By: Rick Hernandez
I often meditate on the hidden life of Christ Jesus. I close my eyes and wonder how were those first 30 years of His life in this world. If we try, we can visualize Jesus, the son of Mary, living in the household of Joseph, first as a young child doing young child things, and then later, as a young man doing young man things... How was the daily life of Jesus? I imagine it would not have been too different from ours today. The child Jesus probably learned to read and write Aramaic at home, then probably went to school at the synagogue, where he heard the teachers read and teach from the Torah. I wonder if he liked school and if he was a good and diligent student. After school he would go home and I can imagine Mother Mary asking Him to help around the house. Did he carry water by Mary's side? I can “see” Him doing that… and when Jesus was done helping with the household tasks, He probably asked to go play with His neighborhood friends. I can imagine simple fun and games, played all-out with much laughter. Simple little things.
Later on, Jesus grew to become a young man. “And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52). With more age and experience, I can imagine that He had more responsibilities. We know He was a carpenter. How did He learn the trade? I can imagine Jesus helping Joseph with his carpentry tasks. That would be what we call an apprenticeship, on-the-job training. Yes, small tasks preparing Him for bigger tasks. Once done with work, I assume that, as most apprentices, He would sweep the floors of their humble workplace. Can you see Jesus going back home to help bake bread or carry more water? Of course. He must have done all of these common things. Imagine. This was the Son of God incarnate! He was tasked with the work of redemption, the biggest and most important work of all time. Yet, our Lord Jesus had to do all of these simple little human things... But is not God about the big important things?
If we can interpret this image of Jesus in his early life, then we can find the answer to that question. Many of the little things that we did as children in our own homes, Jesus also did. Christ Jesus, all human and all divine, did all of these simple little things with perfect humility, with perfect faith, and with perfect love. Why is that? It is because He understood that all of what we do, and how we do it, matters. The little things we have to do prepare us for the bigger things and confirm who we are. Our thoughts and actions are our contribution to our family, to the world, and to the Kingdom of Heaven. Those simple things we often dismiss, Jesus sanctified and offered to the Father. Honor your parents! Love God and neighbor! Bring your offering! Like Jesus, we must become aware that both the mundane and the ordinary can become our faithful offering to the One who loves us.
For God, all actions have great value, big and small, if we align them to His will for us. But we are human and we tend to have our eye on the "big things". “Go big or go home”, is often said. We want our action’s value to be readily apparent for all to see. I like to think of every big and important task as a collection of many little important tasks. When we focus on the big things and how there is so much to do, we may be tempted to take shortcuts and skip on the little things, but really, is that wise? Aren't we then veering from the script and missing on an opportunity for a sanctifying offering? "The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones." (Luke 16:10).
For us, the faithful, our sanctifying offering is in what is in front of us. Our offering is in every little action in this moment that we have, now. We call it the gift of the "Present Moment". Those actions that we take, and our intent, do direct our lives. Let us become aware of what is our intention and what is our desire. Are they aligned to God's will? When we do align our will to the Father's, the little actions that we take in faith and in love, do prepare us, in hope, for the big ones that may be required from us. At the end of the day, is our offering that we have acted justly? Have we loved as much as we could? Have we cared enough? Is our offering that we have been faithful in all things, big and small? What will we say when we are asked to give account for our time? It is in the little things... that we show faith.
Let us pray: Lord, you knew me perfectly even before I was in my mother’s womb. You know what my right hand does as well as my left. From You I cannot hide. I humbly offer you all that I am, and all that I do, with both my successes and my struggles, in faith and love, in the hope for the grace needed to find You in all things and guide more people towards You, who loves us so much. Help me to be as your hands in this world. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13)
The previous excerpt from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is known as “The Way of Love”. It is one of the most beautifully written and insightful passages in the New Testament and a reminder to us all that “Love” must rule in our lives. Now, let us be sincere. Do we allow God’s love to rule in our lives? Are we actively trying to grow in charity, patience, kindness and understanding as ways to show God’s love for us to the world? Are we showing the fruits of that labor to the ones that need charity, patience, kindness and understanding? Yes, do we give the fruits of our labor to the ones that need our love, even if they do not love us?
