DISCERNMENT OF THE HEART

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 SM 16:1-13; Ps 88:20-22, 27-28; MK 2:23-28

One of the most difficult decisions in life is to find the right person.  We all have to make decisions on who to pick for our life partner, our confidante and trusted friends, collaborators and leaders.  Leaders, particularly, need to exercise great prudence and discernment in choosing people to work with them.   Making the wrong choices can cause irreparable damage to both our personal and public life.   But it is not always easy to know who to choose or employ.  How do we choose our life partner, our friends, our collaborators and leaders?

Unfortunately, for most of us, our criteria are based on what we can see with our eyes.  This is called judgment based on external forum.  We judge from external factors, namely, the impression the person makes on us, his personality, his eloquence, his dressing, his knowledge and skills.  This is also what the world does.  Today, we have courses to help people to speak eloquently and convincingly; to help people to dress up elegantly and to present oneself.  The world is easily impressed by looks, personality, knowledge and skills.  For the world, titles are important.  The world judges by what you wear, the kind of car you drive, the people you associate with, where you go and which restaurants you eat at.  So many people try to sell themselves via facebook and you-tube.   We are always taught to make an impression on our listeners.

But this judgment based on externals is what the scripture readings of today warn us about.  The Lord told Samuel.  “When they arrived, he caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him,’ but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’”  In the same way, the Lord defended His disciples who were plucking the ears of the corn when they were walking through the cornfields.  “Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?”

What is more important is not simply the external qualities the person exhibits, but the real character of the person.  At the end of the day, our decision must be based on the integrity and virtues of the person, such as generosity, compassion, diligence, obedience, humility.  This was the case in the selection of the king in the first reading.  The election of Saul turned out to be a poor choice because of his deep insecurity and the need for attention and popularity.  His envy and jealousy destroyed him and made him lose perspective and judgement of peoples and situation.  Threatened by the popularity of David, instead of ruling the kingdom, he became more anxious to protect his crown than to give his time in serving the people.

Secondly, in choosing, we need to discern the heart, which includes the person’s motives for doing what he is doing.  Motivation, besides character, is critical in selecting the right person. Unless the person is rightly motivated, he will only work for his interests and not ours.  Such a person is self-serving, caring only for his interests.  He or she has no heart for us or for others.  It is all about himself, his needs, his desires, his ambition, his power and his position.  All others are just pawns for him to make use of to fulfill his ambitions.  Surely, that is not the kind of person, we want to choose for our life partner, regardless how handsome he is, or beautiful she is!  Surely, that would not be the leader we want to have, regardless how smart and intelligent he or she may be!  Surely, that is not the kind of person we want to have as a friend, for he or she will only want to make use of us!

This is what Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s gospel when He remarked, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”   Jesus was speaking about the purpose of the Sabbath.  God does not need the Sabbath.  He does not even need to rest, or for us to render Him worship.  God does not need affirmation and love or attention, unlike King Saul, who was rejected by God and his people.  What is important is not the observance of the Sabbath Law to its minute details, or speculating on what determines “work” on the Sabbath.  God does not mean us to be over scrupulous on what we can do or not do in order to keep the Sabbath holy.

The purpose of the Sabbath is made for man, so that he will know when to rest and be with his family and most of all, to be connected with God who is the source of life and all blessings.  Otherwise, he can be so taken up by his work that either he lacks rest or he forgets that life is more than achievements. Rather, life is basically about building and treasuring our relationships, especially with our loved ones and our fellowmen.  Of course, the Sabbath primarily is to remind us that the most foundational and fundamental relationship is our own relationship with God.   So, to keep the Sabbath holy by focusing on God and our fellowmen and doing good, is what is intended by the Law.  We are not to squabble over the rules and parameters established by men with respect to the observance of the Sabbath Law, or for that matter, all laws.  Nevertheless, they remain true guidelines to assess ourselves.

The choice of David might go against the external criteria of the world.  He was the youngest among the children of Jesse.  No one even thought of him.   But God always had His eyes on him.  This is what the Lord said in the psalm.  “Of old you spoke in a vision. To your friends the prophets you said: ‘I have set the crown on a warrior,   I have exalted one chosen from the people.  I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong.” And I will make him my first-born,   the highest of the kings of the earth.’”  So when Samuel saw him, “a boy of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing.  The Lord said, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’  At this Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on.”

