help we can get.  So, every time we pray, receive the sacraments, worship at Mass, read scripture, and do good to others we are letting ourselves be loved by our Lord.  We are letting ourselves be filled with His grace.  It’s when we sin and forget to pray, avoid the confessional, avoid Mass, and avoid doing good that we reject that kiss of grace. 

I end with a question, “Is there something extra you will do this week in order to be a greater recipient of God’s grace?”  That you might be a stronger warrior in the spiritual battle.  (Extra prayer, a rosary, daily Mass during the week, adoration of the Eucharist, confession doing good for someone in need)

May we let God’s grace work in us, may we let ourselves receive that kiss of grace.  And like St. John Bosco may we always know our Catholic faith, share our Catholic faith, and live our Catholic faith.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley