Deep Love Casts Out Fear February 18, 2021


Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Readings for Today


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Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Luke 9:22

Jesus knew He would suffer greatly, be rejected and killed. How would you deal with that knowledge if you somehow knew this about your own future? Most people would be filled with fear and become obsessed with trying to avoid it. But not our Lord. This passage above shows just how intent He was on embracing His Cross with unwavering confidence and courage.

This is just one of several times that Jesus began to break the news to His disciples about His pending fate. And each time He spoke this way, the disciples for the most part remained either silent or in denial. Recall, for example, one such reaction of Saint Peter when he responded to Jesus’ prediction of His Passion by saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

In reading this passage above, the strength, courage and determination of our Lord shine through by the fact that He speaks so clearly and definitively. And what motivates Jesus to speak with such conviction and courage is His love.

Too often, “love” is understood as a strong and good feeling. It’s perceived as an attraction to something or a strong liking of it. But that’s not love in the truest form. True love is a choice to do what is best for another, no matter the cost, no matter how difficult. True love is not a feeling that seeks selfish fulfillment. True love is an unwavering strength that seeks only the good of the person who is loved.

Jesus’ love for humanity was so strong that He was driven toward His pending death with great power. He was unwaveringly determined to sacrifice His life for us all, and there was nothing that would ever deter Him from that mission.

In our own lives, it’s easy to lose sight of what true love actually is. We can easily become caught up in our own selfish desires and think that these desires are love. But they are not.

Reflect, today, upon the unwavering determination of our Lord to sacrificially love us all by suffering greatly, by enduring rejection, and by dying upon the Cross. Nothing could have ever deterred Him from this love. We must show the same sacrificial love.

My loving Lord, I thank You for Your unwavering commitment to sacrifice Yourself for us all. I thank You for this unfathomable depth of true love. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to turn away from all forms of selfish love so as to imitate and participate in Your most perfect sacrificial love. I do love You, dear Lord. Help me to love You and others with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

40 Days at the Foot of the Cross: Reflection One – A Mother’s Love

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Lent—A Time for True Prayer Wednesday, February 17, 2021

 

Ash Wednesday

Readings for Today


Video Version

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:6

One of the most important parts of true prayer is that it takes place deep in the inner room of your soul. It is there in the inner depths of your being that you will meet God. Saint Teresa of Ávila, one of the greatest spiritual writers in the history of our Church, describes the soul as a castle in which God dwells. Meeting Him, praying to Him and communing with Him requires that we enter into the deepest and innermost chamber within this castle of our soul. It is there, in the innermost dwelling, that the full glory and beauty of God is discovered.

God is not just a God who is “out there” far away in Heaven. He is a God Who is closer and more intimate than we could ever imagine. Lent is a time, more than any other time of the year, when we must strive to make that journey inward so as to discover the Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity.

What does God want of you this Lent? It’s easy to begin Lent with more superficial commitments, such as giving up a favorite food or doing an extra good deed. Some choose to use Lent as a time to get in better physical shape, and others decide to dedicate more time to spiritual reading or other holy exercises. All of this is good and useful. But you can be certain that the deepest desire of our Lord for you this Lent is that you pray.

Prayer, of course, is much more than saying prayers. It’s not only saying the rosary, or meditating upon Scripture, or reciting beautifully composed prayers. Prayer is ultimately a relationship with God. It’s an encounter with the Triune God Who dwells within you. True prayer is an act of love between you and your Beloved. It’s an exchange of persons: your life for God’s. Prayer is an act of union and communion by which we become one with God and God becomes one with us.

The great mystics have taught us that there are many levels to prayer. We often begin with the recitation of prayers, such as the beautiful prayer of the rosary. From there we meditate, ponder and reflect deeply upon the mysteries of our Lord and His life. We come to know Him more fully and, little by little, discover that we are no longer just thinking about God, but we are gazing at Him face to face.

As we begin the holy season of Lent, reflect upon your practice of prayer. If the images of prayer presented here intrigue you, then make a commitment to discover more. Commit yourself to the discovery of God in prayer. There is no limit and no end to the depth to which God wants to draw you through prayer. True prayer is never boring. When you discover true prayer, you discover the infinite mystery of God. And this discovery is more glorious than anything you could ever imagine in life.

My divine Lord, I give myself to You this Lent. Draw me in so that I may come to know You more. Reveal to me Your divine presence, dwelling deep within me, calling me to Yourself. May this Lent, dear Lord, be glorious as I strengthen my love and devotion through the discovery of the gift of true prayer. Jesus, I trust in You.

40 Days at the Foot of the Cross: Introduction
A Gaze of Love from the Heart of Our Blessed Mother

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Comprehending the Mysteries of Heaven February 16, 2021


Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” Mark 8:17–18

How would you answer these questions that Jesus posed to His disciples if He had posed them to you? It takes humility to admit that you do not yet understand or comprehend, that your heart is in fact hardened, and that you fail to see and hear all that God has revealed. Of course there are various levels to these struggles, so hopefully you do not struggle with them to a grave degree. But if you can humbly confess that you do struggle with these to a certain extent, then that humility and honesty will gain you much grace.

Jesus posed these questions to His disciples within the larger context of a discussion about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. He knew that the “leaven” of these leaders was like a yeast that corrupted others. Their dishonesty, pride, desire for honors and the like had a seriously negative affect upon the faith of others. So by posing these questions above, Jesus challenged His disciples to see this evil leaven and to reject it.

Seeds of doubt and confusion are all around us. It seems these days that almost everything the secular world promotes is in some way contrary to the Kingdom of God. And yet, just like the disciples’ inability to see the evil leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, we also frequently fail to see the evil leaven within our society. Instead, we allow the many errors to confuse us and lead us down the path of secularism.

One thing this should teach us is that just because someone has some form of authority or power within society does not mean that they are a truthful and holy leader. And though it’s never our place to judge the heart of another, we absolutely must have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” the many errors that are held up within our world as good. We must constantly seek to “understand and comprehend” the laws of God and use them as a guide against the lies within the world. One important way to make sure we do this well is to make sure that our hearts never become hardened to the truth.

Reflect, today, upon these questions of our Lord and examine them especially within the broader context of society as a whole. Consider the false “leaven” taught by our world and by so many in positions of authority. Reject these errors and recommit yourself to the full embrace of the holy mysteries of Heaven so that those truths and those truths alone become your daily guide.

My glorious Lord, I thank You for being the Lord of all Truth. Help me to daily turn my eyes and ears to that Truth so that I will be able to see the evil leaven all around me. Give me wisdom and the gift of discernment, dear Lord, so that I will be able to immerse myself into the mysteries of Your holy life. Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Featured image above: The Exhortation to the Apostles By James Tissot

From the Depths February 15, 2021


Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  Mark 8:11–12

Jesus had performed many miracles. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and fed thousands with only a few fish and loaves of bread. But even after all of that, the Pharisees came to argue with Jesus and demanded a sign from Heaven.

The response of Jesus is quite unique. “He sighed from the depth of his spirit…” This sigh was an expression of His holy sorrow over the hardness of hearts of the Pharisees. If they had the eyes of faith, they would have no need for yet another miracle. And if Jesus would have performed a “sign from heaven” for them, even that would not have helped them. And so Jesus does the only thing He can—He sighed.

At times, this type of reaction is the only good one. We may all face situations in life where others confront us with harshness and stubbornness. When this happens, we will be tempted to argue with them, condemn them, try to convince them we are right, and the like. But sometimes one of the holiest reactions we can have to the hardness of our heart of another is to experience a deep and holy sorrow. We must also “sigh” from the depths of our spirits.

When one is hard of heart, rational talking and arguing will prove to be of little avail. Hardness of heart is also what we traditionally call the “sin against the Holy Spirit.” It’s a sin of obstinacy and stubbornness. In that case, there is little or no openness to the truth. When you experience this in the life of another, silence and a sorrowful heart are often the best reaction. Their hearts need to be softened and your deep sorrow, shared with compassion, may be one of the only responses that can help make a difference.

Reflect, today, upon any person in your life with whom you regularly argue, especially regarding matters of faith. Examine your approach and consider changing how you relate to them. Dismiss their irrational arguments and let them see your heart in the same way that Jesus allowed His divine heart to shine forth in a holy sigh. Pray for them, have hope, and allow your sorrow to help melt the most stubborn of hearts.

My compassionate Jesus, Your heart was filled with the deepest compassion for the Pharisees. That compassion led You to express a holy sorrow over their stubbornness. Give me Your same heart, dear Lord, and help me to grieve not only over the sins of others, but also over my own sins, especially when I am stubborn of heart. Melt my heart, dear Lord, and help me to also be an instrument of Your holy sorrow to those in need of this grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Featured image above: Christ among the Pharisees By Jacob Jordaens

I Do Will It! February 14, 2021


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings for Today

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Mark 1:40–41

“I do will it.”  These four little words are worth digging into and pondering.  At first, we may read these words quickly and miss their depth and significance.  We may simply jump to that which Jesus wills and miss the fact of His willing itself.  But His act of willing is significant.  Sure, that which He willed is significant also.  The fact that He cured a leper has great meaning and significance.  Certainly it shows us His authority over nature.  It shows His almighty power.  It shows that Jesus can heal all wounds that are analogized by leprosy.  But don’t miss those four words: “I do will it.”

First of all, the two words “I do” are sacred words used at various times in our liturgies and are used to profess faith and commitment.  They are used in marriages to establish an unbreakable spiritual union, they are used in baptisms and other sacraments to renew our faith publicly, and they are also used in the ordination rite of priests as he makes his solemn promises.  To say “I do” is what one may call “action words.”  They are words that are also an act, a choice, a commitment, a decision.  They are words that have an effect on who we are and what we choose to become.

Jesus also adds “…will it.”  So Jesus is not just making a personal choice here or a personal commitment about His own life and convictions; rather, His words are an action that is effective and that makes a difference for another.  The mere fact that He wills something, and then sets that will into motion by His words, means something happened.  Something changed.  An act of God was accomplished.

It would be of great benefit to us to sit with those words and ponder what sort of significance they have in our lives.  When Jesus speaks those words to us, what is He willing?  What is the “it” He is referring to?  He definitely has a particular will for our lives, and He is definitely willing to enact it in our lives if we are willing to hear those words.

In this Gospel passage, the leper was completely disposed to Jesus’ words.  He was on his knees before Jesus as a sign of complete trust and complete submission.  He was ready to have Jesus act in his life, and it is this openness, more than anything else, that evokes these action words from Jesus.

The leprosy is a clear sign of our own weaknesses and sin.  It’s a clear sign of our fallen human nature and weakness.  It’s a clear sign that we cannot heal ourselves.  It’s a clear sign that we need the Divine Healer.  When we acknowledge all of these realities and truths, we will be in a position, just like this leper, to turn to Jesus, on our knees, and beg His action in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon Jesus’ words and listen to what He is saying to you through them.  Jesus wills it.  Do you?  And if you do, are you willing to turn to Him and ask Him to act?  Are you willing to ask for and receive His will?

Lord, I do will it. I do. I acknowledge Your divine will in my life.  But sometimes my will is weak and insufficient.  Help me to deepen my resolve to daily turn to You, the Divine Healer, so that I may encounter Your healing power.  Help me to be open to whatever Your will includes for my life.  Help me to be ready and willing to accept Your action in my life.  Jesus, I do trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saints Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop
Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year since it falls on Sunday

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First Things First February 13, 2021


Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.”  Mark 8:2–3

Jesus’ primary mission was a spiritual one. He came to set us free from the effects of sin so that we could enter the glories of Heaven for all eternity. His life, death and resurrection destroyed death itself and opened the way for all who turn to Him to be saved. But Jesus’ love for the people was so complete that He was also attentive to their physical needs.

First of all, ponder the first line of this statement of our Lord above: “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd…” Jesus’ divine love was intertwined with His humanity. He loved the entire person, body and soul. In this Gospel story, the people were with Him for three days and they were hungry, but they were showing no signs of leaving. They had become so amazed by our Lord that they didn’t want to leave. Jesus pointed out that their hunger was serious. If He sent them away, He feared that they would “collapse on the way.” Thus, these facts are the basis for His miracle.

One lesson we can learn from this story is that of our priorities in life. Oftentimes, we may tend to have our priorities reversed. Of course, taking care of the necessities of life is important. We need food, shelter, clothing and the like. We need to care for our families and provide for their basic needs. But too often we elevate these basic necessities in life over our spiritual need to love and serve Christ, as if the two were opposed to each other. But that’s not the case.

In this Gospel, the people who were with Jesus chose to put their faith first. They chose to remain with Jesus despite the fact that they did not have food to eat. Perhaps some people had left a day or two earlier deciding that the necessity of food took precedence. But those who may have done this missed out on the incredible gift of this miracle in which the entire crowd was fed to the point of being completely satisfied. Of course, our Lord does not want us to be irresponsible, especially if we have a duty to care for others. But this story does tell us that our spiritual need to be fed by the Word of God should always be our greatest concern. When we put Christ first, all other needs are met in accord with His providence.

