Praying, sharing, taking it one day at a time.

From some of the responses to the blog (here or in conversation), I think I need to start saying that I do not know if “worrying” and “being concerned” are the same or not. I have done a bit of research and opinions are divided. I do not want to engage in a discussion about semantics (as interesting as it can be sometimes). So I do not know if “being concerned” is less “worrisome” than “being worried.” Really, in this case it matters little how we call it. If for someone, being concerned is less than being worried, perhaps it means that such a person has already advanced in a healthier direction.

I would prefer to occupy this little corner of cyber-space reflecting that worry is a choice we make. The lines between caring or thinking about a problem and worry are very blur. Worry produces anxiety and we do not need a PhD in psychology to know that the effects of worry can be very damaging to our health, both mental and even physical.

We worry about money (regardless of how much we have); about health; about the future; about the past; about our children; about our careers; about the perception others have of us; about school; about our job; about the mistakes of the past…

We often worry about things we simply should not. We fear things that end up not happening. Worry is about a future projection. We give way to anxiety about future scenarios that have not happened yet. Perhaps we think that worrying is like a penance – we are already suffering, and perhaps God will spare us the painful fate because we are already “paying” for it.

We often worry because we think, as we said in the first weekly post, that it is the only way we can show that we care. I do not need someone to tell me if I care or not. I know if I care. Perhaps we worry too much about how others perceive us. We worry about whether or not others perceive that we care. Example? A mom worrying about what her mom thinks about how much she cares about the children.

If you are like me, you are already thinking that, quite inevitably, there are times when there is a reason to worry. We or someone we love receives a life-threatening diagnosis, or we or someone we know has an accident, or something really bad happens. Or our fears are confirmed and the thing we worried about actually takes place, with all the pain and the embarrassment we anticipated. But, as difficult as it is to say it, worrying is still not helpful.

I run the risk of being simplistic, but I offer three “solutions” (or attitudes, or behaviors) that may be more useful than worry: sharing, praying, taking it one day at a time (living the present).

Sharing: When we worry, we tend to bottle up. We keep to ourselves our worries because worry gives way to anxiety, and anxiety to fear. Disclosing fears is a very delicate thing, because it touches very intimate areas of our being.

Praying: Prayer is really one way of opening up. When prayer is done right, it really is a dialogue with God—as we said in the first post, unlike worry, which is a dialogue with ourselves about things over which we have no control, prayer is a dialogue with God about things He already controls.

By the way, praying and sharing are two of the dimensions of FaithGroups, the new small-group ministry that we are launching at Sacred Heart this Lent. Part of what we envision happening in these groups is that people will find a safe, prayerful environment where worries can be shared. Sharing is healthy in itself, but it may also give way to solutions from the rest of the people in the group. Often, others seem to have a better perspective than ourselves about what is worrying us.    

Taking it one day at a time: How many times Jesus teaches in the gospels about concerning ourselves less with the past, which is gone, or with the future, that is not ours yet, and more about the present, which is all we really have. So the two posts this week finish the same way: Jesus tells us this Sunday, “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.” Are we now going to doubt his word?

On Worry (8th Sunday in OT)

We have come to the last Sunday before Lent. We have spent the whole month of February dissecting the Sermon on the Mount. It started with the Beatitudes (which we did not read because it was the Feast of the Presentation), and we have continued reflecting on Jesus’ teaching about the implications of living out the Beatitudes—what we have called “Living Beyond the Law.”

Last Sunday we reflected on the most original and challenging of Jesus’ teaching: a disciple loves, and loves to the extreme of loving the enemy. For many I have talked to, discussing love of the enemy has become a challenging, even painful, but fruitful reflection.  

This Sunday we come to the end of this long “inauguration speech” (Mt 6:24-34). Jesus begins with the famous saying, “You cannot serve two masters,” referring to money (and really, not money but rather greed), but he quickly expands our attitude about material things in the larger context of worry.

To prove that we worry about worry (pun intended), we posted on our parish Facebook page that we were going to preach about worry, and in only one day, the post was viewed by more people than 95% of all our other posts.

We worry about everything, but worry is not really very useful. According to the dictionary, worry is “to give way to unease. To allow one’s mind to dwell in difficult future scenarios.” I credit Fr. Michael White (co-author of Rebuilt and pastor of Nativity Church in North Baltimore) with preaching that we tend to believe that worry is the only way to show that we care (to show even to ourselves!). He also tells us that worry is the opposite of prayer: when we worry, we expand our problems; when we pray, we reduce them. Worry is a dialogue with ourselves, mainly about things that are not really under our control; prayer is (supposed to be) a dialogue with God about things He has already under control.

Worry is also about the future: we construct terrible future scenarios that we start to suffer about even before they actually materialize; or about the past and mistakes we may have made—in both cases avoiding to live fully the present, which is the only time we really have. Thus, a great line in this Sunday’s gospel: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Loving the enemy (and perhaps starting there?)

By following the Sunday readings and good common sense, we may easily realize that we have a “progression” on love: Love yourself; love others the way you love yourself; love another the way Jesus has loved us; love the enemy.

A few years ago, on a Sunday we had this same gospel, and I asked a priest what he was preaching (I do this often.) He was a help-out in a wealthy parish located in a very affluent neighborhood. He told me that he was going to preach that in order to love one another, first we have to learn to love ourselves. While he had a point (I get it!), I am who I am and I could not help but exclaim, “To love themselves even more?” I hope you get the humor—and really, I do understand that loving oneself is also difficult, but I thought it was interesting to call people to love themselves in an area where I thought that people did love themselves quite a bit already.

One of the goals of this blog is to provoke thought. My thought-provoking reflection today is to propose that perhaps Jesus is inviting us to consider reversing the progression: We have to begin some place, so, why don’t we try to begin by loving the enemy first? Because it is the most difficult kind of love, perhaps if we start there, it will become easier to love others, and then to love ourselves.

Speaking of enemies, do you have any? I believe this is homily worthy. I am not speaking about enemies in general (some evil people we do not know or evil people in general), but true “flesh and blood” enemies. I think I do. And it is painful to think about this right now. By trying to do the right thing (I emphasize trying), I have encountered people that became my enemies. Sometimes just because it is difficult to avoid, tough situations become personal. Sometimes there are hurts that cannot be repaired. Most of my enemies are not an active part of my life, but the memory of them, and a very recognizable pain, lurks in the background.

Someone may say she or he does not have enemies, and it may be naïve to think this way. But, under the light of the gospel, what is clear is that having enemies shows our failure, our sinfulness. Perhaps in many situations there is nothing we can do—in those cases, Jesus suggests that at least we pray: we pray first for mercy for our own responsibility in those relationships that have gone so terribly wrong; and we pray for our enemies – we can at least pray that nothing goes wrong for them.


There is this wonderful transition between last Sunday’s gospel and the next (Mt 5:38-48). Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount. It started with the Beatitudes (the New Commandments), and last week we read his invitation to live beyond the Law—as in realizing that the law really demands little, compared to the deeper demands of authentic discipleship. Faith, discipleship, is not truly lived by the dry fulfillment of religious rules and regulations. Discipleship is really lived in the arena of human relationships. This is why Jesus continues his sermon this week by speaking about love.

As we read in the first reading, the Old Testament calls us to “love thy neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus will make it much more demanding by saying “love one another as I have loved you,” and, as we read in this Sunday’s gospel, he will take this even further and teach us to love even the enemy.

But love is difficult. Loving ourselves is difficult. Loving those who are close to us is not easy, either. Really loving the enemy—the one who opposes us, the one who does not give us a break, the one we disagree with almost all the time, the one who misunderstands us, the one who gossips about us—is just tough.

We all say we want to love. We all love humanity. Love as a concept is easy. But when this love becomes a specific human being, then it becomes difficult. A more poetic way to put it: love as a noun is easy, but as a verb, is anything but.