In society today, we try to teach our young ones the “Golden Rule”. That is, teach them to “treat others as you wish to be treated”. What often goes unexplained in this teaching, is that your behavior towards others is meant to be independent of their behavior towards you. Often, the children are not encouraged to learn that. In time, we grow to become adults, and often we become disappointed and angry when our love and good will towards others is thrown back on our faces. When our good will is neither accepted nor acknowledged by others we think: “They do not love me, nor accept me”. We then often proceed to withdraw our love from them and replace it with anger, or even sadder, with indifference for their well-being. We go into the Internet, or social media, or the park, or the church and scream in anger at all the ones that we feel have done us wrong; we call them names or shun them out of our circles. How is that loving? That is the “childish” behavior that Saint Paul’s refers to in the excerpt from 1 Corinthians. We throw a tantrum, as a child. We are asked to grow up, to love in a mature manner, the way God loves us. Can you imagine God behaving the way we do when we are hurt or angry?
Our Good Lord meant it when he said: “When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:39-40)
Our Lord Jesus is not asking us things that are outside of our control. We cannot force people to “treat us well” nor “love us well”, but we can train ourselves us to not to act angrily or indifferently towards them. We are asked not to withhold our love, even from those that do not love us. If we read through the beatitudes, we see what we are to follow, and what is there to obtain:
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
Let us pray: Our all-loving Lord, may we all grow to maturity in our love, that we may be able to love as You love us, that we may be blessed and be able to, at the end, see the light of your face. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
“I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might”. (Ephesians 1:16-19)
A priest friend once told me: “Our eyes are how we see the world, but the eyes only produce images, impressions of the light on the world. Interpreting the images is what “seeing” is. Both our intellect and our soul give meaning to the images we see so we can gain insight from them, but too often we just see with the eyes of our intellect, as most of the world sees. We have to learn how to see better with the eyes of the soul, for that is how we gain wisdom”.
In the first letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us to pray to God for a “spirit of wisdom”, that is, for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to come forth to us. From our relationship with the Holy Spirit, active in our lives, we gain both the exercise of the theological and moral virtues and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Among the gifts that we receive are wisdom, knowledge, understanding and awe. These gifts are directly related to each other for they relate to “seeing”.
Paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, the gift of wisdom is to be able to see the work of the hand of God in all things, in our lives and in the world. If we use St. Paul’s words from Ephesians 1, wisdom is to “have the eyes of our hearts enlightened”. We are enlightened.
The gift of knowledge is the recognition of our purpose as children of God and how He relates to us. This is that we “may know what is the hope that belongs to His call”. We are able to focus.
The gift of understanding is the ability to comprehend how we are to live as followers of Christ. The moral issues become clear. We are able to discern.
Along with this wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, we can also receive the gift of awe, which is to see and comprehend “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might”. We are able to stand in awe of the greatness of God.
I have always been more intellectual than anything else. I have always strived for “understanding” as a means to better myself and to help others. I often, mistakenly, thought than knowledge and understanding would inevitably lead to “wisdom”. That is not the case, though it helps. For the true gift of wisdom to be active in our lives, we must cozy up to the Holy Spirit. We must strive to see the world a little differently, through the eyes of our soul and through the eyes of Christ. The eyes of the soul are opened by the virtues, and living the virtues invariably leads to a life of grace. A grace is a gift, just like the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we live a life of grace, then our life itself becomes a gift, an offering to our Lord.
More than anything we must strive to live in this world with virtue. That is what makes normal people into saints. Extraordinary, heroic virtue comes after normal, ordinary virtue has become a normal part of our lives. Many Saints recognized the role of the mundane and ordinary in this world. When seen through the “eyes of the soul”, the mundane becomes the foundation of our heavenly work on this Earth.