God knew the heart of David.  He was a shepherd and God knew that David had a heart of love and compassion. But He also knew he was weak. Nevertheless, he was also resourceful, as we see later how he fought with the Philistines.  He was also a very loyal subject of King Saul, as we read later how, in spite of what Saul did to him and even pursued him to kill him, yet, when given the opportunity, he never retaliated.  He was also a loyal friend to Jonathan, the son of Saul.   Most of all, he was humble and obedient to the Lord.  He was conscious that he was the servant of God.  “He will say to me: “You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.”  He was humble and contrite when his faults were pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan.   Such was the character of the future king of Israel.  Indeed, he became a true shepherd after the heart of God, the great shepherd of Israel.

We, too, must not be short-sighted.  Parents, particularly, should not focus too much on the academic and worldly achievements of your children.  When we choose our partners, friends or leaders to work with us, what is even more important than all these human skills and achievements is their moral and spiritual character!  Those without integrity, generosity, compassion and honesty; even if they are smart and intelligent, will not be of service to you, to the Church or to society.  They will end up serving themselves and their ego at our expense. Like Saul, they will not be happy because they are insecure and fearful.  Only those who love God and serve their fellowmen humbly will find life and joy.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
 
http://www.catholic.org.sg/scripture-reflection/b/

Pope: “no Saint is without sin, no sinner without a future”

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis says God looks beyond appearances and into the heart. He was speaking on Tuesday morning during Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

Drawing inspiration from the First Reading of the day that tells of the choice of the young David as king of Israel, the Pope pointed out that even in the lives of the saints there are temptations and sins, as demonstrated by the life of David.

The Lord – he said – rejected Saul “because his heart was closed”, he had not obeyed Him, and He decided to choose another king.

The Pope pointed out that the choice He made was far from human standards since David was the youngest son of Jesse, he was only a boy.

But – he continued – the Lord made it clear to the prophet Samuel that he looks beyond appearances: “the Lord looks into the heart”:

“We are often the slaves of appearances and allow ourselves to pursue appearances: ‘But God knows the truth’. And that is so in this story… Jesse’s seven sons are presented and the Lord does not choose any of them, he lets them pass by. Samuel is in a bit of difficulty and says to Jesse: ‘The Lord has not chosen any of them, are these all the sons you have? And Jesse replied that there was still the youngest, who is tending the sheep’. To the eyes of man this boy did not count”.

He did not matter to men, but the Lord chose him and ordered Samuel to anoint him and “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David” and from that day on “the whole of David’s life was the life of a man anointed by the Lord, chosen by the Lord” the Pope said.

So – Pope Francis asked – “Did the Lord make him a saint?” No, is the answer – he said: “King David is saint King David, this is true, but he became a saint after living a long life” a life during which he sinned:

“A saint and a sinner. A man who managed to unite the Kingdom, he was able to lead the people of Israel. But he fell into temptation … he committed sins: he was also a murderer. To cover up his lust, the sin of adultery… he commissioned a murder. He did! Did saint King David commit murder? When God sent the prophet Nathan to point this reality out to him, because he was not aware of the barbarity he had ordered, he acknowledged his sin and asked for forgiveness.”

Thus – Pope Francis continued – “his life went on. He suffered personally following the betrayal of his son, but he never he never used God for his own purpose”.  And he recalled that when David was forced to flee from Jerusalem he sent back the ark and declared that he would not use the Lord in his defense. And when he was insulted – the Pope said – David would say to himself: “It’s what I deserve”.

And then, Francis noted, “he was magnanimous”: he could have killed Saul “but he did not do so.” Saint King David, a great sinner, but a repentant one. “The life of this man moves me” – the Pope said – it makes us think of our own lives.

“We have all been chosen by the Lord to be Baptized, to be part of His people, to be saints; we have been consecrated by the Lord on the path towards sainthood. Reading about this life, the life of a child – no… not a child, he was a boy – from boyhood to old age, during which he did many good things and others that were not so good. It makes me think that during the Christian journey, the journey the Lord has invited us to undertake, there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future”.

 

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-no-saint-is-without-sin-no-sinner-without-a-f

Pope: Prayers of the faithful, not clergy, can make miracles happen

POPE MASS PRAYER

By: JUNNO AROCHO ESTEVES

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The prayers of the faithful, not the pope, bishops, priests or nuns, have the power to make miracles happen in the most impossible situations, Pope Francis said at his morning Mass.

Saints, like St. Monica, have proven that lives can change if people pray courageously and believe that God “can do everything,” he said Jan. 12.

The pope recalled Hannah’s tearful prayers to God for a child as he reflected on the day’s first reading (1 Sm 1: 9-20) during his homily at the Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Her prayer, he said, exemplifies “the courage of a woman of faith” who prays as if she were putting everything she had on the line.

“There are so many good women like that in the church,” the pope said. “Let us think of a great one, St. Monica, who with her tears was able to obtain the grace of conversion for her son, St. Augustine. There are so many who are like that.”

The pope said that he saw his own personal defects in the reaction of Eli, the priest of the temple, who initially assumed Hannah’s tearful pleas to God were due to drunkenness. When someone lacks heartfelt pity, he said, it is difficult to understand another who prays with anguish, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Jesus knew this prayer in the Garden of Olives, when the anguish and pain were so great that he sweat blood,” the pope said. “And Jesus responded the same way as this woman: with meekness. At times, we pray, we ask the Lord, but so many times we do not know how to arrive precisely at that struggle with the Lord, to the point of tears, to ask for grace.”

Pope Francis recalled a man in his native Argentina who prayed with that same anguish, spending an entire night praying for his daughter’s healing at the gates of the Marian shrine of Lujan. Noting that the man’s daughter was healed the next day, the pope said that is proof that “prayer makes miracles” happen.

“The prayers of the faithful change the church,” he said. “It is not us: the pope, the bishops, the priests, the nuns who bring the church forward, it is the saints! And the saints are these people, like (Hannah). The saints are those who have the courage to believe that God is the Lord and that he can do everything.”

 

Reference:

Pope: Prayers of the faithful, not clergy, can make miracles happen

CNS photo/Dennis M. Sabangan, EPA

Pope Francis: Church doesn’t shine with its own light

Vatican Radio) In his homily at Mass celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany, Pope Francis said the Church is called to be a missionary Church and announcing Christ is not a profession and nor is it about proselytism. He said the Church cannot delude herself that she shines with her own light but instead draws her brightness from the light of Christ.

 

Please find below a translation in English of Pope Francis’ prepared remarks for his homily at the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany:

 

The words of the Prophet Isaiah – addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem – are also meant for us.  They call us to go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendour of the light which illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1).  That “light” is the glory of the Lord.  The Church cannot delude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light.  Saint Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church… [she] shines not with her own light, but with the light of Christ.  She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32).  Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples.  For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received.  To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession.  For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it.  There is no other way.  Mission is her vocation.  How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ.  They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father.  The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.  Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity.  The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman.  Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart” which continues to seek without finding sure answers.  They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky!  And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly.  They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions, and at long last the light appeared.  That star changed them.  It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey.  They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light.  The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today.  We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Mt 2:2).  We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will.   We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother.  Let us follow the light which God offers us!  The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity.  And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.  Let us recognize that true wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child.  It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up.  For here is the wellspring of that light which draws to itself every individual and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.

 

Healing Mercy for Diabolical Suffering

KATHLEEN BECKMAN

“The Church’s Greatest Need”

On November 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI, in his general audience said, “What are the Church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.” This quote is situated at the start of chapter eight in God’s Healing Mercy book wherein we consider how rays of divine mercy help people with diabolical suffering.

More recently Pope Francis preached, ““We are all tempted because the law of our Christian life is a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan” (Pope Francis homily in Santa Marta residence, 2014-04-11).

Christ underwent the devil’s temptations in the desert to teach us how to resist demonic seductions. It is necessary to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). We are not dealing with magic, phantasm, or abstract negative energy when we speak about demons, the devil, Satan or Lucifer. The Catechism (2851) teaches, “Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the evil one, the angel who opposes God’s plan and his work of salvation.” The ministry of the Chief Exorcist continues for us.

In the mystery of God’s infinite wisdom, Satan is allowed to operate in the world within the boundaries set by the sovereign Holy Trinity. Christians are put to the test and called to be soldiers for Christ, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:3). The devil tempts so that he may ruin; God tests so that He may crown, to paraphrase St. Ambrose of Milan.

Divine Mercy: “Restored to Value”

In the encyclical Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II, wrote, “Mercy—as Christ presented it in the parable of the prodigal son—has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value.’ The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been ‘found again’ and that he has ‘returned to life’ (no.6). This articulates divine mercy operative in the Church’s healing, deliverance and exorcism ministry. Divine Mercy heals at the deep level of human dignity.

When Christ allows us to be tried like His servant Job, He gives the grace to defeat our foe—in and through Him. I heard a lecture by a prominent priest exorcist who said, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” While demonic possession is extremely rare, many suffer diabolical oppression and obsession and everyone suffers diabolical temptations. Here we will consider common temptation.

Lesson: St. Faustina Battles Satan

Why does the God of mercy ordain a spiritual battle for His people on earth? Christ’s words to St. Faustina lend understanding: “But, child, you are not yet in your homeland; so go, fortified by My grace, and fight for My kingdom in human souls; fights as a king’s child would; and remember the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them the possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, My child, a great number of souls who will glorify My mercy from all eternity” (no. 1489).

