Fasting and Freedom July 4, 2020


Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Independence Day – USA Optional Memorial

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”  Matthew 9:14-15

Do you want to be free?  Do you want to discover true liberty in your life?  Most certainly you do.  But what does that mean?  And how do you obtain it?

Liberty is what we are made for.  We are made to be free to live life to the fullest and to experience the unfathomable joys and blessings God desires to bestow upon us.  But all too often we have a misconception of what true freedom is all about.  Freedom, more than anything else, is an experience of the joy of having the Bridegroom with us.  It’s the joy of the wedding feast of the Lord.  We were made to celebrate our unity with Him for eternity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly states that the wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them.  However, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

It is helpful to look at the relationship between fasting and freedom.  At first this may seem like a strange combination.  But if fasting is properly understood, it will be seen as a pathway toward the glorious gift of true freedom.

There are times in our lives when “the Bridegroom is taken away.”  This can refer to many things.  One thing it particularly refers to are the times when we experience a sense of the loss of Christ in our lives.  This can certainly come as a result of our own sin, but it can also come as a result of us growing closer to Christ.  In the first case, fasting can help free us from the many sinful attachments we have in life.  Fasting has the potential to strengthen our will and purify our desires.  In the second case, there are times when we are growing very close to Christ and, as a result, He hides His presence from our lives.  This may seem strange at first but it is done so that we will seek Him all the more.  In this case, also, fasting can become a means of deepening our faith and commitment to Him.

Fasting can take on many forms, but, at the heart, it is simply an act of self-denial and self-sacrifice for God.  It helps us overcome earthly and fleshly desires so that our spirits can more fully desire Christ.

Reflect, today, on how deeply you desire Christ in your life.  If you see that there are other competing desires that tend to drown out Christ, consider offering acts of fasting and other forms of self-denial.  Make them small sacrifices for God and you will see the good fruit they produce.

Lord, I desire You in my life above all things.  Help me to see the things that compete for Your love and to offer sacrifice so that my soul can be purified and live in the freedom You desire for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day –

Independence Day – USA

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal
(Always transferred to July 5 in the USA, however, it is not celebrated this year since July 5 is a Sunday.)

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Image: Jesus and his Disciples on the Sea of ​​Galilee by Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Estherley

“My Lord and My God!” Friday, July 3, 2020

 

Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle

Readings for Today

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

It’s easy to be critical of St. Thomas for his lack of belief reflected in his statement above.  But before you allow yourself to think poorly of him, think about how you would have responded.  This is a difficult exercise to do since we know clearly the end of the story.  We know Jesus did rise from the dead and that Thomas ultimately came to believe, crying out “My Lord and my God!”  But try to put yourself in his situation.

First, Thomas probably doubted, in part, out of extreme sadness and despair.  He had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, he had dedicated the last three years of his life to following Him, and now Jesus was dead…so he thought.  This is an important point because very often in life when we encounter some difficulty, disappointment or painful situation, our faith is tested.  We are tempted to allow despair to draw us into doubt and when this happens we make decisions based more upon our hurt than upon our faith.

Second, Thomas was also called to deny the physical reality that he witnessed with his own eyes and believe something that was completely “impossible” from an earthly perspective.  People simply do not rise from the dead!  This simply doesn’t happen, at least from an earthly perspective alone.  And even though Thomas had seen Jesus perform such miracles before, it took much faith to believe without seeing with his own eyes.  So despair and an apparent impossibility went to the heart of Thomas’ faith and extinguished it.

Reflect, today, upon two lessons we can take from this passage: 1) Do not ever allow despair, disappointment or hurt to be the guide of your decisions or beliefs in life.  They are never a good guide.  2)  Do not doubt the power of God to be able to do anything and everything He chooses.  In this case, God chose to rise from the dead and so He did.  In our own lives, God can do anything He wills.  We must believe that and know that what He reveals to us in faith will come to be if we but trust in His provident care.

Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief.  When I am tempted to give in to despair or to doubt Your almighty power over all things in life, help me to turn to You and to trust in You with all my heart.  May I cry out, with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” and may I do so even when I see only with the faith You put into my soul.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Thomas the Apostle

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Image – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Courage to Seek Forgiveness July 2, 2020


Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew 9:2b

This story concludes with Jesus healing the paralytic and telling him to “rise, pick up your stretcher and go home.”  The man does just that and the crowds are amazed.

