Listen to Your Mother!

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Wedding Feast at Cana Large

Wedding Feast at Cana – Bartolome’ Esteban Murillo, circa 1675

How many of you remember hearing the words, “Listen to your mother!” from your dad or other adult when you were growing up? Most of you, I’m sure. They were words of sound advice based on experience. My mother, and the moms of the kids I hung around with, seemed to possess an uncanny sixth sense. They knew when we were about to do wrong or make a bone-head mistake that would cost us down the road. It hurt to heed that advice but we usually knew it was in our best interest.

We know very little about the early life of Jesus Christ, those years before He began His public ministry. We know He probably gave His mother and father fits from time to time, such as hanging around the temple and missing His ride home. I can imagine Him bristling up, perhaps not wanting to do His chores. And, I can imagine Joseph saying, “Son, listen to your mother and do as she says!”

Throughout the New Testament the Scripture hints that Jesus had a respectful and loving relationship with His mother, Mary. We know that she was a disciple and stayed close to Him throughout His adult life. The first account of this is the story of the wedding at Cana, which was yesterday’s Gospel reading:

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5, NAB)

I’m imagining standing there near Jesus and listening to this conversation. Mary, in her foresight, sees that running out of wine will be an embarrassing social disaster for the bride and groom and, in her kindness, wants to prevent it. She turns to her son, whom I’m sure she knows is more than an ordinary young man, and subtly suggests he do something about it. Jesus alludes that He may not be ready to start performing miracles. Not quite yet.

Then, in my mind’s eye, I imagine her leaning over and whispering to Jesus, “Son, you have to start sometime and it might as well be now.” And, then, without further discussion, she tells the server to, “Do whatever he tells you.”

In my imagination I see Jesus is in a predicament. It’s either put up or make his mother look bad. Even though He may roll His eyes, He listens to His mother:

6Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus told them “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. 9And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. (John 2:6-11, NAB)

Jesus listened to His mother because of His great love for her, a love so great that He created a place for her in Heaven next to Him. And, He still loves and listens to her. That is why I often ask Mary, our Blessed Mother, to intercede for me and personally deliver my most sincere prayers to her son, Jesus. What better way can there be to have my prayers heard and obtain God’s grace?

 

(Listen to Your Mother! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Protestant Achilles’ Heel

Reposted from Catholic Answers, by Tim Staples, I thought this was a good reflection on Sola Scriptura.

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According to ancient Greek legend, the great warrior, Achilles, was invulnerable against attack, except for one area of weakness—his heel. That weakness would be exploited near the end of the Trojan War by Paris. As the story goes, he shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow, killing his seemingly undefeatable foe.

Okay, so referring to Sola Scriptura as the Protestant Achilles’s Heelis not a perfect analogy. There are many weak spots in Protestant theology. But the use of the image of “Achilles’s Heel” in prose today is employed not only to accentuate a singular weakness in an otherwise impenetrable person or institution, but a particularly acute weakness. It is in that sense that I think the analogy fits.

Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!

If you liked this post and you would like to dive deeper into this topic and more, click here.


Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers

Source: The Protestant Achilles’ Heel

“Psst, Hey You, Don’t Forget How Much I Love You!”

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Baptism-of-Jesus-305x350About a year ago I posted Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is. In that post I related the events around the birth of my grandson, John Charles (Jack), on 5 January; and how three days later he stopped breathing and wound up back in the hospital for several weeks. But, the story wasn’t so much about Jack as it was about the life-changing experience I had because of it. It told of the series of signs (God-moments) that brought me, through fear and desperation, to “give it up to God”, and to proclaim and pray, “Jesus, I trust in You” with every ounce of faith within me; and how He revealed to me that Jack would be fine.

In March I posted Laetare (Joyful) Sunday in which I reflected on and compared my love for my family with the Lord’s love for me. Through the scripture readings for that day, and with help from the priest’s homily, this still relatively new Catholic finally understood just how much God loves us. But, that Sunday, 15 March, was more than just an enlightening experience for me, and it was more than a “Joyful Sunday” for my family – it was the day Jack was baptized.

Fast forward through 2015. After a few weeks in the hospital, Jack came home on medication. By the end of spring he was weaned from his medication and hasn’t had a symptom in the last nine months.  He’s grown into a healthy, happy and normal little boy.

