Read by Fr. Randy Cuevas for Prayer Service for Peace
In recent weeks, I have received a lot of questions from people as racially charged events have appeared in the news. I’m often asked what I think about these events.
The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, and the Five Dallas Police Officers: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael J. Smith, Michal Krol, and Lorne Ahrens have understandably been the source of much mourning. These deaths have led to much anger, confusion, tension, division and fear among people in our city, state, and country.
So in the midst of all of this, what should our response be? Though I am certainly not an expert on anything, my thoughts after much time spent in prayer are quite simple: WE SHOULD ALL PRACTICE LISTENING!
With that being said, I would like to invite you all to listen to some of my thoughts:
To put things in a little perspective, I would like to share my background with those of you who are not aware of where I come from. My Father is an African American and was for many years the Captain of the Police Department in Baton Rouge. My mother is White and for many years served as a Registered Nurse at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital.
Growing up as a Bi-Racial male in Louisiana wasn’t always easy and in many cases not much has changed since my teenage years.
I can remember being in the grocery store after a basketball game as a teenager and being followed by the security guard and/or the cashier. Though this experience was always aggravating to me, I was used to it because in many cases, no matter how well a black man is dressed in our society he will probably be followed around because of the color of his skin. It’s interesting, since I have become a priest not much has changed. After working out at the gym two weeks ago, I was followed in a store the entire time I shopped by the cashier. When I wear clerics people respect me. But when I wear civilian clothes to work out, my experience growing up and being judged for the color of my skin continues to this very day. This is very disappointing and this disappointment is shared by many African Americans in our country. Some of you may have never experienced discrimination in this way but this is NORMAL for US! And THIS is NOT OKAY! Hence, many black people in this country are hurt and angry.
I remember a number of my friends growing up hated cops because their only experience of cops were the bad ones who relentlessly harassed them for no other reason than because of the color of their skin and the neighborhood they lived in. Their hatred for the police was obviously problematic for me as a young man because my father was a cop… and a very good cop at that. In fact, on one occasion, a man attempted to rob a bank here in Baton Rouge and shot my father in the back of his head. My father, being the good cop that he was, immediately chased the guy to protect the lives of the civilians at the bank. I tried to express to my friends that there were good cops but some of them, because they were close minded and thought they knew everything chose not to listen.
Here is something I want everyone to hear: White people are not the problem. Black people are not the problem. Cops are not the problem. Refugees are not the problem. THE DEVIL IS THE PROBLEM!
And the tool the devil has been using to divide and conquer us with, violence and racism and fear, is THE LIE that “I know more than you so I don’t have to listen to you.”
This is a big problem!
Because if we don’t listen to one another, then we cannot know the other person as another person. If we don’t know them as another person, then we probably won’t be willing to enter into a relationship with the other person. If there is no relationship, then there is a possibility that the other may be judged and categorized into a box and from that categorization become our enemy. This is BIG PROBLEM because our real enemy is not flesh and blood, but is actually SATAN!
So how can we practically fight against the vice and the lie from Satan that we “KNOW MORE THAN OTHERS?”
First, by turning to our Lord in Prayer. The Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing from heaven to earth for hundreds of years and her message is always the same… “COME BACK TO MY SON JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PRAYING ROSARY AND YOU WILL HAVE…. PEACE!”
How is this practical? Because when we pray the Rosary we meditate on Jesus Christ Who is the Prince of Peace, we spend time Actively Listening to the story of Jesus, to His-Story and we spend time in silence trying to listen more to the God we encountered in the Scriptures as we prayed the Rosary. This can be difficult. But if we persist in trying to hear his voice in prayer, then our disposition in prayer, that is, Listening, will overtime become our disposition in relationships with other people!
If we can listen to God Who we cannot see, then we can certainly begin to listen to our brothers and sisters who are different than us and whom we can see!
If we want peace with others then we have to know others, and the most practical way to know others is by first knowing God.
