Jesus Loved Him: 5th S. of Lent

Jesus WeptToday’s reflection is for the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Jesus was with his disciples when he received a message about a man that he knew, Lazarus, from Bethany. If I didn’t know anything else about Jesus, this one message that Jesus received would tell me all I needed to know. I have lots of friends, and if a friend of mine were ill, I would hope that someone might let me know. But I wonder, would the person who let me know say, “Stephen, the one you love is ill.” Sadly, probably not. But that’s exactly what Mary and Martha said, “Master, the one you love is ill.” To be honest, I don’t know if anyone has ever referred to people around me, even my family, as those “whom I love.” Certainly I do, but do they and others know it?

Again and again throughout today’s Gospel we hear on the lips of others that Jesus loved. From Mary and Martha we hear that Jesus loved Lazarus, from the Gospel writer himself when St. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” and from the Jews, after Jesus wept, they said, “See how he loved him.” Jesus has a whole lot of love, and is clearly recognized as a person who loves by all around him. That’s the kind of guy I want to be too.

One might be inclined to think that “Jesus loved” Lazarus because he healed him and raised him from the dead, but that is not at all how it went in the Gospel. ALL claims that Jesus loved Lazarus came well before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In other words, whether or not Jesus ever heals Lazarus and raises him from the dead does not change what we know about Jesus’ love for him, nor did it change what they knew, namely, that Lazarus was loved by God–not forsaken, but loved, from his first breath to his last. I bet that changed the way that Lazarus lived his life.

I think it’s very important to know we are loved. We who believe, should be entirely convinced of God’s great love for us, but we should also be well aware that others love us too, and we should make it clear that others are loved by us. I know I have work to do in this regard. I want my sons to know that come hell or high water, they are loved by their dad. When they get A’s I love ’em. When they succeed I love ’em. And when they fail I love them still. I hope they know that. I need to do a better job.

There seems always someone around, however, that wants to put into doubt the love that we have for others, or the love that Jesus has for us. Even as Jesus approached Bethany, the scoffers said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” But the truth is that regardless of God’s great power, or maybe because of it, God willed that all living things should die. Death is not a question of God’s power or a lack of love, but rather an expression of both. St. Ephraem the Syrian wrote, “Our Lord was trampled on by death, and in His turn trod out a way over death…Death slew and was slain. Death slew the natural life; and the supernatural Life slew him.” We will indeed all die, but not all who die will taste death. (1COR 15:51)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.” (C.C.C. 1007) For more from the Catechism on death and resurrection, click here.

This COVID-19 outbreak, and the now thousands who have died have me thinking a lot about my death and the uncertainty of life. The truth is that we do not know the hour that we will be called home by God. Whether by a virus, a car accident, or a natural disaster, we know neither the day nor the hour. As Anselm of Canterbury wrote, “Nothing is more certain than death, nothing more uncertain than its hour.” And for Lazarus, he was called out of the grave and resuscitated–he was brought back to life by a miracle of God, but eventually he would die, as all things do.

As I watch the news, and still go to work, I am not irresponsible with my actions. I wear gloves and a mask as I feed children and their families, I use hand sanitizer and wash my hands, but I do not live in fear. I look both ways before crossing the street, and I mostly drive the speed limit, but I am not anxious nor afraid, because I know that “Jesus is the resurrection and the life,” and I am beloved to him. I know that he loves me, am convinced that when the Saints in heaven talk to Jesus about me they never refer to me as Stephen, they say to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is…”

I’m loved by God and some day, in some way, God will call me home to him. He will say, “Stephen, come out!” I can’t wait to hear his command, but until then, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got elementary school kids that need food, a wife that needs help around the house, children that need to be guided and loved, school work to do, blogs to write, and sermons to preach. My prayer is that I’m allowed just one more day to get it right. I’ll do better today than yesterday. I promise. I’m loved.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

COVID-19 Opportunity: 4th S. of Lent

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Today’s reflection is for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Really? I can’t even get a roll of toilet paper?! As media updates stream to all our devices at every moment of the day, and as fears of the COVID-19 continue to swell, today’s Gospel has a much needed reminder, namely, don’t blame –start helping.

Jesus disciples were curious about where to place blame for the man’s being born blind in today’s Gospel. They wanted their desire for knowledge to be satisfied. “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'” Jesus wisely knows that it makes no difference at all. The only thing that matters is that he is blind and that fact presents an opportunity for the love and power of God to be revealed through this particularly sad situation. “Jesus answered,
‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.'”

Therein lies the difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, and Jesus wants his followers to know that our desire cannot be more information so as to place judgement and blame, or to have answers merely for the sake of knowledge. Instead, Jesus’ desire is only that God be glorified in every moment, everyday, through every person, regardless of the circumstances. And that means it’s time to get to work! Time is running out. Jesus said, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.”

In the first days of the COVID-19 outbreak, my wife and I had but two rolls of paper toilet paper left. One roll in our boys’ bathroom and one in ours. Quite naively, I guess, I went to the store to get another roll only to find empty shelves–everywhere! Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and even on Amazon!

How in the world can there be a shortage of toilet paper, and wipes, and paper towels, and napkins, and water, spam, tuna, and every other storable item? Naturally, there are a number of answers to this: fear, greed, and selfishness mostly, though in some cases an exaggerated desire to prepare for worst-case scenarios at the expense of others. I call it the “I got mine,” mentality.

While many have chosen, like Jesus’ disciples to gain a lot of knowledge about this virus, sometimes for themselves and often to share with others, a lot of people have stockpiled essentials for themselves, or just to jack up the price and take economic advantage, there are those who continue to do the work of God–and that’s exciting.