This past weekend we converged on Kansas City to celebrate Jack’s first birthday. It was a beautiful party with many family and friends attending. Jack thoroughly enjoyed the attention and the birthday gifts.

As the little man crawled to me, pulled himself to standing in front of my lap, and, with a smile from ear to ear, offered his new toy to me, I couldn’t help but utter a silent prayer of Thanksgiving to the One Who was ultimately responsible.

As we usually do when we visit them, we go to Mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, Kansas. As Mass began I realized that this Sunday happened to be the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It made me think back to last March and Laetare Sunday when this same priest, Fr. John Charles Reynolds, celebrated Jack’s Sacrament of Baptism. When I realized the two shared the same first and middle names I looked up to the crucifix hanging above the altar and I smiled a knowing smile.

I should have been paying attention during the Liturgy of the Eucharist but my mind drifted back to last winter and I further realized the day’s date was the one year anniversary of me consciously placing my total trust in Jesus – not just to heal my grandson – but in all things.

Momentarily oblivious to the ritual happening at the altar, and with leaking eyes, I offered thanks once again for all of life’s blessings, especially for the way He reveals Himself to me: by reminding me of the conversation we had precisely one year ago; by recalling to my mind Jack’s baptism through the celebration of His Own baptism; and even in the small, seemingly coincidental, sign of Jack and the priest sharing the same name. It was as though I could hear God’s whispered laugh and reminder, “Psst, hey you, don’t forget how much I love you!”

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the many ways You make Yourself present to me and thank You for giving me the insight to recognize them for what they are. I pray I always find a way to feel You working in my life. Amen.”

(The post, “Psst, Hey You, Don’t Forget How Much I Love You!”, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Best Gift to Give at Christmas

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Adoration of the Magi abraham Bloemaert

The Adoration of the Magi – Abraham Bloemaert

Merry Christmas everyone! I am blessed to have been able to enjoy the holiday with my family, especially my youngest daughter, Grace, who is home from college, and my oldest daughter, Sara, who arrived on Saturday with her husband, Andy, and our granddaughter, Elsa. I hope yours has been filled with love, too.

Even though you won’t hear Christmas music on the radio any longer; in spite of merchants tempting us to spend our money on “after – Christmas” sales; disregarding the store shelves already stocked with Valentine’s Day candy; and overlooking the Christmas decorations being taken down and stored away, for us Catholics, we are just getting into the swing of Christmas. We still have eight more days to celebrate Christmas before the Epiphany of the Lord. Thus, I have no reservations about posting and sharing my Christmas experience with you today.

My wife, Grace, my mother-in-law, and I attended Christmas Vigil Mass on Thursday night. It was a beautiful mass, the church was decorated perfectly, the choir was almost angelic – all of which provided the perfect setting for the celebration of a reverent occasion, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Since it was already Christmas when we returned home from Mass, we took a leisurely approach in the morning by sleeping in until about half past seven. The last to rise was Grace. The difference in the level of excitement and anticipation between this child who used to not sleep at all on Christmas Eve night, and the college sophomore she is now, was obvious.

Gift opening was laid back. Gone are the days of wrapping paper and bows being flung everywhere. Our approach this year was more methodical and appreciative. When it was over, we actually remembered from whom we received each gift.

Christmas dinner was a masterpiece! My wife, Melinda, out did herself once again. I could have easily over indulged but I honored the “one-plate” rule (said rule does not restrict how high food may be piled on that one plate). Dessert, however, had to wait a couple hours. And, we were blessed with guests who accepted our invitation for dinner and to share the afternoon with us.

Since Christmas was on Friday, I excused myself for an hour and drove to church for my regularly scheduled weekly Holy hour of Adoration at four o’clock. As I knelt on the prie-dieu and gazed up at the tabernacle, the special-ness of the occasion struck me. There I was, one-on-one, with my Lord, Jesus, on His birthday.

I remembered uttering earlier in the morning when I rolled out of bed, “Good morning, Jesus, and happy birthday!”, but this was much more up close and personal. A casual, “How do you do” and, “Oh, by the way….” didn’t seem fitting.

As I do with all my prayers, I started by giving thanks for the many blessings He bestows upon me, especially the gift of my family and our love for each other. I gave thanks for His love and mercy to me, never deserved but always welcome.