So I invite you to join me in committing to praying every day for at least thirty minutes, if possible, and in that time of prayer, carving out space for silence so we can intentionally not speak, but struggle to listen to the voice of Jesus, Who will no doubt enable us to be an instrument of peace after spending time with Him Who is the Prince of Peace.
OFFICE OF READINGS: 3rd Sunday in Advent
From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Sermo 293,3: PI, 1328-1329)
The Voice is John, the Word is Christ
John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.
In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find a place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.
When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.
Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.
Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offense to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.”
To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.
If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.
He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
In his writings, the Early Church Father, St. Augustine often talks about the “The Capax Dei,” which means the capacity man has to receive God. This capacity finds its fulfillment in heaven, when man achieves by the grace of God his purpose for which he was created, to be a saint.
But that which is experienced in its fullness in heaven finds its beginning in man’s receptivity to God while on earth.
God desires to give Himself to us and He communicates His infinite love to us through finite things such as the paper and ink that make up the Bible, the Bread and Wine that gives us the Eucharist, and the flesh and blood that reveals the Body of Christ in His People, the Church. So we are capable of receiving God and being drawn by God to eternity in a number of ways.
And it’s important to know this because it can help us mature in our growth in holiness as we discern how our Lord is calling us to be His Saints.
This past year, before I was assigned to St. Aloysius Catholic Church, I was assigned to Christ the King Parish on LSU’s campus and on a daily basis I would meet with students who were struggling in their prayer life and relationship with our Lord.
In the Spiritual Life, the Spiritual masters teach us that there are three primary reasons for our experience of dryness in prayer.
The first reason why we may be experiencing dryness in prayer is because of our own sins. Some sins we commit literally darken our intellect and ability to perceive God.
The second reason why we may be experiencing dryness is because we are physically sick or tired. When we are exhausted it is very difficult to pray.
The third reason the Spiritual Masters give for dryness in prayer is because our Lord is actively stripping us from perceiving Him in prayer so that we can choose to love Him for Him and not for the gifts or consolations He gives to us in prayer.
I would like to point to a fourth possible reason why we experience dryness in prayer and in our relationship with God. Perhaps the dryness and dullness is a result of our lack of openness and receptivity to encountering God in the particular way He wants to communicate to us in the particular season we are in.
Essentially what I am saying is that prayer is not about us and our relationship with Christ cannot be controlled by us because Jesus is a person and person’s cannot be controlled or forced to act in particular ways. Authentic love doesn’t force or impose.
So when we enter into prayer, we cannot tell God how or when He is to communicate with us just as we cannot tell people how they are to communicate to us.
Some of my students would come to me and tell me they were experiencing dryness and we would then examine why; along with looking at the three traditional reasons for dryness, we would examine how open they were to receiving God in different ways.
So I would ask them, “How do you pray?” Some would say, “I spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and I never hear God speak to me?” Then I would ask, “Well, how often do you spend time with the Sacred Scriptures?” They may reply, “Well I don’t.” To which I responded, “If you do not spend time with the Word Inscribed, the Sacred Scriptures, and listen to Him speak to you from the Bible, then how will you be able to hear Him speak to you when you are in front of His Eucharistic Presence?”
Other’s would say, “Well I pray with the Bible but not with the Eucharist.” To which I responded, “How can you hear Him speak to you if you are not looking at Him.” My mom used to always say, “Boy, you better look at me when I’m talking to you,” because she knew if I was not looking at her then I was probably not listening to her. So if we never gaze at our Lord in the Eucharist, then who’s voice do we expect to hear
Finally others say, “Father, I am spending time gazing at our Lord in the Eucharist and reading His Word in the Sacred Scriptures, and I am still experiencing dryness.” So I ask them, “Well, how often have you visited with the poor this week? Have you been to the Missionaries of Charity Soup Kitchen? Have you fed the poor this week at the homeless shelter or on the streets?