There are two miracles that happen here.  One is physical and one is spiritual.  The spiritual one is that this man’s sins are forgiven.  The physical one is the healing of his paralysis.

Which of these miracles are more important?  Which one do you think the man desired the most?

It’s hard to answer the second question since we do not know the man’s thoughts, but the first question is easy.  The spiritual healing, the forgiveness of his sins, is by far the most important of these two miracles.  It’s the most significant because it has eternal consequences for his soul.

For most of us, it’s easy to pray to God for things like a physical healing or the like.  We may find it quite easy to ask for favors and blessings from God.  But how easy is it for us to ask for forgiveness?  This may be harder to do for many because it requires an initial act of humility on our part.  It requires that we first acknowledge we are sinners in need of forgiveness.

Acknowledging our need for forgiveness takes courage, but this courage is a great virtue and reveals a great strength of character on our part.  Coming to Jesus to seek His mercy and forgiveness in our lives is the most important prayer we can pray and the foundation of all the rest of our prayers.

Reflect, today, upon how courageous you are in asking God for forgiveness and how humbly you are willing to acknowledge your sin.  Making an act of humility like this is one of the most important things you can do.

Lord, give me courage.  Give me courage, especially, to humble myself before You and to acknowledge all my sin.  In this humble acknowledgment, help me to also seek Your daily forgiveness in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Image: Christ healing the lame at the pool of Bethesda by Peter van Lint

Deliver Us From the Evil One July 1, 2020


Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Junipero Serra, Priest—USA Optional Memorial

When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”  Matthew 8:28-29

This Scripture passage reveals two things: 1) Demons are ferocious; 2) Jesus has complete power over them.

First of all, we should notice that the two demoniacs “were so savage that no one could travel by that road.”  That’s a very significant statement.  It’s clear that the demons possessing these two men were vicious and filled those in the town with great fear.  So much so that no one would even come near them.  This is not a very pleasant thought, but it is reality and it is worth understanding.  True, we may not encounter evil in such a direct way very often, but we do face it at times.  The evil one is alive and well and is constantly striving to build his demonic kingdom here on Earth.

Think of times when evil appeared to be manifest, oppressive, malicious, calculated, etc.  There are times in history when the evil one appeared to triumph in powerful ways.  And there are ways that his activity is still manifest in our world today.

That brings us to the second lesson of this story.  Jesus has complete authority over the demons.  Interestingly, He casts them out into the herd of swine and the swine then run down the hill and die.  Bizarre.  The towns people are so overwhelmed they then ask Jesus to leave the town.  Why would they do that?  In part, the reason seems to be the fact that Jesus’ exorcism of these two men causes quite a commotion.  This is because manifest evil does not depart quietly.

This is an important lesson to remember in our day and age.  It’s important because the evil one appears to be making his presence known to a greater and greater degree today.  And he certainly has plans to make his presence even more known in the coming years.  We see this in the moral downfall of our societies, the public acceptance of immorality, the secularization of the various world cultures, the increase of terrorism, etc.  There are countless ways that the evil one appears to be winning the battle.

Jesus is all-powerful and will win in the end.  But the hard part is that His victory will most likely cause quite a scene and it will make many uneasy. Just as they told Him to leave their town after He freed the demoniacs, so also there are many Christians today who are all too willing to ignore the rise of the kingdom of the evil one so as to avoid any contention.

Reflect, today, if you are willing to face the “consequences,” so to speak, of confronting the kingdom of the evil one with the Kingdom of God.  Are you willing to do what it takes to stand strong in a culture that is continually deteriorating?  Are you willing to remain steadfast in the face of the noise of the evil one?  Saying “Yes” to this will not be easy, but it will be a glorious imitation of our Lord Himself.

Lord, help me to remain strong in the face of the evil one and his kingdom of darkness.  Help me to confront that kingdom with confidence, love and truth so as to bring forth Your Kingdom in its place.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Image: Krankenheilung by Gebhard Fugel

Calming the Storm June 30, 2020


Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

First Martyrs of the Church of Rome—Optional Memorial

They came and woke Jesus, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.  Matthew 8:25-26

Imagine you were out on the sea with the Apostles.  You were a fisherman and spent countless hours on the sea throughout your life.  Some days the sea was exceptionally calm and other days there were big waves.  But this day was unique.  These waves were huge and crashing and you feared that things would not end well.  So, with the others on the boat, you woke Jesus in a panic hoping that He would save you.

What would have been the best thing for the Apostles to do in this situation?  Most likely, it would have been for them to allow Jesus to remain asleep.  Ideally, they would have faced the fierce storm with confidence and hope.  “Storms” that seem overwhelming may be rare, but we can be certain they will come.  They will come and we will feel overwhelmed.

If the Apostles would not have panicked and would have allowed Jesus to sleep, they may have had to endure the storm a bit longer.  But eventually it would have died down and all would have been calm.

Jesus, in His great compassion, is OK with us crying out to Him in our need as the Apostles did on the boat.  He is OK with us turning to Him in our fear and seeking His help.  When we do, He will be there as a parent is there for a child who wakes during the night in fear.  But ideally we will face the storm with confidence and hope.  We will ideally know that this too will pass and that we should simply trust and stay strong.  This seems to be the most ideal lesson we can learn from this story.

Reflect, today, on how you react to hardship and problems in your life.  Be they big or small, do you face them with the confidence, calm and hope that Jesus wants you to have?  Life is too short to be filled with terror.  Have confidence in the Lord no matter what you face each day.  If He seems to be asleep, allow Him to remain asleep.  He knows what He is doing and you can be certain that He will never allow you to endure more than you can handle.

Lord, whatever may come my way I trust You.  I know You are always there and will never give me more than I can handle.  Jesus, I do trust in You.

 

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Saint of the DayFirst Martyrs of the Church of Rome

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Image: Restored Traditions

Proclaiming the Gospel Monday, June 29, 2020

 

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Readings for Today

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  Matthew 16:18 

The Church, throughout the ages, has been hated, misunderstood, slandered, ridiculed, and even attacked. Though sometimes ridicule and rebuke come as a result of the personal faults of Her members, most often the Church has been and continues to be persecuted because we have been given the mission of clearly, compassionately, firmly, and authoritatively proclaiming, with the voice of Christ Himself, the truth which liberates and sets all people free to live in unity as children of God.

Ironically, and sadly, there are many in this world who refuse to accept the Truth. There are many who instead grow in anger and bitterness as the Church lives out Her divine mission.

What is this divine mission of the Church? Her mission is to teach with clarity and authority, to pour forth God’s grace and mercy in the Sacraments, and to shepherd God’s people so as to lead them to Heaven. It is God who gave the Church this mission and God who enables the Church and Her ministers to carry it out with courage, boldness and fidelity.

Today’s Solemnity is a very appropriate occasion to reflect on this sacred mission.  Saints Peter and Paul are not only two of the greatest examples of the Church’s mission, but they are also the actual foundation upon which Christ established this mission.

First, Jesus Himself in today’s Gospel said to Peter, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

In this Gospel passage, “the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” are given to the first pope of the Church. St. Peter, the one entrusted with the divine headship of the Church on Earth, is given the authority to teach us all we need to know in order to attain Heaven.  It’s clear from the earliest days of the Church, that Peter passed these “Keys to the Kingdom,” this “ability to authoritatively bind and loose,” this divine gift that today is called infallibility, on to his successor, and he on to his successor and so forth until today.

There are many who get angry at the Church for clearly, confidently and authoritatively proclaiming the liberating truth of the Gospel. This is especially true in the area of morality. Often, when these truths are proclaimed, the Church is attacked and called every sort of slanderous name in the book.

The primary reason that this is so sad is not so much that the Church is attacked, Christ will always give us the grace we need to endure persecution.  The primary reason this is so sad is that most often those who are the angriest are, in fact, those who need to know the liberating truth the most. Everyone needs the freedom that comes only in Christ Jesus and the full and unaltered Gospel truth that He has already entrusted to us in Scripture and that He continues to make clear to us through Peter in the person of the Pope. Furthermore, the Gospel does not ever change, the only thing that changes is our ever deeper and clearer understanding of this Gospel. Thanks be to God for Peter and for all of his successors who serve the Church in this essential role.