I realized there was a certain amount of irony at work here. It was His birthday, but He was the one giving and I was the one receiving. Nevertheless, I wondered what gifts Jesus was hoping for on this special day.

The first which came to mind was our gratitude for all the gifts He gives to us. I think there are actually two gifts wrapped as one in our gratefulness: our realization that His blessings are indeed gifts given freely through His eternal love for us; and the thankfulness we extend to Him through our prayers.

Another fine birthday present I’m sure He appreciates is seeing our love for each other, especially to the needy and ones less fortunate than ourselves. And, I couldn’t help but think how He must wish we would extend that love throughout the year instead of reserving it for His birthday celebration.

Then, as I continued pondering, the words from the first two lyrics to one of my favorite Christmas songs, Easier (The Song of the Wisemen)1 by Jason Gray, came to mind:

It’s easier to give a gift of gold

Than to give my heart for another to hold.

It’s easier.

It’s easier to give You the things I do

Than to open my life and let You walk through.

It’s easier.

Do I hide behind my offerings

While You’re hoping for the heart of me?

Am I the only gift

That You long for me to give?

In reflecting upon these words, I realized the most precious gift any of us can give the King of Kings is the gift of our own hearts. And, by extension, the best gift we can give to anyone – our family, friends, and fellow human beings in general – is the same: to step out from hiding behind our material gifts and give what really matters – our heart-felt love.

“Heavenly Father, please help me to be grateful for all your gifts, and to give the gift that really matters – my heart – to You, my family and to all Your children throughout the entire year. Amen.”

1Easier (The Song of the Wisemen) by Jason Gray, ©2012 Centricity Music

(The Best Gift to Give at Christmas was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

From the Archives – Sts. Joachim and Anne: The Perfect Grandparents

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Saints Joachim and Anne

Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I remembered this post from a year ago.  In it I pondered what it may have been like to conceive, nurture and raise our Blessed Mother from the perspective of her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne.

(Reprinted from 14 December 2014)

I know it’s been six days since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception but I’m going to write about it anyway. That’s because I learned a few things that day and I want to share them with you. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I thought the Immaculate Conception of Mary was when Jesus was immaculately conceived in Mary. When I discovered I was wrong, I learned I wasn’t alone – many cradle Catholics don’t know that it does not commemorate the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary, which is actually the Annunciation, but, instead, the immaculate conception of Mary herself.

After Mass last Monday evening, I had a chance to talk to our Deacon. I asked him, “If Mary needed to be immaculately conceived to be the mother of Jesus, then did Mary’s mother need to be immaculately conceived to bear Mary?” He explained the difference between the two. With Jesus, Mary was a virgin and God was the father (Luke 1:35 – And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”). But, Mary was conceived in the normal human fashion by the union of her parents, St. Joaquim (´Jō´·ə·kim) and St. Anne, but was made immaculate by God at the very moment of her conception.

On Tuesday, I happened to watch a video of the A Cappella group, Pentatonix, sing the Christmas song Mary Did You Know (written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, 1991). The song lyrics ask questions such as, “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?”

Thinking about this, I took the question back one generation and wondered if Mary’s mother, Anne, had any idea when she gave birth to her beautiful and pure daughter that Mary would eventually give birth to the Son of God? Did Mary tell her mother and father about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and that she had given her fiat, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)? Did Anne and Joaquim, along with Joseph, hide pregnant Mary in the village of Nazareth to protect her from their society’s custom of stoning? What influence did Anne and Joaquim have upon Jesus as he grew from an infant into a young man?

I kind of knew that Sts. Joaquim and Anne were the parents of Mary but I wanted to find out more about them. I discovered that their names are not mentioned in the Bible and there is actually no concrete, historical evidence telling us about them.  What is believed was handed down as tradition with sufficient authority that the early Church accepted it as the truth.

One document that supports that tradition is the Gospel of James. While Church scholars accept that there may be parts of this infancy gospel (a story written to satisfy the desire of the early Christians to know more about the early life of Christ) which are true, they have established that it was written in the middle of the second century (c. AD 145) and, thus, was not inspired by God and is not completely reliable, or, as we say these days, “isn’t the gospel”.