To which I often heard, “Oh no Father, I don’t do that. That’s not my spirituality. I’m more contemplative or I’m more charismatic with my prayer. Social Justice stuff is not my charism.” And I responded, “So you are anti-Catholic?” They would look at me and say, “Father, what are you talking about? That’s just not my stuff.
The reality is though, feeding the poor is not an option. It is first of all a way that we can encounter Christ because He identifies Himself with the Poor, but it is also a necessary disposition to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. God never said we will burn in hell for missing a Holy Hour of Adoration. God never said we would go to hell if we do not pray Lectio Divina with the Bible. God did say however, we will spend an eternity in hell if we do not feed Him in the poorest of the poor when He is hungry.
A natural unhealthy tendency that many of us have is to latch on to the particular way we once experienced God and only that way. If we had a conversion at a Youth Conference then we only want to go to that Youth Conference. Or if we had a powerful experience of our Lord at a Silent Retreat then we only truly open up to God once a year at that Silent Retreat.
We see this happening in the secular world as well. Listen to the lyrics of pop culture’s most popular songs. In 2014 Sam Smith released the song, “Latch,” and it hit the top of the charts. In this hit he sang, “Now I’ve got you in my space, I won’t let go of you, got you shackled in my embrace, I’m latching onto you.”
What happens when we latch on to something? We lose the opportunity to receive how the other is trying to communicate to us because our hands are closed grasping at this one way. Well not only does this posture inhibit us from receiving the gifts that could be given to us if we were open to them, but it also smothers the thing we are latching on to
If we grasp too hard, we will surely lose the gift, because the gift will be controlled and possessed, and gifts are not meant to be possessed. No fact, St. Bernard of Claireveaux says that once we possess gifts, we will lose the gift
We see this reality in Secular music as well. Once again, Sam Smith released one of the biggest hits in 2014 with his song, “Stay,” in which he begs the other person to stay with him: “Won’t you stay with me, cause your all I need, this ain’t love it’s clear to see, but won’t you stay with me.” But it’s obvious the other does not want to stay because he latched too hard on the other in the song, “Latch,” and tried to posses and control the other person.
In the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus says, “When the Son comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him
And he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, baked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’… Amen I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment.’
You see, Jesus Christ, directly identifies Himself with His people. We can’t separate Him from His people. And a concrete way that we are able to not only give to Jesus, but to also receive from Jesus is in His people, and particularly the poor.
When Saul was persecuting the Christians in Acts 9:4, Jesus did not ask him why he was persecuting the Christians. Rather, He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Again, Jesus directly identifies Himself with His people and it is not an option for us to be open to receiving Him in our service to Him in the poor.
Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity. Because He is a Person, He must be respected as a Person and Persons cannot be controlled and forced. A person is meant to be loved so we must love Jesus and receive Him and His gifts however He chooses to give them to us. Certainly God speaks to us through Adoration and Scriptures and Magisterial Teachings from the Church, but He also speaks to us through the poor and our service to the poor.
We have to be open to God. We cannot grasp at what we think is best. We have to receive God however He chooses to give Himself to us and we HAVE to see in the poor an authentic voice of Jesus Christ.
When we spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist, He will transform our hearts.
When we spend time with Jesus in the Scriptures, He will transform our hearts.
When we spend time with Jesus in the poorest of the poor, He will transform our hearts.
We are capable of being transformed by God by our prayers and works of mercy, so let us act upon that capacity so that we can follow the path of the saints who have gone before us into the Kingdom of Heaven and be the saints we are called to be in this generation.
Experience in Calcutta
In December of 2012 I spent some time in Calcutta with the Missionary of Charity Sisters serving the poorest of the poor. I had the privilege to volunteer with people from all over the world including a Lutheran seminarian, a Buddhist, an atheist, and many agnostics. Each of the volunteers came to Calcutta because they were inspired by Mother Teresa and her sisters in their service to the poor.