Christ taught St. Faustina a powerful principle. A great number of souls will eternally glorify divine mercy because they experience mercy as David did in the defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17). David could only defeat Goliath because God was with him. We will come to understand: “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The prince of the world is Satan. Thus, we have the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) and entrust ourselves to the mercy of our victorious Savior. Divine mercy provides us (Church militant) with solicitous angels and intercessor saints. At our disposal is the Church’s arsenal of sacramental weapons and there is nothing novel here—only proven tools of spiritual warfare.

The Enemy’s ordinary activity is to ruin souls through persistent temptations. Demons strategize for the soul’s eternal damnation but they cannot violate our free will; they seduce but cannot force. The decision and responsibility is ours. St. Faustina’s spiritual diary illustrates this:

When I went, in my thoughts, to the chapel, my spirit was plunged into even greater darkness. Total discouragement came over me. Then I heard Satan’s voice: “See how contradictory everything is that Jesus gives to you: He tells you to found a convent, and then He gives you sickness; He tells you to set about establishing this Feast of Mercy while the whole world does not at all want such a feast. Why do you pray for this feast? It is so inopportune.” My soul remained silent and, by an act of the will, continued to pray without entering into conversation with the Spirit of Darkness. Nonetheless, such an extraordinary disgust with life came over that I had to make a great act of the will to consent to go on living. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)

The devil exerts darkness, discouragement, lies, doubt and disgust of life. He (lies) tempts St. Faustina to go against God’s will. He tries to thwart her mission. He sows seeds of doubt to undermine the truth of what she’s hearing from the Lord. What does she do? “I make a great act of the will.” This is required—we choose against the temptation. St. Faustina endures the terrible trial valiantly by the grace of God.

St. Faustina’s diary entry continues:

The tempter went on: “Why should you bother about other souls? You ought to be praying only for yourself. As for sinners, they will be converted without your prayers. I see that you are suffering very much at this moment. I’m going to give you a piece of advice on which your happiness will depend: Never speak about God’s mercy and, in particular, do not encourage sinners to trust in God’s mercy, because they deserve a just punishment. …You see, to live as good nun, it is sufficient to live like all the others. Why expose yourself to so many difficulties?” (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)

Satan continues to tempt St. Faustina from praying for others. He wants her to focus on herself—a common demonic strategy. He tempts her to cease speaking about divine mercy because he is threatened by God’s mercy since he is legalistic. He mentions “just punishment” since, left only to justice, more souls will go to hell—that’s his goal.

Satan wants her “to live like all the others”—another common demonic strategy—compare yourself to others and go along with the more common flow. He suggests do not “expose yourself to so many difficulties” since he wants her to choose the way of least resistance.

Here we learn how St. Faustina reacted to the diabolical oppression:

I remained silent, and by an act of the will I dwelt in God, although a moan escaped from my heart. Finally, the tempter went away and I, exhausted, fell asleep immediately. In the morning, right after receiving Holy Communion, I went immediately to my cell and falling on my knees, I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God, “Jesus, I ask You, give me the strength for battle. Let it be done to me according to your most holy will. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1498)

St. Faustina teaches: “I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God.” When the devil sees that his efforts cause us to turn to Christ with trust, surrender and dependence, he flees. Trust is a spiritual weapon—the twin to the shield of faith mentioned in the armor of God (cf. Ephs. 6:16).

In the next Diary entry, St. Faustina saw Jesus who said, “…Satan gained nothing by tempting you, because you did not enter into conversation with him. Continue to act in this way. You gave me great glory today by fighting so faithfully. Let it be confirmed and engraved on your heart that I am always with you even if you don’t feel My presence at the time of battle” (no. 1499). By resisting the devil and trusting God, St. Faustina won victory over evil. We can do the same.

St. John Chrysostom’s Deliverance Prayer

O Eternal God, You who have redeemed the race of men from the captivity of the Devil, deliver me, Your servant, from all the workings of unclean spirits. Command the evil and impure spirits and demons to depart from the soul and body of Your servant and not to remain nor hide in me. Let them be banished from me, the creation of Your hands, in Your own holy name, and that of Your only-begotten Son, and of Your life-creating Spirit, so that, after being cleaned from all demonic influence, I may live godly, justly, and righteously and may be counted worthy to receive the Holy Mysteries of Your only-begotten Son and our God, with whom You are blessed and glorified, together with the all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Author’s note: This article contains excerpts from God’s Healing Mercy, which is available in ebook and paperback from Sophia Institute Press.   

image: Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 166r / Wikimedia Commons