Another document that supports the legend of Sts. Joaquim and Anne being the parents of Mary is the book The Mystical City of God, written by a Spanish nun, the Venerable Mother Mary Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665). Sister Mary Jesus of Agreda received spiritual revelations from Our Lady about Herself and Jesus and then recorded them in her book. While The Mystical City of God is not biblical, and has often been disputed, it did, in 1949, receive the Imprimatur of the Church, declaring that the work is free from error in matters of Catholic doctrine and morals.

Both documents support that Mary was made immaculate by God immediately upon her conception. Because Sts. Joaquim and Anne, after being married for twenty years and unable to bear children, had their prayers answered, they raised their daughter, Mary, as a consecrated temple virgin and she remained unstained and free of sin her entire life.

As for my questions, I can only speculate. But, there was a certain spiritual satisfaction in contemplating the answers.

I doubt Sts. Anne and Joaquim had any idea when they discovered they were going to be parents that they would one day be the grandparents of the Lord. But, because they had longed for years to have a child, I’m sure they loved Mary immensely and nurtured her such that her destiny of one day being the Mother of God would be fulfilled.

I’m sure their faith in God helped them believe their daughter as she related to them her encounter with the angel Gabriel. And, I’m sure they were in wonder, if not fear, when Mary told them she had assented to bear the child who would “rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1: 33)

I imagine that in the town of Nazareth, a village of probably no more than a hundred or so people, many of whom were most likely related, it could have been difficult to hide the fact that Mary was pregnant. I’d bet there were some tense days and sleepless nights as they discussed what to do.

I imagine that Mary loved, cared for, and nurtured Jesus by following the example set for her by her own parents.

And then, finally, I’m sure that the strength, courage, and will that Mary had to have to keep believing as she watched her son being crucified had to be a result of the strong faith instilled in her by her parents and further strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

I can only imagine what might have happened. But, there’s one thing I’m sure of: God had a plan from the beginning. In it, He cherry-picked all the players, beginning with Joaquim and Anne, blessed them and filled them with His grace, and then sat back and watched them carry it out perfectly.

Today, two thousand years later, are we honoring, through thankful prayer, the execution of His wonderful plan and its ultimate, divine creation, our Lord, Jesus Christ?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit saved His own Mother from the stain of original sin and, thus, ensured she would join Him in Heaven, body and soul, at Your throne. I pray that, through my baptism and Your continuing grace, I may one day join Your family. Amen.”

(The post From the Archives – Saints Joachim and Anne:  The Perfect Grandparents was first published on Reflections of a Lay Catholic.)

©2014, 2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Receiving God’s Love

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P.Veronese, Gottvater - P.Veronese / God the Father -

-God the Father, Paolo Veronese

 

Prior to last week’s post, Happy Thanksgiving!, I had gone two months without writing, the longest break I’ve ever taken between posts. I thought that perhaps I was simply stumped on how to express myself through my words. Then I realized I had no words to express. No, the problem was not articulation; the problem was a lack of inspiration. On several occasions I tried to force myself to write – fingers anxiously poised on the keyboard, gently tapping the keys – but nothing flowed to them from my brain. No ideas. Nada.

A couple weeks ago I realized this lack of inspiration coincided with something else that had me concerned – a noticeable dryness in my faith, a feeling of alone-ness. I could not recollect having had a “God-moment” (an instance when I particularly feel God working in my life) since the one I wrote about two months ago. I thought I must be doing something wrong. So, in addition to more fervent prayer, I prayed for inspiration. But, nothing appeared to change.

One of the good things about being Christian is the gift of Hope given to us by Jesus Christ. We keep Hope alive in our hearts for that long-term promise of everlasting life. And, in the short-term, it helps keep wind in our sails when we might otherwise feel adrift at sea. It helps us to not give up.

On the night of Thursday, 19 November, I had plans to attend my bi-weekly men’s faith sharing group meeting. Actually, it was one of two meetings planned for that night, the other being an Ultreya meeting, and I had to choose between one or the other. I chose the men’s group because it seems I have become the de facto leader of that group. However, after my friend, at whose house we were to meet, called and said he could not host, I cancelled the meeting.

This, of course, then freed me to go to the monthly Ultreya meeting at which I would share with other Cursillo alumni my steps to keep piety in my daily life, what I have been studying to learn more about my faith, and what actions I’ve taken to bring others to Christ. I considered not going because I would have to fess up that, excepting my daily prayer and a little effort at studying, I hadn’t done much of anything with respect to action. But, that underlying feeling of Hope told me I should go, that I shouldn’t give up.

