Reflections from the Heart by Fr. Ivan

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I can recall several instances in my life either as a child or as an adult when someone has said, “If you love me” and presented me with the opportunity to test the depth and genuineness of my love. By “loving” someone, I could prove my love by either doing this or saying that; or by buying this or guaranteeing that. Is that really our understanding of what love is or how it works? Do we really believe that love is a response that can be controlled or elicited on demand or that love is something that is so conditional or self-serving? I realize now that if I truly loved a person making such a request of me, I would have done what God wanted me to do as opposed to what I was being forced or obligated to do because of fear or guilt or because I allowed someone to use the word love as a means to manipulate or control my actions. Love, or rather true love is from God.  Love is God and therefore united in every way to his Word, his Will, his Way. Anything else is from you or me or the evil one – our words, our wills, our ways. True love is always for the other, for the sake of another. For our sake, the Father revealed the depth and sincerity of his all-abiding love through Jesus.  It is a sacred love that is unconditional, unsolicited, unmerited. God’s love is pure, holy, genuine. His love is always for you and for me. He gives his love even if we do not want it. He shares his love even if we refuse it. He offers his love even if we do not deserve it. He simply loves because that is who God is – love, true love. He loved us so much that he offered his Son, Jesus to prove his love even though he did not have to. Jesus manifested God’s love by becoming a victim and a slave for love, by becoming weak and vulnerable for the sake of love, by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And now we never have to ask God if he loves us because the Cross remains forever the greatest expression and proof of God’s love. God doesn’t force us to love him but simply invites us to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing” – loving one another as God has loved us.

Twenty-fifthSunday in Ordinary Time

“Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son.” We still have several months to go before entering into the joyous Christmas Season and already stores have begun to transform their shelves into a winter wonderland with trees, toys and decorations. It truly is a special time of the year. We come together as family and spend time with our friends.  We reconnect and catch up with those who live far away and we are ever so mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves.  We are filled with the hope and peace the season brings and welcome it into our hearts and into our homes. We gather to share a meal, to celebrate traditions, to sing the many songs that have captured the Christmas spirit. One of those being, “Do you hear what I hear?” I think about what the artist is hearing. I think about what you might be hearing. I ask myself, do you hear what I hear? Do I hear what you hear? Are we both hearing what Moses and the prophets heard? Are we hearing what the Disciples heard? Are we hearing what all the Angels and Saints heard? Are we hearing the sweet voice of God gently calling each one of us by name? Calling each one of us to conversion.  Inviting each one of us to change our minds and open our hearts. Hearing is such an automatic thing.  A sound is made; a sound is heard. We hear so many sounds. Some are beautiful and pleasing to the ears like the sound of nature, the sound of silence, the sound of children playing. At times, sounds become noise and noise distracts us. It drowns out God’s voice. God desires to speak to us, to encourage us, to share with us.  That is music to our ears. Noise, however, fills our ears with unpleasant sounds and occupies our capacity to listen.  Listening requires a little bit of work and a lot more skill on our part. Listening requires us to be attentive to the sound that is being made; to be open to the word that is being spoken, available to the message that is being shared, respectful to the person who is speaking. Listening requires us to give of ourselves and to give our undivided attention to the moment, to the person, to the situation before us. O Lord, open the ears of our hearts, so that we can be attentive and present to your Son Jesus as he tells us just how much you love us.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?”  Forgiveness is difficult for us because true forgiveness, the kind we have received through Jesus, is from the heart.  It is based on love. It requires us to give up the things we so often are not ready to give up or let go of like hurt, pain, suffering, anger, revenge, pride, humiliation. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that these things are not good for us. They are like a poison that slowly brings confusion to our minds and darkness to our hearts. A poison that causes us to think and act as humans do, at times selfish and boastful, unkind and revengeful and not as God does who is “kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Unforgiveness is a venomous poison that shuts down our ability to love.  It hinders our ability to be compassionate and charitable. It imprisons and hardens our hearts bringing about separation, isolation and division which are harmful to us and those we care for.  Unforgiveness destroys our relationships. It affects our spiritual well-being and deprives us of God’s love.  Unforgiveness is detrimental to our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our souls, our families, our homes, our school, our workplace, our world. So I share with you the antidote I was given to help me to forgive from the heart and to once again love as God loves. So let us begin a spiritual exercise on forgiveness.  Place yourself in a quiet place, silence your mind, open your heart. Say a prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to guide you and to bring to light any unforgiveness in your heart. The first step is to ask for forgiveness in prayer from anyone you might have offended or caused any hurt. Say from the heart, I’m sorry. When you are ready, proceed to the next step. In prayer, forgive anyone who might have sinned against you.  Anyone who hurt you, embarrassed you, stole from you, cursed you, lied to you, gossiped about you, made fun of you, mocked you, used you, pretended to like you, used your things without permission. From the heart say, I forgive you. When ready, proceed to the final and most difficult step. Look in a mirror, gaze into your eyes, then from your heart forgive yourself. I pray this spiritual exercise on forgiveness will help you as it helped me to be free of the poison of unforgiveness and be filled with the Spirit of God’s love.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Are you perfect? Are you without faults? We tend to think of perfection in terms of never making a mistake. We see ourselves as flawless or even faultless.  However, perfection from God’s perspective means being holy as God is holy. It means thinking as God thinks, seeing as God sees, listening as God listens, and loving as God loves – unconditionally, patiently, sacrificially, with understanding and always for the other. Perfection means that we constantly strive to hold onto and even retain the gift of being fully restored in the image and likeness of our Creator and perfectly living in the ways of Christ. Shifting the blame towards another does not make us error free or perfect. It just means that we managed to draw the attention from ourselves to another’s faults. So are you perfect? Are you without faults? I think about our Lord in the Garden of Eden and the conversation he had with Adam regarding his nakedness. God knew that they had already eaten from the tree they were asked not to; they already sinned, they disobeyed God’s command. When God tells Adam he has eaten of the fruit that he was not to partake from Adam responds by saying it was not his fault but God’s fault since he was the one who put “that woman” here. How easy it is for us to steer the blame in another direction or to another person in order to keep our own faults hidden. Eve also deflected the fault in another direction by saying, “the serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” Looking at our own faults is not easy. It is easier for us to deflect the attention somewhere else or to someone else. Jesus reminds us that if someone sins against us then we should pull that person to the side quietly and privately and then share the fault that caused us hurt, distress, despair, frustration, confusion. It would be good to commend to our heart and mind that fraternal correction requires charity on both sides. We should consider that how a message is received can affect how we respond. As we know, it is not always what we say but how we say it that can make all the difference. So if someone sins against you, privately tell them their fault. But remember that a gentle correction most likely will elicit a favorable response. 