St. Paul, the other Apostle we honor today, was not himself entrusted with the keys of Peter, but was called by Christ and strengthened by his ordination to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul, with much courage, traveled throughout the Mediterranean to bring the message to all he met. In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul said of his journeys, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear” the Gospel. And though he suffered, was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, misunderstood and hated by many, he was also an instrument of true freedom to many. Many people responded to his words and example, radically giving their lives over to Christ. We owe the establishment of many new Christian communities to St. Paul’s tireless efforts. When facing the opposition of the world, Paul said in today’s epistle, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.”

Both St. Paul and St. Peter paid for their faithfulness to their missions with their lives. The First Reading spoke of Peter’s imprisonment; the epistles reveal Paul’s hardships. In the end, both became martyrs. Martyrdom is not a bad thing if it is the Gospel for which you are martyred.

Jesus says in the Gospel, “Fear not the one who can bind your hand and foot, rather fear him who can throw you into Gehenna.” And the only one who can throw you into Gehenna is yourself because of the free choices you make. All we ultimately need to fear is wavering from the truth of the Gospel in our words and deeds.

The truth must be proclaimed in love and compassion; but love is not loving nor is compassion compassionate if the truth of the life of faith and morals is not present.

On this feast of Saints Peter and Paul, may Christ give all of us, and the entire Church, the courage, charity, and wisdom we need to continue to be the instruments that set the world free.

Lord, I thank You for the gift of Your Church and the liberating Gospel it preaches.  Help me to always be faithful to the truths You proclaim through Your Church.  And help me to be an instrument of that truth to all in need of it.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Image: Saints Peter and Paul

Loving God Above All June 28, 2020


Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings for Today

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”  Matthew 10:37-38

Jesus explains an interesting consequence of choosing to love family members more than God.  The result of loving a family member more than God is that one is not worthy of God.  This is a strong statement meant to evoke serious self-reflection.

First, we should realize that the only way to authentically love one’s mother or father, son or daughter, is to first love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  Love of one’s family and others must flow from this pure and total love of God.

For that reason, we should see Jesus’ warning as a call to make sure we are not only loving Him fully, but also a call to make sure we fully love our family by allowing our love of God to become the source of our love of others.

How is it that we may violate this command of our Lord?  How would we love others more than Jesus?  We act in this sinful way when we allow others, even family members, to take us away from our faith.  For example, on a Sunday morning while you are getting ready to go to church, a family member tries to convince you to skip Mass for some other activity. If you concede so as to appease them, then you are “loving” them more than God.  Of course, in the end, this is not an authentic love of the family member since a decision was made contrary to the will of God.

Reflect, today, upon how you can truly love those in your family by turning your heart and soul first toward the love of God.  Allow this complete embrace of the love of God to become the basis of love in every relationship.  Only then will good fruit come forth from the love of others.

Lord, I give to You my whole mind, heart, soul and strength.  Help me to love You above all things and in all things and, from that love, help me to love those whom You have put in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr
Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year since it falls on Sunday

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Image: The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot

Lord, I Am Not Worthy June 27, 2020


Saturday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor—Optional Memorial

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  Matthew 8:8

This familiar phrase is repeated every time we prepare to go to Holy Communion.  It’s a statement of great humility and trust from the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant from a distance.

Jesus is impressed with this man’s faith stating that “in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  This man’s faith is worth pondering as a model for our own faith.

First, let’s look at his humility.  The centurion acknowledges that he is “not worthy” to have Jesus come to his home.  This is true.  None of us are worthy of such a great grace.  The home that this spiritually refers to is our soul.  We are not worthy of Jesus coming to our souls so as to make His dwelling there.  At first this may be hard to accept.  Are we really not worthy of this?  Well, no, we are not.  That’s just the fact.

It’s important to know this to be the case so that, in this humble realization, we can also acknowledge that Jesus chooses to come to us anyway.  Recognizing our unworthiness should do nothing other than fill us with great gratitude at the fact that Jesus comes to us in this humble state.  This man was justified in the sense that God poured His grace on him for his humility.

He also had great trust in Jesus.  And the fact that the centurion knew he was unworthy of such a grace makes his trust all the more sacred.  It’s sacred in that he knew he was unworthy but he also knew that Jesus loved him anyway and desired to come to him and heal his servant.

This shows us that our trust in Jesus must not be based on whether or not we have a right to His presence in our lives, rather, it shows us that our trust is based on our knowledge of His infinite mercy and compassion.  When we see that mercy and compassion, we will be in a position to seek it out.  Again, we do this not because we have a right to it; rather, we do it because that’s what Jesus wants.  He wants us to seek out His mercy despite our unworthiness.

Reflect, today, on your own humility and trust.  Can you pray this prayer with the same faith as the centurion?  Let him be a model for you especially every time you prepare to receive Jesus “under your roof” in Holy Communion.

Lord, I am not worthy of You.  I am especially not worthy of receiving You in Holy Communion.  Help me to humbly recognize this fact and, in that humility, help me to also recognize the fact that You desire to come to me anyway.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor

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Image: Jesus healing the servant of a Centurion by Paulo Fronze 

Our Motivation for Love June 26, 2020


Friday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Priest—Optional Memorial

His leprosy was cleansed immediately. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”  Matthew 8:3b-4

An amazing miracle takes place and Jesus simply tells the one healed to “tell no one.”  Why does Jesus say this?

First, we should start by reflecting upon what Jesus did.  By cleansing this leper He restored this man’s entire life to him.  He was living as an outcast, separated from the community; his leprosy, in a sense, took everything from him.  But he had faith in Jesus and presented himself to the care and mercy of God.  The result was that he was made whole and restored to full health.

Jesus often would tell those who were healed to tell no one.  One reason for this was that Jesus’ acts of love and mercy were not done for His own benefit, rather, they were done out of love.  Jesus loved this leper and wanted to offer Him this precious gift of healing.  He did it out of compassion and, in return, only wanted the man’s gratitude.  He did not need to make this a public spectacle, He only wanted the man to be grateful.

The same is true with us.  We need to know that God loves us so much that He wants to lift our heavy burdens and heal our weaknesses simply because He loves us.  He doesn’t do it first because it will benefit Him, rather, He does it out of love for us.

One lesson we can learn from this has to do with our own acts of love and mercy toward others.  When we go out of our way to show love and compassion, are we OK with no one knowing?  Too often we want to be noticed and praised.  But the nature of an act of love and compassion is such that it should be done simply out of love.  In fact, doing something loving and compassionate that is not noticed by anyone helps us grow in love and compassion.  It purifies our intentions and enables us to love for love’s sake.

Reflect, today, on your motivation for the acts of kindness you do.  Pray that you also can desire to act in hidden ways in imitation of our divine Lord.

Lord, may I grow in love of others and express that love in a pure way.  May I never be motivated by a desire for vain praise.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

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Saint of the Day – Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Priest

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Image: Jesus heals the ten

Strength June 25, 2020


Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25

This passage above is followed by the contrast of one who built his house on sand.  The wind and rains came and the house collapsed.  It’s a clear contrast that leads anyone to conclude that having your house built on solid rock is much better.

The house is your life.  And the question it raises is simply, how strong am I?  How strong am I to face the storms, hardships and crosses that will inevitably come my way?

When life is easy and all goes smoothly, we do not necessarily need great inner strength.  When money is plentiful, we have many friends, we have our health and our family all gets along, life can be good.  And, in that case, life can even be easy.  But there are few who can go through life without facing some storm.  When that happens, our inner strength is tested and the strength of our inner convictions is required.

In this story from Jesus, the rain, floods and wind that buffeted the house are actually a good thing.  Why?  Because they allow the foundation of the house to manifest its stability.  So it is with us.  The foundation of our lives must be our fidelity to the Word of God.  Do you believe the Word of God?  Have you pondered it, studied it, internalized it and allowed God’s Word to become the foundation of your life?  Jesus makes it clear that we will have a solid foundation only when we listen to His words and act on them.

Reflect, today, upon how deeply you believe all that Jesus says.  Do you trust in every word He has spoken?  Do you believe Him enough to rely upon His promises even in the midst of life’s greatest challenges?  If you are not sure, then this is a good day to recommit yourself to the prayerful reading of His Word.  All He says in Scripture is true and those truths are what we need to create a firm foundation for the rest of our lives.

Lord, help me to listen to Your words and to act on them.  Help me to believe in Your promises and to trust You even when the storms of life seem fierce.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Image: Christ Pantocrator