Information for its own sake is of little value, and greed or selfishness is a sin against ones neighbor, but to serve others in this time of need is a powerful expression of the love and generosity of God. I’m thankful that there are still so many kind-hearted people doing the work of God while it is still day.

The TUSD school district, in which I am an administrator, and many other districts too, sent kids home with school supplies, books, backpacks, and homework packets. We provide online resources so that while kids might not be at the school, their schooling can still continue throughout this ordeal. So many teachers put in a lot of extra hours to make all of this happen. That’s good work! We continue to provide meals for our families struggling families.

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.” ~John 9:3-4

To watch this and other YouTube reflections, click here

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

A Little Time: 3rd S. of Lent

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Today’s reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I went to adoration with my son this past Monday, and I hate to admit, but it had been a while since I’d gone. The first song was a bit loud, but afterward the music was quite soft and really pulled me into the experience of spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist. I have few words to express why the experience of Adoration moves me so, but invariably, it does. Spending time with Jesus matters and it changes me.

This is exactly what the woman of Sychar discovers as she encounters the Lord at Jacob’s well. Jesus’ disciples are gone, she is alone with Jesus and to her great surprise, Jesus speaks to her. At first she recognizes him only as a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, but in short order she knows him as a prophet, and then finally as the Messiah and Savior of Israel. And it just took a willingness on her part to spend some time with and open her heart to Jesus.

We too can come to know Jesus in a more powerful and meaningful way, if we would just spend time with him. When we spend time reading Scripture, spend time in prayer, attend the sacrament of reconciliation, pray, attend Adoration, or go to Mass, we spend time with the Lord and we grow closer to Him. We grow in relationship with the Lord and like the woman of Sychar, we come to know Jesus in a deeper, more powerful, and transformative way.

The great thing about this deepening of faith, is that invariably, our faith will then pour forth into other people’s lives. First to our children and then to those in our community and places of influence. The woman at the well discovered who Jesus was to herself and then ran back to the village with great joy to tell others. That’s exactly what evangelization is! We share our joy with others—with whomever will listen!

The people of Sychar invite Jesus into their home and believed first purely because of the strength of her testimony, but ultimately they came to know Jesus as Savior by their own time spent with Him. They cared enough to let them into their homes, they opened their hearts, and they too were transformed.

We heard, “Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” And so the Good News is shared.

As we continue to journey to this 3rd week of Lent, I want to encourage you not only to do the hard work of “climbing the mountain” through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but also to spend time with the Lord in prayer, Scripture, adoration, and the Sacraments.

The fruit of your time spent with the Lord will not only be a deepening love of Jesus as your own Savior, but also of those in your family. Ultimately, your joy will well up on you and create a desire to share that love with others so that Jesus might be realized as your savior, your children’s savior, and as the savior of the world. All you have to do is spend a little time. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

A High Mountain: 2nd S. of Lent

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Today’s reflection is for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today Jesus takes Peter, James, and John—his closest disciples—up, what Matthew calls a “very high maintain.” Scripture is not clear on how high or how steep this mountain is. It does not speak of what kind of terrain, or even how long it took to climb, but I would think that what distinguishes a very high mountain from a little hill is the amount of effort it takes to get to the top!

Have you ever climbed a very high mountain? I certainly have. Both in the Marines and since then, whether on day hikes or backpacking trips, climbing high mountains is WORK! Listen, I don’t care which path you take, to get from the bottoms of the mountain to the top, it requires a great deal of determination and grit, and quitters need not apply! You might have to take breaks, you may need some snacks, you might get some blisters and sore muscles, but hear me very clearly, you WILL NOT reach the top if you do not make a conscience decision to do so, and work hard to reach the top.

So, why in the world do people climb high mountains? Why would sane people endure such suffering, blisters, pain, and trial? The answer is obvious to people who do it, because there’s nothing like it in the world—clean air, clear sight for as far as you can see; beauty and peace that can’t be found anywhere else—and it makes all the effort worth it.

As we journey into the second week of Lent, we too climb the mountain—not a physical mountain but a spiritual one. Through abstinence, penance, prayers, and much suffering our hope is that like Peter, James, and John, in the end, we witness the face of God—we see His glory.

I’m not sure how much complaining went on as Jesus and His disciples trudged up the mountain. Peter’s feet hurt, James needed sunscreen, John begged to rest a little while longer, but when they got to the top, they saw the glory of God. And Peter wanted to pitch a tent and stay a while. To be honest, I can’t blame him.

Every time I start climbing a mountain, within the first couple miles, I always think, “What am I thinking?! This is hard!” But with family and friends to encourage me, I take one step at a time, and eventually we get there.

The same is true for Lent, you know. Some of us here have made great sacrifices for Lent—sacrifices of time, talent, or treasure. Some have committed themselves to rising early or going to bed late for prayer or Scripture reading. Some are attending retreats or Stations of the Cross, serving at fish fries, or just eating at them. Others have committed to serving those in need. Still some have given up solid food, or maybe even chocolate or coffee or beer!

Whatever your sacrifice, today is a day of encouragement. [Insert CCC quote here]. Do not give up your climb. If you have stumbled or fallen, have taken a rest or have given up all together, I want to encourage you to get back on the trail. St. [quote here about discipline or sacrifice].

Continue to do the hard work of ascending the mountain of God. Pray, fast, give alms, sacrifice greatly, and continue your journey! It will not be easy—Jesus never promises that, but if you are faithful and you commit yourself to growing in holiness, you will see the glory of God, and you will hear the voice of God. You will be told to obey, and obedience will bring you joy and light and eternal life. Keep calm and climb on. I’ll be praying for you.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos