Good Soil

In today’s Gospel we hear Christ’s explanation of a parable that I’m sure we’re all familiar with: the Parable of the Sower. 

He explains that the four different types of soil are representative of four different types of people. The seed that falls on that path but is stolen away is the person who does not understand the Gospel so the Evil One steals what was taking root in the person’s heart. The seed that falls on rocky soil but is scorched by the sun because it has no roots is the person who hears the Gospel and is blessed with great joy but soon falls away because of persecution. The seed that falls among the thorns is the person who hears the Gospel but is preoccupied by worldly things and does not live or share the Word. The seed that falls on good soil is the person who hears the Gospel, understands, lives it, and shares it with others. 

We will all encounter each type of soil, each type of person in our lives. Perhaps we will even act as the sowers and talk to each type of person about the faith. But we will also encounter each type of person within ourselves. 

How many times have we heard something in Scripture, in a homily, or in a talk and not understood it? Do we ask someone more knowledgeable than us to help us understand or do we forget it and not give it a second thought? That’s the seed falling on the path.

How many times have we gone on a retreat and been so on fire with the Holy Spirit and for our faith while we’re there, but then as soon as we return to our ordinary, daily lives and to our routines and the fire dies out a little bit? That’s the seed falling on rocky soil.

How many times have we been afraid to share our faith at work or in our communities? Or how many times have we not paid attention in Mass because something else was on our minds? That’s the seed falling among the thorns. 

But how much joy do we find in sharing the Gospel with others? How often do we find great joy and peace in participating in the Sacraments? What does it feel like when we recognize Christ in others? That’s the seed falling on good soil. 

We are all capable of throwing seed on the path and of being the rocky, thorny, or good soil. If we acknowledge that we don’t understand everything, recognize what our thorns are, and when we have a tendency to shy away from the faith because of persecution, then we are able to overcome those obstacles and replace the thorns and rocks with good soil. 

Today is the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden and I encourage you to read about her life! May we, following the example of St. Bridget, pray for Christ to do His will through us and pray that we may sow seeds of faith in good soil in which the faith is planted.

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

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Stay with Me

Mary stayed. There are some lines in Scripture that speak so much louder than their few words. When we read today’s Gospel slowly, we see it was a busy morning for Mary Magdalene. 

First, she rises, before dawn, and goes to the tomb. Upon seeing the stone rolled away, she returns (can’t you see her flying down the path, disregarding decorum as she sprints to the apostles?) to the disciples to tell them. She then turns around and runs back with some of them who wish to see for themselves. 

After seeing the empty tomb, the disciples must have returned, confused and feeling lost. What could have happened? Why? Mary, exhausted at this point, stays. She weeps for the one she has lost, twice now it would seem. 

In her sorrow, Mary doesn’t turn inward, as many of us are tempted to do when we are hurting. The disciples were hurting and in their sorrow, they walked away. Even if it was only to the outside of the garden, they still left the place of pain. Mary chose a different path. Though she was full of grief and was openly weeping, the Gospel also shows us that she wasn’t completely consumed with sorrow. She still had hope that something was not yet finished. 

How do we know Mary maintained her hope in the midst of this terrible moment? The next verse tells us that she “bent over into the tomb.” She looked again! This small action is what sets in motion John’s Resurrection story. Mary sees the angels, who engage her in conversation and turn her attention to the resurrected Jesus, standing before her. 

Even in the midst of her sorrow, Mary found the hope God placed in her, the hope He places in all of us. From that hope, she drew enough courage to look into the tomb. 

All of us will encounter suffering. Many of us are suffering at this present moment. Life is a challenge and things do not often go as planned. We go through times of pain, of sorrow, of grief, of anger, of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus felt these same things. They wished things were different, that it wasn’t so hard. 

The lesson Mary Magdalene taught them, and what she can teach all of us, is to not lose the hope we have been gifted by God. There is always a way forward, we have to trust that God’s plan is more marvelous than we could plan. We also have to trust that God’s timing may not be our timing. This is why we wait, as Mary did, in patient hope, for God to reveal Himself to us.

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Kate Taliaferro is an Air Force wife and mother. She is blessed to be able to homeschool, bake bread and fold endless piles of laundry. When not planning a school day, writing a blog post or cooking pasta, Kate can be found curled up with a book or working with some kind of fiber craft. Kate blogs at DailyGraces.net.

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The Gift of Life

The mystery of human life is truly amazing. I can’t believe how my kids love to lay on my belly, rub it and give it kisses. They can’t wait for their little sister to come out! Just the other day, my six-year-old said to me, “Mommy, ‘little coconut’ will be out soon, so can we take a picture so I can remember when she was still in your tummy?” So we took turns with all the boys taking pictures of them hugging, kissing or rubbing my (very large) belly.

All during his illness, my son took such comfort in his unborn little sister. Whenever he wasn’t feeling well, he asked me to come over to his bed so he could be near her and give her kisses. He always talks about how she is such a little cutie and tells me 5-20 times a day how he wants her to come out. I keep reminding him that if she comes out too early she will have to stay at the hospital for a long time and he won’t be able to see her anyway, but he continues saying it over and over and over. Now my husband and my other sons are saying it too, but I’m pretty sure, no one wants her out more than mommy!

In the First Reading, the children of Israel were given a whole new life, one free from slavery and oppression, but instead of praising God for His wondrous love, they come to Moses with one grumble after another. Just like my son wants his sister out so bad, they wanted to get out of Egypt something fierce! They prayed and prayed for deliverance, and God heard their prayer.

What confounds me is that even though the Israelites don’t ask nicely, God still listens to them and provides for their needs.

“Here in the desert the whole assembly of the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The children of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!’ [ ] The LORD spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the children of Israel. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.’”

He doesn’t say to them “You bunch of whiny babies, get a grip! I delivered you so I could watch you starve in agony! Mwaaa haaa haaa!” No. He grants them meat and bread to eat. He wants them to live.

In the same way, He wants us to live. And whether we know how to ask or not, He grants our needs. He gives us Bread from heaven (ref. Psalm Response) to nourish us on our journey. He gives us new life to grant comfort and joy. Let us thank God today for the gift of life. 

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling home improvement projects, finding fun ways to keep her four boys occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for almost 20 years.

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Stretch Out Your Hand

When I prepare to write my blog posts, I usually listen to an uplifting Christian song when or before I read the readings. I put my music on shuffle play and the song Confidence by Sanctus Real came on. I wasn’t really paying attention to the song as I read, but, ironically, when I got to the lines “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers,” the first refrain came on:

“Give me faith like Daniel in the lion’s den, Give me hope like Moses in the wilderness, Give me a heart like David, Lord be my defense, So I can face my giants with confidence.”

Something made me stop and relisten to it. “Give me hope like Moses in the Wilderness.

I switched tabs and turned back to the reading: Stretch out your hand to the sea. Something struck me with that.

I have found that, in the Bible, stretching out one’s hands is associated with healing and deliverance. In Matthew 12:13 Jesus tells the man with the withered hand: “Stretch out your hand,” and it is healed. In Joshua verse 8:18 the Lord tells Joshua: “Stretch out the javelin in your hand toward Ai, for I will deliver it into your power.” Joshua does so; and they end up winning both the city and the battle. 

Stretching out one’s hand is a sign of freedom, whether from illness or oppression. Today’s First Reading from Ex 14:21—15:1 is no exception. God tells Moses: “Stretch out your hand”; he obeys, and not only do they escape the Egyptians, but every single one of the Pharaoh’s charioteers were destroyed. 

I think we underestimate what Moses had to do here. Just put yourself in his shoes. To stop and stretch out your hand, that took guts. Imagine what was running through his head. What if nothing happened, and he just stood there, looking ridiculous as everyone else fled? What if the Egyptians got through the mud and resumed pursuit? What would happen, if he lifted his hand?

It was reckless, it was radical, and it took trust.

It took faith.

It took hope. 

Moses put his trust in God, and they escaped slavery. He had the heart to hope in Jesus, to not give up, even when they were so close to capture.  He had confidence that everything would turn out more than alright because God was in control, and that was what gave him the strength to stretch out his hand. 

So whether by the prompting of your own music or not, look between the lines of the Bible. Get the whole story. Look for the faith, hope, and trust all of these people had. And I pray that you may have the same confidence as Moses, so that when the Lord asks you to, you will stretch out your hand.

Perpetua Phelps is a high school student residing in West Michigan and is the second of four children. Apart from homeschooling, Perpetua enjoys volunteering at her church, attending retreats, studying Latin and French, and reading classics such as BeowulfThe Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc. She also spends much time writing novels, essays, and poetry for fun and competition. A passionate Tolkien fan, Perpetua is a founding member of a Tolkien podcast.

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Harden Not Your Heart

The Gospel Acclamation today is what links the readings for me. ‘If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ Ps 95:8

In the First Reading, Pharaoh, the Egyptians and the freed people of Israel had asked for repeated signs from the Lord. Were not the plagues, the exodus from slavery and the parting of the sea enough proof that God exists? No, their ways of looking at situations was too hard to change and their hearts were hardened against the Lord.

The Gospel has the Hebrew scribes and Pharisees part of unfaithful generations seeking signs from God. Jesus is quite direct with them saying, “…no sign will be given…except the sign of Jonah the prophet…in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” The scribes and Pharisees were blind to the miracles of Jesus. Their hearts were hardened to the teachings and word of God spoken by Jesus.

How often do I tune out what my child, coworker, neighbor, parent, priest or spouse is trying to explain or share with me? Am I aware of what is really the root cause of a situation that is pushing my buttons? Where do I hear His voice? Where do I see His face?

I pray that my eyes are able to see God’s face in my surroundings. I pray for listening ears to hear the Lord’s voice in the sounds of this world. I pray that I recognize where my heart has hardened.  Soften those places so that my heart may be as yours, Lord, Jesus Christ. Grant me the grace to be closer to you. Amen

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Beth Price is part of the customer care team at Diocesan. She is a Secular Franciscan (OFS) and a practicing spiritual director. Beth shares smiles, prayers, laughter, a listening ear and her heart with all of creation. Reach her here bprice@diocesan.com.

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The Comfort of Letting God Lead Us

Today’s readings provide such comfort to our hurting world! Each of them provides a beautiful description of God’s loving, generous care.

No matter what anyone has done to you to lead you astray, God will care for you and bring you back to your rightful place and dignity.

Through His providence He will lead you where you need to be, regardless of what is going on around you in the valley of the shadow of death.

No matter how far off you have gone, God can guide you back to Him and give you His peace, a peace the world cannot give.

When we seek Him, God will have pity on us and give us what we need.

Because, my brothers and sisters, when we seek God and trust in His care, He may not choose to take away our sufferings or fears, but He will guide us safely through them. He may not change our outside circumstances, but He will change our hearts, if we let Him.

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J.M. Pallas has had a lifelong love of Scriptures. When she is not busy with her vocation as a wife and mother to her “1 Samuel 1” son, or her vocation as a public health educator, you may find her at her parish women’s bible study, affectionately known as “The Bible Chicks.”

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Alive

“Are you alive in Christ?” There was a decently loud response from the crowd, a rumbling of “Yes.” 

Fr. Agustino Torres wasn’t satisfied with that response, though, and so he asked again, even louder this time, “Are you alive in Christ?” A louder “Yes” resounded through the crowd. Still not good enough, though. 

“ARE YOU ALIVE IN CHRIST?” Finally, a thunderous “Yes” rolled through the field house along with loud screaming and applause. 

This sequence of questions and responses took place last weekend at a Steubenville Youth Conference during the Sunday morning homily. There were about 1,000 people in that field house who, yes, were certainly alive in Christ at that moment. It’s hard not to be after all that had happened over the weekend. 

Fr. Agustino cautioned us, though, as we still needed to be alive in Christ after we left the conference and every day after. 

So what does it mean to be alive in Christ? Each person’s journey, their following of Christ, is going to look a little different so every person’s answer is going to be different and that’s okay. 

Generally, I would say that being alive in Christ has a few main pieces, such as: prayer, Scripture and the sacraments. All of these graces will give us the strength to be in relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and to truly be alive in Him. 

How does all of this relate to today’s Scripture readings? I look toward the Gospel and I am reminded of some simple truths of our faith. The person of Jesus Christ, the person that we are alive in, so many people in his day sought to put Him to death because what He was teaching was so counter-cultural. Does this fact remind you of anything? As Catholic Christians, most of what we believe and teach is counter-cultural and our culture tries to cancel us – to put our beliefs to death, in a way – for doing so. 

Even as the Pharisees were seeking to put Jesus to death, many people still chose to follow Him. Many people were alive in Christ as they followed Him! 

This is a reality that we must face if we are truly to be alive in Jesus, that people will seek to pull us down. But our strength lies in the graces that we receive and in the person who is greater than all things. Our strength, our life, lies in Jesus Christ. 

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Erin Madden is a Cleveland native and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is passionate about the Lord Jesus, all things college sports and telling stories and she is blessed enough to get paid for all three of her passions. You can catch her on old episodes of the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter@erinmadden2016.

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What Would Make You Sad?

I’ve been working with a client who is writing her memoir, and it’s got me thinking about the things we keep and the things we discard as we move through the different seasons of our lives. 

As I look at my own life and the lives of others around me, what I observe is how much value—both materialistic and sentimental—we place on things. Western culture encourages that valuation: we’re constantly exposed to ads telling us what stuff will make our lives better, longer, happier. 

Today’s Gospel offers a different vision.

A young man approaches Jesus and asks him how to get to heaven. He’s already doing everything he’s supposed to do, keeping the commandments, living a good life. For a lot of people, that would have been enough; but something in this young man was telling him there was more. Something was calling out to him.

He took his questions to Jesus, and Jesus gave him a very clear answer. It wasn’t the same answer he gave to Zacchaeus, who promised to give only half of his possessions to the poor, nor the same answer he gave others who asked to follow him. Jesus instead identified the one thing this man was not ready to give up–his possessions and the lifestyle they entailed. Jesus knew that was where the problem would lie.

Sometimes when we ask God a question, he gives us an answer we didn’t anticipate, and often, it’s one we don’t like. When Jesus challenges this good young man to let go of the material things he treasures, the fellow walks away, grieving. He had been hoping for a different answer. He’s saddened by the thought of giving up what’s most precious to him. 

And he can’t do it.

I live in a small cottage and keep my materialistic needs to a minimum. I don’t have clutter because I don’t have a lot of things. If God asked me to give up any (or even all) of those things, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I could do it. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things I’d find very difficult indeed to give up, and I suspect you might feel the same. 

What I’m hearing in this story is a question: What would be the most difficult thing to give up if Jesus asked me to give it up? Is Jesus asking me, right now, to let go of something so I can be truly free to follow him? Are there attitudes I’m clinging to — grudges, resentments, self-pity, bitterness, judging others, laziness, insensitivity to others’ needs — that I don’t want to give up?

To follow Jesus, we need to shake off whatever binds us: wealth, esteem, comfort. Any “wealth” that I prioritize can be a block to freedom in following Christ. The man who met Jesus in this incident went away sad and unfulfilled, a sure sign that his possessions were possessing and imprisoning him. 

So I’m placing myself in this story today. I am telling Jesus that I keep the commandments, that I go to Mass, that I pray the rosary, and I ask him, “What else should I do?” And I’m almost holding my breath as I wait for the answer.

What answer would make me sad, because it would entail giving up more than I want to give up? 

What answer would make you sad?

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

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True Rest

Today, the Lord tells us that He can give us true rest, beyond that which the world gives. Christ invites us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him, but this claim is much more significant in light of our First Reading.

When God reveals His name to Moses in the burning bush, He make a bold claim: “I AM.” At face value, this is somewhat redundant. Deeply examined, it reveals two things. First, God is the only God, and all the “gods” that others worship are either non-entities or demons. They cannot begin to compare to the God of the universe, the only One who is. Compared to Him, they do not even exist. Second, this is a metaphysical claim: God is existence itself, in that there is nothing lacking to Him. He has every possible perfection, fullness of being, life in abundance.

With this revelation, God is communicating that He is and always will be truly God, truly all-powerful and all-encompassing, and that no other can compare to Him. He is the one we should turn to for all our needs, since He holds all existence in Himself and has every good gift in abundance. He remains so for all time, never able to be hindered. 

Jesus points to this reality at a different point in the Gospel of Luke (20:38), when He uses this passage to prove the resurrection: God revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even though they were thought to be dead or annihilated. In reality, He remains their God, because they remain alive, even after bodily death.

In our Gospel today, Jesus connects Himself with this same image of God. It may sound comforting to hear that all who come to Jesus will find rest, and it is comforting. However, it goes much deeper than the surface. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, this passage comes directly before Jesus’ statement that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Coupled with the concepts of “rest” and “burden,” this coalesces to the claim that He is above the Sabbath, not merely as a lawgiver but as the Author of the Sabbath, God Himself.

Only God can give the true Sabbath rest promised in the Ten Commandments and echoed in the Exodus from Egypt. Only He can provide this freedom from both external and internal enemies, from Pharaoh and sin. With this divine claim, Jesus Christ is directly connecting Himself to the “I AM” Who introduced Himself in our First Reading.

We all know that Jesus Christ is God the Son, but it is important to reflect now and again on what this really means. He is the I AM, the one God, the fullness of existence, the giver of every good gift. There is no goodness without God, because there is no existence without God. Jesus Christ, being God, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no other, and any attempt to place our final hope in another will deprive us of the promised rest.

Today, we give praise to God for His providence, for His loving care that provides us rest from our enemies, both from within and from without.

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David Dashiell is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader based in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. His writing has been featured in Crisis Magazine and The Imaginative Conservative, and his editing is done for a variety of publishers, such as Sophia Institute and Scepter. He can be reached at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

It’s always interesting to hear the reactions when we have a period of cool days during our short Michigan summer. Some are in seventh heaven, pull out their sweat shirts, stoke the bonfire and enjoy the wind blowing through their hair. Others are saddened that their vacations are ruined or it’s too cold to swim and wish for the scorching sun to return. Others just go with the flow, knowing that the heat will be back soon enough.

This could be a great metaphor for our spiritual life as well. When we feel the warmth of summer in our souls, do we act upon it? When the flame of the Holy Spirit burns within us, do we allow our souls to be caught on fire?

When we are saddened because we are in a period of waiting, and that joyful anticipation has seemingly disappeared, do we lament and wish for things to be different? Or do we live in the moment and take more time for prayer?

Or are we just floating along on a lazy river, steering neither left nor right, up nor down, just letting life take us where it may? Is this really living?

It all comes down to gratitude. If you think about it, the measure of our gratefulness is the measure of our joy. If we are thankful for the warmth and thankful for the chill and thankful for everything in between, we will find ourselves content.

And with joy-filled hearts we will be able to proclaim together with the Psalmist: 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion. The LORD secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel.”

What an amazing cascade of praise! Many of us struggle to eke out a simple “thank you.” Can you imagine your soul being so full that you could not stop expressing your gratitude?!

So let us strive to shift our thoughts to the positive, remembering all of God’s mercies and all of His blessings, and be grateful for what truly matters. It may be warm today and cold tomorrow, but God’s love is with us through it all. Thank you, Lord, for you are truly kind and merciful!

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling home improvement projects, finding fun ways to keep her four boys occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for almost 20 years.

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