Beyond the Law

One of the comments in reply to Tuesday’s post stated, “A good example of how Jesus calls us to live beyond what the law requires is when he commands us to ‘love one another as he loves us.'” It is, indeed, a good example. In next Sunday’s gospel, we will hear Jesus telling us that we even have to love our enemies. So we may have to leave love apart for now (even the day after Saint Valentine) and deal with that next weekend. I feel like I have a homily for next week when the one for this weekend is still building…

For now, Jesus is simply calling us to go beyond the law. We have to realize that laws are only a spring board for what we should really become. The clearest example Jesus gives in the gospel this weekend is about swearing. Why do I need to swear, if I always tell the truth? Be on guard when someone begins a sentence saying, “I swear to you…” or “Honestly,” because countless lies are told after these introductions.

We are not people of laws and regulations, not because we do not care for them, but because they become such a low standard to the one who really tries. Think about it: we should not text and drive; or drink and drive. It is not because the law tells me so, but because I really do not want to harm self and especially others. But a law is there to “help” us to make the right decision (and we know we need so much help sometimes).

Remember the example in a previous post. How little it takes legally to be a Catholic, and how much it takes to be a good one. A good Catholic is someone who strives (we at least try!) to fulfill the call to holiness (according to one author, to become holy is to become the best version of oneself). It takes so much more to become a disciple (for those of you who knew I would say that.)

We will always have “people of the law” among us–the Pharisees of then, and the Pharisees of now. It is interesting to realize that these people always seem to focus on the least important of the rules and get really indignant when those are broken. These rules often deal with external stuff–because a system of law can only deal with what actually happens. This is what we reflected at Mass on Wednesday: “what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him.”

Jesus tells us to go beyond the low standard of the dry fulfillment of the law, calling us the into the marvelous adventure of being his Spirit filled followers.

Jesus and the Law

My plan (and my father still says I am a man of plans that may or may not get executed) is to consistently write on Tuesday (early look at the homily) and Fridays (something closer to the actual homily).

We are already reflecting on the readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the Lectionary proposes a gospel that you can immediately identify as a Matthean text (Matthew 5:17-37). Why? Of all the gospels. Matthew is the most “Jewish” of the four. In this text, we find Jesus teaching about the Law. Matthew’s approach to the Law is the most nuanced of the four gospel authors. Notice that we are talking about, Law with capital L, as “The” Law. I believe the clarification is important: Jesus is not speaking about “law” in general. Jesus is not speaking about what our attitude towards rules and regulations in general should be. Jesus is teaching about the Mosaic law, the actual law that regulated life in First Century Palestine. A Law that was an endless collection of commandments (more than the Ten) in a world in which the religious and the civil spheres were absolutely interwoven. Think of a compilation of law: the Ten Commandments, but also regulations about the Sabbath, rules of purity, before meals cleansing rituals, stipulations about purity and impurity, marriage, regulations about prayer, and a long etcetera. The Pharisees counted out some 613 commandments woven into the Pentateuch. During his public ministry, Jesus will be critical of many of those regulations, especially those that contained a basic discrimination (against women, against foreigners–with a special emphasis on the Samaritans, against the marginalized).

For now, only an initial reflection. Jesus is against what we could call “Pharisaic Utopia,” the dream of the Pharisees, namely, the entrenched idea that you could be close to God by just following an endless succession of regulations–all these 613 commandments. Jesus, as we hear this Sunday, does not preach insurrection or anarchy, a society without law. But he prefers to teach about attitude, about a goodness that goes beyond human regulations, and cannot be regulated. That Law, as many religious laws, set only standards, and Jesus wants to take us so much beyond that.

If you think about our current “religious law” it takes little (or apparently little) to be in communion with the Church: Baptism, communion once a year, confession at least once a year, to be in a valid marriage (I know, this one is trickier)… but for argument’s sake, these “minimums” make a Catholic in good standing. It takes much more than that to be a good, active, generous Catholic–in other words, it takes much more than the mere fulfillment of a few regulations to be a disciple of Christ.

Your light shall break forth like the dawn…

There is a connection between the First Reading and the Gospel during the Sundays in Ordinary Time. Sometimes the connection is difficult to see, and it may not be that helpful. Other times, like this Sunday, the connection is simply wonderful. After teaching the Beatitudes to the crowds gathered to listen to him, Jesus continues his teaching with his disciples. He tells them, as he tells us, another feature of discipleship: be salt and light in the world. The first reading, from Jesus’ favorite prophet, Isaiah, specifies beautifully what does it mean to be salt and to be light in the world: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own” and “remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”

Disciples know that church does not finish an hour after Mass begins (God forbid we go beyond that!). Disciples take seriously the words of the final blessing at Mass: Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” by becoming Salt and Light well beyond the confines of our building of worship.

One aspect we may reflect about this weekend is that Isaiah says that if we do all these things for the oppress and the neglected, then God will listen. Isaiah is teaching us that ours is a God of dialogue: we need to be on the same page, on the same wave length, so the conversation can actually happen.

Another line of reflection that opens up is that to take care of the oppressed, the neglected, the hungry, the homeless, we have to be where the afflicted actually are. Pope Francis has said this beautifully when he has asked the faithful to be at the “peripheries” of society. We have to be, spiritually and physically, where affliction due to injustice takes place. Where oppression and hunger has a face, and eyes, and a body.

It is 3:12 PM, the first Mass is at 4:30 PM, so I may need lots of prayers to get this done on time. But if only one point gets clearly through: disciples are called to be salt and bring light “out there”–and we do it by caring for the afflicted, and the hungry, as much as God does–by being where they are.

Salt of the Earth

We (I have help with this) welcome all of you who signed up during the weekend. For those of you who are new, this blog attempts to show the development of the weekend homily from early in the week, until the time it is actually delivered.

Some of you know about a book titled “Rebuilt.” I read it over Christmas, and it has many, many good insights and practical ideas. We are applying many of them to our vision of what we want Sacred Heart to be. One of the ideas I received more skeptically was “series preaching.” It is very typical in Protestant churches to tackle a theme over several weekends. Mostly, I thought it would take the preacher away from the actual gospel of the Mass—and we Catholics are certainly a people of the Lectionary.

As it happens, though, I find myself preaching a series, inadvertently at the beginning of the year, but consciously now. I have been preaching on the same topic since we started 2014: Discipleship. We (thankfully, I am not alone in this) are developing a new vision for our Faith community, one that wants to make Faith matter, by making and growing disciples (in my opinion, the main point in “Rebuilt.”) When you set yourself on a topic (I now realize that I may have been preaching in “series” all my ministerial life), suddenly everything seems to relate to it. Every gospel, every weekend, seems to bring a new layer of understanding. Last weekend, we reflected that to be a disciple implies becoming a “sign of contradiction.” The Church is often a sign of contradiction in society, and as disciples, we are called to be signs of contradiction to our beloved ones, in our families, at work, in our faith community. In other words, the opposite of “peace for peace’s sake.” Some took the message to heart and became signs of contradiction to me after Mass this weekend!

This Sunday’s gospel speaks about a new demand to the disciple: the call to be salt of the world. Jesus told this to his disciples, and he is telling us today. The individual who wants to be a disciple embraces this task of bringing flavor to the world, to shake our realities, and to instill everything we do, every relationship we hold, with new joy and enthusiasm. It is, for one thing, so different than the mentality “us against them” that you hear often as the mantra of many Catholic evangelization efforts today. To be salt of the world is not a moral judgment of the world, but an attempt to engage the world with optimism, recognizing the good that is already “out there” (and yes, a faith that matters happens mainly out there).

A wise man who was directing a retreat I was attending told us that the goal of the Church is “to praise God by transforming the world.” We praise God by embracing this additional call: Be the Salt of the Earth.

See you around Thursday?