Reflect, today, upon your own priorities in life. What’s more important to you? Your next good meal? Or your life of faith? Though these do not have to be opposed to each other, it’s important to always put your love of God first in life. Ponder this vast crowd of people who spent three days with Jesus in the wilderness without food and try to see yourself with them. Make their choice to remain with Jesus your choice also, so that your love of God becomes the primary focus of your life.

My providential Lord, You know my every need and are concerned for every aspect of my life. Help me to trust You so completely that I always put my love of You as my first priority in life. I do believe that if I can keep You and Your will as the most important part of my life, all other necessities in life will fall in place. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Hearing and Speaking the Word of God February 12, 2021


Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:37

This line is the conclusion to the story of Jesus healing a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. The man was brought to Jesus, Jesus took him off by himself, cried out “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”), and the man was cured. And though this was an incredible gift to this man and an act of great mercy toward him, it also reveals that God wants to use us to draw others to Himself.

On a natural level, we all lack the ability to hear the voice of God when He speaks. We need the gift of grace for this. As a result, on a natural level, we are also incapable of speaking the many truths that God wants us to speak. This story teaches us that God also desires to heal our ears so as to hear His gentle voice and to loosen our tongues so that we can become His mouthpiece.

But this story is not only about God speaking to each one of us; it also reveals our duty to bring others to Christ who do not know Him. The friends of this man brought him to Jesus. And Jesus took the man off by himself. This gives us insight into how we help others to come to know our Lord’s voice. Oftentimes when we want to share the Gospel with another, we tend to talk to them and try to rationally convince them to turn their lives to Christ. And though this can bear good fruit at times, the real goal we must have is to help them to go off with our Lord by themselves for a while so that Jesus can do the healing.

If your ears have truly been opened by our Lord, then your tongue will also be loosened. And only if your tongue is loosened will God be able to draw others to Himself through you. Otherwise your act of evangelizing will only be based on your effort alone. Therefore, if you have people in your life who do not appear to be listening to the voice of God and following His holy will, then first and foremost commit yourself to listening to our Lord yourself. Let your ears hear Him. And when you do hear Him, it will be His voice that, in turn, speaks through you in the way He desires to reach out to others.

Reflect, today, upon this Gospel scene. Ponder, especially, the friends of this man as they are inspired to bring him to Jesus. Ask our Lord to use you in a similar way. Prayerfully ponder those in your life whom God wants to call to Himself through your mediation and place yourself at the service of our Lord so that His voice can speak through you in the way He chooses.

My good Jesus, please open my ears to hear all that You wish to say to me and please loosen my tongue so that I will become a mouthpiece of Your holy word to others. I offer myself to You for Your glory and pray that You will use me in accord with Your holy will. Jesus, I fully trust in You.

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A Gentile’s Faith February 11, 2021


Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Our Lady of Lourdes—Optional Memorial

Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Mark 7:25–26

A parent’s love is powerful. And the woman in this story clearly loves her daughter. It is that love that drives this mother to seek out Jesus in the hope that He will free her daughter from the demon who possessed her. Interestingly, this woman was not of the Jewish faith. She was a gentile, a foreigner, but her faith was very real and very deep.

When Jesus first encountered this woman, she begged Him to free her daughter from the demon. Jesus’ response was at first surprising. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, Jesus was saying that His mission was first to the people of Israel, the chosen people of the Jewish faith. They were the “children” of whom Jesus was speaking, and the gentiles, such as this woman, were the ones referred to as “the dogs.” Jesus spoke this way to this woman not out of rudeness but because He could see her deep faith, and He wanted to give her an opportunity to manifest that faith for all to see. And so she did.

The woman responded to Jesus, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Her words were not only exceptionally humble but were also based on deep faith and a deep love for her daughter. As a result, Jesus responds with generosity and immediately frees her daughter from the demon.

In our own lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we deserve the mercy of God. We can think that we have a right to God’s grace. And even though Jesus deeply desires to pour forth His grace and mercy in superabundance on our lives, it is essential that we fully understand our unworthiness before Him. The disposition of this woman’s heart sets for us a perfect example of how we must come to our Lord.

Reflect, today, upon the beautiful example of this woman of deep faith. Prayerfully read her words over and over. Try to understand her humility, her hope, and her love for her daughter. As you do, pray that you will be able to imitate her goodness so as to share in the blessings she and her daughter received.