“A saint is one who has learned to spiritualize and sacramentalize and ennoble everything in the world and make of it a prayer.” - Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Divine Sense of Humor)
Let us pray: Lord, you are the creator of all that is seen and unseen. You have left us your Holy Spirit to guide us toward the path to Heaven. Help us then to be guided by your Spirit, that through His guidance we may achieve a virtuous life. Help us see the world as you see it, that our love may be like yours. May your precious gifts to us be also a gift for our brothers and sisters, that our eyes be opened by your Grace. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Once during my travels, I sat at the bar at a local restaurant. A man was sitting there alone at the end of the large counter with a big smile on his face. I remember being intrigued by this man and I engaged him in conversation. He was very personable, had a quiet dignity about him and you could tell life had taught him a thing or two. He told me his name was Justin, and we proceeded to talk about life, faith, politics and everything else we could think of. Eventually, we started talking about our youth, where we came from, and Justin opened up about his past and about the drug addiction and escapism that ruled his teenage years. “Here is a life lesson for you” he said, and told me his story.
Once, Justin was a teenager, with a good caring family, a girlfriend he loved, and a bright future ahead of him. He considered himself a good person; always wanted to be of help, mindful of the needs of others. He was a good student, well-liked at school, where everyone thought he was to continue the family tradition of public office. But Justin suffered from a crippling private anxiety. From a young age he suffered from “carrying everybody’s dreams about his future”. He wanted to fulfill his family’s expectations, but that anxiety kept eating at him in secret. At a party, Justin was introduced to cocaine, the street drug of choice at the time, and he was hooked. The drug became his refuge from anxiety, his effort to escape from his reality; little by little he stopped caring about others. On a fateful day, Justin attempted to rob a store. The attempt went badly and the store clerk was hurt. The police arrived quickly and Justin was arrested. Eventually he was tried as an adult, and thrown into prison.
While in prison, Justin thought “This is all wrong. This is not me; I am supposed to be a good person”, but he had made many mistakes and had to acknowledge them and make amends. He took his prison sentence as an opportunity to learn, to know himself, to combat his anxiety, to understand where he went wrong. Justin found solace in the Bible, specifically “Though the just fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble from only one mishap” (Proverbs 24:16). Justin thought, “If I am a just man, I shall rise again. I have to learn what it is to be a just man…” And that started a lifetime of trying to understand the virtue of justice and how it relates to his life and the ones around him.
Justin said to me, “You see, I have a good life now. I am a just man, and this I have learned. When we make mistakes, we have to repent and own up to them, fix them the best we can. The world will still try to kick you down for your mistakes, sometimes savagely. It will attempt to make you relive your worst mistakes, tell you that you are still that man that did not know better and that you have not changed. It will tell you that you have no worth, even to yourself. That is a lie. That is misguided justice. Yes, the world will kick you down, but a just man RISES regardless. Live your life rightly. Give to the people what is theirs, to you what is yours, to God what is His. Live justly, love freely.”
I remember Justin’s advice often. For someone who is not a Catholic, I believe he did understand Catholic justice better than most. The Catholic definition of justice is “the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.” We have to understand that we are also included here; we are called to be just with everyone, including ourselves. Even when we sin, when we are at our worst, we still have infinite value. Even at our lowest point, we still have the power to change with God’s help. We repent, confess, and make retribution. That is justice. Once restored, we have to continue to act justly because our actions have to honor our dignity, which is given to us by God. Practicing the virtue of justice will help keep us in relationship with God and others. Justice allows us to love. Live justly, love freely.
Let us pray, Our Lord of Heaven, please grant us wisdom, that we may learn how to live a just life and apply discernment to our actions, that we may always act in a pleasing manner to You. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (CCC 1808).
The virtue of fortitude works hand-in-hand with the virtue of perseverance. Father Eymard tells us that to live a virtuous life, we must strive towards the virtues without fear, and that we must persevere in this struggle. When I think about perseverance, the first word that pops into my head is “abide”. The definition for “abide” is “to remain”. To remain, but remain where?
"Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me" (John 15:4).
Jesus is asking us to remain in Him and that means to persist in Him. Christ’s love is our anchor, it is what helps us to persist. Just as His Cross was rooted in His love, so are we to be rooted. This is what the virtue of fortitude is. “Fortitude is love bearing all things readily for the sake of the beloved" (St. Augustine). We are called to patiently bear, to abide, to remain, to persist. “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; … encourage through all patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).
Now, life is always asking us, to move, to change, to act. It is good to change. We must evolve into the best version of ourselves and that means that that we must work towards that better state, but how do we do that? How do we evolve, yet remain? We can do that by working to align ourselves with the virtues. Out in the world we are to live in His love, share from His hope and grow from His faith. Yes, we grow and we change but through fortitude and perseverance, we remain in our given state as beloved children of God.
On September 5th, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was deeply rooted in Jesus’ Cross, the place where Jesus abides. That was the place where her heart lived, yet she went out into the world, where she could meet Jesus’ heart in the lives of all the poor and the needy. It was difficult work there in the streets of Calcutta. Among the sick and the dying Mother Teresa grew in the virtues, grew closer to the perfection that we are called to pursue. With her guidance and example, she helped countless others to grow in virtue, helped them to care for one another. Through a virtuous life of love, hope, faith, humility and selflessness she persevered; there she was courageous. There she taught us, through her humble life, how to abide in Jesus’s love… Can we persevere like that? Where do we abide?
Let us pray: “O eternal God, grant me the virtue of perseverance; without it, no one can please You nor be acceptable to You. This virtue brings to the soul an abundance of charity and the fruit of every effort. Oh! how happy I should be, Lord, if You would give me this virtue, because even here on earth it will make me enjoy a pledge of eternal life. But Your light reveals to me that I cannot attain it unless I suffer much, because this life cannot be lived without suffering. He who would escape suffering would deprive himself of holy perseverance” (St. Catherine of Siena). Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Walking towards my bedroom there is, by the door, a small statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I often touch this statue as I walk by, a subtle attempt on my part to firm up in my heart the connection of my daily life to His. It is a means of acknowledging His role in my life and that we are in this, together.
Why is it that “connection” is so often associated with the heart? When we feel compassion, we say that the situation “tugs at our heart”, asking for our attention. When we feel excitement at meeting someone, we say that our “heart flutters”, asking us to be present. When we accompany someone suffering, our “heart aches”, asking us to be aware of and share in their pain. When we encourage someone, we ask them to “take heart”. Whose heart? Ours. So much connection to the heart…
Ever since ancient times, the heart has been the means for connection to others. But connecting to others is not always easy, and in fact, it is often difficult and even scary. Modern society is trying hard to separate us from our communal good and send us towards the individualism and selfishness that severs real connection. Why is it that now that we are more connected than ever through technology, we are lonelier than ever? Why are we, as a society, more selfish? There is no real connection, not without heart, not without presence, not without compassion, not without courage.