As I spent time working with the many volunteers from all over the world, we exchanged in a number of conversations about suffering, faith, service, and the meaning of life. I was struck with how open they were with me about their lack of trust in the Catholic Church and their lack of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
However, the most interesting thing would happen day after day. The Missionary of Charity Sisters would invite all of the volunteers to Mass at 6:00 in the morning before we began our work and again at 6:00 in the evening for an Hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at the end of our work day. Many of the volunteers would come each morning to Mass and every evening for Adoration, including the Lutheran seminarian, the Atheist man, the Agnostic woman, and the Buddhist seeker. Each one of these volunteers would enter the chapel with reverence, drop to their knees for an hour of silent Adoration, and gaze at the Eucharist as Jesus Christ gazed at them.
The disposition of these volunteers amazed me because these were the same people who shared with me that they did not believe in the fundamental teachings of the Church or in some cases, Jesus Christ Himself. Nonetheless, after many long hours of working in some of the harshest conditions, they still chose to come and spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist. Their reverence towards Jesus in Adoration revealed that they recognized that there was something special about this Sacred Time at the Missionary of Charity Motherhouse.
At the end of my time in Calcutta, I had a beautiful conversation with the Lutheran Seminarian. We spoke about the Eucharist and particularly Eucharistic Adoration of Jesus Christ. I mentioned to him that I noticed him in the chapel everyday for our Holy Hour and I asked him if he would ever consider converting to the Catholic Church because his posture seemed to reveal that he believed in the Presence of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. He revealed to me that he was seriously considering it!
Our Lord revealed a deep truth to me on that immersion experience in Calcutta. He revealed to me that if we just make Him available, in the poorest of the poor in the missions, in the Sacred Scriptures in the Liturgy, and in His Eucharistic Presence in Mass and Adoration, people will have the opportunity to receive Him and in receiving Him their hearts will find rest and their lives will be transformed!
In the Sacred Scriptures, the author of the Acts of the Apostles asserts that “The inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders failed to recognize Jesus.”
I think sometimes we have this idea that the people of Jesus’ time had it so much better than all of us. In our time we have Jesus Christ present to us substantially in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
But He has the appearance of bread and wine, he looks like bread and wine, he tastes like bread and wine.
It would be so much easier if He had the matter of human flesh and human blood, if He did then maybe more people would come to Mass and Adoration.
But the reality is, many people during the time of Jesus did not recognize Him as God. If they did recognize Him as God then they would not have called Him a blasphemer, they would not have mocked Him, spit upon Him, torture Him, and Crucify Him.
The response of those who do not recognize Jesus Christ in the Scriptures is indifference, irreverence, or down right hatred. And how did Jesus emotionally feel about the attitudes of the many He came to save who didn’t care? He sweat blood in the Agony of the Garden (Luke 22:44).
Many people then and many people today, did not and do not recognize Jesus as He was and is.
But many of us do in fact recognize Jesus.
So what is the response of those of us who do recognize Jesus? Do we treat Him like the Person He is, or because He doesn’t look like the kind of God we want Him to look like, do we ignore Him or reluctantly spend time with Him.
Do we share our hearts with Him and listen quietly to His heart as He shares it with us in the Living Word, the Sacred Scriptures? Or do we come before His presence in the Eucharist and open up a random book that we find more exciting than the Words He has already given us in the Scriptures.
Do we worship and adore Him when we kneel before Him at Mass and in Adoration, filling our thoughts with Him? Or do we only think of ourselves, our lives, our friends, our relationships, our stuff more than we think of Him?
This is our God. If we recognize Him to be our God, then I would like to invite you, my beautiful sons and daughters to beg God for His grace to treat Him with the reverence and love that He deserves in the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist and the Sacred Scriptures.
Because the fruit of Recognizing and Reverencing Him in His Scriptures and Eucharist is Recognizing and Reverencing Him in His people… And don’t we all just long to be recognized and reverenced for who we are… the Body of Jesus