My merciful Lord, I trust in Your perfect love for me and for all peoples. I pray especially for those who carry heavy burdens and for those whose lives are deeply intertwined with evil. Please set them free, dear Lord, and welcome them into Your family so that they become true children of Your Father. May I have the humility and faith I need to help bring forth this abundance of grace for others. Jesus, I trust in You.

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That Which is Within February 10, 2021


Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Scholastica, Virgin—Memorial

Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Mark 7:14–15

What is within you? What is in your heart? Today’s Gospel concludes with a list of vices that sadly come from within: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” Of course, none of these vices are desirable when looked at objectively. They are all quite repulsive. And yet too often they are sins that people deal with on a regular basis to one extent or another.

Take greed, for example. When understood clearly, no one wants to be known as one who is greedy. It’s a shameful attribute to have. But when greed is not looked at as greed, it’s easy to fall into the trap of living it. One who is greedy desires an excessive amount of this or that. More money, a better house, a nicer car, more luxurious vacations, etc. Thus, when a person is acting in a greedy way, greed does not seem undesirable. It’s only when greed is looked at in an objective way that it is understood for what it is.

In this Gospel, by naming this long list of vices, Jesus does us an incredible act of mercy. He rattles us and calls us to step back and look at sin for what it is. Jesus also makes it clear that when you live one or more of these vices, you become defiled. You become greedy, a liar, cruel, a gossip, hateful, arrogant, etc. Objectively speaking, no one wants this.

What is it in that list of vices that you struggle with the most? What do you see within your own heart? Be honest with yourself before God. Jesus desires that your heart be pure and holy, freed from these and every filth. But unless you are able to look at your own heart with honesty, it will be difficult to reject the sin with which you struggle.

Reflect, today, upon this list of sins identified by our Lord. Consider each one and allow yourself to see each sin for what it truly is. Allow yourself to despise these sins with a holy wrath and then turn your eyes to that sin with which you struggle the most. Know that as you consciously see that sin and reject it, our Lord will begin to strengthen you and purify your heart so that you become freed from that defilement and become, instead, the beautiful child of God you were made to be.

My merciful Lord, help me to see sin for what it is. Help me, especially, to see my own sin—that sin within my own heart that defiles me as Your dear child. As I see my sin, give me the grace I need to reject it and to turn to You with all my heart so that I can become a new creation in Your grace and mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Worship From the Heart February 9, 2021


Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. Mark 7:6–8

It seems quite clear that Jesus’ instant fame led these religious leaders to jealousy and envy, and they wanted to find fault with Him. As a result, they carefully observed Jesus and His disciples, and they noticed that Jesus’ disciples were not following the traditions of the elders. So the leaders began questioning Jesus about this fact. Jesus’ response was one of severe criticism of them. He quoted Isaiah the prophet who said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”

Jesus strongly criticized them because their hearts were lacking true worship. The various traditions of the elders were not necessarily bad, such as the careful ceremonial washing of one’s hands before eating. But these traditions were empty if they were not motivated by a deep faith and love of God. The external following of human traditions was not truly an act of divine worship, and that’s what Jesus wanted for them. He wanted their hearts to be set ablaze with a love of God and with true divine worship.

What our Lord wants of each one of us is worship. Pure, heartfelt, sincere worship. He wants us to love God with a deep interior devotion. He wants us to pray, to listen to Him, and to serve His holy will with all the powers of our soul. And this is only possible when we engage in authentic worship.

As Catholics, our life of prayer and worship is grounded in the holy Liturgy. The Liturgy incorporates many traditions and practices that reflect our faith and become a vehicle of the grace of God. And though the Liturgy itself is far different from the mere “tradition of the elders” that Jesus was criticizing, it’s useful to remind ourselves that the many Liturgies of our Church must move from the external actions to interior worship. Going through the motions alone is pointless. We must allow God to act on us and within us as we engage in the external celebration of the Sacraments.

Reflect, today, upon the burning desire in the heart of our Lord to draw you into worship. Reflect upon how well you allow yourself to be drawn into this worship every time you attend the holy Mass. Seek to make your participation not only an exterior one but, first and foremost, an interior one. Doing so will help ensure that the rebuke of our Lord upon the scribes and Pharisees does not also fall upon you.

My divine Lord, You and You alone are worthy of all worship, adoration and praise. You and You alone deserve the worship I offer You from the depths of my heart. Help me and Your entire Church to always interiorize our exterior acts of worship so as to give You the glory that is due Your holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: The Meal in the House of the Pharisee By James Tissot