Compassion is an old word, derived from the Latin “com pati”, meaning “to suffer with”. Connection is implied here, our hearts united. Another word for compassion is mercy; the Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which comes from “miseri cordi”, meaning “heart in misery”… the heart again! We are meant to unite our heart to others, to achieve connection. But to do this can be scary. To fight against that fear we need courage, fortitude. Courage is also an old word, derived from the Latin “cor age”, meaning “to bring forth your heart”… it’s all about the heart. So, the question then is: How do we transform our hearts, so that we can be present, courageous, compassionate and merciful? “COR UNUM ET ANIMA UNA”, which translates into English as “one heart, one mind”, to beat as one heart. But whose heart? The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"His Sacred Heart has given men everything: redemption, salvation, sanctification... Through the mystery of this wounded Heart, the restorative tide of God's merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret." (St. John Paul II)
St. Peter Julian Eymard instructs us, "Let us learn to honor the Sacred Heart in the Eucharist. Let us never separate them." The holy gift of the Eucharist can only be fully explained by His perfect love, completely present in His Sacred Heart. When we partake of our Lord’s banquet, when we are united through that most intimate moment in the consumption of the Eucharist, we are infinitely connected to Him, and through His Sacred Heart, connected to all whom He loves. At that moment, from our presence there, we can partake of His courage, of His compassion, of His mercy. May we be transformed; may our hearts be lit on fire…
The Sacred Heart is depicted on fire, signifying the transformative power of His love for us. If we make an offering of our very selves, uniting it to the offering of the Paschal Lamb, the divine fire of His Sacred Heart can both consume and transform us. We are no longer just us, but He who loves us, a perfect connection. One heart, one mind… “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). The Sacred Heart, the Holy Eucharist, and Love itself, are one and the same thing: “Cor Unum”. One Heart.
We pray to you, our ever-loving Lord, let your Sacred Heart be our treasure, for where our treasure is, there also will our hearts be. Like Mother Mary’s Immaculate Heart, one heart with Yours. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, one Good Friday long ago, for the expiation of our sins, for the redemption of His loved ones. I can't fathom what it would have been like to be there, at the foot of the cross, knowing that the Messiah was going through that much suffering for me. The Gospels tell us of a few people among the multitude that were present during the Crucifixion: The Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, and John the Evangelist. These holy persons we know very well from their roles in the life of Jesus, but there were another two men present in Golgotha that day, crucified along with Our Lord, the two thieves: Dismas and Gestas.
We do not know much about Dismas and Gestas. Some of the early Christian writings tell us that they were bandits, men that stole from the people on the road to Jerusalem. Caught by the Romans Auxiliaries, who were tasked with keeping the territory safe, the bandits were sentenced to death by crucifixion. The Gospels tell us that these men were on their own crosses at Golgotha, one to the left of Jesus, the other to His right, and kept addressing Jesus. "'Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him" (Mark 15:32). They both doubted Jesus, but then something incredible happened, Dismas’ eyes and heart were opened, and he was able to see the Son of God.
"Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.' The other, however, rebuked him, saying in reply, 'Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'" (Luke 23:39-42).
Dismas, through that encounter with the heart of Jesus, became the "Penitent Thief". He experienced one moment of perfect clarity. He understood and accepted the guilt from his sin, witnessed to Christ's innocence and acknowledged Christ’s power to redeem him. “…Remember me…”. In that moment of true lucidity, Dismas was able to confess to the High Priest, our Lord of Mercy. His admission of fault, true contrition, and acceptance of responsibility allowed his crucifixion to act as his penance. Christ washed Dimas’ soul clean. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Contrition, theologically speaking, comes directly from the virtue of Charity and it is therefore a gift conferred by God. The acceptance of the gift and its application to our lives (the internalizing of the gift) is an act of our will. That means that contrition is a cooperative act between us and God. We know He is always acting, giving, loving, waiting for us to turn back to Him. Are we consciously asking for and trusting His Mercy? How painfully unaware are we of our faults, our prejudices, our sin. We really depend on our courage. Courage allows us to look inwards with humility and sincerity to examine our conscience. After that, we trust in the sacrament of reconciliation. We trust in God’s Mercy. We can hold-on tight to our Mother Mary and pray for her help and guidance. We have another guide in St. Dismas, that we may be like him and grab onto the opportunities that are presented even at the final moment.
Let us pray, that now and at the time of our deaths, we are gifted with that moment of great clarity, that we can persevere through the temptations to give up on the hope for Heaven, and that while accompanied by Mother Mary, as promised to her consecrated children, we are able to achieve perfect contrition from all our faults and shortcomings. This so we can meekly face Our Lord, and humbly ask "Jesus, please remember me…" Amen.
FOLLOW ELISHEBA HOUSE:
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.