Our meetings begin with a meditation and a personal reflection. We then break into small groups of three or four for sharing. I found myself in a group with a dear friend who, along with her husband, has become more or less a spiritual mentor for me.

During our conversation, my friend asked me how God had been working in my life recently. I know I gave her a sheepish look and replied that I was in a dry spell. I said that although my study had eased somewhat and my prayer life was good, my actions were not what they ought to be and it had me bothered. I confessed I had been feeling discouraged and as though I wasn’t being the disciple that I should be. My friend told me to not worry but just remember that God loves me. I thanked her.

A couple hours later as I was getting ready to retire for the night, I prayed telling God that I know He loves me but I’d especially like for Him to help me feel His loving presence. I reiterated that prayer when I woke on Friday morning.

I have developed the habit of taking time in the mornings (well, most mornings) to read the daily scripture and to read the reflections in two daily devotionals: St. Augustine – Day by Day, and Jesus Calling Enjoying Peace in His Presence1. On this Friday, the 20th (actually, my first time to read from them in a few days), I read the following from Jesus Calling:

“I am pleased with you, My child. Allow yourself to become fully aware of My pleasure shining upon you. You don’t have to perform well in order to receive My Love. In fact, a performance focus will pull you away from Me, toward some sort of Pharisaism. This can be a subtle form of idolatry: worshiping your own good works. It can also be a source of deep discouragement when your works don’t measure up to your expectations. (Underlined for emphasis).

Shift your focus from your performance to My radiant Presence. The Light of My Love shines on you continually, regardless of your feelings or behavior. Your responsibility is to be receptive to this unconditional Love. Thankfulness and trust are your primary receptors. Thank Me for everything; trust in Me at all times. These simple disciplines will keep you open to My loving Presence.” [Compiled from Ephesians 2:8-9 & 3:16-19; Psalm 62:8]

I read those two paragraphs two or three times. I read the chapters and verses from which they were gleaned. They were meant for me! I bowed my head and I prayed giving thanks to Him for making easy something which, in my disparagement, I had made so difficult. My focus was inward and on me rather than on Him. I simply needed to take time to bask in His Love, and accept that He is always there.

I had to wonder if my friend knew what I would find in Jesus Calling on Friday, 20 November. But, I knew she didn’t. What she knew, however, was that Jesus is there when you need Him and call upon Him. And, in her kind words of, “Remember, God loves you”, she gave my faith a shot in the arm that I needed to bring me back. And, when I came back, God didn’t disappoint.

“Dear Loving God, thank You for drawing me back to You and helping me to rediscover Your loving Presence. Thank You for instilling in me Your Hope and not letting me give up. And, thank You for placing loving friends in my life who, through their strong faith, encourage me to live mine. Amen.”

(The post, Receiving God’s Love, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

1Jesus Calling, ©2004 Sarah Young

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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As the day begins to break on this frosty morning of the eve of Thanksgiving Day, I am already anticipating a joyful and restful four days spent with family and friends. My “Thanksgiving” actually began last night with the arrival of one daughter, her husband, and my grandson. It will continue today when another daughter arrives home from college. The only way it could be better would be if all my children and their families could make it home for the holiday.

Having a day of thanksgiving is not a uniquely American event. Like the origin of our holiday, many cultures celebrate successful harvests and give thanks in advance for the sustenance they bring. I do believe, however, that a roasted turkey as the temporary centerpiece of a dining room table probably is uniquely American.

It seems our culture has developed other traditions that are now commonly associated with this holiday: frenzied Christmas shopping, watching hours of football on television, Thanksgiving day parades, and “Turkey Trot” charity foot races. And, I’m happy to see that the spirit of giving is a growing tradition for many families by serving the less fortunate in our communities.

But, there is one thanksgiving tradition that many Americans, and millions of others around the world, have been observing for about two millennia. The difference between it and the others is that it is a tradition observed every day of the week, including Thanksgiving Day. It is the receiving of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In fact, the very name “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “Thanksgiving”.

The perfect way to begin your Thanksgiving Day celebration is by first attending Mass and celebrating the feast that Jesus Christ Himself prepares for us. In it you will enjoy food, wine, celebration in the form of singing, offering thanks through prayers, and communion not only with your immediate family but with your extended family in Christ, the Church.

So, tomorrow, before you give thanks for your bountiful Thanksgiving Day dinner and before you ask for blessings on those who prepared it; before praying that your football team beats the pants off the other team; and before going head-to-head with over-aggressive shoppers, won’t you take an hour and give thanks to Him by making your spiritual sustenance the Bread of Life, the Holy Eucharist? Won’t you join me?

I am looking forward to being in communion with each of you tomorrow morning. I know it will be the perfect start to a perfect day of gratitude and praise.

God bless you.

(Happy Thanksgiving! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

What Do You See?

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AdorationIt’s four o’clock on Friday afternoon as I take my place on the prie-dieu, kneeling in front of the Tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for my hour of Adoration. Today the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and Jesus is at home in the monstrance. It’s just me and Jesus here together. It doesn’t get much better than this.

I say my prayers, giving thanks for His Grace and Mercy. I ask Him to forgive me for my sins and I ask for His blessings on my family. I give Him thanks for this opportunity to be here with Him.

I pray that during the next hour, in the quiet solitude of this beautiful church, He makes Himself present to me. I look up at Him and I know He’s looking down at me, and my deepest desire is to feel His presence.

As always, I tell myself to clear my mind so I can hear Him if He speaks to me. I try this almost every week and I know how difficult it is to lasso the stray thoughts and images and corral them into an out of the way corner. I am seldom successful.

I tell myself, “Relax, take a deep breath, and picture Jesus looking back at you.” It strikes me that I’m thinking/talking to myself in the second person. I realize this conversation is anything but clearing my mind.

I try again. After a few moments of nothingness….“Ugh, I forgot to get back with the Boss about those plans for next week. He’s not gonna be happy!” I catch myself before I go too far down this rabbit trail and I try to get back on track.

Again, I utter, “Breathe, clear your mind. Look up at Jesus and feel Him looking down at you.” After another few moments of nothingness….

“Jesus, what do you see? What do you see when you look down at me? Besides a middle-aged, over-weight man with a growing bald spot on the top of his head, what do You see, Lord? What do You see in my heart?

“Am I the disciple You would have me be? Do I do all that I can to bring others to You? Am I quick to be charitable? I try, Lord, but am I doing enough? Do my actions speak for themselves? Is my faith strong enough for me to be believable to others? Lord, I know I have made little effort lately to grow my faith, please help me.

“What do You see, Lord? Am I the husband I should be to my wife? You know how much I love her, but do I make her feel as loved as she deserves to feel? Do I sacrifice and die to myself daily like I should for her? I know the answer. Please help me be a better husband.

“What do You see in me as a parent? When You look into my daughters’ hearts do You see love that is borne from my love for them? Does my love reach across the miles to them? Have I been, and do I continue to be, a good role model for them? Perhaps so – they have chosen fine men to be their husbands – but, please, show me how to continue. And, please let them know I will always love them.

“As I grow older, and as my parents grow older, do You see me being the son I should be? Do I reach out to them often and comfort them? Have I shown gratitude for all they have done for me? Help me be a better son, Lord.

“As a sibling, what do You see? The years and the miles have made it easy to gradually slip away from my brother, sisters, and in-laws. Do they know how much I still love and care about them? Have I made the effort to let them know? Please help me find a way to do better at staying in touch.

“Lord, You have blessed me with some truly wonderful friends who care not just about me as a person but as a spiritual being. Have I let them know how much their love for You means to me? Do they know their love and guidance has brought me closer to You? What do You see, Lord? Am I there for them when they need help? Do I reciprocate and help them get closer to You?”

I come back to the moment and it dawns on me that I haven’t yet cleared my mind. I’m not listening. I’m in a monologue with Jesus and I’m not giving Him a chance to respond. Again, in the second person, I rebuke myself, “How can you expect Jesus to reveal Himself to you when you’re doing all the talking?”

Then, I think, “Wait, maybe He just did.”

I love my hour of Adoration with Him!

Lord Jesus, every week when I pray to You before Mass, I ask for insight and Your assistance in helping me become a better disciple, husband, father, son, brother and friend. I pray I never stop asking. Amen.

(What Do You See? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Ephphetha – Be Open!

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Ephphatha32And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.  33He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; 34then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphetha!” – that is, “Be opened!”.  35And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.  36He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”Mark 7:32-36 (NAB)

When I heard this Gospel reading yesterday morning at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Muncie, Indiana I couldn’t help but think back to April 2013. I will never forget the day when I first heard this scripture passage – the morning of Easter Saturday. Later that night, after my baptism, first communion and confirmation, I became Catholic.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in my first ever blog post, My First Easter Vigil Mass. Thinking back to that post, my focus was on verses 35 and 36 – why did Jesus not want those whom he healed to tell anyone? But, this Sunday, my mind settled on the last two words of verse 34, “Be opened!”

Just minutes before my attention was captured by those two words, I heard the first reading from Isaiah in the Old Testament:

4Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.  5Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; 6then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”Isaiah 35:4-6 (NAB)

So, when the Deacon read, “Be opened!”, I had a slight epiphany. I knew that Jesus meant more than to cease being deaf and dumb when he cured the man. He meant exactly what the celebrant says at a child’s baptism, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”

Ever since that April two years ago, I have tried earnestly to be open to God’s Word and to proclaim my faith. I have made that effort not because I remembered and tried to live up to that which the celebrant prayed over me at my baptism, but because I wanted to, and because it was what I know is right.

Now, looking back, I began to wonder if I have given it my all. Have I been as open to His Word as I could be? Have I studied and tried to understand as much as I ought? Have I shied away from professing my faith to others because of the fear of not knowing enough to defend myself? Have I helped others to better understand and strengthen their faith or have I been laissez-faire in evangelizing?

The answer, of course, is, regardless of how well I’ve done, I can still do better.

When was the last time you asked yourself those questions?

“Lord God, thank You for all I’ve learned in the last two years. But, I need Your help to continue to do better. Please, help me to always be open to and understand Your Word. And, give me courage to proclaim my faith and help others live theirs. Amen.”

(Ephphatha – Be Open! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

I Thirst For You

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Mother-Teresa-5-241x300Every now and then something comes along that is so special you can’t get it out of your mind. You keep revisiting it and replaying it. And, each time you do, you find one more nugget of inspiration that convinces you to repeat the process again.

Such has been my case ever since a friend shared a special meditation with our men’s faith sharing group a couple years ago. The meditation is titled, I Thirst For You, and its authorship is attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa. My friend read it to our group, in his baritone voice, slowly and with immense feeling. I closed my eyes and visualized as if Jesus was the One actually speaking to me. I was blown away. I could feel His love flowing over me.

Since that evening I have heard my friend read it a couple more times and I still get goose bumps. I have read it many times since, both to myself and to others, and each time I seem to focus on and ruminate over a new word or phrase that jumps out at me. I always find something new that brings me joy.

I read it again tonight and I thought back to that first time I heard it. I remembered how none of the six or seven of us men had ever heard the meditation before then, and I wondered how many other faithful Catholics have never heard it, either. It ought to be on the reading list of every Catholic. No, actually, it ought to be on the reading list of every Christian, not just Catholics. So, I decided to post it here on this blog and share it with all readers. I hope you get goose bumps, too.

Hint: Read this slowly and with feeling. When a word or phrase grabs your attention, take a moment to reflect on what it is Christ is trying to tell you at that moment. Then, I encourage you to share this with others and ask someone else to read it to you while you listen with your eyes closed and soak up its message. You won’t regret it. Let me know what you think.

God Bless.

I THIRST FOR YOU

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” (Rev.3:20)

It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.

And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come – always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you and with a love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father (“As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you…”[John.15:9]). I come – longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all of your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.

I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings. I know everyone of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all of you who thirst…”(John 7:37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you.

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you: I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation and give you peace, even in all your trials. I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life – and I will. I promise you before My father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest.

Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal, so come now and unburden your soul.

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change: I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: ”I THIRST….”(John 19:28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm – verse I was praying says of Me: “I looked for love, and I found none…”(Ps 69:20). All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit: “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of you heart and knock…Open to ME, for I THIRST FOR YOU…”

“Jesus is God, therefore His love, His thirst is infinite. He, the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures. He thirsts for our love….These words: ‘I thirst’ – do they echo in our souls?” – Mother Teresa

(This introduction to I Thirst For You was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

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