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Growing up I always enjoyed a good game of “Follow the Leader”. Didn’t you? Jumping up-and-down, making animal noises, waving our hands from side to side, pretending we were flying a plane, spinning around up-and-down again. It was a great time, especially if we had a good leader. The challenge often came when the line got so long that it was difficult to see or hear the leader.  You had to rely on the person in front of you. Sometimes, there was dissension among the ranks.  Others felt they could do a better job at leading, which caused division, ultimately ending the game. Are you a good leader? Are you leading others in the Way of the Lord? If I followed you, would you lead me to Jesus?  Are you okay with being a good follower? Are you a good one? Is the person you are following leading you to the Father? Will they bring you into the Kingdom of God? If I couldn’t see or hear Jesus, would I be able to follow you and meet him? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He shows us the right way, the only way to get to heaven.  He leads us to the Father. Jesus invites all who wish to come after him to consider the path that makes it easier to follow him – by first denying one’s self in a culture that would have us believe that it is all about us, we are the most important person in the world, we are number one.  Denying ourselves is probably the most difficult thing for us to do to follow Jesus. But if we allow the Holy Spirit to help us, we can reorder our lives and make Jesus our priority by placing the needs of others ahead of ours. Then Jesus asks us to take up our cross. A cross is a heavy and difficult burden to bear. But Jesus already carried our cross. If you ask him, he will continue to help you to carry your cross. Finally, Jesus asks us to follow him.  We are at times so blinded by the world and so distracted by so much noise. Jesus invites us to go to that little room in our heart, close the door, close our eyes, open our ears, open our heart to encounter the One leading us to paradise.

 

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

“But who do you say that I am?” Imagine for a moment that you and Jesus are having a quiet conversation – you are in prayer. And in the conversation you share the different aspects of your life, your faith journey, the things that have challenged you the most and the things you are most grateful for. And in the conversation Jesus catches you off guard and says, I’m curious what do you know about me? What have you heard about me? What have people told you about me? Who do people say that I Am? And you respond by saying some say you are the Son of God, some say you were born of the Virgin Mary, still some say that you died on a cross and rose on the third day.  Then Jesus looks you right in the eye, he pierces your heart with his gaze and touches that place in your soul that only God can reach.  The place every secret is revealed.  The Place where you realize you are insignificant, naked, a sinner in need of redemption. Then holding your life in the palm of his hand he looks intently into your eyes and keeping his gaze on your heart he says to you personally and intimately, “But who do you say that I am?” This question rocks your world. There is no place to run, nowhere to hide, no person to call, no book to read, no site to search there is just you and the Truth.  A question so intimate, so personal, so relational requires first-hand knowledge and experience of who Jesus is, has been and will continue to be personally to you. May you say with gratitude, thank you Jesus for helping me to realize that you are my rock, my foundation, the core of my being, the depth of my soul, the heart within my heart. Thank you for being my life, my voice, my shepherd, my salvation, the cause of my joy, the source of my inspiration, the bread that nourishes me, the drink that satisfies me, the fire that burns inside of me. Thank you for being my Lord and my God. I live because you died. I am free because you died for me.  I breathe because you live inside of me. Without you there can be no me. With you all things are possible. You are the Beloved Son of God who loves me, saved me, forgave me, healed me and set me free. Who you are is all that I need.